Community building has been at the root of many discussions over the past academic year. With continued concerns and difficult conversations surrounding sexual assault and mental health, many students feel a diminution of trust and pride in the University. The Corporation’s upcoming May meeting will serve as a valuable forum to both address and tangibly improve the brittle nature of community at Brown. While it is easy to simply kick the proverbial can down the road and hope this demonstrated tension will dissipate with time, the Corporation holds a unique power to transform the campus itself, which we see as key to fostering stronger, more sustainable bonds tying our community together.
The residential experience at Brown is a significant point of concern within the context of community building. Unlike peer institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton that employ a residential college framework, Brown lacks a discernible structure. While the campus is loosely and increasingly organized in clusters to promote cohesion within particular class years, this effort gradually diminishes as students move into like-minded program houses and self-selecting, off-campus offerings.
Though not always the case, these residential spheres where students spend a great deal of time are often insular and often do not reflect the true diversity of the Brown community. As discussed in a previous editorial (“What does diversity mean?”, Oct. 27), often it seems the diversity that is shown in brochures and first-year dorms is quickly lost as students self-segregate by housing in their sophomore and junior years. This phenomenon creates environments in which other students do not feel entirely comfortable and welcome, despite their underlying bond as Brown students. The housing lottery — which can fray friendships and inject turmoil into students’ social lives — exacerbates the problem.
Residential colleges break up these divisions. They create communities that are more representative of the diversity that Brown rightly celebrates. Living near the same students for four years fosters the casual friendships among hallmates that students make as first-years but let fade away after that first summer.
This sense of community may have a sustained effect that passes beyond graduation into stronger alumni loyalty. Students who feel a deeper bond to a sector of their university — such as athletes and Greek life participants — are perhaps more likely to stay connected to the school after graduating. Alums often give to the communities that contributed to their experiences, and residential colleges could fill a void for those who otherwise lack a more concrete or well-defined connection.
Implementing a residential college system does not have to require substantial renovation. Indeed, the well-dispersed dormitories lend themselves to independent communities. The existing centers — Pembroke campus, Keeney Quadrangle, Wriston Quadrangle and Perkins Hall — are adaptable if additional spaces are added to create autonomous colleges with adequate dining, exercising and study facilities.
Revisiting the character of the residential system at Brown would, as then-President Henry Wriston wrote in 1946, “reinforce the tradition which stimulated the foundation of the College” and “perpetuate and strengthen the democratic character of student life.” Wriston Quad was born out of the concern that the housing system at Brown “had never been defined with adequate clarity or administered with sufficient energy.” A reevaluation of the current residential scheme at Brown would similarly help in mending and strengthening the sense of community on campus at a time when we stand at a crossroads. We strongly urge the Corporation to prioritize this goal in its meeting next month.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.