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The Bruno Brief: Brown bares it all

Women of Brown United, a student organization focused on women’s issues and reproductive rights during the 1970s, continued its activism after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, escorting patients looking to receive abortions to the Women’s Medical Center.
Women of Brown United, a student organization focused on women’s issues and reproductive rights during the 1970s, continued its activism after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, escorting patients looking to receive abortions to the Women’s Medical Center.

In the first episode of the Bruno Brief’s series on sexual politics, we dig into the history of nudity on Brown’s campus and what it looks like today. We speak with Jacob Smollen, senior staff writer and Bruno Brief producer, about his reporting on the topic that dives into Playboy Magazine’s visits to campus, the Sex Power God parties and the Naked Donut Run.


Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or listen via the RSS feed. Send tips and feedback for the next episode to herald@browndailyherald.com. The Bruno Brief is produced in partnership with WBRU.Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or listen via the RSS feed. Send tips and feedback for the next episode to herald@browndailyherald.com. The Bruno Brief is produced in partnership with WBRU.

Bill O’Reilly

Back of the book segment tonight, partying at Brown University, the highly regarded Ivy League school in Rhode Island.

Jesse Watters

The first thing I saw was just pure debauchery. People kind of just got out of control. I went down to the bathroom, was in a stall. I heard people having sex in the stall next to me. There were guys kissing guys, girls making out with girls.

Elysee Barakett

In 2005, Brown University made headlines for a school-sanctioned party that was a little bit too risque and gay for the more traditionally minded. Going by the name of Sex Power God, hundreds of curious students flocked to Sayles Hall to take part in a night of what some described as “hedonism.”

What they got in response was a wave of conservative backlash coming from voices as prominent as the anchors in the newsroom of Fox News.

Beyond Sex Power God, Brown is known for the Naked Donut Run — a tradition where a naked crowd jaunts through libraries and distributes donuts to studying students.

This episode, we will explore nudity and its history at Brown University.

Are we more naked than other colleges? What is the point of going au naturale, and why do some people love it? Has nudism on campus taken a hit with the pandemic, and does the University have any intent to outlaw it?

I am Elysee Barakett, and this is the premiere of season four of the Bruno Brief.

Jacob, you recently wrote an article for The Herald about Brown students’ affinity for bearing it all. What did you find out about the history of nakedness on campus?

Jacob Smollen

Basically, things start back in the 50s…

Jack Wrenn

Get The Herald delivered to your inbox daily.

Brown's first really well documented brush with nudity scandal came in 1954, and that is when Brown students first started being able to buy Playboys on campus.

Jacob Smollen

That was Jack Wrenn, a former Herald columnist who wrote about the history of nudity on campus last year.

It was then that a student, Gerald Levine ’58, started selling mail subscriptions for the magazine after (first) being shut down by the dean at the time. Just three years later, there was a Playboy Christmas party in Jameson House.

Playboy would return later in the ’70s and ’80s, “scanning the Ivy League for a cross section of women,” according to a 1979 ad in The Herald, which also sparked controversy.

But in the intervening years, streaking took Brown by storm. Streakers dashed through the Ratty and Wriston Quad, and even inadvertently caused the destruction of a Herald editor’s car.

Jack Wrenn

In 1983, a police cruiser chasing down a streaker crashed, I believe, into the Herald headquarters on Fones Alley. The Herald, of course, broke the news.

Elysee Barakett

Today, the most well-known and mainstream nude activity is the Naked Donut Run.

Olivia Duba

A big part of it is calling Dunkin’ Donuts and convincing them that this is not a prank call. This is a real order of over 1,000 donut holes and I will be coming in to pay for them.

Jacob Smollen

That was Olivia Duba ’22, and she organized the NDR for the 2021-22 school year. Another former organizer who opted to stay anonymous to avoid professional repercussions described the naked donut experience and its benefits.

Z

For me, it's just become a rite of passage and, like, a time of self exploration and self discovery where it could be in a really safe space of a lot of cool people that are really comfortable and passionate about being naked. And we just have a really fun time. And we get to be silly and goofy, and maybe at the same time teach somebody, you know, this is what a body might look like. And maybe you didn't know that before — that's okay, now you do.

Addison Kerwin

Honestly, I feel like I kind of blacked out during it.

Elysee Barakett

This is Addison Kerwin ’24, who has participated in the Naked Donut Run.

Addison Kerwin

I think it’s so Brown. I want to watch the Naked Donut Run this year, and I want lots of people to be in it. I just encourage people to do it and try it. I think one of the best ways to live life is to not take yourself too seriously. I feel like that's a great way to do that.

Jacob Smollen

I also talked to David Wilson, a senior library assistant at the Rockefeller Library, who explained that he wished the run was a bit edgier.

David Wilson

We're progressive and we’re okay with nudity. But I wish it would be more of a rebellious thing, where we're not supposed to do this and we better run quick because they're gonna get arrested.

Kirsten Wolfe

I cannot say that the other schools I've been at have had as much nakedness. But in fairness, we haven't had as much since I got here.

Elysee Barakett

That’s Kirsten Wolfe, associate dean and associate director of student conduct and community standards. Wolfe’s been at Brown for nine years. She explained that, at present, there is no campus-wide policy on nudity.

Kirsten Wolfe

One of the recommendations that we made was that the University come up with a campus-wide nudity policy rather than it being prohibited behavior in the code of conduct. Because there was some concern at the time, particularly around folks who have experienced sexual assault being confronted with naked bodies anywhere on campus, that kind of thing, and talking about, should we have limits so that people know what to expect and where to expect it so they can avoid those kinds of things.

Jacob Smollen

But most of the backlash against Brown’s au natural culture comes from beyond College Hill.

Elysee Barakett

What did you find in your reporting about students receiving pushback for their naked activities?

Jacob Smollen

It really starts and ends with Jesse Watters, Bill O’Reilly and Fox News. In 2005, the O’Reilly Factor exposed Sex Power God, with Watters sneaking in and filming the party without the consent of the participants, many of whom were dressed in their underwear. And many of these students would later tell the Herald they felt violated by the airing of the footage.

Today, most students don’t know Sex Power God. I mean, why would they? But for those that have heard, the truth is slightly distorted. Here’s Sulay Restrepo ’25 describing what they’d heard.

Jacob Smollen

What did you hear about it?

Sulay Restrepo

Basically that it was like an orgy, honestly, like that it was just like a sex party. Right? And then everyone would just go and like dance and just have fun and be naked and some people would have sex.

Jacob Smollen

Madison Lease explained that she approved of the venue for the now-notorious party.

Madison Lease

Sayles is the most sexy building, so I would expect that's where it would take place.

Jacob Smollen

Yet, even for nudity-focused events that were explicitly about body-positivity, like Nudity in the Upspace, there was still criticism from Fox News.

Elysee Barakett

What’s Nudity in the Upspace?

Jacob Smollen

Basically, starting in 2012, a group of Brown students led by Becca Wolinsky ’14 hosted nude events on campus in order to discuss body positivity, self acceptance and the intersection of nakedness with other identities. Jack Wrenn can explain a little more.

Jack Wrenn

Nudity in the Upspace was this event at Brown that would take over the upspace in T.F. Green Hall for an entire weekend, devoted to all sorts of celebrations of nudity. There was nude body painting, a nude dance class, nude a lot of things, lectures on nudity, group talks about nudity. It was sort of the hub on campus in the 2010s for anything naked.

Jacob Smollen

In 2013, Jesse Watters decided to show up again, though Brown students weren’t happy about it.

Jesse Watters

Do you guys think this is just a ruse to see your classmates nude?

Anonymous Student 1

No, there are other ways to just see your classmates nude.

Jesse Watters

Do your parents know you participated in nude body painting at school?

Anonymous Student 2

They do now.

Jesse Watters

Say hi to dad.

Anonymous Student 2

Hey, daddy.

Jesse Watters

Now, nude body painting — is that finger painting or is it a roller?

Anonymous Student 3

I’m not really sure, but I assume it could be any of these things.

Jesse Watters

Were you a painter or were you a paintee?

Anonymous Student 4

I was both the artist and the canvas.

Jesse Watters

Did it tickle?

Anonymous Student 4

I wasn’t uncomfortable at all.

Elysee Barakett

So, what is the reasoning behind all the nudity?

Jack Wrenn

We're all born naked. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's definitely, definitely a very problematic notion that nudity is inherently sexual.

Jacob Smollen

Wrenn also co-founded BUNS, the Brown University Naked Society. He and other students emphasized that they want to destigmatize nudity. There’s also a strong element of body positivity and self-acceptance that drives students to strip down.

Addison Kerwin

A lot of different things about my body I thought were weird or different. But then when you're with a group of people, you're like, well, everybody's bodies are weird and that's totally normal. I sound so cringy mom trying to make her daughter feel good about her appearance, but I think it's true.

Jacob Smollen

In general, taking it all off fuels a feeling of freedom.

Jarrett Fernandes

I definitely feel like there's a feeling of freedom. I mentioned this to a friend once, but I was like, you know, sometimes clothes feel very constricting, and they force certain roles onto you. But when you're naked, you just feel like a person.

Elysee Barakett

That was Jarrett Fernandes ’24, another member of BUNS. He also explained that nudist culture often coincides with the values that Brown students hold.

Jarrett Fernandes

I feel like a lot of elements of just nudist culture in general kind of just overlap with a lot of the Brown culture, too. Things like inclusiveness are obviously things that are both important on campus, and it's also a big part of nudism, too. So I don't know if it's necessarily that BUNS is uniquely Brown so much as it is these two things kind of just crossover quite a bit.

Elysee Barakett

While some have deep reasons behind their participation in events like the Naked Donut Run, for others, it's a bit more straightforward. Lease summed it up succinctly.

Madison Lease

I think nudity is fun. We should do more of it.

Elysee Barakett

That’s it for this episode of The Bruno Brief. Join us next week as we explore birth control, abortion and activism at Brown.

This episode was produced by Katy Pickens, Jacob Smollen, Finn Kirkpatrick and me, Elysee Barakett. If you like what you hear, subscribe to The Bruno Brief wherever you get your podcasts and leave a review. Thanks so much for listening.



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