[Photo illustration by Michael Cohea]
Brown University is not celebrating its 250th birthday quietly. A two-day celebration kicks off Friday morning, March 7, with a “morning of academic exploration and discovery” for more than 250 local middle schoolers. That event, according to a university press release, will cover “a rover working on the surface of Mars, archaeological digs, modern dance, bats in flight, Sanskrit, robots and drones, virtual reality, brain mapping, poetry with Rhode Island’s poet laureate, vocal training, memory research, aerodynamics of paper airplanes, and more options, all of them led by Brown faculty and graduate students.”
Festivities accelerate from there. Over the following 48 hours, there will be arts exhibitions at both the Granoff Center and David Winton Bell Gallery; a concert by the Brown Wind Symphony; performances by more than 20 student groups, including an a cappella group called Arrr!!! specializing in sea chanteys and drinking songs; a keynote address by World Bank president and Brown alum (Class of 1982) Dr. Jim Yong Kim; a separate keynote address — this one, for Saturday’s inaugural Colloquium on the Virtues of a Liberal Education — by US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez (Class of ’83); architectural walking tours of campus; a research presentation on concussions at the Alpert Medical School; a men’s basketball game against Harvard with a 250th-anniversary-themed halftime program; a panel discussion called “Bridging the Great Divide: Politics, Polarization, and Progress in 21st Century America” featuring Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (Class of ’75), along with the governors of Delaware and New Hampshire (also Brown grads); a 250th anniversary fireworks display; and the presentation of a “massive” birthday cake in the shape of Brown’s first building, University Hall.
And, of course, the festivities aren’t limited to this weekend. This year will also bring a short film called The Brown Difference, a “semiquincentenary Water Fire” during Brown’s Family Weekend in October, a smorgasbord of 250-branded merchandise for sale at the Brown Bookstore, and — again, quoting from that same epic press release — “International celebrations . . . held in London, Hong Kong, Berlin, Machu Pichu, and elsewhere across the globe by the international Brown community.”
And why shouldn’t Brown throw down? The school, no matter what your feelings about it are, is a Big Friggin’ Deal. And, with a main campus jutting proudly off the crest of College Hill in Providence, it falls squarely within the geographical (and, historical, intellectual, cultural, and political) terrain we cover in this paper.
But how do you say anything both brief and meaningful about a school that spans the eras of John and Moses Brown (captured masterfully in Charles Rappleye’s Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution) and the NSFW “Brown Bares” forum on Reddit where undergrads have been known to post photos of their naughty bits?
We’ll leave the essay writing to the literary stars — from A.J. Jacobs to Edwidge Danticat to Rick Moody to local scribes Bill Reynolds and M. Charles Bakst — who contributed to The Brown Reader: 50 Writers Remember College Hill, a 250th-anniversary-themed anthology due for release in May. Here at the Phoenix, we simply pulled together some numbers in an attempt to shine some light on the incomprehensible depth, breadth, and complexity of Rhody’s sole Ivy League institution. We have failed, of course, to do justice to even this modest task. Which is why we invite you to head to Facebook (Facebook.com/ProvidencePhoenix), Twitter (@provphoenix), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), and the comments section of our website (providence.thephoenix.com) to submit the numbers and accompanying explanations about Brown that mean the most to you.
Let’s crunch some numbers, Brunonians.