A panel on Wednesday evening contemplated the meaning of the common good at Bowdoin, and the existence of the philosophy as a means to easy self-gratification versus a legitimate way to give back. 

The panel, held at Howell House, included President Clayton Rose, Director of the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good Sarah Seames, McKeen Fellow Marina Affo ’17, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Bob Ives and Assistant Professor of Education Alison Miller. 

“I think it’s important [to have conversations like this] because Bowdoin definitely uses the common good as a way to advertise the school to the world,” said Kay Torrey ’19, a McKeen fellow who helped organize the panel. 

Torrey said that, despite her work at the McKeen Center, she and other McKeen fellows felt that they did not have a clear understanding of what the common good is. 

Seames described the common good as a two-part conceptual framework of discussing the common good and then putting it into action. Rose said he found the common good to be more of a journey rather than a specific set of actions and emphasized the importance of sincere work. 

“If we don’t engage in the work that we do with respect to the common good with a pure heart, is it really for the common good?” he said.

Ives defined the common good through the lens of religion and spirituality. He hypothesized that Joseph McKeen brought the idea of the common good to the College from religious texts.

The panelists were asked to respond to a wide variety of queries and comments, including how they would respond to “someone who tells you that Bowdoin uses the common good as a means of easy self-gratification rather than to selflessly give back.”

“I am really interested in thinking about—instead of students being selfless about what they do—thinking about their work in terms of reciprocity,” said Seames.

She added that thinking about reciprocity also means students must contemplate their own privilege.

“If you think you’re being altruistic … you’re still thinking of yourself as having something that someone else doesn’t,” she said.

The moderators also asked panelists where they see the common good at Bowdoin.

Miller said that she sees the common good in what Bowdoin students choose to do outside of the College. 

“When I see our teachers who are out in communities … choosing to go and teach in underserved communities and really take a difficult path beyond Bowdoin,” she said.

Oratile Monkhei ’20, who attended the panel, questioned how the common good manifests at Bowdoin outside of the McKeen Center.

“Beyond just saying we have, for example, the McKeen Center, and that’s the area for the common good, how does that same conviction of integrity play out in other departments?” she said.

Students said they found the discussion interesting but wished more students had attended.

“The panel was very transparent in their feelings and sentiments,” said Monkhei.  “I just wish or desire that more people had come to hear it … [I] started questioning as to who self-selects to come to such talks.” 

Despite having a small crowd, those who did attend said the panel was informative and engaging.

“I thought that it was an incredibly interesting and incredibly relevant topic,” said Sara Caplan ’20.