Family Weekend brings together students, families from across the world
Parents, siblings and other family members joined students on College Hill to experience three days of Brown University’s distinct academic and extracurricular life.
Family Weekend 2022
Brown University welcomed alumni and thousands of parents and family members of current students to Providence. Video by Oliver Scampoli
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Nearly 3,000 parents and family members from as far away as South Africa, Greece and Peru — and as near as Providence — convened on College Hill from Oct. 21 to 23 for Brown University’s annual Family Weekend.
A long-running fall tradition, Family Weekend offered families the opportunity to reunite with students on campus for three days of activities — from lectures and athletic events to archaeological digs and concerts — that aimed to capture the breadth of a Brown educational experience.
Throughout the weekend, College Hill buzzed with thousands of joyful visitors, playing games on the College Green, making their way to and from various events, stopping for snacks and coffee at the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, or simply exploring campus under a cloudless sky and canopy of autumnal colors.
In a Friday evening president’s welcome event, Undergraduate Council of Students President Ricky Zhong, Dean of the College Rashid Zia and Brown President Christina H. Paxson welcomed families and noted that, just six weeks into the semester, students are already carving out their own spaces at Brown and developing a crucial sense of ownership and connection within the community.
“This ‘ownership,’ this sense of commitment to a connected community, is one of the primary things that unleashes the magic of the student-centered learning environment we work so hard to create,” Paxson said. “These are intellectually curious, creative, good-hearted students, and they have an uncommon ability to work together in ways that help everyone learn more and aspire higher.”
The cross-disciplinary nature of Brown’s signature Open Curriculum is a central component of the collaboration, she said. The rigorous model of learning, which empowers students to be architects of their own academic experience, supports students who are genuinely excited to learn, creating a distinct bond between students and the faculty members who teach subjects they’re genuinely excited about.
Following the president’s remarks, the impact of a Brown education was brought to life by faculty spotlight addresses from Dean of Engineering Tejal Desai, Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature Zachary Sng and Associate Professor of History Jennifer Lambe — all of whom experienced Brown first as undergraduate students.
Desai is a Class of 1994 alumna who returned “home” to Brown on Sept. 1 as the dean of School of Engineering.
“Yet, in many ways, I’ve been preparing for this role for many, many years,” she said. “As an alum of Brown, I feel like I’ve been welcomed home.”
Though their journeys on campus — and their eventual return as faculty members — were all distinct, the three expressed the foundational collaboration, inquiry and engagement that characterized their Brown education.
“When I was an undergrad, the joke used to be that two Brown students could encounter each other anywhere in the world and find common ground to have at least an hour-long — but probably hours-long — conversation,” said Lambe, a graduate of the Class of 2006. “And it wouldn’t even be about Brown!”
The commonalities of Brown students was a sentiment echoed by Sng, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brown 12 years before Lambe, in 1994. He shared how Brown was instrumental in teaching him the value of difference, and reflected on how the University has adapted and evolved over time, largely as a result of the same sense of ownership among the people who constitute the Brown community.
“Brown has changed because the world has changed, and Brown is profoundly embedded in that world — as an actor, an agent, a driver of change,” Sng said. “Brown has changed because we have changed Brown, because it is the sum of what we bring to it as students and teachers, as families and alumni, as activists and as leaders.”
That change is apparent to Jill Sellers, a Class of 1994 alumna who made the trek to Providence from northern California with her husband, Scott, to visit their daughter — first-year student and varsity sailor Hannah Sellers.
“Providence is a totally different city,” Jill Sellers said, pointing out entire areas of campus that didn’t exist 30 years ago. “And I’ve been super impressed at Brown’s efforts around diversity. It’s a much more diverse campus than when I was here, and it’s so beautiful.”
But Sellers was also delighted to learn that some traditions have held strong: When she was a varsity sailor at Brown herself, the team held weekly Wednesday night meetings in Friedman Hall — known then as Wilson Hall. Hannah’s sailing team meetings take place on the same day, at the same time, in the same exact room; the only thing that’s changed is the name of the building.
Throughout the weekend, Jill and Scott Sellers (Scott also sailed in college, for rival Stanford) got a glimpse into Hannah’s first two months at Brown by meeting her friends, learning about her extracurricular interests in sustainable investing and fashion, joining a team sailing practice, and even getting down Friday night at an ABBA-themed dance party in Providence.
“It kind of brings you back to being 18,” Jill Sellers said. “But at the same time — like yesterday when we went sailing with everyone — we were definitely reminded that we are not 18 anymore.”
To see Brown through their daughter’s eyes was well worth it, sore muscles and all.
“It makes us feel great as parents to know our child is having this opportunity,” Scott Sellers said. “Walking around here, you see so many happy people. It’s just such a great learning environment.”
Never a dull moment
Just like a typical day on campus, the weekend had no shortage of lectures to attend, ad-hoc performances to watch, athletic teams to cheer on and friendly faces to encounter.
Friday’s events offered parents and family members several opportunities to connect more deeply with their students’ education, through panels that illuminated everything from study abroad opportunities and student perspectives on each year of medical school, to navigating the Open Curriculum and career pathways, and exploring the wealth of resources available to students both in and outside of the classroom.
Those panels appealed to Gustavo Zang, father of first-year student Victoria Zang, who traveled to Providence for the weekend from Miami. But it wasn’t his first time on campus — when Victoria was still in high school, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two visited on a tour of potential colleges.
Campus was stark and empty that day, and Victoria struck up a conversation with the only person sitting on the College Green — a move that was “very Victoria,” said Gustavo Zang — which convinced her to apply.
This is Gustavo Zang’s third and final Family Weekend of the year — Victoria has siblings at both Northeastern and Vanderbilt universities — and he said it’s been “unbelievable” to experience Brown through his daughter’s eyes. Meanwhile, Victoria was thrilled to reunite with her father after two months apart and demonstrate how well she has adapted.
“Last time he was here, I didn’t know where anything was,” Victoria Zang said, “and now I’m showing him everything and taking him everywhere,” including the classroom, where he had the chance to sit in on a Hebrew class and meet her professor.
Parent-faculty engagement was a common sight on Saturday when many of the faculty forums delved into academic work and faculty research coming out of Brown.
There were dozens of other events including a walking tour led by the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, which invited guests to learn about the history and legacy of slavery as it pertains to Brown and Rhode Island; a panel discussion with alumni on what they did with their degrees in history; a forum on the intricacies of planetary health; an archaeological excavation where students uncovered the foundations of a 19th-century home on College Hill and processed artifacts from that household; and a women’s soccer 2-0 victory against rival Cornell.
Brown and Providence communities unite for late-October WaterFire lighting
The University’s sponsorship of the Saturday, Oct. 22, lighting came during its Family Weekend and 50 Years of Medicine celebrations, and reflected Brown’s commitment to and connection with the City of Providence.
Launched in the mid-1990s by Brown Class of 1975 graduate Barnaby Evans, the award-winning cultural experience has been acclaimed by Rhode Island residents and international visitors alike as a powerful work of art and a moving symbol of Providence’s renaissance — and Saturday was no exception.
More than 80 bonfires illuminated the river as attendees browsed the many vendors and diverse lineup of programs and performances from Brown-affiliated a cappella groups, dance troupes, live painters and more. In addition to celebrating the weekend reunion of students and families, the event put a spotlight on Brown’s 50 years of impact in medical education and research through the Warren Alpert Medical School, with educational exhibits and remarks from Paxson and Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Mukesh K. Jain.
“Everything that we have achieved could not have been done without the community’s support,” Jain said. “Every Rhode Islander is a part of this school’s history.”
Reflecting the advancement of knowledge in a spirit of joy, and Brown’s engagement in an inclusive, supportive community, it was a fitting finale to the weekend’s festivities as families prepared to journey home on Sunday following an action-packed visit to Brown.
“We didn't have an agenda coming here, so I didn’t know what we were getting into,” Jill Sellers said. “But it’s been awesome to be back. We’re so excited and grateful to be here, doing this all together.”
Whether they're undergraduates transferring from other institutions, students starting master's programs or visiting scholars committing to finishing their degrees on College Hill, nearly 200 students embarked on their Brown journeys in late January.