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Hillestad ’15: 257 Thayer — elitist enclave

257 Thayer: sophisticated and sustainable college living. No doubt, that’s a catchy slogan. I understand why that’s appealing to a lot of Brown students. After all, I like to consider myself sophisticated and environmentally conscious. And I wouldn’t want to feel guilty about my fancy new digs, so at least the building uses clean energy, right? It seems like a great motto on all accounts.

But I have a few other ideas that are more representative of the culture 257 Thayer will cultivate. 257 Thayer: privileged and pretentious. 257 Thayer: the ivory tower on College Hill. 257 Thayer: where ultra-rich students can network with other ultra-rich students. 257 Thayer: elitist enclave.

There are no apartments at 257 Thayer that cost under $1,000 a month. And the most expensive apartments cost a small fortune at $1,350 a month. That’s more than double what an upscale off-campus house typically costs here.

There are only a select few Brown students — or should I say parents of Brown students — who can afford that rent on top of a $46,408 tuition fee. These are the upper-class members of Brown society, which is already an elitist and privileged community. But just being a part of an Ivy League institution is not enough for them. They want to be the patricians of Brown, and like all patricians, they seek to separate themselves from the plebeians.

The 257 Thayer complex is the physical embodiment of that class division. It will stand as stark reminder of the inherent inequality that plagues Brown’s campus.

More than half of the class of 2018 — 56 percent, to be exact — receives no financial aid. They don’t need it. The $62,694 price tag of a Brown education is easily payable. It’s just another investment for them.

And for the ones who really want to flaunt their wealth, 257 Thayer is the perfect symbol of their privilege. It’s a quick and easy indicator that they come from deep pockets. Brown socialites thrive on status symbols like that. It lets them recognize one another and glom together into exclusive cliques.

The rest of us don’t want the kind of decadence that 257 Thayer offers. We don’t need it like they do. We’re content with just being Ivy League students — a status most Americans only dream of. We don’t need an HBO subscription. We can find a “Game of Thrones” stream online. We don’t need free laundry. We can find a way to jimmy the machines. We don’t need a heated garage. We don’t even have cars. Bikes will do for us.

Defenders of 257 Thayer will be quick to point out that the building is LEED certified, meaning that it is energy-efficient. While this rating is commendable, I get the feeling that LEED certification was tacked on to make the building seem more progressive. With the certification, the owners got more leases signed and jacked up the rent a few ticks. They don’t care about the environment. They care about your money.

And issues of class and inequality aside, the construction of 257 Thayer has been a nightmare. Construction workers start their jackhammers and steamrollers at unreasonably early hours with complete disregard for nearby residents, who have frequently cited the construction as a public nuisance. And Thayer Street pedestrians are inconvenienced daily, unable to walk down the street or hold a conversation in peace. The construction isn’t slated to end until January at the earliest. We have months and months of more raucous construction to endure, and all for the indulgence of the rich kids.

The sound aside, all this construction has turned Thayer Street into an eyesore. The building’s chain link fences, muddy surroundings and unfinished facade have ruined Thayer Street for me. And if renderings of the building are accurate, it won’t get much better. The stale, cookie-cutter exterior of 257 Thayer looks like it could be plopped down on any street of any college campus. But this is Thayer Street and Brown that we’re talking about. Especially for such a bloated price, I expected better.

More than anything else, I resent that the building will be at such a central location — right at the heart of the famous Thayer Street. I can only hope visitors will recognize that the people who live there are not indicative of the typical Brown student. Most Brown students are down-to-earth. Most Brown students seek to bridge the class divide, not further widen it. 257 Thayer will perpetuate the myth that Brown is just another Ivy: a bastion for inequality and privilege.

My only solace is that I’ll be long gone by the time people start to live in 257 Thayer. I’m forever grateful that I’m a member of the last class who can remember both the real Keeney Quadrangle and the real Thayer Street. It’s a shame that future classes won’t question the existence of 257 Thayer. They’ll look up at its high walls and think they’ve always stood there. I only hope they’ll look on with pity in their eyes and not envy.

 

Sam Hillestad ’15 proudly considers himself a plebeian of Brown. He can be reached at samuel_hillestad@brown.edu.



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