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Irving '16: Let’s make memories, not headlines

As I am sure many people now know, Malia Obama came to visit Brown during Fall Weekend. On Friday, a Snapchat photo of Malia at a party, standing in front of a beer pong table, was leaked to the press. The story was promptly picked up by Buzzfeed, Maxim and the Daily Mail, among many other major news sources. By the time this op-ed is published, I am sure the story of Malia’s visit will undoubtedly be featured in even more publications. Danielle Wiener-Bronner wrote in a Fusion article, “Brown students: try to acquire some chill.” I wholeheartedly agree, and I even feel this advice is an understatement.

Within hours of Malia’s arrival on campus, there were numerous tweets announcing her presence on College Hill. The Tab published an article featuring paparazzi-like, zoomed-in photos of Malia sitting outside Andrews Dining Hall with a group of students. I am sure she is familiar with paparazzi, press and news headlines, and she was maybe even expecting some in Providence. I wish we as a campus could have surprised her by rising above that expectation. We are not paparazzi; we are her contemporaries. And in our failure to treat her as such, we have failed ourselves as a campus community.

Maybe this absence of courtesy is due to the culture of social media, in which experiences can be shared almost instantly without second thought. I am sure that many people were simply excited to see Malia, and that she shares an interest in Brown. But why is sharing that common interest in Brown not enough? What is there to be gained by publicizing the fact that Malia was here at Brown, doing normal teenage things? Are the retweets, likes and shares worth more than the actual moment itself?

The point between high school and college is a time often fraught with uncertainty and worry for the future, and sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference. I do not know what Malia’s feelings are on Brown (or any other college she is interested in). I do not know if Malia enjoyed her weekend visit. But I do hope she knows that there is so much more here than just people looking for the next campus celebrity. I genuinely hope that she got to see the many positive aspects of the University during her stay, and that her feelings about Brown and Brown students haven’t been marred by the headlines that followed.   

As of press time, the White House had not made a statement on the matter, nor do I think it will or should. Malia was here visiting friends as a prospective student experiencing the different facets of college life — something that is not and should not be newsworthy. It is unfortunate that Brown’s current reason to be in the news is akin to a “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” feature. In these articles, most of the information about her visit has been sourced directly from the social media postings of current Brown students. It is an inescapable fact that we, Brown students, are the reason her visit to Brown is now a trending headline. Shame on us.

When we have friends visit us, we show them the best that Brown has to offer. Sometimes it’s the annual themed party that everyone dresses up for, and sometimes it’s a Blue Room breakfast sandwich on a Sunday morning. As a collective community, I wish we could have been the best that Brown has to offer for Malia.

Brown students look out for each other. I wish we could have shown her that rather than making her fodder for clickbait. I wish we had given her the respect that all of us have simply by being anonymous. I wish we could have shown her that her weekend activities at Brown will not become the stuff of tabloid gossip. We should have made her weekend special by making it ordinary. Brown could have stood out by letting her blend in.

Malia was not here as the president’s daughter. She was not here as a celebrity. She was here as a high school teenager trying to figure out her next steps in life — something everyone at Brown did with the freedom of anonymity. We should have welcomed her with open arms, not smartphone cameras.    

As a prospective student, Malia deserved better. And as Brown students, we owe it to ourselves to be better.

Keillor Irving ’16 can be reached at



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