Date October 15, 2023
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Family Weekend at Brown brings together students, families from across the world

From forums and a football game to an evening at the city’s renowned WaterFire, Family Weekend offered three days of social, academic and cultural activities on Brown’s campus and beyond.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — As Daryl and Peggy Twitchell strolled through Brown’s College Green with their daughter, sophomore Emily Twitchell, they were transported back in time and recalled meeting each other more than three decades ago as students in the same curricular advisory group for Chinese history studies at Brown.

The two Class of 1993 graduates were among more than 2,600 family members of current students from across the U.S. and around the world who convened on campus from Oct. 13 to 15 to celebrate Family Weekend 2023, a fall tradition that offers a wide array of social, academic and cultural activities.

“I’m excited to see what Emily has done to make it her own,” Daryl Twitchell said. “This is her school now, it’s her place. It’s thrilling that she’s here.”

Perfect fall weekend weather presented an ideal setting for activities on campus and beyond, including guided tours, a “Barbie” movie night on the College Green, yoga on the Quiet Green, sporting events, and more opportunities for students to give their families a taste of the educational and student life experience at Brown.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my life here at Brown, and now it’s awesome that I can introduce it to my friends, show them all the places I have class and just explore the campus together,” said first-year student Gustavo Trope Mayer, who was joined by his parents Rony and Larissa Trope Mayer, who are originally from São Paulo, Brazil, and traveled to Providence from their home in Sarasota, Florida.

The Trope Mayers were charmed by Brown’s historic campus and enjoyed dining with their son in Andrews Commons, soaking in the sunshine on the College Green, attending an open house for study abroad programs, and engaging with Providence’s premier cultural event, WaterFire, in a University-sponsored full lighting.

“This, for us, is a dream — that he is studying here,” Rony Trope Mayer said. “We both went to college in Brazil, and having the opportunity to experience all of this, for us, is like we are living the same experience with him, and that is why we’re very excited about everything here at Brown and his experience here.”

Brown University Family Weekend 2023

For parent Rhondella Richardson, Family Weekend presented an opportunity to spend cherished time with her daughter, junior Rhylee Richardson Porter, and her daughter’s friends. She learned about her daughter’s classes and soaked in the sights and sounds around campus, including an artist trunk show on Friday, a football game on Saturday and the dining scene in Providence.

“It’s nice to see campus alive with activity and for her to be super a part of it — it makes my heart go pitter-patter,” Richardson said.

Living and learning in challenging times

Brown President Christina H. Paxson gave a warm welcome to families on Friday evening at the Salomon Center for Teaching, urging parents to gain a firsthand sense of the Brown experience during the weekend. In particular, she encouraged families to support first-year students, many of whom want to leap into everything the University offers at once, in establishing the right cadence of academics, extracurricular activities and social life.

New students have arrived during a difficult time, she acknowledged, with conversations about terrorism, war, conflict, racism, antisemitism, censorship and polarization often seeming to dominate discourse — particularly after the events in Israel and Gaza over the last week.

“These things can and do create tensions, fears and sometimes even conflict on campus among members of our community,” Paxson said. “I’m an optimist, though. I think this is really why students come to college: to live and learn through difference and discussion. Sometimes these moments create opportunities for learning and growth, and I hope that’s what we see here this semester. I really stand proud of what we do at Brown. Everything we do every single day, the story is the same: Students and faculty working together as partners, advancing knowledge in the spirit of free inquiry, and in diverse and inclusive community.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist C.J. Chivers of the New York Times, whose son is a senior at Brown, delivered the weekend’s keynote. He shared the compelling story of his life and career in the military and in journalism, paired with a bleak, unflinching assessment of the world’s challenges informed by his reporting from war zones across the globe.

His message? Healthy cultures, nations and leaders make better, more-informed decisions when they foster free expression, considering voices outside of the mainstream and beyond those with the most power.

“As a journalist and instructor each week, I ask myself: What voices aren’t being heard? What voices are being silenced?” he said. “… Remember that free expression is not just the role of institutions, be they colleges or newspapers or governments. It lies with each and every one of us, and all of you as individuals, to try to summon the strength and the tolerance we need.”

Before a Q&A session with Paxson and the audience in which he shared thoughts on everything from the misfortunes of social media to the decline of local journalism, Chivers transitioned back from the stormy picture he’d painted with an urge to those who’d journeyed to Brown for Family Weekend.

“We are here as families, for our students, and I hope sincerely that no matter the state of the world beyond the campus, that your shared time is meaningful and fulfilling, even joyous,” he said. “You know the feeling, right? Smiling through tears, laughing while sobbing. It’s okay. That’s part of the way out. We need our families ever more in times of fear and pain. I hope that grounding rituals — along with hope and the promise and future of the generation we came here to celebrate — sustain you all.”

Touchdowns, torches and talks

Beyond the keynote, faculty forums and panel discussions, Family Weekend was bursting with activities, including a thrilling Saturday football victory for the Bears against Princeton, with Brown topping its competitor 28-27 in overtime at Richard Gouse Field at Brown Stadium.

Meanwhile, in the Pizzitola Sports Center, the Brown women’s volleyball team earned its fifth straight win, sweeping Harvard 3-0.

The packed day culminated downtown along the Providence River, where students, families and community members from all over the region took part in a Brown-sponsored full lighting of WaterFire Providence. The creation of Brown Class of 1975 graduate Barnaby Evans, WaterFire Providence is a unique public art and cultural experience. Attendees enjoyed crackling fires along the river as world music wafted through the crisp October air — an event for which Peggy Twitchell was particularly excited, noting that the downtown rivers were covered when she and her husband attended Brown.

“We hardly ever went downtown [when we were students],” she said.

“Now it’s a totally different city,” her husband added. “It’s incredible.”

For students whose families could not join Family Weekend festivities, the Global Brown Center for International Students teamed up with the Undocumented, First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center to offer an array of activities, including a virtual tea time with international parents, an apple picking excursion, and a facilitated WaterFire walk for students did not have families in town to join them, according to Global Brown Center Director Andrew Heald.

International students Collin Ham, a senior from South Korea, and Julia Stepanenko, a sophomore from Ukraine — both of whom serve in Brown’s International Mentoring Program — helped to organize the WaterFire walk and led a group on the apple-picking trip to Clark Farms in Matunuck, Rhode Island, for a quintessential autumnal New England experience.

“We’re pretty much halfway through the semester, and it’s a time when students could be feeling a little bit homesick,” Ham said.

“Then all of your friends have their families coming,” Stepanenko added.

“We’re helping lead of a bunch of the freshman who want to participate in Family Weekend and have a good time,” Ham said.

For parent Susan Y. Chon, a Class of 1991 graduate of Brown, Family Weekend offered an opportunity to spend quality time with her two daughters — senior Sam and sophomore Sydney — while reflecting on her own time on College Hill.

“Brown was such a huge time of growth for me and all the positive experiences that came after,” Chon said. “Brown is such a great space for someone who’s trying to learn about themselves and the world… because it’s so open and accepting about different ideas.”