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Editorial: Transforming dialogues into action

As student-led movements like fossil fuel divestment, sexual assault reform and student representation on the Corporation gain momentum and capture administrative attention, there exists a clear and growing desire for institutional change at Brown.

As students, the type of change we envision as possible and at times deem necessary should be determined by a question we do not ask enough: “What role does this University play in society?” As individuals, how we answer this question guides and shapes our conversations about what needs to be changed. Therefore, conversations that aim to transform dialogue into action require students to reflect on their own relationships to Brown — relationships students must continuously reference as they work together to cultivate change.

Brown can be described in a variety of ways: It is an institution of higher learning and a generator of knowledge. It fosters opportunity for social mobility and serves as a gateway to power and privilege. As much as Brown is an ivory tower, it is also a political agent with the power to promote scholarship, push policy forward and support or challenge systemic inequality.

What Brown personally means to each one of us ­— how we each conceptualize Brown — guides how we believe the University as an institution should act. We value Brown differently based on the pathways that we took to get here, the opportunities college has afforded us and, broadly, our own social ranks. For students who are the first in their families to attend college, Brown can very well be the largest opportunity in their families’ lives for socioeconomic advancement. For students who have personally faced structural inequality, Brown can offer a platform to create substantive social change. Brown can also be a means to attain or maintain a high standard of living — to land a high-paying job or to satisfy outstanding loans.

When we envision engaging in “transformative conversations” — as the University has promoted through the Transformative Conversations@Brown Project — around white privilege, social inequity and institutional change,we should delve into our own underlying definitions of Brown’s role in society, shaped by the personal experiences we bring to Brown, to create various viewpoints that can cause tension during discussions about institutional change.

While contemplating how our experiences shape our values can be both introspective and incredibly fulfilling, this mindset is only the beginning of a constructive conversation. Transformative conversations require that these differences in our very conceptions of what Brown is to each of us serve as a cornerstone of the process of crafting change. This process is difficult and often frustrating. It is not easy, but if we incorporate the complexities and contradictions that exist within the student body into our conversations rather than aiming to immediately mitigate or move beyond them, the institutional changes we make will transform Brown into an institution that thoughtfully reflects the changing needs of our student body.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15, Katherine Pollock ’16 and Himani Sood ’15. Send comments to


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