This week, we have compiled the most important stories from the decade pertaining to academic program, diversity on campus, and residential life and student housing. We have pulled a selection of actual headlines from former issues, and condensed and synthesized stories relevant to each headline in order to showcase some of the most significant moments and enduring issues covered by the Orient. While our compilation is comprehensive, it is by no means complete. We encourage readers to pursue these headlines and others in our online archives, and to read our future installments of this series over the next several weeks.
Topics to come: College finances, admissions and reputation, environment and service, and Maine and Brunswick issues.
College continues to work for diversity, September 28, 2001
Over the decade, Bowdoin students, staff and faculty have committed a significant amount of time and resources to expanding the diversity—based on race, sexuality, gender and economic status—of the campus community.
An Orient editorial from November of 2000 stated that while actions by the student body to exclude minority groups might not be intentional, they were certainly present. On a weekend during which 140 minority students visited campus, interviews with the Orient suggested that assumptions made by students at an "elite" institution like Bowdoin can exclude minorities; for example, comments by students assumed that all prospective students have credit cards and can afford a shopping spree in Freeport.
Bowdoin began working with the Posse Foundation, a highly selective scholarship program that offers urban public school students the opportunity to "attend selective colleges and universities," to add students with diverse experiences and backgrounds to the Class of 2004. Then-Coordinator of Multicultural Student Programs Wil Smith '00 said that "traditional recruitment tactics" weren't working, as top-tier colleges and universities competed for the same select students, and he found it difficult to attract urban students to a small, rural college in Maine.
For the Class of 2004, the Posse Foundation accepted over 300 applications from the Boston area for Bowdoin, narrowed the pool down to 25 students, then worked with Bowdoin to select 10 students for admission. While Smith acknowledged the narrow reach and possible exclusion created by the program, he said he hoped the program would "influence the environment such that Bowdoin will become an attractive place for students of color."
In March of 2001, a College Common Hour featured a panel discussion focusing on admissions policies at Bowdoin, facilitated by Smith. While students applauded the College's intellectual environment, a student suggested the College should focus on "diversity of thought," not just "diversity of color" to benefit the school. Other comments centered on attracting students of color to College Houses, expanding the definition of diversity to include gay students and other racial minorities, and maintaining relations with alumni of color.
In September of 2001, the Orient reported on progress made by the Office of Admissions to recruit more diverse students. Admissions staff commented on the success of the two Bowdoin Invitationals for minority students in the fall, and the Bowdoin Experience weekend for prospective students in the spring.
The College continued to address the question of diversity and update policies in the following years. In February of 2001, for example, a two-hour panel discussion open to campus addressed the question, "Is Bowdoin diverse?" Students, staff and faculty addressed Bowdoin's "holistic" approach to admissions and challenged areas of improvement, as well. An Orient article in October of 2003 explored the definition of "diversity." One student thought diversity at Bowdoin was interpreted too narrowly as students of color, and other students narrated their personal struggles adjusting to Bowdoin's culture.
Report finds students of color enjoy Bowdoin, October 31, 2003
Beyond the College's policies and discussions on diversity on campus, there have been a number of events, conflicts, and studies prompting spontaneous action and awareness on campus.
The 2003 Survey of Students of Color, conducted by the Consortium on High Achievement and Success, for example, reported that 84 percent of students of color at Bowdoin were satisfied or very satisfied with their college experience.
A 2004 study by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported that Bowdoin's black student admissions yield of 47.8 percent was the highest of the 24 liberal arts schools investigated. However, Bowdoin ranked 17th in its "total success in integration African Americans," and had the lowest percentage of black tenured professors, at 1.1 percent.
In the 2007 edition of the report, Bowdoin's black student yield dropped to 36.3 percent. However, Bowdoin was reported as having the seventh-highest percentage of African-American first year students, at 8.8 percent for the Class of 2012, compared to Amherst's 11.2 percent. Associate Dean of Multicultural Student Programs Wil Smith said he was still pleased with the increase, especially when considering that only 3.2 percent of first years in the Class of 2009 were black. At the time, Smith said, "I'd like to see us be the leader...But not at the expense of just bringing people in, not just playing the numbers game."
Racial incidents shake community, February 20, 2004
A series of verbal confrontations broke out between students at a coffeehouse celebrating Black History Month at Jack Magee's Pub in February of 2004, the Orient reported. Several anonymous students reported that the conflict—involving heated exchanges between students—arose over the timing of the Thursday coffeehouse, traditionally the time for weekly Pub nights. A group of "mostly white students" returned from a bowling league and were disruptive during the performance of a guest poet, who "was speaking very condescendingly of 'white America'" and was "anti-white and offensive," according to one student. Despite requests from the poet, the students refused to quiet down, proceeded to mock the poetry and "throw around the ['n-word']...a few times," and said they were upset because the coffeehouse was held on "their pub night."
According to student reports to the Orient, a later performance by a white male on stage was deemed "inappropriate" with "racial undertones," and another white female student told the organizers to "choose a different venue or a different time. This is our night." The following morning, two African-American students put posters up in Smith Union referencing images of slavery and making accusations of racism against the disruptive students.
College officials quickly responded, organizing a "Forum on Civil Discourse" for all students to debrief the events. President Barry Mills sent a campus-wide e-mail stating that while the events suggested "a real desire on the part of students, faculty, and staff to engage in dialogue about our differences," he said such dialogue must be done "in an open, respectful, and direct way, free of political correctness and characterized by respect," the Orient reported. Led by Mills, the College organized collective debates to discuss diversity's role on campus. Similarly, the College hosted a Hate Crimes Panel in April to discuss "violence and tolerance in society," the Orient reported.
The first collective debate, held in April of 2004, challenged students to consider whether they belonged at Bowdoin, who they thought did, and what informed their beliefs about who belonged. More than 200 members of the campus community attended the first discussion, while others shared their thoughts on a "graffiti sheet" in Smith Union. In the second of three discussions, at the end of April of 2004, the campus was asked how much they learned from students, faculty and staff different from themselves at Bowdoin. The third debate challenged students to discuss how diversity should look at Bowdoin in five years and what role "difference" should have on campus.
As reported in the Safety and Security installment of the Decade in review, Bowdoin held a series of conversations in April of 2009, following a conflict between students, security and Waterville police. After student protests and demonstrations at Colby suggested that the "physical altercation" following a campus-wide dance in the multicultural center was "racially motivated," the Orient reported that Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster planned to host a campus "conversation to reaffirm our community values."
Facebook note opens dialogue on race, March 30, 2007
In March of 2007, a group of Bowdoin students overheard comments that made them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome at an off-campus party. "Hurt and frustrated by the incident," the Orient reported, Tida Lam '07 wrote a note on Facebook about her experience at the party, titled "Did you know that you have to be white to feel welcome?" More than 90 comments were made in response to the note, attacking the alleged speaker of the comments or writing on race more broadly at Bowdoin. Some students were supportive of Lam's speaking up over the issue, and Lam said the written Facebook note allowed her to formulate her thoughts and provided a forum for others to speak up about the incident.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Director of Multicultural Programs Wil Smith, however, was skeptical. He said that Facebook reaches a larger audience than "flyers or [a] bull horn" might reach on the Quad, but it "does not bring people face to face," and can also hold students less accountable for their dialogue. One student spoke to the Orient and said that "impersonal" comments left on a Facebook note only "perpetuate the problem," allowing people to make assumptions rather than engage in a discussion about the problem. Ultimately, the Facebook note instigated a large response from the campus, as students and College officials recognized the value of ongoing, personal discussions. Smith decided to organize a program to "highlight how certain words carry a range of meanings," the Orient reported, to illustrate the power of language.
Students wear green, black in solidarity with 'Jena Six', September 21, 2007
In September of 2007, a number of students on campus wore green and black in support of the "Jena Six," six African American teens who were "arrested and charged with crimes...connected to an event involving the assault of a white student at their high school in Jena, Louisiana" in December of 2006, the Orient reported. Following a series of racial conflicts between the students, the white student "was knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly," left unconscious, and later released from the hospital, while the alleged assailants were arrested and charged with attempted second degree murder. Nationwide responses suggested that the attempted murder charge was "excessive" and due to a prosecutor with racial biases. Members of Bowdoin's African American Society sent a campus-wide e-mail out to support the students, suggesting that Bowdoin has a stake in far-reaching racial issues beyond campus.
Anti-gay incident prompts concerns, February 23, 2007
Bowdoin has responded to a number of concerns surrounding both the diversity and acceptance of sexual orientation on campus, predominantly in the second half of the decade.
In October of 2005, the Bias Incident Group responded to a "discriminatory" act of vandalism on campus. An e-mail sent to the campus stated that a member of the senior class "discovered that someone had defaced her property, scratching the word 'fag' into the paint on the back of her car." The group deemed the incident "a despicable act of hostility, as well as a criminal act of damage to property," stating that the campus should condemn both the act and the perpetrator, and support the student who was targeted.
Similar events occurred again in both 2006 and 2007. In the fall of 2006, the Bias Incident Group dealt with an issue when the word "fag" was written on a first year student's door. In February of 2007, an openly gay student found the word "gay" written in snow on the front and back windshields of her car, after parking overnight outside of Brunswick Apartments. Professor of English Peter Coviello, a member of the Bias Incident Group, said that "while being incredibly lame, [such incidents are] really hurtful to somebody. It's scary, makes them feel targeted, less safe."
To encourage and support gender and sexual diversity, the Bowdoin Queer-Straight Alliance (BQSA) has held an annual Out Week, which often includes messages chalked on the sidewalk and a variety of events on campus. In October of 2004, BQSA helped sponsor Queerstock—a Saturday concert aimed at bringing as many people together as possible to "raise awareness and visibility around issues of sexual and gender orientation and identity," the Orient reported. A "Taste the Rainbow" party was held at Ladd House in October of 2006, which included students from Bates, Colby and the University of Southern Maine. In October of 2009, Out Week included a Yellow Shirt Day, on which students wore yellow in support of equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community, according to the Orient.
Students question political diversity, November 18, 2005
In April of 2004, a New York Times article reported that the number of students from low-income and middle-class families attending colleges and universities had decreased, despite increases in racial diversity. Admissions officials stressed the importance of financial aid in recruiting economically diverse students, citing the increase in aid awards and dismissing concerns of any detrimental effects to the College's financial position.
In November of 2005, the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) proposed an academic bill of rights in response to concerns about political bias in the classroom. Though the bill of rights was not passed, it stipulated that faculty would not "be hired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her religious beliefs." Further, faculty would not "use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination."
A number of students interviewed by the Orient said that, in their time at Bowdoin, they had either felt uncomfortable expressing their personal views or opinions in the classroom, or their professors had been very forceful in expressing their viewpoints without tolerating others. The Orient reported that, "In an unscientific self-selecting survey of 649 Bowdoin students taken by BSG, 98 said that they felt they had been discriminated against in an academic setting because of their political, religious, or sexual beliefs." The bill was not approved, however, as students and officials felt the College already had protection for political and religious expression.