I think I speak for many Brown students in saying that Providence is the city we have unexpectedly fallen in love with. Over four years, we have come to call Providence our home, embracing its Italian flare and New England quintessence. The city that nestles College Hill gives us so much during our time as students: The city’s historic New England architecture, the rich RISD-inspired arts culture, the efficient public transportation system and the eclectic food scene, thanks in part to the elite cooking program at Johnson and Wales University. Yet, the city’s economy is still in a slump compared to where it stood a century prior, and it feels like a bit of a ghost town when you walk around downtown Providence in the middle of the day. Providence could use our help to reinvigorate the city.
However, nearly all of us leave Providence after graduation. According to the most recent study conducted by CareerLAB, of the 70 percent of 2017 Brown graduates who immediately entered the workforce, only 5 percent remained in Providence. Brown students move on to a countless array of careers in practically every industry, and yet, aside from those staying to acquire a graduate degree at Brown, hardly any of these post-graduation trajectories seem to keep young alums in Providence.
Though we are only at Brown for a few years, our time in Providence doesn’t have to be so ephemeral. For three generations my family called Providence home, beginning with my great-great grandfather’s immigration to Rhode Island in 1900. To my family, the city signified a lot more than just Brown for those who attended it. After exiting the Van Wickle Gates, some went on to be doctors, others lawyers, even artists — but they stayed in Providence for decades. They saw it as their duty to contribute to the city that had provided them with so much opportunity. In their eyes, contributing to Providence was their way of contributing to Brown, spurring economic growth and stability so that future generations of families and bright young minds would continue to be attracted to the city, and in turn, its incredible university.
Upon graduating from Brown, we inherently carry an immense amount of power and privilege. We possess the educational toolset to be trailblazers in industries, reform political movements and spur economic growth wherever we go, including a smaller city like Providence. If you don’t believe that intellectual and passionate individuals like ourselves have the ability to revitalize a region, just look at how Silicon Valley went from a sleepy San Francisco suburb to the center of the technological universe within a single generation. It may be true that for the time being more opportunities lie elsewhere, but we have the ability to create and expand upon those which exist here in Providence. And we should. It is our responsibility to give back to the city that Brown could not exist without.
This is not to say that everyone is leaving Providence entirely behind after graduating from Brown. Providence Equity Partners, founded by Jonathon Nelson ’77, is a global private equity investment firm based in downtown. The firm manages nearly $40 billion in aggregate capital commitments and has helped to spur a tremendous amount of growth in the Providence region. What Nelson and his team have done is valuable, and other Brown graduates should emulate his dedication to the city in their respective fields.
During my time at Brown, I have felt a continual sense of internal conflict — on the one hand attached to the city’s charm and the bones of its impressive legacy and on the other hand incentivized to move elsewhere after I graduate. It is certainly wonderful that Brown alums inhabit such a global network, but there needs to be more of an understanding that we should give back to Providence after graduation.
Brown graduates often feel that they should give back to their alma mater — as exemplified by the 32,000 donors to the University’s Annual Fund in 2018. We should feel a similar responsibility to give back to Providence. A more prosperous Providence means a more prosperous Brown — stronger infrastructure, more diverse culture and more internships and research opportunities. We should receive Brown diplomas with a reciprocal sense of duty to give back to the Providence community in order to ensure that Brown and Providence together continue to grow with every generation. The synergy between the University and Providence would increase from a network of alums devoted to the city. And if we considered our lives in Providence as more than just a fleeting four-year pit stop, Brown’s network of devotees could grow alongside.
Anna Kramer ’20 (who has no relation to Managing Editor Anna Kramer ’20) can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.