This is a revised version of an article that was was originally published on the Orient Express on March 9.
On March 6, approximately 200 students, faculty, and staff attended an open discussion in Daggett Lounge about acts of racial and sexual intolerance both at Bowdoin and in the broader Maine community. Triggered by the March 1 bias incident in Coles Tower, the meeting was organized to shed light on these events and provide a productive forum to generate ideas.
Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster opened the assembly by addressing what he termed a "particularly bad year" for tolerance in and around Bowdoin. He then described how instances of hate speech have worked to erode community, silence the expression of opinions and ideas, and undermine feelings of security among students.
Foster cited reports beginning last fall of racist and homophobic slurs directed at students from moving cars primarily along Maine, Bath and Federal Streets. He directed the conversation to the recent events in Coles Tower and pointed out how that bias incident last Wednesday represents a specific shift to the school community. Associate Dean of Multicultural Student Programs Leana Amaez, the forum's faciliator, described how the large attendance at the meeting "gives a voice back to those from whom it has been taken."
The targeted students recounted the incident and their reactions to it, returning to their room after breakfast at Thorne to find a dorm room whiteboard—previously reading "I Love Meatless Mondays"—defaced to read ""I Love Meatful Mondays! Meatless Mondays Suck!!! F*g N***er." The students described feelings of "anger, frustration, disappointment and confusion" as the implications of the message sank in.
"It was our home...we came home to this," said one of the students. Regardless of whether or not the perpetrator knew the residents, the student said the remarks "hit home" for occupants who identified as biracial or bisexual.
Foster stated that the investigation is still ongoing and urged students to come forward with any relevant information. He said that Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols, who was present at the meeting, has already interviewed over a dozen people in an attempt to track down the vandal.
As Amaez opened the floor for general reactions and discussion, students—representing a wide range of grades, races and sexual orientations—shared concerns, testimonials and opinions.
One student said that "diversity has been reduced as a statistic on paper" at the College, thereby commodifying it and ignoring individuals and their stories. "[At Bowdoin] I am continually faced with ignorance and discrimination...for the past few days I have woken up with the fear that something has been defaced...the fear of cars yelling," continued the same student.
Another student said that they "never felt [they] would have to feel this way, ashamed" and cited a lack of faith in Bowdoin's ideals.
Bias incidents that had previously gone unreported to College officials surfaced in this forum as well.
One student recounted how last parent's weekend—the first time the student's mother and brother had visited the school—a car slowed down at a crossroad as if to stop, before the driver sped up again, yelling racist slurs and narrowly missing the student's family.
Another minority student described a similar event where their mother was targeted by a moving car on parent's weekend.
"I love Bowdoin, I really do, but I don't feel safe, my mom won't come back until I graduate," the student said.
"You don't want to go outside," said a student. "You feel unsafe, emotionally and physically."
Another student said they study every license plate before they cross the street in case they have to report it.
All four of the preceding students were racial minorities.
Yet discussion was not limited to occurrences of hate beyond College grounds. Two students stated how they were horrified, but not surprised by the white board incident on campus.
"We [minority students] don't even want to speak up because we don't want people to judge us because we don't feel like we belong here...I don't feel comfortable, and I'm a senior," said one of them.
"There is no diversity here," said another student. "At multicultural events there are multicultural students, at queer events there are queer students...when did [political correctness] become silence?"
This latter sentiment—that some Bowdoin students make a well-intentioned effort not to step on toes but instead overstep the issue entirely—was echoed throughout the meeting, but was met with an optimistic response for raising awareness.
"People are willing to listen," said one student. Similarly, another cited a "lack of knowledge and vocabulary," rather than a lack of willingness to act regarding the issues. "People, they already care about are being impacted, but right now so many students have no idea this is going on and don't think this has anything to do with them," said one.
The impetus to raise social awareness about the lack of safety and belonging some minority students experience was the focus of the second half of the meeting; the group brainstormed ideas for the future.
"The type of change that is going to hit the majority has to happen where the majorities make their worlds," said one professor, citing the power that the leaders of social houses and sports teams possess to incite change. Representatives from sports teams present at the assembly reinforced this idea.
General agreement was that change would also come from the combined efforts of the administration, special interest student groups, faculty, and simple person-to-person interactions.
"When we leave this gathering and we go back and talk to our friends...when someone says one of those [racist or homophobic] words...express disapproval," said one student.
BSG President John Connolly pledged to work with the administration to help create an online, public list of all reported acts of intolerance. Foster verified that finding a "better mechanism for people to report things happening" was a high priority.
"By raising awareness, we're afraid of pinning a rose on students...[we're] afraid that this issue might somehow be exacerbated," said Foster in regards to the sensitivity of the issue.
Though almost all chairs in the room were filled, students questioned the meeting's turnout.
"Who told us that homework was more important than this?" said one student.
By the meeting's end, however, multiple students stated how the ramifications of the talk would inevitably reach well beyond the present crowd.
"Your lives will not be the same when you leave here tonight as when you arrived," one professor said. "Something did change tonight in each of us and we're going to take that change into the world outside."