Conversations about the sailing team’s “gangster” party and cultural appropriation have transitioned to calls for broader dialogue about race on campus this week. 

On Wednesday, Esther Nunoo ’17, Olivia Bean '17 and Mariam Nimaga ’17 organized a silent protest to draw attention to the issues students of color face on campus. Participating students and faculty wore black and placed pieces of tape that read “we will not be silenced” over their mouths, and marched through David Saul Smith Union chanting the last two lines of the Offer of the College: “...cooperate with others for common ends, this is the offer of the College for the best four years of your life.”

Nimaga, who serves as secretary of the African American Society (AfAm), emphasized that the protest was not a targeted response to the “gangster” party, but a larger response to issues of bias and racism on campus. The “we will not be silenced” tape, she said, was a response to a perceived silencing by both the administration and the student body.

“We feel like students of color are constantly being silenced by administration and students, faculty and staff just by their actions and what they do in not responding to these incidents proactively,” she said.

Ashley Bomboka ’16, president of AfAm, said that she feels silenced by both the administration and certain parts of the student body.

“It’s been a struggle,” she said. “Even though I’m physically saying words, there’s definitely an active level of resistance whether it is expressed or unexpressed...even though there’s support in terms of email, there’s been no concrete action yet other than dialogue, but obviously dialogue has not solved the issue at Bowdoin.”

Bomboka said that silencing also comes when the student body—specifically, the portion of the student body not already actively engaged in these issues—does not actively participate in dialogues and programs. 

“By opting out of it, that’s a silencing mechanism,” she said. 

Last week, administrative response to the specific “gangster" party incident included emails from Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster and President Clayton Rose, as well as meetings with students involved. 

Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) also released a Statement of Solidarity with those affected by the incident.

A group of students put up signs in the entrance to the administrative offices in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library as well as Smith Union, Moulton Union and Thorne Hall after those responses imploring the administration to take more concrete action. 

Some signs contained messages such as “It is not the job of minority students to educate others,” “#AStatementIsNotEnough,” and “Cultural appropriation is violence.”

President Clayton Rose agreed with student criticism of administrative action to date. 

“Both of those statements [from BSG and Foster] were good beginnings,” he said. “Both of those represented beginnings. The notion that a statement is not enough is absolutely right. A statement is not enough, it’s never enough, and the challenge now is what follows, what are we going to do. I’m working on a number of things that I hope to put in motion before too long, some in the short term and some in the long term.”

Members of AfAm have been in meetings throughout the past week, engaging in conversations on plans to move forward with Rose and Foster. 

Bomboka said that the meetings with the administration have been positive. 

“I think it’s gotten more positive,” she said. “Obviously the fact that we had the meeting was positive...from my perspective the administration was like, ‘we had no idea that it was to this extent, or that this is how students of color are feeling.’ So it went from ‘where is this coming from,’ to ‘now we know where this is coming from, now we can work on something.’” 

Wider issues of race 

Bomboka said that the conversation changed from one with a specific focus on the sailing team to one with a broader focus on race on campus soon after the “gangster” party took place. 

“The sailing team may not commit an act of cultural appropriation again, they may not have the party again, but the fact that it was allowed to happen in the first place and it wouldn’t have been stopped, that’s concerning,” she said. “We need to think on a bigger picture. that’s not to say we’re not dealing with the sailing team issue, and we’re going to have dialogue, but we can’t allow an environment where we are reactive. We have to be proactive.”

Vice President for BSG Affairs Michelle Kruk ’16 has been in the meetings with the administration and AfAm over the past week, and described stories shared by students that highlighted the broader relevance of the discussion of the “gangster” party. 

“It was an attempt to bring to light that this is no longer about the sailing team, this is so much bigger than that,” she said. “This is from the bottom up and the top down that the school reinforces structural racism, and hasn’t made an effort to address that. By sharing these stories students were trying to point out that it’s bigger than this.”

Bomboka pointed out that the College has historically been in step with or ahead of national trends surrounding race. John Brown Russwurm, who graduated from Bowdoin in 1826, was the third African-American to graduate from college in the United States. The College established the Africana Studies program in 1970.

“Everything was sort of happening on time,” she said, “but it’s stagnated in a way.”

The end goal

Kruk and Bomboka both highlighted the scarcity of resources for students of color to turn to in response to incidents of racism or bias, and the lack of structure and programming currently in place on campus to deal with race. 

“The end goal for all of this would be making sure that as a community we can discuss race with the same comfort we can talk about, say, the environment,” said Bomboka. “When we talk about sexual assault, it’s an uncomfortable topic, but we have programming in there...that’s where, as a campus, we want to be.”

Though they are imperfect comparisons, Kruk and Bomboka mentioned programs and support systems that surround issues of sexual violence, gender and sexuality as potential models for a system to address race.  

“I really don’t have an answer, but I think all of those models could potentially be used,” said Kruk. “I wish there was some training. We should totally have some support system here that isn’t counseling.”

 Kruk said that none of the incidents of bias or racism shared in meetings in the past week had been reported formally. 

“I think that went to show that there is not really a space here where students feel comfortable...these students literally have nowhere to go,” she said. “They’re holding onto these stories that are like acid to their hearts...That influences everything that you do here and we aren’t talking about it, and if we aren’t creating a space where those stories can come to light, then what are we doing?” 

Both said that there’s no real excuse for not trying to create those resources or those spaces. 
“Bowdoin is a closed experiment,” said Bomboka, “and if they can control for so many other factors, why can’t race be a part of it?”

This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Olivia Bean '17 was also invovled in planning the silent protest.