Open space, open conversations

The Watson Institute continues to grow its footprint on campus as well as its intellectual community with its newest addition—Stephen Robert ’62 Hall.

"Transparent." "Inclusive." "Diverse." "Interactive."

When people use these words to describe Stephen Robert ’62 Hall, the newest addition to the expanding universe of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, it's hard to tell if they're talking about the institute's values or the building itself.

Whether they know it or not, they're talking about both.

That's because the building's very design—open, flexible, welcoming—is intended to support Watson's aim of promoting a more just and peaceful world, says Edward Steinfeld, the director of the institute and of its China Initiative. "We want this to be a place where different voices and different minds can come together and serve our collective mission."

The project was made possible in part by generous gifts from chancellor emeritus Stephen Robert ’62 LHD’04 hon., P’91; Alice Tisch P’18, P’20 and her husband former chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76, P’18, P’20; and the Thomas and Olive C. Watson Jr. Foundation—all longstanding supporters of the Institute. According to Robert, for whom it was named, the building was conceived "as a convening place" where a wide range of experts in and students of international relations, political science, public policy, sociology, and other disciplines could come together as a community.

A glimpse inside


The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs has experienced rapid growth in just a few short years.

This diversity of perspective is nurtured in part by intentionally locating programs that deal with region-based issues, such as Middle East Studies, near those that deal with societal issues, such as the Humanitarian Innovation Initiative. Susan Moffitt, who directs the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy, says she now has more opportunities than ever to interact with directors of the international programs, and that the conversation happens in a more "organic" way.

An agora for all

Indisputably, the beating heart of the building is the agora, a three-story, light-filled space designed for casual socializing, large public lectures, and formal events. Since the building's official opening in February 2019, the agora has drawn people from all over campus and from the community to a variety of events, including a reception for former World Bank president Jim Yong Kim ’82, an interview with CNN's Jim Acosta, and the opening of an art exhibit inspired by the Arctic's disappearing ice.

"This building embraces what I love most about Brown," says international relations concentrator Isabela Karibjanian ’19. "A lot of people are enticed by the openness of the building, by the chance to sit down with people from across campus. Through those chance encounters, you get to collaborate not only with students that you might already know, but also with students, faculty, and visiting fellows from other parts of the University."

“ There has never been a more important time to study and understand international relations and its related disciplines. ”

Stephen Robert ’62

Facilitating these encounters is no accident, according to Steinfeld. "We believe fundamentally that research and education are social activities," he says, pointing out that the 3,600 square feet of open study space and 25 diverse collaborative study areas are spread out over three floors.

Postdoctoral Fellow Rawan Arar appreciates the opportunities afforded by such spaces. Scholarly work can be solitary, she says, "but because my office is next to the offices of other postdocs, I can engage in collaborative work. There are meeting spaces where we can all come together and share our research, either through presentations or informal conversations."

A shared space for diversity of thought

Students who have no affiliation with Watson also find Robert Hall to be the perfect place to study. In preparation for the MCAT exam, pre-med concentrator Sarah Marion ’19 was recently mapping out the limbic system on a whiteboard in a study alcove. She's enjoyed working in the building, she says, because "the brightness is good for your mood, the work spaces are great, and the place has everything you could need when you're studying"—including a café and an outdoor sun court.

Brian Moynihan ’81, P’14, chair of the Board of Overseers, says that Brown was where he learned to think deeply, critically, and "in a multifaceted way, across disciplines." He sees Watson playing a strong role in bringing that kind of thinking to bear on the world's problems, from the rise of populism to the surge of climate refugees.

It's something that's urgently needed, according to Robert: "There has never been a more important time to study and understand international relations and its related disciplines."

For his part, Steinfeld says this is already happening. "We had a vision for what it would take to be a state-of-the-art institute for international and public affairs. That vision has been translated into a functionally fantastic and aesthetically appealing facility. Hats off to all who made this vision a reality."

For more information about giving to the Watson Institute, please contact:
Joshua Taub
Assistant V. P. for International Advancement
+1 (401) 863-2196

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