There is a plaque in Boody-Johnson House recognizing the Abromson family's provision of "funds for the promotion of ethnic, cultural and religious understanding in this house." However, the 2007-08 academic year may find this plaque, along with the College's multicultural student groups, inhabiting 30 College St. instead.
Currently, 18 multicultural student groups on campus have access to Johnson House for meetings, club events, and gatherings. Three students live in the building as club representatives, and Hillel, Latin American Student Organization (LASO), Asian Students Association (ASA), and Korean Students Association (KASA) maintain in-house offices.
Bowdoin officials and student members of the affected multicultural organizations attended a meeting about a potential move on Friday, October 27. Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Margaret Hazlett, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Director of Multicultural Student Programs Wil Smith, and Director of First Year Student Programs Stacey Jones explained the proposed change of location and sought student input.
Currently it is unclear how the multicultural groups would share 30 College St., whether any students would live there, or if it would be office or programming space.
"I think relocating all these functions closer to the center of campus in a multicultural/multifaith house would give us the opportunity to create a more dynamic living and meeting area in a space that could more naturally connect students, faculty and staff," said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster in an email.
"This move would also open up Johnson-Boody for academic program use. What that use would be is not clear but there are all kinds of space challenges for academic departments that could potentially be addressed," he said.
Foster said the goal of the meeting was to explain the College's commitment to its students and dedication to make the switch next year.
"There are still a number of important issues to work through, but if we are able to move ahead, we have resources we can use to make some simple renovations to 30 College St. These might include establishing a small kosher/halal cooking area for Jewish and Muslim students, prayer and meeting spaces, residential spaces for several students to live there, et cetera," he said.
However, students who attended the meeting expressed concern that they were not contacted beforehand for any discussion. Co-President of LASO Doris Ramirez '07 said that Friday's meeting was the first she had heard of the situation.
"I figured the meeting was about renovations to Johnson House, because I had heard rumors about the upstairs kitchen being fixed up. They broke the news that Johnson House would be used for academic program next year... It was pretty much given to us as 'this is what's going to happen' and we weren't involved with the actual decision process," she said.
Hillel Religious Chair Liz Leiwant '08 said that the whole process "didn't go through the usual channels we would want it to go through." She said groups have taken steps to set up Johnson House "with the understanding that we'd be there for a while."
Students of the groups familiar with Johnson House said that they'll miss using the space for potluck dinners, backyard candle lightings, and other gatherings.
ASA Johnson House Representative Chris Lew '09 said that switching from the house is "disheartening" because of his memories of the cultural events in the space. Ramirez said that as an LASO member since freshman year, Johnson House has sentimental value to her.
"We've really grown into the space and it has grown into us... We all feel at home in there, as opposed to the unfamiliar feeling from a dorm. We can walk into the kitchen and cook something that's familiar, or go up into the office and feel comfortable. It's just a really friendly space," said Ramirez.
Foster commented that while the building is a "beautiful space," it is "very underutilized by student groups." In addition, because of the "age, structure and condition" of Johnson house, it cannot undergo any dramatic renovations.
"I know that some of the functions that have taken place there have been very nice, but I don't think any of this needs to be lost. In fact, I think the opportunity exists to build on what we have," he added.
Leiwant said that she appreciates Johnson House's open spaces and facilities, and that the switch to 30 College St. will require groups to think about how to redesign the interior of the new building.
"We do have an opportunity to reevaluate our new space," she said. "We need to ask, should people live there? Which groups should have offices? Would those offices be shared? What kind of common space do we need?"
President of Hillel Michael Peiser '07 addressed the fact that other liberal arts colleges have different situations for multicultural groups and that "we'll need to look at some of the principles that Bowdoin was founded upon and how they work within the house."
Wesleyan and Tufts universities, for example, both have a large selection of multicultural houses to live in. Wesleyan's upperclassmen living arrangements, featuring small houses close to campus, allows for students to live in a French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Buddhist, Russian, women of color, or international house, to name a few.
More similar to Bowdoin's arrangement, Middlebury College features a PALANA Intercultural Center for students. Senior Advisor of Institutional Diversity at Middlebury College Leroy Nesbitt said that Middlebury created the multicultural space 15 years ago.
The space is larger than Bowdoin's and more comprehensive, featuring 10 residential spaces for students on the top floor, communal space with a styled kitchen on the second, various offices on the first, and classroom and faculty office space in the basement.
"It is a living and learning center to promote intercultural unity and use," Nesbitt told the Orient. "I always argue that the best part of the building is the multicultural experiences of students. They are challenged to learn about each other's culture, lifestyle, and past... I'm not a fan of individual cultural houses, I think the point is to respect multiculturalism and learn from one another."
Lew said that his ideal vision of the multicultural house would be similar to that of Middlebury's.
"In my eyes, the investment in building a new multicultural center would be worthwhile since it could accommodate the ever-growing population of diverse students," he said.
"Such a building could house a multicultural library, various ethnic studies department offices, multicultural organization offices, and provide housing for each of the respective multicultural representatives. Such a feature could make Bowdoin an even more appealing choice in the eyes of prospective students; I know it would have been for me."
If the College confirms plans to move the multicultural groups to 30 College St., Leiwant said that she thinks that it is important to think big and on a long-term scale to make sure that the groups' needs will be met.
"Diversity is growing at Bowdoin and a huge part of attracting students is showing that these are active groups on campus," she said. "Whatever space we have facilitates us in being able to provide different events. Not all our programs were at Johnson House, but bringing them into the new space is critical, as is what that space looks like."
Peiser said he wondered if it would be possible to wait until the end of the College's capital campaign to design a new multicultural house. Such a process would demand temporary space, however, which he said "would hurt the groups without room to grow."
KASA President Jin-Sun Kim '07 said that she sees some benefits behind the switch to 30 College St. She pointed out that it is more centrally located on campus and offers plenty of bedrooms that can be converted into creative spaces.
"Ideally, a larger space would be nicer, because there are more groups now than just the number that fit in Johnson House?some are excluded," Kim said. "Merely having a larger space, 30 College St. or otherwise, is a good idea so that more groups can be represented."
Peiser said he wants the decision making process to involve all affected students and administration.
"It really does open up a chance to have a dialogue with other multicultural organizations," he said. "If we know we're being moved out and really want to enhance the multicultural side, then this gives us a chance to really look back at our time at Bowdoin and see what we're missing. There's a chance that 30 College doesn't fit that plan, but it is good that we can reflect on what has worked and not, and open a dialogue with the administration."
Foster said that any renovations would not take place until after the 2006-2007 academic year. He added that the completion of the current dorm renovations would offset the loss of the nine residential spaces for upperclassmen at 30 College St.
"Space challenges are tricky to work through and change is never easy but I think this can be a win-win for students and for the academic program. This is a wonderful opportunity to imagine possibilities," he said.