By Deborah Bouchette
Brown University in Providence is one of the eight eastern seaboard schools that might be called a “hederi-topia” (an ivy-space), which—please forgive me—I intentionally contrive as a pun on “heterotopia,” a word I first learned reading Foucault’s essay “Of Other Spaces” in our first-year seminar A Quick History of Philosophy. An ivy-league school is, to me, a kind of third space, a non-space, or a place of displacement—a place where I didn’t even dream of ever going to school. But there I was, part of Cohort ’12 starting our third and final year of coursework with IDSVA, at Brown University, an institution a dozen years older than the Declaration of Independence.
And a third space it was to me for more reasons. Our time on campus was limited to a short ten days, almost a non-time when compared to a school term. Each of us was housed in a private dorm room, top floor, mine overlooking the quintessential bricked quad, a beautifully kept garden space replete with an iron gate at the street. These physical associations dredged up unreal fears of being unable to find my classes the first day of school and dropping an armload of books down a long, wide staircase. I hope there is no minacious Freudian symbolism in those once-recurrent dreams.
I think it was Oscar Wilde who said “with age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” I felt like age had come alone when I realized that summertime at Brown also meant groups of high-schoolers having their first overnight experiences on a college campus. It got noisy sometimes! But it was also life-affirming, considering all the potential in these bright minds and beautiful bodies about to embark on their choice to pursue a course of optional, post-secondary education. And a few of these young and eager faces were downright friendly to us older folk the first time we tried to find the campus cafeteria.
The experience at Brown was also unlike any of the other IDSVA residencies in that for the first time our cohort was all together and all alone (save some brief and delightful visits with a few Cohort ’11 friends who slipped in and out to take their orals). We as a cohort bonded more thoroughly than ever before, taking distinct advantage to gather in our free time, whether to go to the library, the cafeteria, to take a walk in town, or to head somewhere for coffee. It was like a homecoming to a place most of us had never been before: we could feel that we had arrived at a local maximum in the function of our own curricula, embarking on our dissertation proposals.