The Parent Rap

By Emily Gold / November / December 1999
November 5th, 2007
Furious parents want to know: Why can't a junior live off campus? Why is it so hard to get into choice classes? How do they really know how their children are doing? Armed with such questions, 1,300 families arrived on campus for Parents Weekend in mid-October to check up on the pride of the family, meet University officials, and get a taste of academic life.

The festivities began with President E. Gordon Gee and his black poodle, Lucy, working the crowd at a garden reception behind his Power Street house, where guests nibbled pesto-covered toast and bite-sized spinach quiche. Two mothers, Lin Ng and Som Washington-Foy, compared notes about their daughters, Skyler Ng '03 and Maythinee Washington '03, agreeing that they seem "a little more grown up" after two months at Brown. "I would love to be a student here," Ng exclaimed, adding, "I would love to be seventeen or eighteen again." After the reception, a capacity crowd filled Salomon auditorium to hear from David Macaulay, the award-winning author and illustrator of The Way Things Work and the father of Charlotte '03. Macaulay's talk, supplemented by slides of his work, was a journey through three years of sketches, drafts, and failed ideas that resulted in Rome Antics, a pigeon's-eye view of Rome published in 1997.

Next morning about 100 parents returned to Salomon for a question-and-answer session with Dean of the College Nancy Dunbar and Dean of Student Life Robin Rose. Some questions were easy. When one father asked why only seniors can live off campus, Rose explained that on-campus living is aimed at getting students to feel more attached to one another and to campus life.

Other questions were tougher. One man wondered why his son was having so much trouble getting into writing classes. "We sent our son to Brown, we chose Brown, because he could design his own education," the father said. "We're now finding he cannot." Demand for courses fluctuates, Dunbar explained, making it impossible to ensure that every student will have access to every course. The deans hope to ease the problem in the future with a new first-come, first-served pre-registration process for certain classes.

"How do we know how our freshmen are doing?" another father asked. "My first response," Dunbar said, "is you need to ask them." If the reply is an unconvincing "fine," parents should urge their kids to talk to faculty members. Parents can also be assured that deans will contact students if the interim academic reports filed by many faculty members indicate serious academic trouble.

By the end of the weekend, many relatives seemed reassured about how their students were faring. For this reason, Frank Visconi, grandfather of Morgan Rabach '02, has attended every one of his granddaughter's Parents Weekends. "We can't get in enough hours of e-mail," he said.

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November / December 1999