Following a tense fall semester with bias incidents near Bowdoin’s campus and sexual assault on campus, the Brunswick Town Council has established a “Race and Gender Task Force”/ “Human Rights Task Force” to “explore the race and gender issues” facing the town and approve recommended actions by June 30. 

Starting in the summer, several Bowdoin students and faculty were subjected to predominantly racial but also misogynistic slurs yelled from passing cars. After these initial reports, President Rose contacted town officials and circulated an official condemnation on September 8. In the next two months, four additional bias incidents—all of which were “drive-bys”—were reported. 

Approved in December, the task force was proposed by City Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman who saw it as the logical and necessary “next step” for the town. 

Stressing how these incidents did not represent the values of Brunswick, Brayman said in a phone interview with the Orient that she wants “students to feel comfortable coming downtown.” 

After being contacted by Rose and other college officials, Brunswick officials had conversations with civic organizations like Tedford Shelter, First Parish Church, Curtis Memorial Library and others to gauge their knowledge of racial bias in and around Brunswick. Following this meeting in November they moved to “formalize the efforts of [the] town” with a task force. 

Since then, the Brunswick Police Department has updated their website to include a reporting mechanism for bias incidents. This consists of an online form in which victims are asked to identify the type of bias and give details about the incident; victims can choose whether or not to identify themselves and provide contact information to police. 

“We want Brunswick to be a very welcoming community,” said Police Chief Richard Rizzo in a phone interview with the Orient.  

Rizzo encouraged anyone subject to these attacks to please fill out the online form. 
“An event that you ‘don’t want to bother us with’ could be part of a pattern that the community needs to address,” wrote Rizzo on the Police website. 

Since the form went live, there have been no reports submitted, Rizzo said at the task force’s first meeting yesterday. 

At the task force’s meeting, Brayman, Kathy Wilson and Jane Millett (town councilors appointed to the task force) discussed the role of the group, who should be representatives on it and how large it should be. 

Regarding goals of the task force, Brayman said at the meeting: “I think there’s education, there’s also calling out really bad behavior and there’s also supporting people who are [victims] of this behavior. To me, it’s also about who are we as a community and where are we going as a community.”

A representative of the Brunswick School Department, the Brunswick Downtown Association, Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Leana Amaez and potentially a Bowdoin student representative (such as the BSG Multicultural representative) were all broached as resources the task force would like to work with in the future.

Three residents of Brunswick who attended the meeting urged the councilors to remember that the task force must prioritize supporting the human rights of Brunswick’s citizens as much as it will address the recent bias incidents experienced by students of the College.

Amaez expressed hope that the town of Brunswick and the College could move forward together.

“I would like for us to work together to think about how we educate and how the town can send a message to people that this is not what the town wants to be and not what the town is as a whole,” said Amaez.

While noting that it may not be Brunswick residents committing these acts, Amaez emphasized that it is incumbent upon the Brunswick community to not be silent when these incidents occur. 

Simple things like asking “Hey, are you OK? Do you want me to walk you home?” can make a world of difference, Amaez noted. 

Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster spoke approvingly of the formation of the task force, further noting that, in his experience, “there is a sense that this is not isolated to Bowdoin.”
Notably, last week the Bangor Daily News reported that a biracial seven-year-old student at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary was called the n-word on two separate occasions this past fall. 

“[But] that’s not the community we think about when we think about Brunswick, Maine,” said Foster. “As someone who’s lived here for 20 years... [I] don’t identify Brunswick as being a place that’s not welcoming and affirming. And, yet, some members of the community have had experiences that weren’t welcoming, so I think there’s some commitment on the part of the community to say ‘no, this is not who we are.”’

Meg Robbins contributed to this report.