For most of us, the beginning of the year has come and gone. Add/Drop period is over. Exams have started. The warmth of summer is beginning to pass and the cold creeps in at night. The excitement of a new year has faded but, for first years, the transition has just begun.

Any Bowdoin student, no matter their background or connection to the school, must go through a period of transition upon arriving as a first year. All of us awkwardly made small talk while uncomfortably lying on the floor of Farley Field House. Many of us sat nervously through class on that first Thursday in anticipation of our first Pub Night. Many more of us returned to our first year bricks confused about the nightmare we had just witnessed. Some students find their place on campus immediately; others feel lost for the entirety of their first year. The transition into college is rarely a completely smooth ride. However, the transition is often harder and more prolonged for those who do not fit the norm.

Though Bowdoin strives to be an accepting and inclusive environment for its students, the availability of resources does not always equal a comfortable environment. At Bowdoin, students of color can easily find safe spaces, whether at 30 College Street (our multicultural house), the Russwurm African American Center, or within a number of student organizations. These are indeed fantastic spaces wherein students of color can gather, but a first-year student of color cannot stay inside the four walls of their safe space twenty-four hours a day. The existence of the African American Society will not protect a new black student from being called the n-word in the “safety” of their dorm. The Deans of Multicultural Life are a few of my favorite people on campus, but they are not standing in Baxter’s basement on Saturday nights to stop entitled white boys from telling first-year black girls that they “have never hooked up with a black girl before," disgustingly insinuating that tonight might finally be the night. Yes, Bowdoin funds a Latin American Student Organization, but that does not keep people from fetishizing girls with words such as “spicy” or hurling “Wait, so, what are you?” towards a student after hearing them speak Spanish while on the phone with their parents.

This experience is often shared by first-year students who are marginalized for reasons besides skin color. The Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity provides an extremely welcoming and affirming place for students who identify as non-straight or non-cisgender, as well as allies. The Center actually has special programming specifically for first-year students to ensure that they are supported as they adjust to this new place. Kate Stern, the Director of the Center, is an on-campus mother figure to a tremendous number of Bowdoin students—myself included. Though these wonderful places and people exist, students cannot live in that safety bubble at all hours. The existence of the Resource Center will certainly soothe—but can never squash—the fear of coming out to your first-year floor. The Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance can (and I hope, does) make first years feel as if Bowdoin is where they belong, but that feeling might quickly flee as they experience the heteronormativity of Bowdoin’s hook-up culture.

In no way do I mean to undermine the transition experiences of all Bowdoin students. Let me be clear: I do not believe that the transition is automatically easier for white, straight students. White, straight students are not a homogenous group. We all come from different places, experienced different upbringings, and harbor different stories. However, for students whose differences are as visible as skin color, or as painful to hide as sexuality or gender identity, there are negative experiences that have been shared again and again, year after year, that complicate the transition exponentially.

To the first years whose transitions have been rocky due to differences (whether it be a difference in race, sexuality, gender identity, or simply a lack of comfort): you are in good company. Do not feel that you shouldn’t feel this way simply because Bowdoin is left-leaning or because safe spaces exist. Your feelings are valid and your experience is real. Furthermore, your current feelings of anxiety are normal and will likely fade as you find your place here. Most importantly, there are a number of upperclass students who have been where you are and are using their experiences to educate the community and shift the campus culture. This is me extending my hand in solidarity. We are with you.

To all students: I encourage you to explore the resources available to you. Check out different multicultural groups regardless of your own race and make the effort to understand the issues plaguing different people. Visit our Resource Center and listen to students’ experiences. You could be negatively impacting the experience of another student without knowing it. Luckily, the information on how not to do so is about a five minute walk from your bed.