Last night, Hari Kondabolu '04 performed stand-up comedy as part of a week of Asian-themed events sponsored by the Asian Student Association. Kondabolu began by speaking about his time at the College, humorously noting that many of his experiences as a student left him frustrated with Bowdoin's glaring lack of diversity. He recalled times when he felt like "the Indian kid" on campus, and when a first year from New England was uncomfortable around him because she had never interacted with someone with brown skin.
Although the College has definitely changed for the better since Kondabolu graduated, many of the issues regarding racial and socioeconomic diversity remain. According to the Office of Institutional Research, 65 percent of the school identifies as white, non-Hispanic. Forty-one percent of the first year class is from New England, and the state of Maine is among the least-diverse in the U.S., with a population that is 95.2 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In an effort to counter this issue, the College has attempted to attract multicultural, low-income, and first-generation college students with annual recruiting events. In the fall, prospective applicants are invited to Explore Bowdoin, while the corresponding event in the spring—which is currently underway—is known as Experience Weekend.
The weekend brings a diverse range of students to the College, some of whom could not otherwise afford to come. Visiting high schoolers stay with students, many of whom attended Experience Weekend themselves, and participate in a variety of activities and events organized by multicultural campus groups. This year offers an Af-Am pub night, stand-up from Kondabolu, and the Asian Student Association's fashion show. At these and other Experience Weekend events, prospective students encounter a crowd that is significantly more multicultural than the general Bowdoin population.
These weekends are undoubtedly effective—many students have said that Experience Weekend played an outsize role in their decision to attend Bowdoin. Yet too often, students arrive on campus in the fall envisioning a higher concentration of the people, events, and ideas they encountered during their visit, and are disappointed.
The College ought to be honest with admitted students that Experience Weekend is a conscious celebration of diversity. Presenting them with a more accurate picture of Bowdoin will better prepare incoming first years for the day they finally move in. Yet the burden does not fall on the administration alone. Current students must understand the value of diversity and make concerted attempts to branch out of their comfort zones.
As Kondabolu finished his act, he answered a few questions from the crowd. While he had many frustrations with his college years, he said the experience made him who he is today. The College has changed dramatically since then, and continues to move forward. To any prospective students that might be reading this: Experience Weekend is a valuable and enjoyable introduction to the College, but the full experience of a Bowdoin education, the one that lasts four years instead of four days, is inevitably more challenging and complex. Because it's not always easy, becoming a student at Bowdoin is ultimately one of the most rewarding choices you will make.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which is comprised of Erica Berry, Nick Daniels, Carlo Davis, Sam Frizell, Linda Kinstler, Zoë Lescaze and Zohran Mamdani.