On the surface, Bill De La Rosa ’16 seems like a typical Bowdoin student: he is active with the McKeen Center for the Common Good, conducts research in the sociology department, and usually stays up late finishing his work. But De La Rosa’s path to Bowdoin and his time at the College have been anything but ordinary.
In 2009, when De La Rosa was a sophomore in high school, his mother went to Mexico to obtain a green card. However, rather than receiving the necessary paperwork to remain in the United States, she was barred from the country for ten years because, years previously, she had overstayed a visa and crossed the border illegally. She cannot return to the U.S. until 2019.
“There’s no waiver, no appeal process,” De La Rosa recalled. He, his father and his three siblings are all American citizens, but this makes no difference in the world of immigration law, where intentions do not matter and exceptions do not exist.
The separation from their mother placed both emotional and financial stress on the family. De La Rosa’s elderly father was too old to work. His older brother, Jim, joined the Marine Corps to supplement the family’s income, leaving Bill to care for his two younger siblings.
“I [was] taking care of my siblings, worrying about their school, their food, the house, bills and also my own schoolwork,” said De La Rosa. “I somehow managed to do all these things.”
If the pressures of supporting his family meant less time for sleep or academics, it didn’t show in the classroom. He was the valedictorian at his high school in Tucson, Arizona.
Despite his academic achievements, the college application process presented another challenge.
“Even applying to college was a stretch for me, because both my parents didn’t even graduate high school,” he said.
Although he considered other schools, De La Rosa was drawn to Bowdoin’s Government and Legal Studies program as well as the liberal arts focus and commitment to the Common Good.When he was admitted early decision, he turned to his community back home to ensure his family would be alright without his day-to-day leadership.
“It [was] a matter of really solidifying the support that I would need, so that…my family could be okay,” he said.
The transition to Bowdoin was not easy. Even with all that the College has to offer, it does not distract De La Rosa from his family’s situation, and the 2,500 miles between Brunswick and Tucson do not lessen his care for them.
“I’m constantly worrying about what’s going on back home” said De La Rosa. “I’m spacing out and I can’t really focus because I’m like ‘How’s my dad? How [are] my siblings?’… It’s just a constant tug of war that I have to internally struggle with. Be here, but also be there. Two places at the same time.”
Although he is far from home, De La Rosa feels that he has found a strong support system at Bowdoin. “The counseling center is a great resource,” said De La Rosa. “I also have a lot of friends that I talk to, a lot of faculty members, a lot of staff members that are good friends that I just go to and I speak to them about these issues.”
Nonetheless, De La Rosa has excelled at Bowdoin. He received a Truman Scholarship, an honor which earned him $30,000 toward graduate school as well as a one-year internship with a government agency.
De La Rosa’s commitment to issues of immigration, as well as his passion and work ethic, are visible in his work throughout college, both in and out of the classroom.
A sociology and Latin American studies double major with a government minor, he has worked with humanitarian groups during the summer to provide aid to migrants journeying from Mexico to the United States.
His service work often relates back to his academic interests. His honors project examines the human effects of immigration policy based on interviews he has conducted with migrants. “Border policy has funneled people through hazardous portions of the border, specifically through the Sonoran desert, so I’m looking at that experience and how people live through that,” he explained.
De La Rosa co-leads the student chapter of the Volunteer Lawyers Project, which provides legal services to low-income Maine residents. He has also led an alternative winter break trip to Portland, where students worked with the Somali refugee population.
Next spring, he will lead another trip, this time to his home state of Arizona to expose Bowdoin students to immigration issues at the border.
The current European refugee crisis is one area that sparks his interest. Studying different migration scenarios might help him work in immigration advocacy or policy making in the future.
De La Rosa is also considering a career in politics someday. And despite his global mindset, it is a possibility that could take him back home.
“If I’d run for office, I’d probably do it in Arizona.”
When Bowdoin opened for the fall semester, members of the Class of 2019 weren’t the only new residents on campus. Kanbar Hall is now home to a number of rodents—specifically, laboratory mice used for Psychology 2752, Laboratory in Behavioral Neuroscience, a course taught by visiting professor Brian Piper.
Although mice are new at Bowdoin this fall, several animal species have lived in laboratories at Bowdoin for years, including aquatic invertebrates like lobsters and crabs, various kinds of fish and a colony of crickets. The precise species vary from year to year and depend on the research interests of professors.
“As the researchers, the visiting professors, come and go, we tend to have something that will come for a year, or two, or three, and then go away,” said Bowdoin’s Animal Care Supervisor Marko Melendy.
Melendy, who has been at Bowdoin for seven years after working in animal care at the University of New England and the California Academy of Sciences, oversees a number of Bowdoin students who work to maintain the welfare of all species living in Bowdoin’s laboratories.
Besides being fed and taken care of, these animals are critical to research in the biology and psychology departments.
In the classroom, animal models are used to pilot new research because they give researchers the ability to track each animal’s genetic background and limit the effects of external variables such as diet, exercise and social environment.
Students enrolled in courses that conduct this research are made aware early on of how they will be using animal subjects. The experience of handling animals in the lab is new for many students; however, many become comfortable with the process after extensive training.
“We have all different levels of comfort,” said Nancy Curtis, who is the lab instructor for Psychology 2752. “Some people come in, and they’re all afraid of the animals. They don’t want to touch them, and by the end of the semester, they’re handling them very well.”
The subject of animal testing rarely comes without controversy. After the Orient reported in 2010 that use of lab rats at Bowdoin included numerous behavioral tests and brain surgery, there was backlash from the Humane Society of the United States, which called on Bowdoin to end animal testing, as well as outrage from some members of the Bowdoin student body.
Although Bowdoin laboratories met—and continue to meet—legal standards, many students argued that animal testing was at odds with Bowdoin’s commitment to the Common Good. In particular, these students believed that conducting tests on laboratory rats, which would never be conducted on humans, was ethically inconsistent.
Risk of opposition frequently makes researchers who conduct animal testing hesitant to talk about their work.
Bowdoin has not hosted vertebrate research for several years until the return of mice to campus this fall.
Any laboratory work that occurs in Bowdoin facilities and requires animal subjects is strictly monitored by a group known as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), a federally mandated committee which ensures that animal research complies with legal standards.
The committee, which includes several faculty members, Melendy and two veterinarians, is chaired by Professor of Biology Damon Gannon.
“The composition of the committee is regulated [in terms of] the number of people, and the backgrounds of those people,” Gannon said.
The job of the committee is to evaluate any research proposal that involves laboratory animals to ensure that it complies with federally mandated IACUC standards. These standards include an Animal Research Policy, which is written at Bowdoin but must also be approved at the federal level.
“We have to follow the federal Animal Welfare Act and various other regulations set forth by the National Institutes of Health and the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare,” Gannon added.
However, the issue of ethics in animal research is hardly limited to a faculty committee. Students enrolled in classes that have an animal research component complete training not only on proper animal care and laboratory safety, but also on the ethical implications of their research.
“They also complete a two-hour lecture on the ethics of research of animals, and we go through the legal framework and the history of use of animals,” said Piper, whose class will be using the mice for research on anxiety medications later this semester. “We go through the history of uses, and in some cases misuse, of animals, and we recognize that use of animals in a laboratory environment is a privilege.”
Historically, animal testing has led to breakthroughs on vaccines and improved treatments for diseases such as HIV/AIDs and certain cancers. Curtis explained that mice allow researchers to control their experiment in a manner that’s simply impossible with people.
“If you buy some laboratory rats or some laboratory mice, when you get them, they come with a pedigree,” Curtis said. “You know that they’ve been well cared for.”
The instructors also believe that students, particularly those who seek to engage in laboratory work in the future, in the form of an internship, a private lab, or graduate school, benefit from working with animals in the laboratories here at Bowdoin.
“I think these are useful skills,” said Melendy.
Whether you are a prospective student, in town for Family Weekend, or just passing through Brunswick, the town has a lot to offer. The Orient editors picked a sampling of some of their favorite restaurants, sights, activities and places to stay near Bowdoin.Eat
Despite being a small town, Brunswick has a big restaurant scene. The restaurants cover a range of ethnicities, from inventive modern and international cuisine to classic Maine grub.
Fat Boy | 111 Bath Road, Brunswick | facebook.com/fatboydriveinAlthough the waitresses aren’t roller-skating to your car, Fat Boy is as old school as it gets. The ’50s style drive-in is a seasonal affair, with its fast food available from mid-March to mid-October. Try out a lobster roll, onion rings, and a 20 oz. frappe—a milkshake, for non-New Englanders—all for under $15. Don’t try to go on an opening weekend, as the parking lot gets packed—but that’s just a testament to how good it is.
Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Cash Only.
Frontier | 14 Maine St. Mill 3 Fort Andross, Brunswick | explorefrontier.comFor visitors looking for a farm-to-table feast with great views and a laid-back vibe, look no further than Frontier. This open-floorplan restaurant in Fort Andross that doubles as an art gallery and overlooks the Brunswick dam is a favorite among Bowdoin students and Brunswick residents. Everyone can find something to eat on this diverse menu. Dietary restrictions are also accommodated, as the menu has a detailed key for vegan, gluten-free, and antibiotic free choices. The selection ranges from simple sandwiches and burgers—which come with a healthy portion of sweet potato fries to substitute at no extra cost—to globally inspired charcuterie “marketplates” and larger entrees. Some of their best dishes include the taco trio of fried fish, barbeque pulled pork and Jamaican jerk chicken and the Frontier burger, replete with pepperjack cheese, shallots, and applewood smoked bacon. For the above 21 set, Frontier offers an inventive cocktail menu with items like the Mule 2.0: beet-infused vodka, ginger beer, and lime. Frontier also houses a small movie theater that shows independent films.
Open Tuesday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Shere Punjab | 46 Maine St., Brunswick | sherepunjabme.comStroll down Maine Street for long enough and you’ll find yourself observing diners in the windows of the always-busy Shere Punjab. The restaurant offers a wide variety of Indian food and drink in a cozy, intimate atmosphere, and take out is popular too. Customers choose a spiciness level for each of their dishes from 1-10, and the portions are generous. The saag paneer, a spinach dish, and punjabi naan, a bread with coconut, saffron and other spices, are highlights. The owners also sell their delicious spices in a store upstairs. If you’re in a large group, reservations are recommended—most tables are for two, and the wait for the larger ones can be long, especially on weekends.
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (except for Tuesdays, when the hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.). The lunch menu is available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Little Tokyo | 72 Maine St., Brunswick | littletokyomaine.comIt’s a slow Saturday night in town and you’re craving teriyaki chicken with a side of edamame...and maybe some avocado maki to boot. Little Tokyo, conveniently located right next to Gelato Fiasco, is the place to go. With affordable prices and delicious spices, this classy Japanese-style joint attracts Bowdoin students nearly every night of the week. With quaint tables for two, tables for larger groups, and the much sought-after Tatami room (perfect for parties), Little Tokyo has the dining facilities for every occasion. Need a tasty, healthy lunch on the go? Call and order a Bento Lunch option, which offers a wide variety of Asian cuisine in one affordable and delicious box. Little Tokyo brings a slice of Japan to Brunswick, Maine, with flair and teriyaki sauce. Don’t wait to satisfy that miso soup craving.
Open Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Gelato Fiasco | 74 Maine St., Brunswick | gelatofiasco.comNo dinner (or lunch, or breakfast) out on Maine Street is complete without a quick (or not-so-quick) trip to Gelato Fiasco’s flagship store. Gelato and sorbets range from the classics, like chocolate, vanilla and cake batter, to flavors like pomegranate chocolate chunk and caramel sea salt. My go-to flavor combination is dark chocolate noir and strawberry balsamic, but flavors rotate every day so there's always something new to try. You can taste as many flavors as you want, and the staff will pack any number of your favorites into any size dish. Make sure to join the Red Spoon Society (free gelato on your birthday!), and don't be afraid to make the trek down in the snow—you save one percent on your order for every degree that it is below freezing. If you're too cold for gelato, the hot chocolate is to die for, and it comes with a homemade toasted marshmallow.
Open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Enoteca Athena | 97 Maine St., Brunswick, ME | enotecaathena.comWhether you’re looking for small bites or a full meal, Enoteca Athena never disappoints. Using locally-sourced and sustainably-raised ingredients, this restaurant transports you to the Greek Isles and Italian countryside with dishes such as cheese and olive platters, dolmathes, gyros, and pasta. Customers dine underneath the warm, soft glow of string lights, and for those over 21, the wine bar offers a delicious selection of wines, cocktails, and draft beers.
Open Monday-Saturday 3:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Visit Trattoria Athena, Enoteca Athena’s sister restaurant, at 25 Mill St., for more tastes of the Mediterranean.
Wild Oats | 149 Maine St. & 25 Burbank Ave., Brunswick | www.wildoatsbakery.comCome for the baked goods, stay because sometimes they forget to charge you for avocado. Wild Oats Bakery & Café’s Tontine Mall (Maine St.) location makes it the closer of the two locations to campus and an ideal weekend afternoon workspace. Students flock to the surprisingly well-spaced restaurant (outdoor seating available, weather permitting) for fresh, vibrant salads and sandwiches (ready made or made to order), smoothies (don’t get turned off by the kale one), soups (gluten-free and vegan options galore), and, of course, the sweets (you know you are truly loved when there is a Wild Oats Carrot Cake waiting for you on your birthday). The friendly and quick service is perfect for anything from a cookie on the road or a sit down meal with friends. Don’t stay too long, though, or you’ll end up with a delectable but four-times-too-large cupcake. Also, check out the smoothie bar at Wild Oats’ new, second location at Brunswick Landing (Burbank Ave.).
Maine St.: Open Monday-Saturday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.Burbank Ave.: Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Sundays.
El Camino | 15 Cushing St., Brunswick | elcaminomaine.comIf you’ve ever gone to the terrible website Yelp.com and looked up a Mexican restaurant in Maine, you’ve seen the following comment: “It’s a Mexican restaurant in Maine, so it’s clearly not authentic!” Is El Camino Cantina’s cuisine authentically Mexican? I have no idea. It’s delicious, though.
Just down the street from fellow Polar Bear haunts Beach Day Tanning and Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union, El Camino draws in local sophisticates with kitsch-chic décor and "locally grown and sustainable raised produce, meats and seafood.” My friends and I go to eat a half-pound of nachos and get drunk on award-winning margaritas. Never before has cheesy, meaty goodness been this appealing to a discerning palate—especially this far north of the border.
Open Tuesday-Thursday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Visit Flipside, El Camino’s sister restaurant at 111 Maine St., for local, organic pizza by the slice or pie.See & Do
Winter, spring, summer or fall, there is always something to do in or around Brunswick. If the weather cooperates, you can take in the great Maine outdoors but if it's a frigid winter's day, there is plenty to do inside too.
Farmer’s Market | The Mall in Downtown Brunswick | brunswickfarmersmarket.comWhen the snow melts away and spring breathes life back into the previously crinkly grass, the farmer’s market moves from Fort Andross to the lawn on Maine Street. Less than a 10-minute walk from the Polar Bear statue, the Farmer’s Market is the perfect place to enjoy some fresh air and support local business and farm to table foods. Representing over 30 different vendors, the market sells crisp produce, homemade breads, aged cheese, and artisan coffee. Spend time wandering among the decorative booths while eating fresh baked banana bread and chatting with the vendors before stocking up on snacks for the week. Just make sure to bring a reusable bag and plenty of cash, as most vendors do not accept credit cards.
Open Tuesday and Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. May through November.
Gulf Of Maine | 134 Maine St., Brunswick | gulfofmainebooks.blogspot.comEvery college town needs a good independent bookstore. In Brunswick, Gulf of Maine fills the role perfectly. While the store is tucked into a corner at 134 Maine St., it boasts an impressive amount of depth. The front of the store has a hippie, Maine outdoors vibe, featuring a interesting mix of postcards from local artists. Travel further inside to find an extensive collection of fiction, a large poetry section, plenty of children’s books, a variety of material from Maine writers, and much more. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and always happy to discuss books. Whether you’re looking to drop in for a peek or devote an afternoon to perusing the collection, Gulf of Maine is a consistently rewarding trip.
Open Monday-Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art | 9400 College Station, Brunswick | bowdoin.edu/art-museumWhen you’re wandering the Bowdoin quad, saunter on over to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. The entrance isn’t too hard to find—just look for the Louvre-inspired modern glass building. Once inside, head on into the galleries, which you can access for free or with a donation. The gallery on the first floor changes every few months, and is always worth checking out. Most recently, the exhibition has featured trippy sci-fi and space travel-inspired art from Latin America. However, some real gems lie within the permanent collection, which is displayed upstairs. Be sure to take a look at the Assyrian reliefs from King Ashurnasirpal II’s Nimrud temple—one of them, depicting the king, was brutally defaced and roughly graffitied by 7th century BCE conquerors. Walk around and take a look at Bowdoin’s collection of Winslow Homer paintings, ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, and decorative arts—including an 18th century air pump. On your way out, stop by the gift shop which has a surprisingly good collection of jewelry and reduced-price posters from past exhibitions.
Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.. Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Sunday 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Simpson’s Point | The end of Simpson’s Point Road, BrunswickOn a tour of campus, you might hear that Bowdoin is so close to the ocean you can smell the salt water sometimes. But when you’re looking for a glimpse of the sea, there’s no better place to go than the Simpson’s Point landing. Located four miles away from campus at the end of a scenic road, Simpson’s Point is a popular destination for runners and bikers (and students with cars) looking to escape the stress of campus. Take a plunge into the water in the warmer months or camp out on the coast with a burger, milkshake and good company on a starry summer evening (don’t forget the bug spray). In the fall, watch the sun set over the water and swim with the glowing bioluminescence. In the winter, venture out across the frozen surface on skis or snowshoes or plain old Bean Boots. And when spring comes around, take a seat on one of the rocks, feel the ocean breeze on your face and let your thoughts wander wherever they desire.
Rocky Ridge Apple Orchard | 38 Rocky Ridge Lane, Bowdoin | rockyridgeorchard.comRocky Ridge Apple Orchard, nestled in the midst of idyllic hay fields, epitomizes all that an ideal fall afternoon in Maine has to offer. From late August through October, Rocky Ridge offers sprawling orchards, laden with tasty apples of all kinds, ripe for the picking. Simply taking a stroll along the shady paths between the apple trees would make a trip worth it, but the fact that you can also take home a bag bursting with fresh apples only adds to the experience. However, Rocky Ridge doesn’t only do apples. The orchard also boasts a quaint cafe, stocked with homemade baked goods, quality sandwiches, and, wait for it, Cote’s ice cream. It’s also a great place to get Maine-made merchandise, including honey, maple syrup and hand-made soaps and hand creams. If possible, try to visit on a weekend, when Rocky Ridge offers horse drawn wagon rides around the orchards. Plan to end your trip just sitting on the patio soaking up the view of the orchard, while the kids play on the barn swing.
Open June-August on Friday-Sunday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Late August-October every day 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Downtown Freeport | freeportusa.comIf you’re getting tired of sleepy Brunswick but don’t want to drive 30 minutes to Portland, the next small Maine town on your radar should be Freeport. About half the size of Brunswick, Freeport’s biggest attraction is the massive L.L. Bean flagship store and factory. Not only can you take a totally non-cliche photo sitting on the gargantuan Bean Boot outside, you can do it at any time of the day or night. The L.L. Bean store has your warm winter gear needs covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contrary to what people’s Instagram photos would have you believe, Freeport does extend beyond the L.L. Bean store, including a robust series of shops and outlets and the beautiful Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park. Freeport also has a Amtrak Downeaster stop in town, making it extremely accessible to Brunswick even if you do not have a car.
Bull Moose | 151 Maine St., Brunswick | bullmoose.comMedia junkies of all ages will find something they like under the blue awning of Bull Moose—perhaps no store in Brunswick crosses eras better than them. With an extensive collection of vinyl, as well as video games and Blu-rays, Bull Moose can nurture your inner hipster without sacrificing good graphics. Not a tech junkie? No problem. Bull Moose also carries books and board games, and single-handedly supports the gaming habits of the contingent of Bowdoin students who play Magic cards. Rotating racks of witty magnets will keep you entertained while you wait to check out, and the collection of bizarre gift items can hold you down for any White Elephant gift party. If you’re in Brunswick, Bull Moose is a must.
Open daily 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and until 12:30 a.m. on Mondays.Stay
There are more than a handful of places to stay in and around Brunswick, but if you're coming during a busy campus weekend, make sure you book way in advance.
The Brunswick Hotel and Tavern | 4 Noble St., Brunswick | thebrunswickhotelandtavern.comRenting a room in The Brunswick Hotel and Tavern is about as close to campus as you can get without sleeping on a first-year’s futon. Situated on Maine Street just across from the north end of campus, the location can’t be beat. Opened in 2011, this hotel offers a more modern take on a rustic Maine retreat. It’s on the larger side—48 guest rooms and four suites—so slightly easier to get a reservation. If you’re here during the winter and can’t brave the short walk to town, the attached Tavern offers hearty comfort food (try the Lobster Risotto bites). As with most hotels in the area, rooms here fill up fast for graduation and parents weekend, so book far in advance.
The Brunswick Inn | 165 Park Row, Brunswick | brunswickbnb.comAfter sitting by the fire in the front parlor of this quaint New England inn, sipping coffee and gazing out on the town green, you’ll never stay anywhere else in Brunswick. Located only a few minutes from campus on foot, The Brunswick Inn is so cozy it almost feels like home. When you wake up, enjoy a delicious, complimentary breakfast, and before bed, unwind with a beer or glass of wine at the bar. The bedrooms are spacious and tastefully decorated, but there are only 16, so make a reservation well in advance.
Contributors: Julian Andrews (Bull Moose), Olivia Atwood (Little Tokyo), Sarah Bonanno (Farmer's Market), John Branch (Gule of Maine and Shere Punjab), Garrett Casey (The Brunswick Inn), Ron Cervantes (Downtown Freeport), Sam Chase (El Camino), Cameron de Wet (Rocky Ridge Apple Orchard), Jono Gruber (Wild Oats), Natalie Kass-Kaufman (Fat Boy), Emma Peters (The Brunswick Hotel and Tavern), Meg Robbins (Simpson's Point), Nicole Wetsman (Gelato Fiasco), Emily Weyrauch (The Bowdoin College Museum of Art) and Kate Witteman (Frontier).
Photography: Kate Featherston, Eliza Graumlich, Matthew Gutschenritter, Hy Khong, Meg Robbins and Parikshit Sharma.Interactive: Grace Handler and Matthew Gutschenritter.
On August 16, seven days after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., DeRay McKesson ’07 left everything and drove to St. Louis. He did not know a single person in the city and initially planned to stay for three days just to witness what was happening in the aftermath of Brown’s death.
He ended up staying for much longer, sleeping on the couch of another Bowdoin alum and using social media, primarily Twitter, to share stories of protests against police violence and racism.
He now has over 76,000 followers on Twitter and is nationally recognized for his work in St. Louis. McKesson received the Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award and was named one of the world’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine.
Before his experiences in St. Louis McKesson had worked as a sixth grade math teacher in Brooklyn, at the Harlem Children’s Zone and had started an academic enrichment center in Baltimore.
McKesson spoke to close to 300 students, faculty, staff and community members last night in Kresge Auditorium.
He began his talk by remarking about his understanding of the Offer of the College.
“It has always been such a radical promise about what education can be and what a society can be,” said McKesson. “When I think about coming back here of all the places that I have been fortunate enough to speak about the protests it means something particular to me mostly because of what I believe the Offer promises.”
McKesson was quick to juxtapose the Offer of the College with the American dream. He pointed out that the American dream is rooted in violence against people of color and is something “that has been a dream too often and not an offer” for oppressed groups of people in this country.
The bulk of McKesson’s talk focused on five concepts and how they relate to his work in St. Louis: proximity, storytelling, redefining the win, pressure and allyship.
McKesson shared many of his tweets and videos from his time in St. Louis. He spoke about how when he started out in St. Louis he used Twitter as a way to work through his own feelings about the protests. Twitter evolved into a means for him to bring the story of the protests to a wider audience.
“Some of what I do is tell the story. Some of what I do is amplify the story,” said McKesson.He also emphasized the importance of showing tender, positive moments on Twitter. For example, he loves seeing couples in protest spaces.
“The stories we tell matter and if anything the protests have made me see that in a deeper way,” McKesson went on.
His talk was filled with personal anecdotes and remarks about how he used social media to tell stories that traditional news outlets were not reporting.
“Twitter allowed us to tell the story [of Ferguson] in real-time,” said McKesson.“It allowed us to take back the narrative and when CNN wasn’t saying anything and when MSNBC wasn’t talking about it we actually got to push the narrative anyway,” he continued.
He said that when he first arrived in St. Louis he was part of a group of protesters that was tear gassed by the police and that this experience helped to redefine his outlook on the protests early on.
“There was this thing about being tear gassed in America that was so foreign to me,” said McKesson. “It was this notion that this is actually not the America that I know. This is not the America that I love. This is not the America that I think is fair to people, and that was what made me make a different choice about being in the work.”
McKesson stressed the importance of authentic commitment to protesting, saying that many people like to say that they are committed to social justice, but in actuality are not willing to really engage with the issues.
He related this commitment to the concept of proximity.
“When we talk about the protest spaces, we are saying that we stand with these families that have lost people; we stand with marginalized people and for us it was like putting our bodies on the line and saying here we are,” said McKesson.
He went on to explain how Twitter has enabled this sort of commitment from many different types of people.
“What I am so proud about in the protest space is that Twitter specifically has allowed us to have a vertical community where socioeconomic status is actually not that important anymore in terms of how people have come together,” said McKesson.
McKesson emphasized the difference between what he calls “the good and the necessary” and actual justice.
“Justice is either never experiencing the trauma at all or [justice] is accountability for people who perpetuate or initiate the trauma,” he said.
He cited the six resignations of various officials in Ferguson as “good and necessary,” but not as true justice for the people of Ferguson.
To conclude his talk, McKesson got to the heart of his protest ethos.
“We protest not to confirm the worth of our lives. We know that our lives are worthy. We protest to expose the depth of the evil that we face,” said McKesson to a chorus of snaps from the audience.
His talk ended with a lengthy question and answer session, during which students asked questions ranging from how to reach out to groups of people on campus who have not yet decided to engage with issues of race to how he manages to stay positive when faced with intense resistance to his message.
Abby Roy ’16 asked him about how he views race education existing in the classroom today. McKesson responded that the classroom is incredibly important to effective education about race.
“Twitter and the classroom are the last two radical spaces in America,” he said.
Sixty eight percent of respondents to a recent survey conducted by a class taught by Associate Professor of Government Michael Franz indicated that they believe that political correctness is a ‘problem at Bowdoin currently.’
The respondents represented an even distribution of class years and genders, and were numerous enough to represent the broader Bowdoin community.
Students’ individual definitions of political correctness vary, but the survey indicates that students are unhappy about the level of political correctness on campus. Some students the Orient spoke with argued for political correctness, while others said that it has become difficult to voice a minority opinion on campus.
“It seems to me that people have this idea that there is this pervasive force among Bowdoin students that is the language police,” said James Jelin ’16, who writes a column for the Orient. “And if you say anything that doesn’t gel with the currents of appropriateness that you’re suddenly going to be exiled from the Bowdoin community.”
The survey also asked about Cracksgiving and the Inappropriate Party, two recent events that have sparked discussion about the necessity of political correctness. Twenty seven percent of respondents approved of the way the College handled Cracksgiving, 47 percent did not approve, and 25 percent felt they did not have enough information to say. Thirty eight percent of respondents indicated that “students in Ladd House unfortunately caved to pressure from Res Life,” 17 percent believe the Ladd house residents “made the right call,” 37 percent said that they “see the merits of both sides” and eight percent said that they did not have enough information to decide.
Director of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity Kate Stern feels that the limited discussion surrounding these events is the bigger issue.
“I think people use the term political correctness like a stop sign and then we don’t go past that,” Stern said. “We don’t talk about what the impact was of Cracksgiving on our Native American students. We just talk about the administration being politically correct. But we’re not getting to that next step.”
Yet many students, divided on whether political correctness is a necessary roadblock, find it difficult to get to this next step. Since Cracksgiving and the cancellation of the Inappropriate Party, students have debated whether political correctness protects people or stifles them, or whether it does both.
“[I think it’s] everyone’s responsibility to engage in conversation and to promote a space where political correctness doesn’t inhibit, but also protects those it is meant to protect,” Michelle Kruk ’16 said. “I don’t think that being politically correct necessarily means censorship.”
Debate about Yik Yak mirrors the debate about political correctness, particularly in regards to censorship. Some believe that Yik Yak provides a platform for students to speak their minds freely and voice potentially unpopular opinions.
“People feel more inclined to speak their minds when you don’t have to sign your name after it. If you feel comfortable speaking up for yourself there, then I would say go for it,” said Ned Wang ’18.
Stern agreed that the lower stakes of anonymous forums can make them attractive to students.
“I think part of the PC backlash—which I agree with—is that if we just don’t say it because we’re not allowed to say it, it doesn’t change how we’re thinking,” Stern said. “That feeling of I can’t say it, but I’m still thinking it, drives the conversation to Yik Yak.”
Some people however, believe that Yik Yak too easily allows for hurtful comments to be made. In a recent column in the Orient, Vee Fyer-Morrel ’15 warned that Yik Yak has led to particularly harmful comments with regard to body image, allowing people to “lash out from behind the anonymous comfort of a screen.”
The anonymity of Yik Yak is lost in the classroom, and some believe that political correctness is a problem there. Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies Tess Chakkalakal encourages “lively debate” in her classes, yet often finds political correctness hindering discussion.
“I think that disagreement, debate, argument, is an important part not only of an academic institution like Bowdoin College but also of a democracy,” Chakkalakal said. “I encourage disagreement and I worry that political correctness forces us to all agree, which I believe, and according to that survey, we do not. We have differences of opinion that I believe should be voiced respectfully—but voiced and not stifled.”
Between Bowdoin Climate Action’s (BCA) sit-ins and the Ferguson die-ins, activists on campus have been busy, and their visibility has perhaps increased attention on issues of open discussion. Some students attributed the problem of political correctness to campus activists.
“I think a lot of the activists on campus are the biggest offenders,” Nick Mansfield ’17 said. “The people who think they are the most liberal, free-thinking people are the most intolerant ones. Most of the ones I’ve encountered have no desire to negotiate or understand the opposing viewpoint at all.”
Mansfield cited hostility toward people who take a pro-life stance as an example of liberal students taking an intolerant position.
“If you’re pro-life at Bowdoin you would get shot down in a hailstorm of bullets,” he said. “No one would really respect that viewpoint even though you’re perfectly entitled to it and you might have your reasons for it.”
Hayley Nicholas ’17 said she believes such a sentiment is a result of a lack of communication on campus.
“I don’t think it’s the activism itself [perpetuating this divide]. It’s the lack of communication,” she said.
Nicholas referred to BCA as an example of a group failing to communicate.
“The only problem that I have with BCA is that they realize that there’s a huge disconnect on campus between students who want to divest and students who don’t, and I feel like they haven’t been trying to bridge that gap,” she said.
Yet Nicholas was careful not to attribute political correctness to activism.
“I think people confuse the terms activism and political correctness,” she said. “They think they’re one and the same.”
Jelin said he thinks the lack of communication can be characterized differently. He believes that campus discussion has become too one sided and that opposing voices are plentiful but simply hesitant to engage.
“I think that all of the people who disagree with this primary dialogue, they’re just not talking about it. Nobody else is writing letters to the editor in the Orient, nobody else is holding rallies,” Jelin said. “I think that there’s this fallacy that everyone at Bowdoin believes these things when really it’s just a small but vocal minority.”
The survey’s results seem to support Jelin’s theory, since the majority of students declared themselves unsatisfied with the current state of discussion. Chakkalakal said that the discourse should be elevated, but not by the administration.
“I don’t think it’s the administration’s responsibility,” Chakkalakal said. “I think it’s the students’. I put it on you.”
Editor's note: The story originally stated that 69 percent of students think that political correctness is a problem at Bowdoin. That number was in fact 68 percent.