On Feb. 24, the Providence Journal published an article by student journalists exposing exclusive dinners hosted by trustee emeritus and major University donor Marty Granoff P’83 and facilitated by University administrators in the Advancement Office. The news unsettled many students and prompted conversations around campus about privilege at Brown. Two days later, President Christina Paxson P’19 published the University’s response to the story in a letter to the Journal. Paxson denied knowledge of the University’s involvement in supporting the dinners and questioned the reporting’s validity. Paxson also wrote that University logistical aid for these dinners will not continue.
While we support the University’s decision to end official involvement in these dinners and appreciate the generous funding of donors, we view the Advancement office’s original affiliation as a practice that is inherently contrary to Brown’s expressed value of advancing equity. Rather than critically analyzing the relationship between donors and students and suggesting alternative avenues for more inclusive student-donor interaction, the University’s response only exacerbates the problem, leaving Brown community members unsure of the role donors play in the overall framework of this institution.
We acknowledge that the Granoff dinners are not a new phenomenon and are part of a larger pattern of behavior that privileges the wealthy. But just because these dinners are not surprising does not mean they are not harmful. Exclusive events have occurred at Brown and institutions like it for generations, situating privileged students apart from their peers and further isolating first generation or low-income students from accessing the same opportunities. While donors will likely continue to hold private events, it is inappropriate for the Advancement office to provide the logistical support to facilitate them, excluding students in the process.
Paxson’s letter ending official University support for these events was an essential step toward breaking down an inherently elitist structure. Nonetheless, we were disappointed with the response. It did not adequately address the concerns of many students who felt harmed by these events and did not provide constructive solutions to move forward. For instance, while Paxson mentions the University’s legitimate efforts to support first-generation and/or low-income students in her letter, she neglects to recognize that the University must also work to diminish the exclusivity and elitism that exist on campus.
In addition, the response fails to acknowledge that the student reporters provided the community with an important opportunity for reflection. Instead, Paxson focused on critiquing the reporting for containing “no data or facts,” without mentioning that the student reporters made a concerted effort to contact her before the story’s publication, as Executive Editor of the ProJo Alan Rosenberg asserts. While the story might contain flaws, the students still illuminated a problematic activity that the University facilitated, which the President then publicly devalued through her letter.
All this being said, we cannot overstate our appreciation for donors’ generosity. Their dedication to the University has benefited generations of Brunonians through funds for scholarships and essential infrastructure, such as the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. We see potential for the University to create alternative events to engage donors with the entire student population, which could preserve the positive aspects of donor involvement with the University without perpetuating exclusivity.
Rather than providing opportunities for donors to connect with wealthy students, the University could facilitate events open to any students, such as meet and greets at various venues on College Hill. These gatherings, which would replace events like the Granoff dinners, could be advertised to all students through avenues like Today@Brown. By hosting more transparent, open events, the University would allow donors to interact with students of all backgrounds who make incredible contributions to this campus.
While we are glad the University has ended its official support for the Granoff dinners, Paxson’s letter reflects the University’s lack of understanding of the inherent problem in hosting events such as these. The University has an obligation to acknowledge the implications of its involvement with the Granoff dinners and respond by rethinking the framework faciliting student-donor interactions. In doing so, the University can correct the contradiction that currently exists between its statements on equity and the actions it supports. We hope these changes can create a more inclusive campus in all aspects of student life.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Grace Layer ’20 and Krista Stapleford ’21, and its members, Elisheva Goldberg ’22, Eduard Muñoz-Suñé ’20 and Riley Pestorius ’21. Send comments to email@example.com.