For the Class of 2020, Orientation included a new two-part program called “More Than Meets the Eye,” which directly addressed issues of racial diversity on campus. During the first event, which took place before the start of the semester, 16 current students each shared a personal anecdote related to their experiences with race at Bowdoin.

The second event was about keeping an open mind to new perspectives as first years form social ties at the school. The talk was led by Reverend Dr. Jamie Washington, the president and founder of Washington Consulting Group.

Student voices have called for the inclusion of a program on race in Orientation over the past few years. However, controversial events from the 2015-16 academic year—such as the “gangster” party and the “tequila” party—were a critical push to develop this program because they fueled last year’s discussions on race. The fact that the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs instituted this new Orientation program is a positive step forward in the evolution of Bowdoin’s discourse on race.

Sydney Avitia-Jacques ’18, a member of the sailing team, mentioned one such event, which was hosted by her team. The “gangster” party was a critical component of her experience of race at Bowdoin. Openly presenting events like these to first years gives them an appropriate context to inform their future conversations about race at Bowdoin.

Moreover, it is valuable that this particular Orientation event continued into the semester, modeling the fact that conversations about race will happen throughout students’ careers, not just during Orientation. 

There are talks, lectures and discussions dealing with these topics consistently scheduled throughout the year and are open to all students. Consistently taking advantage of these events rather than only engaging when incidents like the “gangster” party occur is crucial for moving towards a more inclusive community.

Furthermore, attending these events and participating in these conversations facilitates a more comfortable environment where students are proactive in having these difficult conversations. If or when instances of cultural appropriation occur, discussions about these events will be more productive since more students will be ready to engage.

An important goal of Orientation is to model how to interact with different parts of our community in a positive way. However, it is also important to strike the right balance of telling first-year students what they can and cannot do. This program did just that.

Uniquely developing this program each year is crucial. Including contemporary stories from current Bowdoin students is important to continue to effectively model productive discourse on race. Giving first years the context of our campus climate while also encouraging first years to engage in conversation about race provides a direction towards a more open community.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Marina Affo, Julian Andrews, Steff Chavez, Grace Handler, Nickie Mitch, Meg Robbins and Joe Seibert.