The Ivy Coach Daily

April 18, 2017

Brown University Letter

Brown Letter, Brown University Admission Letter, Brown Letter to Students
A letter sent out by the Brown admissions office has made the news (photo credit: Ad Meskens).

It’s no secret that America’s universities tend to be liberal. And it’s no secret that the Ivy League universities are among the most liberal of the bunch. Does that mean that these institutions don’t seek out opposing viewpoints? They certainly do. Admissions officers at Ivy League colleges are drawn to students who will contribute to the diversity of their institutions — and that absolutely does include diversity of thought. Yes, they even seek out students with conservative viewpoints. We see some of you folks shaking your heads. But they sure do.

Recently, a piece in “The Wall Street Journal” by James Freeman highlighted a letter that Brown University’s Dean of Admissions Logan Powell sent to an admitted student, as reported by “The Brown Daily Herald.” As Freeman writes, “Among those lucky few is the daughter of a Journal reader who is still trying to make sense of a letter the family received this week from Mr. Powell. Our reader’s bright daughter had already received news of her acceptance when a letter arrived that was addressed to her ’Parent/Guardian.’ Oddly, the note referred to the accepted student not as ’she’ but as ’they.’ Dean Powell’s letter also stated that our reader’s daughter had no doubt worked hard and made positive contributions to ’their’ school and community. Our reader reports that his perplexed family initially thought that Brown had made a word-processing error. That was before they listened to a voice mail message from the school congratulating his daughter and referring to her as ’them.’”

We’re truly not sure where we stand on this letter. On the one hand, we absolutely applaud universities that make their campuses more inclusive in embracing trans students. Universities across the United States can and must do more to make their campuses more welcoming to all members of the LGBTQ community. Perhaps Dean Powell wrote the letter in this way so as not to have to “find and replace” all the pronouns depending on if the admitted student is male or female (though the voicemail seems to contradict this theory). We always find that cumbersome when folks reach out to us about their sons or daughters. ’They’ does seem easier. It leaves less room for error, especially when we’re not sure about the student’s gender based on the name alone. But we also see the point that it’s a bit extreme to apply this rule to all students — including the vast majority of students who have always identified with their gender. In a way, it’s kind of a way of Brown — historically the most liberal of the Ivies — saying that we’re a liberal school, get with the program or maybe Brown isn’t for you. And that’s not exactly shouting out that Brown values diversity of opinion. But maybe we’re wrong. Your thoughts?

Or maybe the Brown admissions office has just been watching a whole lot of “Billions” lately, a show that features a fascinating character who prefers to identify by the pronoun ’they’?

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