White tents and cloth-covered cocktail tables were set up across campus on Friday as families arrived for Family Weekend 2021. Music played on speakers while parents and students picked up refreshments and lined up at photo booths on the Main Green. Last year, the usual Family Weekend events could not take place due to COVID-19 restrictions — as a result, this year’s event was a first for many families of the classes of 2024 and 2025.
As of Oct. 12, nearly 3,000 families had registered for Family Weekend, with 2,732 of the registrants signing up for in-person participation and 193 opting to attend remotely, according to Director of Parent and Family Engagement Mikele St-Germain. She wrote in an email to The Herald that this number is higher than in previous years, and that the choice to participate virtually was a feature introduced this year. A select number of events were offered virtually in the form of livestreams and recordings, including the President’s Welcome and the Keynote Address by Soledad O’ Brien P’24.
In her welcome speech, President Christina Paxson P’19 noted the increased number of participants at this year’s events, mentioning that not only were both first-years and sophomores experiencing Family Weekend for the first time, but also that many upperclassmen families had not been to campus since the pandemic began.
“The past year and a half has taught us that we can do a lot virtually … but it also displays just how much we value the relationships and collaboration that develops in person,” Paxson said. “I am personally just so grateful to have our community reunited this year.”
Notably different this year’s Family Weekend was the number of events that were held outdoors due to public health concerns. Securing tent rentals has been a logistical challenge due to a national tent shortage, St-Germain wrote. Nevertheless, “it is great to be able to use the event-production techniques from … last year and expand upon those lessons learned to create a fun, safe weekend for families.”
Since all visiting family members are considered limited-duration visitors under the University’s COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy, they were not required to submit proof of vaccination or testing. St-Germain explained that apart from mandated masking at all indoor events, guests were also required to wear masks outside when social distancing wasn’t possible, and hand sanitizer dispensers were installed at various campus locations.
One event unique to this year’s Family Weekend was a full lighting of WaterFire co-sponsored by the University on Saturday night. There was also a Brown hospitality tent and myriad performances by campus groups held at a closed-off section of College Street. Numerous Brown community members featured at the lighting ceremony, with Paxson, Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01 and President of the Brown Alumni Association Carlos Lejnieks ’00 among the torch-bearers. There were also several a capella performances spanning the weekend, with some groups having not performed in-person since start of the pandemic, and many newer members performing in front of a live audience for the first time.
Parents’ level of participation in scheduled Family Weekend events varied, but many agreed that the main purpose of the weekend was to see their children.
Alex Weiner ’87 P’24 from Westchester County, Mass., mentioned that he did not plan on attending any of the events, but rather he wanted to experience Brown and the surrounding community. “We’re here for the restaurants,” Alex Weiner said with a laugh. His daughter, Livia Weiner ’24 said she was “super excited” that her family was here. Because her brother is also going off to college soon, Livia Weiner said she took advantage of the opportunity to give him a college tour and introduce him to life as a college student.
Jaewoo Ahn ’23, who is originally from South Korea but whose mother now lives in Washington D.C., similarly enjoyed the family visit. “It’s nice because I was able to show (my mom) around, let her see my friends, what it’s like to be a college student here … instead of just texting her,‘I’m good, I’m alive,’” Ahn said.
Valerie Allen ’94 P’24, mother of Eden Allen ’24, attended Family Weekend with her husband, who is also a Brown alum. Her family had just come from the Black family soiree hosted by Harambee House and was on the way to the Shades of Brown a capella concert when she spoke with The Herald. Because her family lives in Massachusetts, Allen said that they often visited campus before COVID-19 struck, but being back on campus was still a good experience. “It’s so wonderful to see Eden here,” she said with a smile. “I’m very proud of her, she works very hard and … she’s enjoying it.”
Julius Gylys P’24 and Michelle Bishop P’24 from Gainesville, Florida had attended several forums by Saturday afternoon. In the morning, they attended “A Look at the 2021 UN Climate (IPCC) Report and Our Climate Future,” where faculty discussed climate change and other environmental issues. They later sat in on a talk by Joel Selanikio MD’92 about the effects of technology and economics on healthcare before listening to a talk on conspiracy theories and disinformation by Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Bishop described the events as “top-notch,” while Gylys said they were “phenomenal.”
“For me, it’s this combination of the talks (and) the atmosphere and feeling like this is an incredibly rich environment,” Bishop said. The events “have really just confirmed what we imagined, that (Brown is) an incredible environment.” Speaking about her son, Gylys added: “He’s in the right place.”