By Abby Weingarten
Alexandria Brown, a gifted student from Tampa, was only 15 years old when she first enrolled at New College in 2003—and the experience shaped her ascent into a creatively-minded adulthood.
This fall, at the age of 32 and after a 12-year hiatus, Brown has reenrolled to complete her bachelor’s degree in philosophy. The writer, artist and activist is grateful to return.
“The professors in the philosophy department at New College have been part of my life, and role models who have changed my life, for so very long. I really feel like I owe it to them to finish the work I began, despite all the setbacks,” Brown said. “The ideas I learned from them at a young age involve values and ways of engaging critical reasoning that I’ve returned to again and again over the past 12 years.”
Brown had been drawn to New College while attending the Lee Academy for Gifted Education, a K-12 school that had a similar curriculum (no traditional letter grades, and an academic program that inspired artistic expression).
“I was said to be really gifted in language and visual arts, so I was taking classes in philosophy part-time at the University of South Florida (USF) by age 13. I graduated from high school with honors and a Florida Bright Futures Scholarship at 15,” Brown said. “Academically, New College was really amazing, although I would say I would caution people who have gifted children or students who are entering young (maybe wait, as I ought to have, until you are older to live in the college dorm itself).”
Brown left New College in 2008 for various personal reasons (one of which was a mental health disability related to complex post-traumatic stress disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). She later spent some time in Silicon Valley, California, where she worked with climate scientist Danielle Fong (founder of a cleantech startup called LightSail Energy). Brown taught herself video editing and production skills to make short films, music videos, and even an educational documentary.
“I worked on a documentary with a friend of mine who grew up trans in a Pentecostal Christian family,” Brown said. “She and I were researching religion and trans and intersex human rights, and basically the politics of how communities respond to gender variance and why they respond that way.”
Brown has also taken multiple graduate seminars at USF in philosophy, Africana studies and gender studies, in which she has incorporated her video production skills. For one course, she created a short video on the overlap between Chinese philosophy and Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas.
Brown looks forward to furthering her academic work at New College in philosophy—with a focus on ethical and political theory in the continental European tradition. She also regularly creates oil paintings, is working on a personal memoir, and is a disability civil rights activist. As she begins pursuing all of these passions within the New College curriculum, she is reflecting on possible career paths.
“I’ve always loved the idea of teaching but I’m open to working in journalism—or maybe doing some type of work with folks who are affected by gendered violence or ableism, or targeted by extremist groups,” Brown said. “But what I want to do at New College is to make sure that I understand the full range of options that are out there for me, so I am keeping an open mind.”
And New College is the prime place, she said, for that level of scholarly self-exploration.
“I feel so strongly that the unique approach to education, and how the College balances that with high academic standards, leads inevitably to so many groundbreaking ideas being explored,” Brown said. “It really prepares people to be as human beings and participate in civic society, with skills for critical thinking and also creativity. The professors instilled in me a sense that values mattered, that we should stand up for what is right and what we believe in. And that’s given me a sense of purpose.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.