The East Sider

Championing Change in the City

Brown University professor Tricia Rose sees Providence’s future in its socially engaged citizens


In a city renowned for its top-tier universities and brilliant academic minds, Professor Tricia Rose stands out from the crowd. She’s currently Brown University’s Chancellor’s Professor of Africana Studies, the director for its Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, and Associate Dean of the Faculty for Special Initiatives. Her groundbreaking first book, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, was a seminal treatise that set the “terms of the conversation” on the subject when it was published in 1994, and is still taught in schools today.

Rose earned her PhD in American Studies at Brown in 1993, and was the first person in the U.S. to write a doctoral dissertation about hip-hop. Twelve years ago, she returned to the East Side to work at the university (she lives downtown). She is currently working on a fourth book about structural racism.

Rose serves on the boards of heavy-hitting national organizations like the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Color of Change and Black Girls Rock, and has some local favorite nonprofits as well, including the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, Year Up Providence, the RI chapter of the Petey Greene Program, AS220 and Youth in Action. She feels that the wealth of local universities and the affordability of Providence living creates “an environment where young people start incubating ways to make contributions... and put their energy towards making social change.”

There’s one other well-known organization that stands out to Rose. “When I was first hired here, my husband and I drove cross country from California,” she recounts. “We had been invited to light the basins at the WaterFire happening the day of our arrival.” They had never heard of WaterFire, but someone connected to founder Barnaby Evans had suggested them.

“When we first got into the boat, I was like, ‘Whatever’,” Rose recalls. “Within ten minutes, I was in tears. It was so powerful. There was an incredible diversity of people peacefully enjoying things together – it was like an ideal world.”

If you had one wish to enhance life on the East Side, what would it be?
“The East Side is a little too homogeneous for me; I think the combination of racial and class diversity would make it feel a little less homogeneous and precious. And definitely some more cutting-edge vegan supermarkets and restaurants!”