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The 1968-69 academic year at Brown was one that forever changed the trajectory of both the University and higher education in the nation at large. In December 1968, black students at Brown boldly organized a walkout to push for increased minority recruitment and a more diverse faculty. Over the course of the next few months, a committee collected a set of recommendations based on a student report calling for what would essentially become the New Curriculum. By May, a faculty meeting was held in Sayles Hall to vote on the reforms. Over 80 percent of the student body waited outside to cheer for the reforms that would pass overwhelmingly after a year of student pressure on faculty members and administrators, many of whom were at first quite reluctant to endorse anything resembling the New Curriculum. By the end of that academic year, the University was to dramatically increase its black student population, to disband Pembroke and to establish the creative and student choice-based curriculum we have all come to know and love.

Flash forward almost 50 years to the 2013-14 academic year at Brown. Over the past few years, we have witnessed largely successful student-led campaigns for marriage equality in Rhode Island, for more progressive drug policy at the state level, for stronger commitments to financial aid and for improved labor standards, to name a few. Still, the 2013-14 year in particular will likely be remembered for the former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly protest and for the Brown Divest Coal campaign, both of which were examples of student-administration conflict, rather than progressive collaboration. Following what many students perceived to be losses in both ideological and substantive battles with the administration, a definite attitude of dissatisfaction with the current administration dominated the dialogue in certain circles.

Clearly, we still have much to accomplish in order to dismantle the War on Drugs and racist policies like stop-and-frisk. We face further choices that will determine the fate of mankind in terms of how we as an institution choose to address climate change. On the brink of potential for great change, we ought to learn from our institution’s history. The history of Brown in successful years like 1968-69 teaches us the value of student-led activism in concurrence with faculty and administration. This university comprises more than students, and thus it cannot move forward with the voices of students alone. In working toward a better future, we should learn from the mistakes of our leaders in Congress and recognize the value of cooperative progress. In the face of losses to the administration’s interests, students ought to seek improvements, not remove themselves and treat the administration as the ultimate enemy.

In the following academic year, we believe we ought to take steps toward better cooperation with the administration in the name of practicality. The world is no one’s ideological haven, but we consistently manage to enact real progressive change at Brown nonetheless. For one, we can work better with largely underutilized avenues for communication with the administration, like the Undergraduate Council of Students, which in the upcoming year will be led by a woman of color who strongly supports student representation on the Corporation. What better time than now to amplify the voices of traditionally marginalized communities on Brown’s campus, and to make tangible changes in a nation plagued by racist drug policies and poor environmental practices? This next year, let’s challenge President Christina Paxson to offer stronger alternatives to coal divestment or, better yet, to change Brown and other elite institutions’ investment model altogether, if indeed it is the case that divestment from one sector of the economy simply isn’t feasible. Among the worst things we could do, if we care about enacting real changes, would be to make the administration an absolute enemy.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.



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