March 1, 2019 | Feature
community in faunce’s leung family gallery
In the middle of campus lies a sort of oasis. Just beneath its heavy wood floors, the Blue Room buzzes with noise and energy. Just outside its tall glass windows, the Main Green is a pinball machine of students bouncing from class to class. Just above its high ceilings, the Providence gods sling every possible combination of water and ice onto the roof.
But in this one space, the chaos disappears. The only sounds are the fluttering of turning pages, the rustle of jackets as friends hug each other in greeting, and the occasional clank of the startled student standing up and colliding with one of the lamps. Light streams in from all directions, bathing the couches in the bright glow of winter mornings or the deep pink hues of Providence spring evenings. The sweet smell of Blue Room muffins wafts through the room and tickles the noses of students poring over their books.
The room is the Leung Family Gallery, a 2,252-square-foot space on the second floor of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, also known as Faunce House. The space in which Leung now sits has undergone more changes than a first-year’s cart during shopping period. But through all these shifts, this space has always remained devoted to community. Even in its current state as a silent study room, this value remains a core part of the Leung Family Gallery.
Throughout Brown’s history, Faunce has been a center for community on campus. The building was constructed in 1904 for the “social and religious uses of the students” and with John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s wish that the work in the space “shall be under the direction of the Young Men’s Christian Association . . . so long as such direction shall be deemed wise.” Known as Rockefeller Hall at the time, the space was crammed with everything University students had never known they needed, including a billiard room, barber shop, and smoking room. The second floor, where Leung now sits, included a seating hall for 400, a large meeting room, and YMCA offices. In 1930, the building was renamed Faunce after the late President William Faunce and expanded to include the Stuart Theatre. The Blue Room, once featuring a soda fountain, was constructed soon afterwards in 1939.
Over time, the vision of Faunce as a community space for students began to blur as administrative offices took over, so in the eighties, efforts were made to transform the building back into a center for student life. The principal benefactors of the donation were the Leung family, after whom the Gallery was named. Sally and Henry Leung dedicated the space to their daughter, who had just graduated in 1983, and later rededicated it to include their sons and grandchildren who attended Brown. Throughout the next couple of decades, Leung served primarily as a space for formal gatherings.
By 2009, there was yet again a general feeling that Faunce was not meeting the need for community space. Faunce was formally renamed the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, and Leung was renovated and stuffed with couches and coffee tables to become the “living room” of Brown we have come to know and love.
At that point, the physical layout of Leung stopped changing. But the space soon experienced an identity crisis unlike any it had ever known. Shortly after its completion in 2010, Leung visitors adopted “an informal code of silence.” Students flocked in, armed with paperback books and pens, and quickly began using Leung as a quiet study space.
Then, around 2015, the Student Activities Office (SAO) began to hear murmurs of mutiny circling through Leung. Some students, it seemed, opposed the silent nature of the Leung Family Gallery. Some students wanted a place to eat a Blue Room muffin and read Jack Kerouac without interruptions. Others saw a need for a more social space at the center of campus. Students used the methods they knew best to advocate for their desired noise levels, publishing op-eds to “Unsilence Leung Family Gallery” or responding to the Blog Daily Herald’s poll: “Should we be allowed to breathe heavily in the Leung Gallery?” SAO set to work investigating this contentious issue, trying everything from online surveys to open forums to figure out what students really thought. The Brown student body remained relentlessly divided, split almost exactly halfway on the nature of noise in Leung. So SAO put together an advisory board, which came up with an attempt at a compromise: board games scattered throughout the space and designated hours during which SAO blasted music. Seniors may still remember walking into Leung at 4:50 p.m. in the spring of 2016 to do homework, setting themselves up for a productive afternoon, and then being jolted by the sounds of Justin Timberlake blaring over the sound system at 5:00 p.m. Students at the time would typically exchange a sigh and either pack their bags in exasperation or ignore the music completely. The most passive-aggressive war ever waged on like this for some time.
Anyone who has studied in Leung in recent years knows that the silent denizens emerged victorious. The persistent determination to study silently was stronger than the power of Top 40 hits. The space has returned to its de facto laws of silence for the majority of the time, but it is also used for the occasional event. SAO now allows student organizations and departments to reserve the space in the evenings as a part of their hope of having the “space be as accessible and open to use as possible,” according to Ana Barraza.
The funny thing about Leung is that even though the main activity in the room is silent studying, the communal orientation of this space, which has existed in all of its many permutations since 1904, has persisted. The casual observer might see nothing but a room full of students lost in their own worlds, immersed in their screens and books. But ask any Leung devotee about the room, and their face will light up.
To start with, Leung’s cult-like following is solidified by its Facebook page. In November 2016, Isabelle Doyle, Harry August, and Jesse Barber created the group “Leung and Wild and Free.” Isabelle welcomed any “Leung friends/frequenters” who “like to hang out/study/eat the strange food they leave out/go on their phone for 45 minutes/whisper to people really loudly for a long time and pretend it’s ok even though it’s a quiet space/glare at people who are doing the same thing IN LEUNG GALLERY.” In this group, which now includes over 200 Leung lovers, students express the shared joys and frustrations of Leung. This group embodies the sense of support and camaraderie that permeates the space. Frequenters keep each other updated about free food and drinks (“SPRITE CITY COME THRU”). They provide warnings about noise issues (“ADOCH youngsters are very cute and very charming and very excited and very interesting, and they very very very much CANNOT READ A ROOM!!”). They call attention to special moments in Leung, posting pictures of the “transient beauty of a Leung afternoon.” And they make sure love never goes unnoticed (“Spotted: Saturday nite Leung makeout sesh”).
A more scientific approach is necessary to observe other expressions of community in Leung. Imagine sticking a video camera into a chandelier in Leung, pointing it downward, and leaving the camera running for a day. Come back the next day, take it down, play it silently like an old-fashioned film, and watch the scene unfold below you. At first, Leung looks just like a library. At double speed, you watch students shifting around in their seats, unfolding and refolding their legs, bending over to check their phones just one more time.
Then, it starts getting interesting. The doorway, you notice, acts like a sort of magic forcefield that affects people differently based on their attire. When anyone in a suit—especially middle-aged adults and Model UN high-school students—steps through the doorway, their pace of walking and talking does not change, but the rest of the room reacts. As if a puppet master above is tugging at strings attached to each head, each person’s neck immediately swivels towards the doorway. The suit people seem immune to the intense stares coming from around the room. But when anyone in Blundstones or thrift store attire crosses through the doorway, a wave of positive energy appears to wash over the room and shift the scene into slow motion. That student stepping into Leung suddenly slows down, looks around. They exchange a series of nods, smiles, and waves with others throughout the room, then calmly settle into a spot on a couch.
The puppeteer on high seems to return when the food comes. When someone places a pizza box or fruit platter left over from an event onto the main coffee table, the heads all swivel once again in unison. Like a choreographed dance team, the students then jerk their heads back to face their laptops, as if trying to ignore the primordial lust for free food. And then, within seconds, the room remobilizes. Calmly, but with excitement, the students drift toward the half-eaten cheese platters, exchange thoughtful glances as they wonder whether the leftover cookies are chocolate chip or raisin, make their selections, and return to their work.
As senior Isabela Karibjanian put it, Leung is “a community built on shared glances.” There are many moments at Brown when students use their voices to express support and camaraderie. After concerts, plays, and games, students stand up and cheer for their classmates. TAs talk through problem sets with students. Friends get coffee and catch up. But there are very few times when this sense of student body community is expressed without words and among strangers. In Leung, this is expressed through little more than exchanged glances and a smattering of Facebook posts.
I felt the full power of Leung magic one late afternoon in May. I was among the stragglers still finishing my exams, and Leung had been fairly empty throughout that day. As the afternoon wore on, heads started turning toward the window overlooking Waterman Street, where a glorious sunset was turning the sky a deep shade of pink. I don’t remember who took the lead, but the next thing I knew, the window was propped open, and students had stood up from their desks and walked toward the window. One by one, we filed onto a little balcony just outside the window and stood in the cool evening, watching the sunset in silence. We soaked in the sun making its descent for a few minutes, then crawled back inside, and knocked out the last of our work.
This moment shared between friends and strangers embodied what Leung is. It’s mostly a study space, but it’s also a bit more than that. It may not be the buzzing YMCA the Rockefellers had once imagined, but it’s still a pretty great space to come get some work done and feel a sense of Brown community.
A previous version of this piece titled “Forever Leung” said that Isabelle Doyle created the Facebook group “Leung and Wild and Free.” In fact, Isabelle Doyle, Harry August, and Jesse Barber created the group. post- regrets the error.