Many students who were harmed by the sailing team’s “gangster” party last Thursday have stepped up in its wake to express their frustration and educate their peers in public forums. Whether it be at Wednesday night’s packed BSG meeting or in the pages of the Orient, students who saw their culture reduced to a crude stereotype came forward wholeheartedly, sharing intensely personal experiences and leaving themselves vulnerable in sincere hope of producing positive change on Bowdoin’s campus.

Less inspiring were the dialectical contributions of those on campus who are unconvinced of the severity of racist cultural appropriation. In response to Dean Tim Foster’s campus-wide email condemning the incident, some students took to Yik Yak to share posts that were ignorant at best, and in some cases outright hostile. Worsening the effects of the original incident, these anonymous posts created a threatening environment for the students at which they were directed. The idea that your lab partner or the person in front of you in line at Thorne might be covertly, yet publicly, attacking the validity of your emotions is enormously disturbing. Hiding behind anonymity to post malicious messages is a display of pure cowardice.

We’ve seen this pattern before. As is often the case with incidents of this nature, administrators and many students are calling for a renewed focus on conversation and dialogue. Dialogue is happening, but it’s not the kind they’re hoping for. Unfortunately, productive dialogue is an unlikely result given our current pattern of responses. Statements from the administration that present an official position of the institution, valid and necessary as they may be, create a situation in which honestly conflicted students—distinct from those who simply troll on anonymous forums—are reluctant to speak out publicly because they don’t want their opinions to be seen as being at odds with the College’s core values.

It is common knowledge on campus that divergent viewpoints exist, but, despite calls like Foster’s for “constructive engagement,” so-called public dialogues always seem to play out as one-sided discussions. We believe that the College should indeed take official positions on moral issues about which it feels strongly, but it appears that this prevents earnest questioning on the finer points of issues as complex as cultural appropriation. This conflict in the College’s stated goals does not have an easy solution, but it is an issue our campus would do well to acknowledge.

Unfortunately, incidents of racism like the “gangster” party are not uncommon at Bowdoin and similar institutions, and this month’s will probably not be the last. The pattern shows that there is still a population here unwilling to participate in the public dialogue so many of us are asking for. Moving forward, we must consider how to break this cycle of asymmetrical dialogue in which students putting themselves on the line are made to feel unsafe, and students speaking anonymously don’t feel compelled to identify themselves. 

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of John Branch, Sam Chase, Matthew Gutschenritter, Emma Peters and Nicole Wetsman.