Stephanie Browner is no stranger to New School admission tours, she’s crashed several. Last spring, after applying for the position of dean of Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts, Browner joined a tour in the guise of an interested parent. Since then, she has been hired and has served in her post for a few months. But that hasn’t stopped her from popping into the tours that come through her building and chatting with prospective students and their parents about the aspects of Lang they find most appealing. Browner, who came to Lang from Berea College in Kentucky, discussed her new gig in New York with the News.
New School News: So you’ve been at Lang for a few months now. What are your first impressions?
Stephanie Browner: Lang students are exciting, compelling thinkers. At one of my open lunches in the Lang Caf√©, a student invited me to a film screening at her residence hall. I attended and was moved by the depth of discussion after the viewing. Led by a faculty member who was volunteering her time, the students spoke intelligently about complex issues regarding identity, race, ethnicity, gender, and cultural performance. They listened well, were open to one another, and remained reflective throughout the discussion. Discussion went on for almost two hours, and no one was eager to leave. For our students, critical thinking is not educational jargon. It is a phrase they use naturally to describe what happens in their community.
NSN: You’re on Twitter now as @Dean_Stephanie. What do you hope to use it for?
SB: I want to use Twitter to share ideas, events, and thoughts that might be of interest to a member of a vibrant college community. I’m a part of our community, and that means really being in the community. Twitter is just one part of a larger effort to connect: I have an open-door policy, and I welcome invitations to attend events, to join conversations. Twitter helps facilitate that.
NSN: How do you like living in New York?
SB: New York feels like home already. Whenever I return from travels and get off the subway at 14th Street, it feels good to be home. In moving to New York City, I was eager not to just say I would take advantage of the cultural offerings but to actually get out to events, and I find it is easy to do so. So far, I have been to dance concerts, plays, museums, and galleries. Whether I’m taking the water taxi to IKEA to furnish my apartment or walking along the Hudson in the early morning, I have been taken by the city’s natural beauty.
NSN: To everyone who has met you, it’s clear that you’ve hit the ground running. What are your plans for Lang? Where do you see us going?
SB: In collaboration with students and faculty, board members and alumni, administrative staff and friends, I will develop a plan for Lang’s future. In the meantime, I have decided to focus on a single word: visibility. There are students around the world for whom Lang is the right college but who don’t know about it. We need to get the word out. And we also have to make sure we are delivering what we promise: an education that offers real critical and civic engagement on a range of issues. Small classes remain integral to learning at Lang, as does an excellent faculty and an engaged student body.
NSN: From all accounts, your last university was a place with a strong sense of community. How do you plan to develop that spirit at Lang?
SB: Community happens by simply, regularly, openly inviting people to come together. I’m making an effort to do that through the Lang Caf√© lunches, by joining students at events, and by inviting students and faculty to work with me to spread the word about Lang on and off campus. That’s why I sometimes join the tours, it’s an early moment in creating community, and central to community is hospitality, an openness to others. I see that everywhere at Lang, and so I am optimistic that we can continue to build community.
NSN: You marched last week with students as part of Occupy Wall Street. What made you want to join in?
SB: This is a university committed to critical inquiry, and the Occupy Wall Street movement is all about raising questions that need more investigation. Our students were particularly keen to get out on the street because they see deep structural problems that they want to talk about. This effort is putting on the table core questions about the economic system we should create, both socially and culturally, and it’s reclaiming a voice that’s been missing for a while. As an optimist, I find it particularly exciting, and I was proud to join them.
NSN: We hear you used to teach an exercise class at Berea. Any plans to continue that tradition at Lang?
SB: I am planning to teach a class in the spring, a two-credit exercise class that draws on yoga, dance, Pilates, exercise science, and years of teaching, studying, and working in dance. There will be anatomy and physiology lessons along the way, as well as some readings about the connection between the body and the mind.