When BrownTogether, our new, comprehensive fund-raising campaign, was unveiled to the community on a crisp evening in October, there were currents of promise, hope, and pride in the air.
Riveting musical and spoken-word performances by Brown students followed provocative TED talks by Brown faculty: among them were Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies Dov Sax on climate change and species conservation; Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry Phyllis Dennery on early childhood health; and Associate Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Patricia Ybarra on Latin American theater artists. A rousing choral finale brought a gathering of devoted Brunonians to their feet.
And, as the celebration quieted and gave way to the work of building tomorrow’s Brown, there was suddenly, miraculously, some time to reflect on the idea of BrownTogether.
The campaign name did not come easily. We spent long hours parsing words and phrases to capture the distinctly Brown aura of aspiration and purpose. BrownTogether felt just right to me. This is partly because there has been one steady certainty in my three-plus years at Brown: many of my interactions—with students, faculty, and alumni—invariably touch on some aspect of “together.”
Like the time during office hours when I met with three undergrads who wanted to empower first-generation students. They shared their experience of arriving at Brown and realizing they needed support. They wanted to do something, together.
This was the beginning of 1vyG, the first national group for first-generation students, which organized a highly successful conference at Brown for first-generation students and university administrators. Other students I met with spent a summer in the B-Lab planning a new nonprofit to gather best-practice resources for supporting and celebrating first-generation students, with the goal of extending their reach to colleges and universities across the country.
Or the time I sat with a group of students and faculty who wanted to engage on climate change. They decided the most effective approach would be to work together with state policy leaders on new Rhode Island legislation. Supported and encouraged by the University, members of the Brown community were key to passage of the first-ever climate change legislation in the state.
Or the time Brown students, alumni, and parents joined together to create BrownConnect, which identifies summer internship and research opportunities, and provides financial assistance to help make them available to all students. Not long ago, I received a letter of thanks from a student who’d landed a competitive internship, in part because of helpful Brown resources and connections. I suspect future presidents will receive thanks from alumni who have benefited from these life-changing experiences.
Interactions like these affirm for me that our distinctly Brown approach—a wholehearted commitment to academic inquiry, interdisciplinary scholarship, and a diverse, supportive campus community—can be consequential in so many ways.
And they affirm that a Brown education is so much more than thirty-two courses. It is also what happens, together, in the white space between them—the freedom to imagine and launch 1vyG, tackle global problems like climate change, or create opportunity for promising students.
The evening of the campaign launch was indeed inspiring. But I know it was just the beginning. The real promise of BrownTogether is what will happen in the years to come. Brown, already a great university, has extraordinary potential to serve the world by bringing people and ideas together to advance knowledge and understanding.
And that is what makes the words “BrownTogether” so profound for me.