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Letter: The lifelong joy of the Open Curriculum

To the Editor:

As a former Brown transfer student and current staff member, I may be one of the few people on campus who spent half my undergraduate years at another university with a strict core curriculum, and half my years at Brown. As such, I feel compelled to respond to Galen Hall’s question, “Is the Open Curriculum a failed experiment?”

While it’s true that a shared core curriculum can serve as a conversation-starter, in my experience, that conversation was often mutual commiseration. In my core classes, students tended to drag themselves through the process of completing requirements, waiting until they could finally study what they really wanted.

In contrast, when I arrived at Brown as a transfer student, I was stunned by the enthusiasm and energy with which Brown students described their classes. Students loved their classes; they were bubbling over with excitement to discuss their studies, even in the dorms at night. Allowing students to follow their own passions resulted in intellectual agency, joy and a love of learning that I had not observed at my first university. It was that shared feeling of intellectual engagement — and not specific subject matter — that created the communal experience at Brown.

Twenty-five years later, I see how cultivating the courage to explore still benefits my Brown classmates. My housemate, who invented his own concentration in “altered states of consciousness,” is now a physician/scientist and director of substance use research at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. My roommate, who worked in publishing after Brown but wanted out of the punishing hours after having a baby, started one of the first literary agencies in the country that allowed staff to work flexible hours while also caring for their families. Another friend became a teacher, but always cared more about how her students felt than whether they knew the content: she earned her PhD in her 40s and recently became the therapist she always wanted to be.

And somehow, 25 years after walking out of the Van Wickle Gates, I find myself celebrating my 5-year anniversary on Brown’s staff. I have a hunch it’s the joy, collaboration and love of learning that I experienced as a Brown student and now feel on campus every day — and not my years of deconstructing the Western canon — that make me love my job.

Katie Silberman ’94

Associate Director of Community Relations, Brown Office of Government & Community Relations

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