An Interview On
Brown University

Background

Interview Date:April 2018

Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: White
Graduation Year: 2018
High School Experience: Public school in Westchester, NY with a graduating class of about 400 students.
Concentration: History
Extracurricular Activities: I have a paid job making the Brown Yearbook, I’m part of the Brown Chapter of the ACLU, I’m part of the Petey Green Program where students volunteer to tutor inmates at the Adult Correctional Institute in Cranston once a week, and I’m also part of the Meiklejohn [peer advising] program

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact?
I started doing the ACLU my junior fall and that is when I started getting involved with the specific subcommittee for advocating for the rights of incarcerated people. I was doing that in tandem with taking a class for my concentration that was A Global History of Prison Captivity and that’s kind of how I geared my focus for advocating for the rights of people touched by the criminal justice system and that’s the work that I’m going to want to do when I leave Brown as well. That’s when that crystallized and then the spring after doing that work was when I got involved with Petey Greene. All of that work together has been the favorite of my work at Brown.

Academic Experience

Can you describe your weekly coursework for your concentration?
It definitely varied a lot since I traversed through the different courses. When I first started at Brown I was taking more entry-level survey courses, which meant they were less in depth, they would meet more often, and they would require a little bit more work because they tend to be larger class sizes so the professors have to try to keep you accountable. You end up having more work that feels arbitrary, like writing a blog post in some classes talking about the reading or writing a response paper that is one page long. They also usually require you to have a discussion section once a week, which is more time you need to put into the course.

As I got deeper into it, I was doing a little bit more in-depth work in more seminar-style classes. They’re smaller and have a lot more reading. A lot of my classes required us to read a book a week for my classes but the assignments were more sporadic. You just had to be prepared to come in and talk in class. I tend to like that better because the work didn’t seem arbitrary and you had to read the book in-depth to be able to appreciate the two and a half hours that you spent talking about it. The work ramped up around sophomore and junior year, but, in a way, that felt more engaging and rewarding.

Is there anything that you feel your concentration’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
I think what I have loved most about the History department has been the professors. It seems to me that they are particularly emotionally invested in the material that they teach and that comes across in the effectiveness of their lectures, their conversation points in the seminars and in their willingness to engage with you outside the classroom. Like if you want to just go talk to them about adjacent material or stuff you’re doing in your own life that is or isn’t relevant to the class. Especially stuff that seems relevant to their work they’re really excited about it and I think that’s something that is unique to the department.

One thing that I think the department struggles with is that there are a lot of concentrators and everyone’s interest are pretty spread out so I didn’t feel like I had a good sense of who else was concentrating in History until I took a course that was a thesis prep course. I didn’t end up going through with my thesis, but I really loved the course because it was like the first time that I got to just talk about what the discipline of history was and what I loved so much about it, and meet the other people who were doing this work alongside me that I hadn’t met or crossed path with. So, I think the department could work to create a greater sense of community.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think that Brown is unique in that I feel that people here always want to help each other. I have a lot of conversations outside of class about material that I found really fascinating in class, and when people share that kind of knowledge it rarely feels like people trying to one-up each other or prove how smart they are. It feels to me that there is genuine interest to learn what [people] think is interesting and to share for the sake of learning.

I would also say that it is very collaborative. I had a course that I really struggled with and had a friend who would take like two hours of his time and just try to teach me things so I would get better. I feel like it’s a very supportive environment and people want each other to succeed.

What has been your favorite class in your concentration?
My freshman seminar that I took in the fall. It is why I decided to study History as a concentration. It was basically an in-depth look at Abraham Lincoln from a lot of different angles. Oh wait, I’m actually going to change [my answer] because I just remembered another course that I loved more. It was a sophomore seminar and it was a comparative study of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bob Dylan. It was awesome. We would switch off every week of having a more in-depth discussion about one or the other. They have a lot of weird similarities and it was kind of a pet project of the professors. It was really, really fun.

What has been your least favorite class in your concentration?
I’m finishing my concentration with a survey-level legal history course called Great Trials. I’m learning that I don’t love legal history. I do really like the content of the lectures, but I feel that we can get caught up in the weeds in a way that I don’t love. I think I like to study things more deeply and I don’t like that we brush over a lot of things to get the general point.

What’s a fun class you’ve taken outside of your concentration?
I took a West African dance class and I took it last spring and I’m taking it again this year. It’s so different than anything I’ve ever done. I don’t dance, I don’t do any theater stuff. It’s a lot of meditating or just dancing weirdly with partners or walking around the room in weird ways. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done at Brown. You get to learn about your body and meet a lot of people.

Why did you choose History?
Because I felt like I really liked hearing stories and telling stories. I’ve always been interested in social advocacy type stuff, but I like to be able to figure out where things come from and how things come together really seems the best way to understand what’s going on around me, the phenomena that I see and the things I want to change in the world. I also just think it’s fun to read a lot of stories. I enjoy reading a history book and seeing names that I have encountered in other classes and being able to put weird references together. It’s like an endless vault of things to think about. You could study people and look at the same things from a thousand different angles and always learn something new. So, I really like the richness of it in that regard, but I also think it’s really fun to read stories all the time.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Metcalf with one roommate. It was a recently renovated freshman dorm and it was wonderful. I loved living there so much.

Sophomore: Olney Hall with the same roommate. Two fraternities shared it, but in all the frat and sorority houses there are independent people that live in them

Junior: New Dorm. For the first semester I lived in a pretty big double and then second semester I moved into a single room in a four-person suite.

Senior: I’m living about three blocks off campus with five of my friends.

What was your favorite living situation?
Honestly, I’m so grateful for my freshman dorm. I still am really, really great friends with a ton of people that I met in my freshman dorm. We had a lot of common spaces and a lot of opportunities to hang out together. I think in dorms where there wasn’t that kind of environment built into the physical architecture people struggled a little bit more to know who is on their hall and there weren’t those close connection made that really made it feel like home.

What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
I’m a big coffee shop studier. There’s a couple of places I like to go to on Wickenden Street. Specifically, The Shop and Coffee Exchange are two of my favorites. It’s nice because you run into maybe a couple of people but they’re often just quieter places you can get away from Brown. I’ve also recently discovered a new favorite place downtown which is called Riffraff. It’s a book store and coffee shop by day and a bar by night so it’s fun because you can go study there and then you can get a drink.

Pros and cons of being in Providence?
Pros: (1) It’s super close to Boston, so if you have friends studying there or if you want to experience a bigger city you have that pretty easily accessible.
(2) It’s pretty fun to live in a city like Providence because it’s very small. Brown sometimes feels like the center of it. When you feel like you’re able to break away from the Brown Bubble and get down there it’s really easy to navigate by foot. You can also bike. There’s a lot of beautiful biking around here. It’s good to get the city feel but not be crushed by it.
(3) It can be really beautiful here. You have all four seasons which is kind of fun.

Cons: (1) Weather. It’s been freezing this winter and the winter started pretty late so we’re a little bit worried about the fact that it’s April and I’m still in a down coat. So, if you’re not used to that it can be tough.
(2) Providence is a city but it’s not a huge city. As much fun as it is to see shows or go to museums you are limited by Providence’s capacity. You do have to travel outside if you want a fuller cultural experience.
(3) Living at Brown in Providence in particular, you have to work a little bit to get yourself out of the Brown Bubble. You could comfortably go here for four years and never leave campus. I think it’s important to go into Providence and recognize that we live in a really specific part of the city and that it looks super different outside and sometimes it can be tough to remember to do that or force yourself to do it.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I would say that Brown has a lot of options but my preferences have changed over the course of my time here. I was definitely into the house party type scene for a while. I’m going to a lot more concerts and shows now. That type of vibe is what I enjoy on campus too. Most of the concerts I go to are off campus, Providence is great for that. There’s a lot of venues that can hold people and there’s a lot of community art so you can always find places where people are playing shows in coffee shops and stuff for pretty cheap. Also, people at Brown who study music or are into music participate in groups. Like, I have a friend that plays in a jazz group and they get together every Wednesday and play for people and it’s really casual. I also have a friend who hosts random techno shows in his basement, so stuff like that can be really fun.

Can you describe a typical night freshman year?
I would say if it’s a Friday night you’d spend a few hours pretending to do homework but also hanging out. I had a really close-knit dorm freshman year so we really made use of our common spaces. We would all get together, have a smaller party for a little bit. Honestly, freshman year was kind of absurd, I feel like there’s a lot of walking around to different places that like someone heard that someone else said that somebody was having a party. It was a lot of like searching for stuff but I have to say that they were definitely nights when you did find the one thing that we still talk about. Freshman year was definitely tough because you didn’t know that many upperclassmen so you kind of just walk around campus but that in itself can be pretty fun. The search is not always that bad. It doesn’t always have to be the finding the thing at the end that is the most fun. Brown is nice because a lot of our nightlife happens on campus.

What have been your favorite days or nights at Brown?
The days in the fall and the spring when everyone isn’t exactly skipping class, but I mean I’ve definitely skipped class for when it’s just like sunny and warm and beautiful outside [laughs]. It seems like the entire school and everybody you’ve ever been friends with is walking by smiling. There’s music playing and you’re kind of doing homework and chatting with your friends. That is just the most fun environment and it feels like when it gets to be springtime or in the first two weeks in the fall and you don’t have a lot of work it feels like it’s just one big party.

How happy were you with the nightlife at Brown? If you could change anything, what would you change?
Once I got to be a sophomore it got easier. I think something that was a sign for me that I think is sometimes a struggle is if you don’t have a super wide network of people that you’re either friendly with or are really good friends with it might feel a little bit tough to find stuff to do at night. There might be stuff that you’re interested in, but the channel of communication is mostly word of mouth. So, it can be a little bit tough for people, and it was especially tough freshman year when I didn’t know as many people.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
Most of them I lived with freshman year. I was lucky to live with a lot of them. From there, it was a lot of people forming different friend groups through their classes or meeting people through their classes and pulling them in. I think I had a unique experience but a really great one where I just trended in the same way as a lot of the same people I met and we kind of grew together. My living situation definitely determined it in a way that I’m really thankful for.

How would you describe the overall social scene at Brown?
I think it varies a lot by year. Brown could feel a little bit cliquey freshman year because people are trying to find their niche. People definitely want to feel comfortable and a way that happens is by holding fast to the boundaries of people that you’ve decided are your friends. I also think that Brown is a place where people are friendly and a lot of the people I meet also want to make new friends and that’s been true almost all my years. People always are down to talk to you and hang out with you and that makes it pretty easy to do new things. I think the friendliness really opens it up in a way that might be unique to Brown. There seems to be pretty fluid boundaries between groups of friends and groups of people.

Do you think people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I actually think about this a lot because my friend group is very diverse in both of those regards. I’ve heard people express concerns that that isn’t true, especially with regard to race. I’ve heard people talk about the fact that Brown can sometimes seem like a little bit sectioned off and friendships can be decided a little bit along racial lines. I have been in some conversations that have been trying to interrogate that and to figure out what that’s all about. But, I also think that Brown is a great place where you meet a ton of people of so many identities. It’s never been something that has kept me from making friends and I am lucky to have a friend group that is diverse in race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic class. I think people definitely think about that, but to me, it seems like a place where it doesn’t necessarily go down that way.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I have not been able to really utilize it as much so far. I’m hoping to do that now that I’m searching for a job after I graduate and I anticipate that that’s where I’m going to find the most success. My friend who is an engineer has gotten offers from organizations exclusively through alums who she has reached out to and had conversations with. People from Brown want to hire people from Brown and are willing to help people from Brown and want them to succeed. I think that’s actually a huge factor in peoples’ success in finding work.

How helpful has the career office been?
They’ve definitely been helpful in helping me strategize for what I’m going to do. I think that they lack the infrastructure to help people find jobs that are not in consulting, finance and tech. It’s very, very heavily skewed pre-professional support-wise towards those disciplines. That is frustrating to me because those are also the disciplines where there are very clear steps that you have to take in your job search. I’m trying to go into some kind of social advocacy work and there’s a lot less support even in terms of want companies exist and what organizations do I speak to outside of the big names like Teach for America. It’s harder to even know where to start and I have struggled to get the really clear logistical support that my peers have been able to exercise. [The top three industries for Brown graduates are Computing, Financial Services, and Consulting.]

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew before entering Brown as a freshman?
People always talk about trying new stuff at college and I came into Brown thinking everybody was so cool and was so with it and that I was the one that was out of the loop. There were some things I could have tried extracurricular-wise that I would have really loved and been interested in, but because I viewed all of my classmates as superstars, I felt afraid to really go all out and try a bunch of new stuff because I felt like other people had a leg up on me already. I also wish understood that Brown was a place that was going to open their arms to me in a way where I could have thrown myself into stuff and be a little bit less hesitant and have fewer inhibitions.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
The List building has a staircase and it’s two floors of murals. It’s very beautiful and super fun and a great place to see photos. It’s also right on the route downtown so you can stop there and check out Providence some more.

Reasons to attend Brown:
1) The people. I’ve met some of the best people I’ve met at Brown.
2) I love that professors really care about students here. They have to because professors have to teach undergrads, so you don’t choose to teach here if you don’t want to teach undergrads. You get really special attention and your professors really care about the material they’re teaching.
3) The Open Curriculum is so wonderful. You get to study a bunch of stuff and you don’t have to know what you’re doing in all of your classes.
4) There are Engaged Scholars courses here where you have to do a community service component where you have to do some of the stuff you are studying and I think that’s really unique and great.

Reasons to not attend Brown:
1) If you’re looking for a school that’s extremely pre-professional Brown is not that type of place. People come to Brown because they want to experience college and learn for the sake of learning.
2) If you want to learn skills that will help you directly with jobs, I wouldn’t say it’s the place that is typically equipped for that.
3) The mid-size makes it so you are neither blending into the crowd nor are you seeing familiar faces every single day. If you want either of those, it’s not for you. I actually think Brown is a pretty good balance in that regard.
4) There’s an assumption here that you can craft whatever life you want and that you can be so happy. That can be its own unique pressure at times because if you find yourself unhappy it’s like, “well, why?” There’s sometimes an extra added pressure to be like, “Oh, I’m happy, I’m doing unique stuff, I’m enjoying myself!” and I think that’s unique to a school like Brown opposed to a place where there’s the expectation of you have to take a certain class and it will be tough and that’s fine.

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