Dinner and a Movie

By Chad Galts / May / June 1998
December 28th, 2007
A small school has its advantages. Brown offers a low student-to-faculty ratio, intimate classes, and a generally convivial, small-town atmosphere. So when Gordon Gee - who grew up in a town of 2,000 people - and his wife, Constance, decided to go out for movie and pizza one night in March, they invited along every Brown student stranded in Providence for spring break. Gee bought up all the seats in Thayer Street's Avon Theater, asked the cooks at Andrews Hall to fire up the pizza ovens, and selected his snazziest bow tie for a night out with 500 of his closest friends.



While waiting for his wife, Constance, to take her seat beside him, Gee chats with Dean of Student Life Robin Rose and the rest of his invited guests.


It was a giddy evening, and a welcome night out for those students stuck on campus to play catch-up in their courses or unable to afford plane tickets to Fort Lauderdale. For example, Aixa Almonte '00, a visual-arts concentrator from Columbus, Georgia, had to finish a paper, polish some drawings, and take a make-up exam for her group independent study project in Tagalog, a language of the Philippines. Her friend, Thuy Anh Le '00, just wanted to relax. "My friends were all talking about going to London, Cancun, the Bahamas," said Le, a public-policy concentrator from California who couldn't afford to go home for spring break. "I just want to sleep."

After the Avon had filled to capacity, one especially grateful student rushed to the front of the theater to lead the crowd in a rousing, if slightly off-key, rendition of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" aimed at Gee. The president appreciated the sentiment. "This is the first time I've taken a whole group to the movies," he confided as the lights dimmed and the curtain parted in the arty, old-style movie house. The event was pure Gee: an unscripted social gathering that allowed him to mingle casually with his guests. "It's an opportunity for Constance and me to meet some students," he said, "which has both intended and unintended consequences."

Showing at the Avon that night was Starship Troopers, which opened with a futuristic newsreel showing a battlefield littered with decapitated, dismembered, and otherwise mutilated human corpses. A voice-over explained that a group of Mormon missionaries on a distant planet had been attacked by a race of giant bugs at Fort Joseph Smith, their newly established outpost. Gee, who had not seen Starship Troopers before the screening and who's Mormon, found the irony irresistible. "Let me tell you," he said later, cracking a wide smile, "I was a little worried at first, but as soon as they started making fun of Mormons I knew I was all right."

The procession up to the Crystal Room in Alumnae Hall after the movie lacked the formality of a Commencement march, but the participants were no less ardent to reach their destination: free food. Students crowded around tables or pulled up stretches of carpet, stuffing themselves with pizza and ice cream as the Gees worked the room. "I'm Gordon Gee!" the president said to each student in his nasal voice. "So! How are things going?" Constance, who punctuated her more soft-spoken approach with a quick trip to the long food line, made sure her garrulous husband paused long enough between breaths to eat.

Elsewhere around the room, students spoke animatedly about the film, whose violence raised a few eyebrows. "I have to say I'm a little surprised that Gordon Gee decided to see this movie with a group of students," said David Kantro '01, who had already seen Starship Troopers twice. "It's the goriest film I can think of."

Yimei Chng '96, a second-year medical student, pointed out to Dean of Student Life Robin Rose, who had also been at the showing, that the comic-book nature of the violence made it difficult to take seriously. "It was totally meant to be OTT," Chng said.

Rose's brow wrinkled at the acronym.

"You know," Chng explained, "over the top."

The dean nodded.

For the most part, though, the film's loony violence did little to diminish the students' appetites. By the time the evening was over, students had managed to down 816 slices of pizza, 600 Ben & Jerry's ice cream bars, and 720 cans of soda. Late in the evening, with pizza-sated students filing out around him, Gee made a final tour of the room to say hello to the workers who'd been serving the pizza and ice cream, as well as to the plant operations workers shoveling piles of greasy plates and sticky wrappers into trash containers. Finally, casting a look around to see if there were any unshaken hands left in the room, Gordon Gee joined Constance by the door and decided to call it a night.

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May / June 1998