Bowdoin Student Government voted Wednesday to endorse the creation of a permanent committee to identify crimes against humanity. The proposed committee, which President Barry Mills recommended against in his statement last week, would be comprised of trustees, staff, faculty, and students.
"We should use Bowdoin's academic resources to encourage and communicate with the Bowdoin community. We can be there as a representative of Bowdoin students, faculty, staff, and trustees to come up with recommendations," said Class of 2008 Representative Clark Gascoigne.
The idea stemmed from the Advisory Committee on Darfur (ACOD), which suggested the formation of a "permanent committee to identify crimes against humanity...to ensure the swift identification of international problems to which Bowdoin would have a moral obligation to respond."
In response, Gascoigne created a proposal for BSG to support the recommendation. The resolution states that BSG "recognizes that there exist rare occasions when an international consensus of outrage exists with regard to an exceptionally reprehensible situation, thereby justifying a course of action by the College."
Last week, Mills issued a recommendation to the trustees that urged for the creation of a non-investment policy for companies complicit with the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. If approved by the trustees, Mills's proposal would forbid investments with such companies and divert any profits from such companies by the College's private fund managers to humanitarian relief organizations.
However, Mills argued against the creation of a permanent committee to handle such human rights issues. While the resolution says that BSG "fully supports the majority of the suggestions presented in the president's recommendations," the assembly said situations might arise where an efficient committee already in place would be advantageous.
Much of the discussion revolved around the logistics and purpose of establishing a committee. Members of BSG were curious as to how often the committee would be necessary, who would be in charge, how an international crisis would be identified, what stances or actions the College would take, and what student involvement would look like. Furthermore, since Mills has stated his opposition to a trustee-based committee, there are questions as to how BSG may help create one.
Gascoigne explained that details would be worked out at a later time, but the goal was to support the group's concept for now.
The committee was compared to the Bias Incident Group, an assembly on campus that can convene when an offensive action in the student body must be addressed. Vice President of BSG Affairs Dustin Brooks '08 said this would work similarly.
"This resolution is just to push the idea in a certain direction. This system will be in place and ready, waiting to be called upon, no matter whether it's the students, faculty, president, alumni, or trustees," said Brooks.
Wednesday's meeting was the first official time the body convened this year, and Brooks said the humanity committee vote was very significant.
"It's important for the BSG to have taken such a bold step, and it's been four years since the BSG last took a position of this significance," said Brooks. "I think this was the right one to start with because it was well considered and well thought out."
The final vote was 16 supporting the committee's creation, and seven against it.
Those seven were Charlie Ticotsky '07, Becca Ginsberg '07, Sophia Seifert '09, Emily Hubbard '07, Ben Freedman '09, Carolyn Chu '07, and Mike Bartha '09.
In addition, at the meeting the members also approved spending for the night taxi and shuttle services, subsidized movie tickets, an energy-efficient light bulb promotion, and photographs with the polar bear mascot for Parents Weekend.
Such decisions tie into BSG's broader goals for the year, which encompass both the BSG members and the Bowdoin community as a whole. DeRay Mckesson '07, president of BSG, explained the three pillars of BSG: shared leadership in the Bowdoin community, creating intentional programming for the College, and developing "sustainable" spaces for students to thrive in.
"The idea is that there are two communities the BSG serves: the community at large and a community of leaders. We ask ourselves: How do we support these campus leaders, what skills are important to know, and how do we make sure all in the community cooperate in productive ways?" said Mckesson.
As for programming, Mckesson said it's important not only to be involved with creating programs on campus, but also to understand the intentions behind those programs.
Finally, Mckesson said BSG works towards creating spaces for advisor meetings, working and discussion groups, committees, and more. The idea is to ensure that "productive and healthy tension exists" in the form of debates, intellectual discussions, and sharing of ideas and opinions.
All BSG officers are linked to these various ideals, as they coordinate student affairs, activities, spending of the budget, support, and, according to Mckesson, other "programs with an academic mindset."