Date June 4, 2024
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Passages: Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes

An accomplished campus life leader who held professional and governance roles at Brown, Oberlin, Duke, Syracuse and Trinity College, Estes leaves a legacy as a caring, trusted colleague deeply committed to students.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Eric Estes, a longtime education leader who served as vice president for campus life at Brown University since 2016, died on Tuesday, June 4, at age 55.

Brown President Christina H. Paxson wrote to the University community to share what she called heartbreaking, unexpected news. She said Estes passed away after a sudden illness and noted that his mother, Angela Estes, was able to travel to Providence before his death.

Since Estes’ arrival at Brown, the University benefited from his vision and commitment to members of the campus community, and especially the success and well-being of students, Paxson said. He served in essential leadership roles during momentous events, including playing pivotal roles in guiding Brown through the COVID-19 pandemic and amid the challenges of the last two semesters as geopolitical conflict across the nation and world affected Brown community members in deep and personal ways. His excellent judgement and calm demeanor were essential during difficult times, she noted, and Estes spoke often of the importance of inclusive community, appreciating others for their “true selves,” and respecting the lived experiences of others.

“These values informed his commitment to ensuring that members across our community could cultivate understanding across differences,” Paxson wrote. “He played a pivotal role in convening students to build bridges and be in dialogue with one another. He also worked with faculty and staff across Brown to help advance the importance of sustaining a community of educators both inside and outside the classroom. Truly, Eric’s impact was broad and deep.”

Estes’ impact was demonstrated by the strengthening of residential life, health services, identity and cultural centers, student support, and other Campus Life areas that occurred under his leadership, Paxson wrote. He guided plans for a new health and wellness center and three new residence halls. The LGBTQ Center was given a new home, now known as Stonewall House, as a result of his leadership. And Estes worked to build stronger supports for military-affiliated students, international students and students with disabilities. He also treasured his informal interactions with students, frequently hosting dinners and gatherings for students in his home.

“Beyond his many professional accomplishments, many of us will remember Eric best as a generous friend who always put the well-being of his colleagues first,” Paxson wrote. “In both celebratory moments and as we navigated major challenges, he brought warmth, compassion and an unwavering spirit of dedication and kindness. We will deeply miss Eric’s presence on campus.”

Paxson noted that Estes had recently been promoted, effective July 1, to the position of senior vice president for campus life in recognition of the tremendous positive impact he had in his eight years of service at Brown.

Brown alumna and Corporation member Joan Wernig Sorensen called Estes a dear colleague, friend and one of the nicest people she has met. In many years of continued service on Brown’s governing board, her favorite role was her term as chair of the Committee on Campus Life, where she worked closely with Estes.

“Eric was incredibly kind, very inclusive, great during difficult times and a wonderful vice president for campus life,” Sorensen said. “He was committed to making Brown a better place, committed to engaging with students and 100% committed to his role. He impacted a lot of lives and was a one-of-a-kind person. This is a tremendous loss to the Brown community and to all of Eric’s friends and family.”

Vice President and General Counsel Eileen Goldgeier said Estes was relentlessly committed to improvement. She cited his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that he didn’t shy away from difficult issues even as the impact of the health emergency on students and campus life became a 24/7 challenge. The transformation of mental health support for Brown students, and a health and wellness program that focuses on the integration of physical and mental health, have become models across the nation, Goldgeier said — developments that illustrate how Estes worked diligently to launch Campus Life initiatives and programs in service to students.

“Eric was incredibly caring and saw students as mind, body and soul,” Goldgeier said. “He loved inviting students to his house to get to know them better and find out how they were doing. He was constantly focused on making sure that Brown was welcoming to students from every background and that whoever they were, they could use their time on campus to grow as individuals and explore their own self-identities.”

Goldgeier called Estes a leader in his field and one of the most accomplished campus life leaders nationally.

“Eric was a trusted colleague of the highest integrity who brought collegiality, creativity and a willingness to explore new and different ways of doing things,” Goldgeier said. “He was strategic but also analytical, ensuring that in whatever new solutions Campus Life was implementing to tackle issues or make improvements, they were also holding themselves accountable from an assessment standpoint. He had a standard of excellence and was an inspiration to many of us.”

A deep commitment to higher education

Before coming to Brown, Estes worked at Oberlin College and Conservatory for 12 years, serving his last five years as vice president and dean of students. He also served as an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and in Student Life and was the longest-serving director of the Multicultural Resource Center.

Eric Estes and Loc Truong
Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes (left) and Associate Vice President of Campus Life for Inclusive Community and Belonging Loc Truong celebrated the opening of Stonewall House as a new space for Brown’s LGBTQ Center in 2022.

Prior to Oberlin, Estes held faculty and administrative positions at Duke and Syracuse. While on the Duke faculty, he chaired a presidential task force on LGBT matters, served on a presidential commission on the status of women, and was a faculty affiliate of the Center for LGBT Life. At Syracuse, he worked for three years in the Graduate School on professional development programs focused on excellence in undergraduate teaching. At Syracuse, Duke and Oberlin, Estes taught courses on modern Germany and the Holocaust, gender and mass violence, gender and sexuality, and athletics and U.S. culture, and (at Oberlin) connections between the college’s early missionary history in China and Asian American student activism on campus.

Estes served in recent years as a member of the Trinity College Board of Trustees and was the past president of the college’s national alumni association. He was also a past chair of the steering board for the Consortium on High Achievement and Success, a national organization focused on the academic success of students of color at institutions dedicated to liberal arts education. He gave numerous invited lectures and talks nationally and internationally and co/organized more than a dozen national academic and student life conferences and symposia. Estes was also an engaged member of the local communities he called home over the years, serving most recently on the capital campaign committee for the Boys and Girls Club of Rhode Island and as a member of the Conservator Society at the Providence Public Library.

Estes earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Trinity College in 1991. Outside the classroom, he was a member of the swimming and water polo teams and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, according to a Trinity Reporter story published before he become president of the college’s alumni association in 2019.

He also earned master’s and Ph.D. degrees in history from Syracuse University, where he was a Fulbright doctoral fellow to Germany.