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Eric Scott Estes

January 2, 1969 June 4, 2024
Eric Scott Estes
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Obituary for Eric Scott Estes

Eric Scott Estes of Providence, Rhode Island, passed away after a sudden illness on June 4, 2024. He was surrounded by a small handful of friends and family, including his mother, Angela. Eric was 55.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Eric was adopted at twenty-two months by his parents, Angela and Jere, and raised in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He went on to earn a B.A. with honors in History from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1991, where he was also a member of the swimming and water polo teams and the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Heading to Syracuse University, Eric earned an M.A. in History in 1993 and a Ph.D. in History in 2001, writing a dissertation with support from a Fulbright fellowship on women and social reproduction in Weimar Germany. He went on to serve as a Mellon Lecturing Fellow at Duke University before joining Oberlin College in 2004 as the Associate Dean of Students and Assistant Professor in Comparative American Studies with a courtesy appointment in History.

Making a home as an out, gay Asian man in the strange and wonderful Midwest, Eric rapidly advanced, serving as an Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, an Associate Dean of Students, and as the longest serving Director of the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) in its more than 20-year history. In 2012, he was named Oberlin’s inaugural Vice President and Dean of Students, Division of Student Life. Central to his success in Ohio was his open-door policy in his office, around campus, and at the Koppes-Norris House, the warm and welcoming Victorian home that served as his residence as Dean. Held in highest regard by the Oberlin community, the MRC renamed its annual recognition honorific in 2017 as the “Eric Estes Living Legacy Award.”

Eric arrived at Brown University in 2016, taking on a role as the Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services. Settling into another new town, he quickly dedicated himself to creating welcoming spaces for the thousands of young people who were, like him, making a haven in the heart of New England. Not surprisingly, given his talent and ambition for higher education, he changed Brown significantly for the better. Under his direction, Brown increasingly emphasized enhancements to residential life, with the creation of three new dorms and a wellness center since his arrival. Identity centers on campus were given new resources, intellectual life, and leadership, one perfect example being the renovation of what is now Stonewall House, the physical home of the campus LGTBQ community. Under Eric’s leadership, military-affiliated students, immigrant students, undocumented students, and disabled students found renewed expressions of welcome and belonging at the university.

In recognition of his transformative leadership, he had recently been promoted to Senior Vice President of Campus Life at Brown, effective July 1, 2024. At the time of his passing, he was energized for an exciting future, and was ready to spearhead new Campus Life initiatives in the rapidly developing Jewelry District and to continue the enhancement of the residential experience for students on College Hill. At Brown - as was true at Oberlin - he was a champion of the most capacious, all-inclusive manifestations of place, of belonging, and of home.

His commitments to the betterment and expansion of community were longstanding and heartfelt. While on the faculty at Duke, he chaired a presidential task force on LGBTQ matters, served on a presidential commission focused on the status of women, and worked as a faculty affiliate of the Center for LGBTQ Life. At Syracuse, he worked for several years while earning his doctorate on professional development programs for graduate students and untenured faculty, aiming specifically at excellence in the undergraduate classroom. In 2016, in recognition of his decades of leadership, he was elected chair of the steering board for the Consortium on High Achievement and Success, the oldest and largest national organization focused on academic success for students of color at liberal arts colleges and universities. A proud alumnus of Trinity College, Eric was also the past President of the college’s national alumni association and a current Trustee. In Providence, he was actively involved in a wide range of charitable work, including service on the capital campaign committee for the Boys and Girls Club of Rhode Island and as a Conservator at the Providence Public Library.

“I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider and struggled to find a sense of personal belonging,” Eric once told Mary Howard of the Trinity Reporter. That lifelong sensation of isolation and alienation led him to create, with great intention and generosity, myriad occasions for intimacy and community that “acknowledge and value differences but also seek to build relationships across those differences.” In Providence, he frequently hosted dinners and gatherings for students in his home and donated the space to families in need or in crisis whenever possible. A gourmand with a talent for comfort food and a love of the big table, he prepared copious amounts of gumbo and brisket, wove elegant patterns into his ratatouille, and artfully composed table-sized charcuterie boards. “Personal belonging,” he believed, began with self-regard but it could also be nourished by a shared meal with found family in a warm, caring environment, whether that was a residence hall, the Faculty Club, or his kitchen counter.

Eric is survived by his mother, Angela, his brother, Christopher, his beloved dog, Eleanor, and the vast community of found family he created across the country and around the world. A memorial service is being planned by Brown for the community on September 13. In lieu of flowers, Eric's family and friends ask that donations be made to the Eric S. Estes Memorial Fund at Brown University. Online donations can be made online at this link or by sending a check, with "Eric S. Estes Memorial Fund" in the memo line and payable to Brown University to: Brown University, Gift Cashier, Box 1877, Providence, RI 02912.


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