A working group consisting of 15 students and four administrators has been formed to help foster “interaction, collaboration and learning” among community members of different races, ethnicities, sexualities and economic circumstances. Dean for Student Affairs Tim Foster announced in a campus-wide email on Monday that the group will meet with department heads within the Division of Student Affairs to both hear about their existing initiatives to create a more inclusive community and give suggestions for improvement.

“The work we do together will help inform a strategic plan for our entire division,” Foster wrote in Monday’s email.

This is the first-ever working group the College has created on this topic. Though various working groups have been instituted at Bowdoin over the years, the last group that served a similar purpose at College was the presidential task force on minority admissions created when Robert Edwards was president 15 years ago, according to Foster.

The new working group was formed as a response to recent events in the nation and on campus, including February’s Meeting in the Union which addressed the intersections of various social justice issues. The Meeting, which culminated with the delivery of a call to action to President Mills, will provide inspiration for members of the working group as they look to produce specific changes at the College. 

“I think we’re actually doing something about [the call to action] now—we’re going to engage with these people and try and start the conversation that should have happened a while ago,” said Briana Cardwell ’17, a member of the working group.  

The group will gather several times this semester, beginning on April 10. Meetings will continue through the fall semester of the 2015-2016 academic year.

Foster hopes that the group will help envision ways to develop students’ and faculty members’ “multicultural competency.”

Student members are excited to begin working with the administration in this formal setting.

“I think if we could reflect on all the programs that we have now and certain ways in which we can improve upon them by the next cycle—whether that’s by the next year or the year after, that [would make me happy],” said Julian Tamayo ’16. “Seeing tangible results is something that I’m really interested in and I have high hopes that that will happen. I think that this group is framed in a way that will have that as its main purpose.”

Lan Crofton ’18, another member of the working group, stressed that the conversations they will be having with student affairs department heads are not meant to be accusatory.

“It’s nothing that’s supposed to make them angry or anything like that—it’s not supposed to say, ‘This is what you’re doing, this is what you’re not doing.’ It’s really just taking what’s here and trying to make it better,” she said.

Several members of the working group said that what they think will be most helpful is using existing resources on campus to bring more people into conversations about race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status and other social justice topics.

“I think that may be our biggest problem—who actually comes to those conversations that are really powerful,” said Cardwell. “It’s not the people who don’t know about the stuff already.”

“What I really want to come out of [the working group] is seeing other students come to these kinds of conversations and the people that we meet with pushing them to do so and maybe even engaging their students and athletes or whoever in those conversations themselves,” she added.

Rebkah Tesfamariam ’18, another member of the group, suggested changes to the first-year orientation program, such as more explicitly introducing incoming students to campus houses like 24 College Street, 30 College Street and the Russwurm African American Center, as well as including a seminar that discusses the multicultural scene on campus,  like those that address the drinking and hook up cultures on campus.

Michelle Kruk ’16, one of the organizers of the Meeting at the Union said she is happy with the administration’s response.

“I think this is an important stepping stone and I hope that the student body participates in their initiative of having campus-wide discussions on the topics raised in the Letter and in the Meeting,” Kruk wrote in an email to the Orient. “This is a moment where the College is giving us an opportunity to have our voices heard so I hope a great number of students seizes that chance—I know I will.”

Though she is pleased with the formation of the working group, Kruk stressed the importance of a sustained commitment to addressing social differences on campus.

“While it is encouraging to see a tangible result of activist efforts, I hope that our progress doesn’t stop with a working group or even with campus-wide discussions,”  Kruk wrote. “The administration’s response is an exceptional start, but it is just that—a start.”