PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — More than 1,700 parents and family members, some from as far away as China, Costa Rica and Cyprus, arrived on College Hill on Friday, Oct. 19, for a weekend of talks, sports, music and more.
Family Weekend, an annual tradition at Brown, gives parents and relatives the opportunity to see the world through a Brunonian’s eyes for a few days.
This year, families who returned after having said goodbye to students six weeks earlier saw a campus transformed: The crisp air and blazing yellow and orange foliage was a sharp contrast to early September’s high temperatures and leafy greenery. It was a physical manifestation of the inward transformation parents might soon observe in their children, said Brown President Christina Paxson in a welcome address on Saturday afternoon.
“As your child moves through Brown, you will see tremendous growth in maturity, intellectual sophistication and sense of purpose,” Paxson said. “Our job at Brown is to enable this transformation — to do everything we can to ensure that your children become innovative thinkers, collaborative problem-solvers and compassionate citizens who impact the world.”
There was no better leader to stir compassion and action in students and families alike, Paxson said, than the weekend’s keynote speaker — longtime journalist and Brown parent Maria Hinojosa.
“As citizens... we seek authenticity and truth, especially when it comes from the life experiences of people without power,” Paxson said. “This is what Maria Hinojosa has brought to us during a brilliant 30-year career as a journalist, author, storyteller and chronicler of lives under duress.”
Hinojosa, the anchor and executive producer of National Public Radio’s “Latino USA” and of the PBS series “America by the Numbers,” spoke to a crowd of hundreds about her “beautiful and intense and quiet relationship with Brown.” She said she first visited campus more than two decades ago to report on a story for CNN. She’d heard about an African American student who had struggled with depression and then became an advocate for mental health among young people of color.
“What really moved me was that the University was so supportive of his work,” Hinojosa said. “There was a seed planted inside my head for Brown.”
The journalist devoted much of her keynote to the subject of immigration policy. She shared the story of her own entry into the United States as a Mexican child, noting that she was nearly separated from her mother and siblings and quarantined because an immigration official noticed she had a rash.
“That story… has actually become the story of this moment,” she said, alluding to the thousands of children who have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. “I had this revelation that it could have been me.”
Hinojosa encouraged all parents, students and faculty alike to take action in whatever way they can. She cited as inspiration the 1968 Walkout, when 65 black students at Brown marched off campus and successfully advocated for increased social, academic and financial support for black students.
“People always ask, ‘What do I do?’” she said. “Don’t ask that. You know what to do. I can’t have you silent — not when it’s the 50th anniversary of 1968, when students across the country were running the national narrative.”
Touchdowns and talks
Beyond just the keynote, Family Weekend — like so many mid-semester weekends at Brown — was bursting at the seams with activity, from a Bears football game against Cornell to a student production of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” set at a contemporary house party.
The weekend’s events kicked off Friday with a flurry of departmental open houses, exhibits and concerts. Many students and families flocked to Pembroke Hall to hear gender theorist and Brown alumna Kate Bornstein detail a decades-long journey living outside the bounds of gender identity.
On Saturday, those looking to learn something new headed to academic forums, which shined a spotlight on groundbreaking research at Brown. In the morning, Brown faculty member David Kertzer shared the recently unearthed correspondence of Nicholas Brown, a 19th-century U.S. consul to Rome and son of the University’s namesake, and discussed his influential role in the Romans’ uprising against Pope Pius IX.
Later that day, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Jeff Huang highlighted research from the Human-Computer Interaction research group, a collaborative effort between faculty and students that has provided new insights on eye-tracking, smartphone sleep sensing and augmented reality systems.
In the afternoon, following a trip to the Brown Bookstore and a barbecue lunch, sophomore Jeanne Ernest accompanied her parents and grandmother to a discussion on the topic of black aliveness. The Ernest-Robinson family raved about Professor of English Kevin Quashie’s thoughtfulness and poetry selections.
“We love attending Family Weekend,” said Veda Ernest, who had driven to Providence from Vienna, Virginia, with her husband and mother that morning. “We hope to attend every year Jeanne is a student here.”
Farther north on College Hill, students, loved ones and members of the public were invited to grab a shovel and dig up a piece of history at an active archaeological excavation hosted by Brown’s Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World.
Across the river, in Providence’s Jewelry District, first-year students at the Warren Alpert Medical School received white coats decorated with the Brown coat of arms, a symbol of their commitment to medicine. And after the sun went down, Mark Seto stepped onto the podium in Sayles Hall to conduct the Brown University Orchestra in a concert of old and new classical music — his first as the orchestra’s new conductor.
Family Weekend wasn’t just a time for intellectual engagement and entertainment. It was also an opportunity for families to learn about the vast resources and support systems available to Brown students.
Throughout the weekend, open houses and panels hosted by Health Services, the Warren Alpert Medical School, the Office of International Programs and more showed parents and other relatives what they do to help students stay well, get research funding and study abroad, among other things.
Such signs of support were comforting for Ellen and Jeff Charnov, who live nearly 2,000 miles away from their son Brandon, a junior. During past Family Weekends, the family had visited Hillel to meet members of Brandon’s support system. This year, rather than mapping out a day-by-day itinerary, the family of three spent the weekend simply wandering around campus and spending time in Brandon’s room, savoring the scant time they had together.
Jeff Charnov, who graduated from Brown in the 1980s, said that though much had changed since his student years, he felt a similar sense of ease as he strolled through the College Green.
“Thayer Street has changed, but the campus looks almost exactly the same today as it did when I went to Brown,” Charnov said. “It still feels like home.”
That feeling is one the University actively seeks to inspire in students, Paxson said. A sense of comfort in one’s everyday environment, she said, is crucial to success — one of the reasons why faculty and staff at Brown work hard to create an environment where students can thrive.
“No matter where your children are from, they instinctively find a comfortable second ‘home’ on College Hill — in their routines, their friends, their extracurricular activities, and in the many kinds of academic and wellness support we provide,” Paxson said. “Brown has worked hard to remove obstacles to having the transformative experience we know students will have once they get here.”
Hinojosa echoed Paxson’s words, observing that over the course of her many visits to College Hill, she’s felt an unparalleled sense of belonging and empowerment — and so has her daughter.
“I just want to say thank you to the Brown community for seeing me,” Hinojosa said. “And thank you for seeing my daughter.”