Gordon ’14: Brown’s motto should change
I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in a God of any sort, nor do I place my hopes in any such God. Thus, if I am a constituent of the subject of our University motto, it is false. For it to be true, I — and all other non-believers — must be excluded from the subject. The situation is thus: Brown University’s motto is either false or exclusionary.
Leaving this objection aside, the motto has other problems. Hope suggests a desire held passively and uncertainty about its fulfillment, and I find it strange to see this kind of attitude celebrated in our motto as it is antithetical to the active pursuit of knowledge encouraged by Brown. Furthermore, I see hope and faith — which implies trust — as mutually exclusive, and I was under the impression that the latter was the preferred stance of a Christian and most other religious believers. If that’s the case, then the motto fails to adequately guide even those who do believe.
I realize that changing the motto would incur significant costs, as the switch would suddenly render obsolete and incorrect reams of letterhead, tons of t-shirts and any other instantiation of our school seal and motto. I don’t find this argument compelling, because I don’t see why we can’t just leave the outdated artifacts as they are, acknowledging their pre-modern provenance. Anyway, this argument amounts to “we should do things the way we’ve always done them,” regardless of the integrity or adequacy of the current state of affairs. While we will surely suffer immediate costs by changing the motto, the long-term benefits are far greater.
If we replace the current motto with something that actually reflects the beliefs and attitudes of the current student body, we will have made a powerful statement about our refusal to let institutional inertia stand in the way of changing the world for the better. Brown has a long history of challenging traditional practices once it became clear that they no longer served the community — most notably with the adoption of the New Curriculum in 1969. While replacing the motto has far less of an impact than replacing the curriculum, this is exactly the kind of small step that can inspire larger changes, that can remind us that we are responsible for defining our University.
We should be bold, and take this chance to decide what our motto should mean to us.
Spencer Gordon ’14 can take constructive criticism.