Stepping onto the Bowdoin campus was too exciting and emotional for me to put into words. During my first week here, I noticed nothing but the things I love most about the College: the food, the town, the architecture, and the people, to name a few.
However, being here has led me to question some aspects of my life for the first time. With just a few weeks of school behind me, I’ve grown as a person and have come to understand myself more, partly through questioning things that I took for granted before arriving on campus. One question that I asked myself, and that I had never thought about before, was whether any of my accomplishments have been inflected by the fact that I’m a student of color.
I think this was on my mind because of the predominantly white demographics of the campus. I come from a 4,000 student high school in Houston, Texas. And I have only this to say: Bowdoin is not racially diverse compared to my high school, but it is more diverse than I expected it would be. And I want to stress that these thoughts came to mind as the result of my own observation, reflection, and conversations—not because of any observed or experienced racial intolerance on campus.
I came to Bowdoin knowing its demographics, but I never thought the numbers would cause such a self-reflection. This self-reflection revolves around an awareness of my race on a level that I have not before experienced.
It has not caused feelings of isolation, sadness or anger, and I attribute this positivity to the College’s inclusive policies, administrative resources (such as the office of the Associate Dean of Multicultural Student Programs), and groups such as LASO and AfAm. I am sure that, had I gone to school elsewhere, becoming self-aware of my race would not be as positive of an experience as it has been at Bowdoin.
The fact that 32 percent of the Class of 2016 are students of color seems impressive for a liberal arts college in Maine, but I also question if that percentage will increase for future classes. How far does Bowdoin want to go?
My friends and I frequently discuss diversity, and we usually frame it within the context of the College. Many of my classmates believe that Bowdoin is incredibly diverse.
“Compared to where I come from, Bowdoin is ridiculously diverse. I’ve never seen this many people of color in one place,” said one first year from Maine. Many members of my class echo her sentiments.
But it seems that just as many students believe that Bowdoin’s effort to cultivate a multicultural community is paltry at best.
“Bowdoin is not diverse. It’s just not,” said one student from Massachusetts, who requested not to be identified.
I’ve found that when it comes to opinions about diversity on campus, Bowdoin students rally around the extremes. They either believe that Bowdoin is very diverse, or that it simply is not.
Among the questions that must be posed, then, is whether Bowdoin should aim to be racially diverse in comparison to the rest of New England (students from New England make up 37 percent of the Class of 2016), or rather to the entire nation? Will students of color make up more than 32 percent of the Class of 2017? And if so, how much more?
I’m sure that many students have probably seen the profile for the Class of 2016, but what I want to know is what went through their heads when they saw “32 percent students of color”? Did they consider the number high or low?
I remember how, during first year orientation, President Mills asked us to consider and talk about the implications of minorities sticking together at meals and social events. As a minority, I don’t feel that I’ve isolated or restricted myself in this way, but I have seen some students of color almost exclusively eating and socializing with other students of color. I understand why. It is instinctual to group together for matters of comfort or even protection—although we must ask, protection from what, especially here at Bowdoin?
Daniel Mejia-Cruz is a member of the Class of 2016.