Last week, in the continuing wake of the “gangster” party and the resultant cascade of events surrounding discussions of race and privilege on campus, James Jelin ’16 wrote a piece on the definition of progress and the path of campus discourse in the weeks and months to come. He begins by appealing to those that were hurt by the party, asking whether they want an “open exchange of ideas,” or a “strict condemnation” of racist speech and actions.

Here is the first issue with this description of Bowdoin’s future. These are not our only options, nor are they even mutually exclusive. Furthermore, Jelin fails to recognize the intricacies inherent in even these two options he highlights. Consider the idea of an “open exchange of ideas”—this is not a matter of two parties parlaying on equal footing. What he describes is the white majority wielding its privilege and asking the students of color on campus to argue merely for recognition of their basic rights. (And yes, freedom from microaggressions and racial stereotyping is a basic right.) Any discussion of race is inevitably lopsided; it must be recognized that only white people can afford to be ignorant of their privilege. For people of color, acts of racism are such an ingrained part of daily life that, for many of us, we cannot help but observe the ways that a society built upon racism demands that we bear the burden of our own race.

Which leads me to my next point: a “strict condemnation” of racist beliefs is exactly necessary. The school cannot afford to beat around the bush with its language and handling of racism on campus. And it must be clear that cultural appropriation and stereotyping are absolutely forms of racism; I have heard countless people deride discussions following the party as inane conversations of “political correctness” and issues of freedom of speech. These derisions fail to understand two basic ideas: one, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from reproach. People may say what they please, but racist speech must be called exactly that. Two, any act of racism, be it physically or ideologically violent, must be dealt with seriously.

Again, only white people can afford to be ignorant. If the school does not take a strict stance on racism, it leaves students of color to fend for themselves against a white majority which, in the interest of preservation of privilege, has no obligation to understand the viewpoints of the minority. Jelin claims that, in the “exchange of ideas” scenario, we’ll force the oppressed to the “patiently educate” their oppressors, a situation which, though he may not recognize it, has been happening on campus for ages. Orient articles such as the one written last week by Adira Polite ’18, various teach-in events which touched on race, Wednesday’s silent protest—we’ve been patiently educating our entire lives, but it is not within our power to force white people to listen or understand. 

Which is why the administration must make clear that racism in any form is intolerable. Whether certain people agree with the realities of institutionalized oppression or not is irrelevant; countless resources, be they academic or peer-written, exist that elucidate the workings of oppression, from cultural appropriation to physical violence. When people fail to understand the concept of racism, what more can students of color do? How can we ever endorse anything but condemnation of racism? And still, even when it is not our job or duty, we continue to educate in any way we know how. Despite what Jelin says, condemnation and education are not exclusive. Both are necessary for students of color’s safety and well-being.​