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Editorial: Establishing trust

Brown has a trust problem. When an estimated 400 students rallied on the Quiet Green March 11 to protest the University’s handling of the widely discussed sexual assault and date-rape cases last semester, it signaled yet another instance of increased friction between students and administrators.

Beyond the intricacies of the cases, the recent developments are situated in a context of heightened student distrust and skepticism toward the administration. Experiences such as the Ray Kelly incident, graduate students rallying for improved conditions and the tense library worker negotiations last semester have shaped an underlying sentiment of suspicion at Brown. As individuals, administrators may be considered well-meaning, but collectively, their track record has led students to expect frustration and bureaucratic failure. This perception breeds an “us versus them” mentality that is not sustainable or productive. 

For a majority of undergraduates, this has been the dominant sentiment since we arrived at Brown. The pertinent question that both students and administrators must ask is not “how do we rebuild trust?” but rather “how do we establish it?” Trust requires honesty on both sides, as well as a willingness to admit mistakes or errors. Building trust requires vulnerability and opening oneself up to conversations on how to grow. Most importantly, trust is rooted in mutual respect. For students and administrators, this means a mutual respect for Brown as an institution.

To build a better Brown, students must trust administrators to implement changes, and administrators must trust student guidance and input in crafting policy.

Over the past few decades, the number of administrators serving students has grown significantly, which has sparked criticism about rising student entitlement. Administrators are much more involved in student life than ever before, with offices devoted to counseling, career support, social opportunities and more. They are also expected to handle sexual assault cases efficiently and responsibly. While these critiques are worthy of examination, that does not negate the fact that students are entitled to a Brown that not only espouses moralistic beliefs about living life with “usefulness and reputation” but also practices it too, across all levels of the University.

To begin to build trust, the University should address the most pressing issue on campus: sexual assault policy reform. It should engage students by directly responding to the list of demands of last week’s protest: a thoughtful and transparent communication of what changes Brown has implemented in the sexual assault disciplinary process since the Task Force on Sexual Assault was formed, and what will or will not change. President Christina Paxson’s P’19 last campus-wide email, in which she outlined her approach to addressing the pervasive issue of sexual assault, came almost two months ago on Jan. 22, prior to the recent developments. For an issue that plagues the University on a daily basis, we need more regular updates and tangible progress. When 400 students organize on the Quiet Green, the University must respond.

There is no magic bullet to establishing trust between students and administrators at Brown, especially in such a turbulent time. But reforming policies around sexual assault presents an opportunity to begin building a new dynamic.

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, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Mathias Heller ’15 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to


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