John Shearer: UT’s Fred Brown Hall Opening Sparks Memories Of College

Monday, August 18, 2014 - by John Shearer

The Fred D. Brown Jr. Residence Hall on the University of Tennessee at Knoxville campus opened last week, and I had a chance to tour it.

It is definitely nice, with everything from large sitting lounges in the middle of the dorm floors to such eateries as a 24-hour Subway restaurant in the bottom. Its washers and dryers will also alert you when a cycle is completed, so that you don’t have to hang out there doing crossword puzzles or reading a textbook. Instead, you can simply do those in your room.

Accompanying this article is a YouTube slide show of some of the features and places in the building. To view it, simply click on the arrow in the middle of the photograph.

The opening of the dorm is big news considering the fact it is the first residence hall to be built on the UT campus since the last Presidential Court dorm a few feet west was completed about 45 years ago.

To understand why it is the first one, a look at the history of the campus’ demographics is needed. The UT student population had grown considerably in the 1960s and ‘70s, but later started a slight decline or leveling off. It then began growing again over the last 10 years due to the Hope Scholarship. At least that is my memory.

When I enrolled at the University of Georgia after finishing at Baylor School in 1978, UT had the bigger enrollment of the two schools. But sometime after I graduated in 1983, Georgia’s enrollment began climbing more rapidly, probably in part because Atlanta was taking off in population. As a result, Georgia at some point surpassed Tennessee’s student size, I think.

Besides touring Brown Hall last week during an open house, I also happened to be there as a member of the media when some of the freshmen were moving in on Saturday. It was neat talking to several people.

The freshmen were admittedly a little scared about what lay ahead, but nobody seemed to have any trepidation about living in Brown Hall, which is named for the late founding director of the engineering minority scholarship program.

Seeing the new dorm as well as observing all the excitement of students moving into that and the other UT dorms with their parents started me thinking about my days at the University of Georgia.

My freshman move-in day was a little different, as I had decided to try to play football at Georgia as a walk-on. We reported to the now-razed athletic dorm, McWhorter Hall, about two weeks before the other students.

If those freshmen last Saturday were scared, it was nothing like what I felt. A player who was injured during a good part of my senior year, I still had plenty of football in my system, so that was my motivation for wanting to try to play at the college level.

But I was definitely starting to wonder what I was getting into when my parents, Dr. Wayne and Velma Shearer, dropped me off on what was my 19th birthday.

I don’t think I would have been any more apprehensive if I had been reporting for military basic training.

However, I ended up having a great time playing on the freshmen/JV football team for a couple of years, and later wished I had tried to play even longer. I also ended up living in the athletic dorm for a couple of years and loved the dining hall food, which was prepared with a little more care for the athletes.

I later lived in an apartment but then moved back on campus to a smaller coed dorm, Myers Hall, which was more of a dorm for first-year students. But it turned out to be the happiest residential experience I had at Georgia, and I continued to live there almost until my college career concluded.

A big reason for the enjoyment was a large lobby on the first floor, where both young men and women congregated, conversed and watched TV. As someone who was shy in high school and missed out on a whole lot of fun and harmless socializing, I cherished the experience as a seemingly more mature college student.

So I know those nice floor lobbies at Brown Hall at UT will draw many of the students out of their rooms, and, as was the case with me, possibly out of their shells, too.


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