By David Goddard (’98)
Not even a torrential downpour could dampen the spirits of the more than 300 people who turned out for the dedication of the Fred D. Brown Jr. Residence Hall in October.
That the first new residence hall in forty years was named for a man whose legacy touched lives across those same two generations was somehow fitting.
Brown was hired in 1973 by Dean Fred Peebles in the College of Engineering to head up what was called the Minority Engineering Program. From that humble start, when the college had just twenty-six African American students, Brown’s efforts have grown and expanded and have helped to create a much more diverse campus today.
“Look at our lives, our families, and think about our success and what he meant to that,” said Rodney Brooks, a 1985 mechanical engineering graduate, who is now vice president of power products and systems for ABB. “And then you go to see that new dorm with his name on it, and you see black, white, Asian, all kinds of students living together, and you realize that‘s Fred Brown.
“We all need to be Fred Brown.”
Renamed the Office of Diversity Programs in 1999, the office Brown started serves to increase the number of underrepresented—African American, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, Alaskan Native, and female—students and as a place for them to gain a sense of community and help tackle the rigors of college—a task Brown took personally.
“He would come to our dorm and see if we were playing cards or studying,” said Spruell Driver Jr., who is now on UT’s Board of Trustees. “He did everything he could to make sure we were prepared for success.”
As part of the building’s opening ceremony, audience members were asked to stand if Brown had played a personal role in their success, with well more than 100 affirming that.
The residence hall itself has both standard and deluxe suites, with an art gallery, two restaurants, recreation and workout facilities, Internet and conference lounges on every floor, and even its own post office.