Gems and Joy
In 1984, my friend Richard Bradley, a jewelry major at RISD, brought me to a gritty old warehouse in an unfamiliar, industrial part of Providence. We creaked open an ancient steel door and suddenly we were in Oz—faux gemstones glittered everywhere. Sold by the pound, they were piled in drawers and glued, gleaming, to the fronts of rows and rows of cardboard boxes. We left with bags of them. It was my first introduction to Providence’s historic role as the costume jewelry capital of the country. Yet the city’s former Jewelry District, just across the river from Brown, had long been a wasteland. Not anymore: In addition to being the home of many of Brown’s newest buildings, the reimagined Jewelry District is a hotspot for restaurants and entertainment—see our cover story on page 28.
Richard and I had been planning the Lesbian Gay Student Alliance dance, looking to add some literal sparkle to the traditionally drab event. I’d peeked in the year before, saw a few loops of crepe paper sagging from masking tape and maybe 15 students in attendance, and fled. We vowed it would be different this time and art-directed the heck out of our dance, marketing it with cool posters designed to pique the curiosity of straight students. Tables were covered with pink cloths and strewn with gemstones. Helium balloons with long ribbons filled the airspace. On the appointed night, everybody of every orientation flocked to the event, and the LGSA dance, later dubbed “Sex, Power, God,” became the hottest on campus for many years.
Joy and fun were often in short supply, otherwise. Many in the queer student community were closeted and only one faculty member was fully out. The LGSA, working out of a small room on the third floor of Faunce, focused by necessity on political action and education, trying to get “sexual orientation” into Brown’s nondiscrimination statement and taking overnight shifts during Pride Week watching to make sure the big wooden pink triangle on the Green wasn’t torched again.
Fast forward to last November, when—thanks to a donation from Rowan Gledhill ’21, ’22 AM, and his family—the LGBTQ center moved into the newly renovated, two-story Stonewall House
on Benevolent Street. It’s designed to feel warm, joyful, and homey, says director Caitlin O’Neill. “There are queer and trans students…who can go years or what can feel like a lifetime without feeling like they have a home or that they’re being accepted, seen, and valued,” O’Neill says. Yet how bright we shine when we’re truly included, when there’s room for joy.
In that rich vein, don’t miss this issue’s other feature, “Love & Joy,” by Ivy Scott ’21.5, on page 18. In luminous prose, she describes a cotaught class on African American culture that’s at once deeply, rigorously intellectual, full of disagreement and debate, and a model of joy and belonging; “a safe space for dangerous conversation,” she calls it. It strikes me as Brown at its best: interdisciplinary, interrogatory, intersectional, inclusive. Scholarly and fun. No need to choose between a free exchange of ideas and an embrace of everyone’s full humanity. Brilliant.
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