From I to We

By Emily Gold / September / October 2000
October 29th, 2007
Brown is an individualist’s paradise. With no core curriculum and a minimum of required courses, academics are an exercise in self-direction. With no real student union, Brown students live relatively independent lives from one another.

But has individualism gone too far at the University? Do Brown students truly share a sense of a Brown community, or is the emphasis on individualism so great that students have been inadvertently balkanized into like-minded groups? Similarly, have students’ academic and social lives become too disconnected from each other? Such questions intrigued E. Gordon Gee during his short tenure as president, and before leaving he charged Vice President of Campus Life and Student Services Janina Montero with heading a committee, known as the Campus Life Task Force, to examine the whole matter of student life on campus.

In May the task force, which consisted of nineteen students, faculty members, and administrators, issued a report urging a number of community-building steps. Specific recommendations ranged from improving freshman orientation and involving more faculty in campus residential life to improving on-campus housing for graduate and medical students and “an intentional series of discussions about what it means to live at Brown in the world today.”

But the biggest recommendation is to overhaul how dorms are organized. The task force proposed creating “residential clusters,” each of which would consist of a residence hall, or halls, outfitted with such common spaces as living rooms and study areas. Each cluster would offer all available on-campus housing options — double rooms, singles, and suites — so that a student would not have to look elsewhere for a better room. Social activities centered in the clusters would include intramural sports and community-service projects, for example, and each cluster would have faculty members assigned to it for the purpose of organizing discussions and workshops, as well as for providing academic advice in a homier environment. Other academic projects, such as study-skills sessions, would also be brought into the cluster to narrow the gap between living and learning.

Montero now plans to hold several forums this fall to generate discussion on these proposals. If the concept is widely accepted, the next step will be to set up two pilot clusters for the fall of 2001. Montero’s hope is that this residential approach, if broadly implemented, will lead to a stronger sense of both cluster and campus identity, “to bring together, to dovetail the academic, social and broadly educational needs we think are important.”

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September / October 2000