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Editorial: On loss and tradition

Vartan Gregorian Quad has been called “New Dorm” by Brown students since the days when it was actually new. But over the past year, as an incoming class of students entered onto a mostly empty campus, a new name for the residence hall emerged: “Greg.”

This change, while amusing, was also alarming. For the upperclassmen among us, it felt as if we had failed to pass on some basic knowledge. And the fact that “New Dorm” was no longer “new” only emphasized our old age.

The Brown experience is defined by more than our slang. But we also recognize that each and every one of our traditions distinctly shapes what it means to be a Brunonian. In pandemic times, so much of our shared cultural heritage has faded — even Blueno has left us. As we move into this new year, we urge the campus community to simply reflect: What have we lost? What can we — and should we — preserve moving forward?

Today, all four classes are together on campus. But College Hill does not feel complete. Only one class of students has ever been on campus for a full year (or experienced a live Spring Weekend concert). And two graduating classes — who have each made indelible marks on our campus — have left without the goodbyes they deserve.

It’s hard to know what it means to be a Brown student when we haven’t had the chance to exist as a cohesive community for so long. Over the past year and a half, we’ve lost so many opportunities to learn from each other, especially from those classes that came before us. We’ve lost the moments of contact (Ratty meals, club meetings and study sessions) where we could revel in the Brown experience together. 

And not only have we lost experiences, we’ve also lost our sense of direction. We are doing things for the first time again. We’re relearning how to interact with real people and failing to recognize familiar faces through masks. Not to mention, we are still living through an ongoing pandemic. Campus continues to suffer from the uncertainty of the Delta variant and all the unpredictable policies that go along with it. We are not back to normal.

It is in spite of all this that we remain hopeful about our community’s ability to persevere and preserve our institutional memory. Already, we see many traditions and experiences quickly reviving with the start of the semester. Clubs that died down during the pandemic are starting up again. The Main Green is bustling. And finally, we can learn from professors in an actual lecture hall. Some traditions may need to adapt, but we are optimistic that they, too, will survive in some form. Perhaps this year we can have a not-so-naked donut run instead — not-so-naked due to our new masking policy. 

The pandemic is also a chance to define new traditions and experiences. “New Dorm” may evolve into “Greg,” and maybe the change will feel okay. And the empty patch of grass where Blueno used to be might house new art in the future or serve, at the very least, as an excellent spot for a picnic.

What we are craving is not necessarily continuity. We don’t need our traditions to stay the same, nor have they stayed the same over time. What we crave, truly, is a sense of community, cliché as this may seem. In an age of grim, pandemic pragmatism, there is a necessary place for hope and idealism. And our hope is that we will figure out how to lean on each other this year, even at a distance or with masks on. Only then can we begin to remember what it means to be a Brown student.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. This editorial was written by its editor Johnny Ren ’23, and members Clara Gutman Argemí ’22, Catherine Healy ’22, Olivia Burdette ’22, Devan Paul ’24 and Kate Waisel ’24.

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