On Sunday, students returned to campus for the start of a diversity awareness week aimed at stimulating conversations about difference and identity in the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities.
"Beyond the Bowdoin Hello: Ask, Listen, Engage" comes in the wake of various bias incidents—including the case of homophobic and racial slurs on a Coles tower whiteboard—that came to light last year. Student Coordinator of Multicultural Projects Nylea Bivins '12 has been working on the project since last spring, when she and other student leaders met with President Barry Mills.
"I think the intensity of spirit aroused in light of those incidents certainly catalyzed a conversation that suggested we needed to have a refocus," said Mills.
"The bias incidents really started to fuel discussion on campus, and they started to unearth larger issues and tensions that existed on campus," said Bivins. "There was a community meeting that happened after the whiteboard incident...and in that meeting a lot of students shared their experiences and voiced their opinions."
"We heard that a lot of students did not feel comfortable or did not feel welcomed on campus," she added.
"Beyond the Bowdoin Hello" is a 10 -day community outreach program and features a series of lectures, discussions, and activities that will continue through next Tuesday.
Bivins explained the meaning behind the program's title.
"We started with the 'Bowdoin Hello,' but besides just saying 'hello,' we wanted students to do more than that. We wanted students to engage and to talk with one another," she said. "One of the main comments [in discussions] was that diversity exists on this campus in all shapes and forms, but there's just not enough interaction between students to make use of the diversity that's here."
The week has featured film screenings, interactive games, and presentations led by Bowdoin faculty and guests such as author Tim Wise and comedian Heather Gold. The week will culminate with award-winning writer Barbara Ehrenreich's Common Hour lecture today in Pickard Theater.
Ehrenreich is best known for her social commentary and activism. Her book "Nickel and Dimed"—about living on minimum wage—was chosen by a committee composed of members of the College and Brunswick for the first-ever Brunswick-Bowdoin Community Read.
"We recognized that a lot of these issues went beyond the four corners of our campus, and so we came up with the idea of a community read, which I'm very enthusiastic about. I think it's a great way to involve the [Brunswick] community," said Mills.
Following Ehrenreich's visit to Bowdoin, a series of reading groups made up of community members from both the College and the town will begin meeting to discuss the book, and will continue throughout next week, explained Associate Librarian Judy Montgomery.
The book discussions aim to increase awareness, "of issues of working poor, poverty, low-cost housing...a variety of things."
"Beyond the Bowdoin Hello" is the most extensive diversity-awareness event in Bowdoin history.
"I would love to see this happen again," Bivins said. "I would like for it to not necessarily be a need on campus, but something that students want to have happen...in that students don't feel like they have to fight to find the space to fire up these conversations.