The results are in: the findings of the campuswide survey sent out last semester by Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster about campus speakers have been tabulated, and a group is working on creating a programming series around free speech, one of the most popular responses. 

Regarding the format of the discussions, President Clayton Rose said, “Rather than have one person, we’re going to have two people who represent different [perspectives on] an important issue of the day, probably moderated by someone on campus who can be a provocateur, who can push and challenge and get them to engage with each other.”

In order to make this speaker series more interactive, the group plans to follow each talk with a dinner where students would discuss the issues, practicing the open, respectful conversation Rose seeks to promote.

“The committee is a recognition that something is missing at Bowdoin. And the conversation is really about how to address what is missing at Bowdoin and why it is missing at Bowdoin,” Associate Professor of Africana Studies and English Tess Chakkalakal explained.

“I think that Bowdoin is often criticized for just having one sort of opinion or voice that’s often heard,” Rebkah Tesfamariam ’18 said. “I think [the speaker series] will allow students to feel more comfortable voicing their personal opinions if they go against what is perceived as the main Bowdoin opinion.”

Six hundred seventy-five students responded to the survey, which presented participants with a list of possible topics students would like incoming speakers to debate and asked them to rank them in order of preference. The topics included abortion, America’s role in the world, free speech on campuses and more broadly, gun violence and control, immigration and refugee policy, money in politics, privacy versus security, the role and limitation of government and what to do about ISIS. Free speech was highly demanded, along with gun control and immigration and refugee policy. 

There was also an opportunity to write-in topics, comments and suggestions for speakers. Climate change was a popular write-in topic, and many students requested Bernie Sanders as a speaker.

The focus on campus speakers is part of Rose’s effort to cultivate diverse, intellectual conversations on campus. A group of faculty, staff and students that was formed last semester will use the survey results to ensure that its efforts focus on topics of student interest.

Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Scott MacEachern hopes that the speaker series will help create an environment where students who feel their opinions are in the minority will be comfortable speaking up.

“This is a residential campus. We all realize that these kinds of questions come up for students. Modeling ways for students to talk about issues where they may not agree is important,” MacEachern said.

However, the ability to discuss contentious issues in a thoughtful and respectful manner is useful far beyond the reaches of campus.

“We are dealing with important issues,” MacEachern said. “We are dealing with issues that…are going to need to be discussed by people all over the country.”

The group is dedicated to changing the campus atmosphere regarding unpopular or uncommon ideas, but intends to do it carefully and correctly.

“It’s going to be slow, because, if it moves too fast, I think a lot of people will get upset. I think that there’s a real awareness by the administration, particularly President Rose, of the complexity and sensitivity of bringing new ideas, different ideas, to Bowdoin,” Chakkalakal said.

Both Chakkalakal and MacEachern described the speaker series as a first step in a long project. MacEachern expects the College will take what seems to work from the speaker series and expand on it.

“I think changing the composition of the faculty, bringing in different kinds of faculty members who teach different subjects perhaps, would be another way of changing or broadening the conversation at Bowdoin,” Chakkalakal said.

“I think that if we were able to allow for opposing opinions when there is less tension on campus, we might be able to allow for more room for or just have more experience dealing with opposing opinions when something big happens in our world, our country or our campus,” said Tesfamariam.

The group consists of Rose, Foster, Chakkalakal, MacEachern, Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government Andrew Rudalevige, Head Coach of Men's and Women's Cross Country and Track Peter Slovenski, Secretary of the College Eli Orlic, John Lucy ’17 and Tesfamariam. Director of Events and Summer Programs Tony Sprague and Director of Digital and Social Media Holly Sherburne are advisors to the group.