Orienting Orientation

By Charlotte Bruce Harvey '78 / September / October 2004
June 15th, 2007

Among the 170 or so incoming students expected on campus for the Third World Transition Program in August was one white student. Her enrollment in TWTP, a support program designed for minority freshmen, marked the anticlimactic end of a divisive campus debate last spring.

In order to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, Brown opened TWTP to all incoming students—regardless of race—in 2003, says Karen McLaurin-Chesson ’74, the associate dean who directs the Third World Center and oversees the program. Still, the University actively marketed the program to minority students only, and once that fact became known on campus some students accused Brown of covertly discouraging whites from attending. The Brown Daily Herald ran several columns on the issue last March, and the Debating Union held a public forum.

As a result, this summer all first-year students received an innocuous-looking sheet of paper that listed three optional programs for which incoming students could register in addition to the mandatory orientation program. The first was TWTP. The second was the International Mentoring Program, which pairs new foreign students with upper-class mentors. And the third, aimed at all freshmen, was Building Understanding Across Differences, better known as BUAD, which aims to create a sense of community “through dialogue on issues of race, ethnicity, and gender, sexual difference, class…” etc. Of the three, only TWTP begins before the first day of orientation. The other two can be combined with the standard orientation program.

Four hundred minority students received an additional mailing with a twenty-page booklet on TWTP, and by mid-August, when the BAM went to press, Eldridge Gilbert ’05, one of the program’s two student coordinators, said they’d received 165 applications, one from a white woman. (He was still processing a few applications each day.)

He and McLaurin-Chesson stressed they have not changed the program, which is designed partly to acquaint minority students with Brown and partly to give them a safe, intimate environment in which to discuss issues of racial and ethnic identity. TWTP’s roots go back to 1968, when Brown started a six-week program to prepare a new generation of educationally disadvantaged students for college. Over time, Brown’s student population has changed, and so in turn has the program.

It’s likely to change even more. When the BAM spoke to Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services David Greene this summer, he was awaiting the report of an outside consultant hired to evaluate the program. That report is expected this fall; it will undoubtedly prompt more campus discussion.

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September / October 2004