As the College works to expand racial and ethnic diversity, recent efforts by the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) and the African American Society (AfAm) have drawn attention to one commonly overlooked aspect of racial inclusivity on campus—the selection of music in the College House party scene.

LASO First Year Representative Ray Tarango ’20 emphasized the way that music contributes to the segregation of the party scene. 

“I know that a lot of people don’t go to parties...because they feel like the music that they’re 
used to isn’t what’s being played,” he said. “I think it plays a huge role.”

Two weeks ago, LASO teamed up with Baxter House to throw a party featuring a mix of English- and Spanish-language music like bachata and reggaeton, a rare presence at College Houses. 

Baxter and LASO members observed that their collaboration attracted far more students of color, particularly Latin American students, than most College House parties.

“Socially we’re pretty segregated on campus,” said AfAm board member Rebkah Tesfamariam ’18. 

Baxter House member Julia Amstutz ’19 agreed. “Your typical Baxter partygoer doesn’t also go to LASO or doesn’t also go to AfAm.”

Last year, AfAm and Ladd House threw two parties together: a sports jersey themed party and a concert and party featuring Tut, a rapper from Tennessee. Both heavily featured hip-hop and rap and were highly attended by students of color.

These parties are held out of a desire to move beyond panels and talks that address race on campus. They are among the first attempts to change the College House parties that the College works to make central to Bowdoin first-years’ weekend nights. 

Tesfamariam discussed the importance of creating a more integrated social scene.

“If you’re not used to being around people of color or people of different backgrounds than you in social spaces,” she said, “you’re more likely to not understand issues like cultural appropriation.” 

Tesfamariam placed less emphasis on the importance of music. Still, she said that it was a factor.
“I stopped going to college house parties because I thought there was nothing there for me, and I can hear the music that I actually listen to at AfAm parties,” she said.

Amstutz said that College House parties play a bigger role than people realize in first years lives.

 “A lot of that socialization and bonding with your floor or meeting people happens at parties,” she said.

Tesfamariam, who has been a first-year proctor for the last two years, agreed. 

“There is an expectation that you’re going to go…It feels so central to campus. Especially [to] first years,” she said. 

Amstutz said that Baxter has had difficulty appealing to a broad range of students on campus. 

“You could see [Baxter] as more homogeneous than heterogeneous, which is part of the reason why our house is meshing so well initially,” Amstutz said. “But it’s also why we may run into some issues with who we appeal to with our events.”

Baxter residents have put effort into changing this stereotype and making Baxter a more inclusive space, but have faced challenges. 

“We tried really hard to break it, and it hasn’t quite worked out yet,” Amstutz said.

Tesfamariam spoke more optimistically. She said that the dynamics of College Houses this year seem far more inclusive than previous years and that Baxter’s efforts to destigmatize the house “gives me hope, for sure.” 

“A lot more students of color showed up to this party than any other party I’ve gone to,” Tarango said. “And I think that should be taken into account more.” 

“You don’t have to do a whole party related to Latin American music, but just include it in whatever playlist you’re making to at least have some sort of variety for everyone to feel like, ‘Hey, I can go to this party. I can have fun.’ Because I think that’s really missing at the party scene here at Bowdoin,” he added.

AfAm and Ladd will be hosting another party together on Friday November 18.