Asking students on campus what nickname they prefer for the building on Vartan Gregorian Quadrangle will yield two answers. Some — the youngsters — call it “Greg.” Their older counterparts, on the other hand, say “New Dorm.” And there’s no love lost between these two camps.
“It’s Greg. I don’t know why people are saying New Dorm, it makes me so mad,” said Ruhma Khawaja ’24.
But for Hiro Cho ’23, calling the quad “Greg” is an “abomination.”
Virtual learning during the pandemic prevented the Class of 2024 from discovering that Vartan Gregorian Quad has long been known as “New Dorm.” In the spring of 2020, the then first-years — insulated from the rest of the Brown community — created new slang to refer to the dormitory. Now, to several students, the New Dorm-Greg divide is emblematic of a cultural dissonance between students who began attending Brown before the pandemic began and during it.
As students adjust to life on campus after over a year online, several class years have yet to experience some of the quintessential Brown traditions, such as Spring Weekend and the Naked Doughnut Run. And many upperclassmen are returning to a campus culture they say feels slightly different from what they remember.
Selena Sheth ’24 said that she felt the sophomore class still hasn’t bridged the divide with other years. “I feel connected to Brown’s culture, but then there’s also a disconnect between us and the other class years,” she said.
Sheth feels that the Class of 2024 was slightly more insulated compared to other class years, demonstrated by their use of the nickname “Greg” to describe Vartan Gregorian Quad. First-years “kind of got their own experience within the Class of 2024, like its own little weird bubble because we were all here over the summer,” she said.
Khawaja said that in some ways she still feels like a first-year student, and isn’t quite familiar with campus culture. “I feel like this sophomore year, even now, I’ve been struggling to find buildings and really understand the culture and what goes on on campus,” she said.
Three upperclassmen who spoke to The Herald were surprised by Vartan Gregorian Quad’s new nickname, and said they felt disconnected from the younger students who have come to campus since the pandemic.
Sam Wertheimer ’21.5, who was on a gap semester in spring 2020, said he encountered a “new normal” when he returned to campus.
“I also haven’t been super tuned in because it’s been hard over the course of the pandemic,” he said. “Especially being a super senior, I feel pretty out of the loop”
Wertheimer explained that he felt lucky to have been able to experience a few years of Brown traditions, including the Naked Doughnut Run and midnight organ concerts. Grassroots organizing once commonplace, such as protests about conditions for dining workers, have become less frequent and feasible during the pandemic, he noted. Kate Mason, assistant professor of anthropology, was a co-founder of the Pandemic Journaling Project, an archive of people’s experiences throughout the pandemic, The Herald previously reported. She explained that pandemics can be a sort of reset for cultural phenomena, and can deeply affect life on a college campus as well as broader society.
“People are left to reconstruct what they thought life was like before (the pandemic), which might not actually be an exact reproduction,” Mason said. “So there are going to be certain shifts, because there’s this kind of hole in campus life that happened for a year and a half.”
“I’m sure the campus has always shifted a little bit. The pandemic might have been a bigger shift than usual,” said Lucas Washburn ’23.5. “But there are definitely some things that I do miss about how it used to be, and hopefully they’ll come back.” Wertheimer said that though he missed certain things about campus life prior to the pandemic, he didn’t feel any ill will toward the changes that new generations of students would bring.
“Even if the culture of Brown is changing, it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Wertheimer said. “New people, new minds, new experiences and traditions aren’t a bad thing.”
The Class of 2025 has been on campus for just under two months, and its students say they’re still in the process of discovering Brown’s traditions that have survived the pandemic.
“I’m very new here,” said Joshua Silverman ’25. “Not stepping on the Pembroke seal, that’s the (tradition) that I really know about.”
Silverman believes he will come to know Brown better as time goes on, but would not be surprised if some aspects of previous campus culture were lost. “A lot of the traditions that existed before we were on campus are going to potentially start to fade if seniors don’t continue to engage in them.”
When asked whether he preferred to call Vartan Gregorian “New Dorm” or “Greg,” he said he hadn’t heard of the dorm in the first place.
Katy Pickens is the managing editor of newsroom and vice president of The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. She previously served as a Metro section editor covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, housing & campus footprint and activism, all while maintaining a passion for knitting tiny hats.