A group of students at Brown University recently released the “Burn Brown Book,” a guide outlining the history of racism, capitalism and activism on campus. After two years of research and writing for a class project, the group released the 175-page guide this summer as protests againstspread throughout the country.
The goal of the guide is to provide an alternative vision for the college: become an elite public university that supports and invests in the local community, while also providing a safe space for minority students. If the university divested from private funders and reallocated its money to the Providence area, the students argue, Brown would be held to higher standards on a range of issues, including who is being admitted and who is teaching at the university.
Noël Cousins, one of the creators of the book, told CBS News they were inspired by the “burn book” in the 2004 film “Mean Girls.” In the film, the characters write rumors and spread gossip throughout its pages. Cousins said the group of students wanted to highlight academic research in a fun way while addressing serious topics.
“What I would love to see is the capital and the assets of the university be made public and returned to the state of Rhode Island, or the facilities be used publicly,” Cousins said, “So working-class people in Rhode Island and Black and Brown people have control of that.”
The project is labeled as a disorientation guide, a play on the freshman orientation experience. The students said incoming freshmen need a deeper understanding of the school’s history in order to participate in the college experience more critically. The guide is the third book of its kind from Brown this century and is part of a long history among colleges across the country.
Brown has a reputation for being the most liberal school in the Ivy League. The book details decades of student-led activism and participation in current events, which attracts many students to the university.
In 2003, the school created a committee to research its ties to slavery. They found a majority of the founders and benefactors of the university participated in the slave trade, which helped fund the school. And while the university’s president, Christina Paxson, committed to rectifying past actions, some students said it’s not enough.
The guide accuses the university of failing to support its surrounding community, specifically the neighboring Hope High School. The percentage of students who have a proficiency in math is less than 5% and the number of students on a free-lunch program is in the top 10% of the state, according to data from the 2017-2018 school year.
Yacine Niang, a 2020 graduate who did not work on the guide, said she supports the book and its goals. She also argues the university and parents of students should play a larger role in giving back to its surrounding community, and that would ultimately help improve the education of students at the high school.