The New York Times on Susan Faludi’s desk was turned to the Business section, where a headline asked, “To address gender gap, is it enough to lean in?” The article—which featured a few of Faludi’s own annotations—referenced the fall-out from Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” the book that dominated the feminist news cycle over the summer.
Faludi—Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, celebrated feminist author, and visiting 2013-2014 Tallman Scholar—is not tired of talking about Sandberg’s controversial book.
“I’m of two minds,” she said. “I completely agree…that the absence of women at the top in corporate America is something that needs to be redressed.
When Robi Hutchinson left his job as a producer in Hollywood and moved home to Brunswick two years ago, he knew he had to find a good breakfast haunt.
"I got on the Internet and the only place that had any kind of ratings was Jen’s Place," he said. "This was the spot."
Jen’s Place is tucked inside a low one-level corrugated metal building on Brunswick’s Stanwood Street. It is neighbored by the Northern Chi Martial Arts Center, sidelined by the railroad tracks, and across the street from a fleet of lawnmowers parked on the grass outside of the Brunswick Home and Garden Shop. The restaurant serves breakfast seven days a week and opened its doors four years ago this month. It is frequented by Bowdoin students, but tucked just far enough from campus that most of them come via car or bike.
I arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, June 19, eleven days before the onset of nationwide protests that were to depose President Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. I moved into an apartment on 15 Bostan Street, a couple minutes walk from Tahrir Square. In true foreigner fashion, I found myself paying double-price for the taxi, dragging my suitcases into the lobby. Most apartment buildings in Cairo have a doorman—a bawab—and I spent our first conversation trying to explain that I was claustrophobic and was going to walk up eight flights of stairs to my apartment. He smiled and grabbed my suitcases as he stepped into the elevator. I started climbing.
The summer before, I had studied at Middlebury’s Arabic program with a friend who then recommended a language institute in Cairo. I took his advice, and this summer, I signed up for six weeks of an intensive language course and gave myself a week at the end to travel around the country.
In Egypt, like in every other Arabic-speaking country, people speak a local dialect of Arabic known as aamiyya. Aamiyya and fusha are like two languages that, while obviously related, are still noticeably different. I, like every other foreign language student, learned the latter—it is taught in schools, spoken in official capacities and used for all written Arabic. However, I soon learned that no one spoke it outside of a presidential address—ever. As I explored the streets near my apartment, I tried to pick up conversations with whoever was willing. Midway through one, the man I was speaking to paused, saying, “I can’t believe I’m speaking fusha right now”—obviously saying most of it in aamiyya. I was a Shakespearean character walking around twenty-first century London; all I was missing was the medieval outfit.
Between the 2001-02 and 2011-12 academic years, the College increased its funding for need-based financial aid grants from roughly $10.4 million to approximately $27.2 million.
Financial aid and grade point average (GPA) have no correlation, according to a nonscientific survey conducted by the Orient, to which 395 students responded.
The survey asked students about their academic success as it related to their financial and work situations.
Forty-six percent of the survey’s respondents say they receive financial aid, which is close to the actual percentage of students receiving grants from the College.
In the 2001-02 academic year, 39 percent of students received grants from the College. That number rose to 46 percent by the 2011-12 academic year, according to the College’s Common Data Set.
In recent years, the percentage of students receiving aid has increased on a class-by-class basis, according to the online Class of 2016 profile. Upon matriculation, 41 percent of the entering Class of 2013 received financial aid; this year, 48 percent of the Class of 2016 received financial aid. The average grant for all students has increased by $1,100 since the Class of 2013 matriculated, from $34,350 to $35,450. The average grant for students in the Class of 2016 is $38,740.
Director of Student Aid Michael Bartini said that he thinks the reasons for these increases in financial aid are two-fold.
“One, we are recruiting to a broader group of individuals,” he said. “Two, our cost has increased a bit faster than families’ incomes. As we broaden our perspective on who we try to attract and our cost increases, those two factors have led us to believe that our average grants are going to continue to increase probably faster than our increase in cost.”
In February 2003, the Orient reported that the comprehensive fee for the 2003-04 school year would rise to $37,790. According to the Office of Student Aid’s website, tuition alone cost $43,676 for the 2012-13 school year. (The total estimated expenses for this school year were $58,200.)
Because the cost of education has risen, “more and more families with higher incomes are qualifying for financial aid,” according to Bartini.
“I believe the majority of folks—whether you’re on financial aid or not—really struggle and plan about how to pay for college,” said Bartini. “There are a group of families who may not be receiving assistance from us, but they’re also feeling the pain.”
The College’s financial aid policies have also changed over the past decade. In 2008, Bowdoin eliminated loans from its financial aid packages.
In May 2012, the Orient conducted a survey of graduating seniors. The results showed that, of the 30 percent who would graduate with debt, the average amount was $25,895.
According to the U.S. News and World Report, 16 percent of Bowdoin students receive Pell Grants, which are awarded by the federal government based upon financial need. This year, students who qualify for Pell Grants can receive up to $5,500, depending on their financial circumstances and the cost of their college. Thirteen percent of the Class of 2016 received a Pell Grant this year.
In an email to the Orient, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Scott Meiklejohn said that his office is “committed to introducing the College to talented students of all backgrounds, school types and family incomes, in as many places on the globe as we can reach.”
That isn’t always easy. Faustino Ajanel ’16, a first-generation college student from Los Angeles, said that even applying for aid was an obstacle. Ajanel had problems filling out his CSS Profile—a form that allows students to apply for aid—during his senior year of high school.
“I was getting lost” filling out the form, he said. “I had to go to programs to ask for help filling it out and even the program directors didn’t know how to.”
For many of the students interviewed for this report, financial aid packages were significant factors in choosing to come to Bowdoin but were not always the deciding factor.
“I made my decision to come here despite financial aid packages, rather than because of” them, said a sophomore female who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.
A junior girl who receives $40,000 in aid said that, though she received better offers from other colleges, her “feeling about the school was more important than the money.”Academics & Financial Aid
Many students receiving financial aid work to earn spending money or to help cover costs. Students are allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours a week in on-campus jobs. Some, albeit few, students work additional hours off campus.
One sophomore female’s parents made her quit an additional off-campus job “because I wasn’t sleeping. The pressure [to work] comes from myself and it definitely impacts my academics,” she said. “When you’re at work, you’re not sleeping or doing homework or socializing, which are the three things you should be doing at school.
“I always finish my assignments on time...and I think because I’m really conscious of it, I focus a lot more on really getting things done,” she said. But working a lot “does make it harder.”
Students who work fewer hours on campus face less of a challenge balancing making money and academics.
“It definitely takes time to work—eight hours a week is not a pittance—but it’s time that I don’t feel like I need in order to keep up with studies,” said one senior male.
Financial aid can also serve to motivate the students who receive it, according to Anna Chase ’13.
“I work really hard for personal fulfillment, but in the back of my mind sometimes I want to do really well because I’m getting so much help to be here—sort of to prove that I deserve the help, deserve the aid, and that I can be the best student I can be,” she said.
If commitments become too much, the College provides several resources for students struggling academically or looking to improve study skills, regardless of their background or GPA. One of these resources is the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), which includes the Writing Project, the Quantitative Reasoning Program, and the Baldwin Program for Academic Development.
Director of the Baldwin Program Elizabeth Barnhart said that students have all sorts of reasons for seeking her help, but added that a lack of preparedness is perhaps the most common. She said that the diversity of secondary schools from which Bowdoin draws helps explain the varying degrees of preparedness within the student body.
“I try to help students understand the changes. What’s different from high school? Why is it that some people in your class sound like they know a lot more than you?” said Barnhart. “Is it that they’re so much smarter than you, or is it that they’ve had a very different kind of high school experience?”
Ajanel said his public Los Angeles high school’s curriculum was not designed to get him ready for a school like Bowdoin.
“I honestly was lost [my first semester] because my high school didn’t prepare me as well as other kids,” Ajanel said. “The main purpose of my high school was to allow people to graduate from high school, not to help people be ready for college.”
If students are not succeeding academically, Barnhart said, the College does a good job of encouraging them to seek out the Baldwin Program.
“Counseling, Dean’s Office, faculty, advisors—it’s kind of that network of referral,” she said.
Ajanel said he would not have gone to the CTL during his first semester if not for this network.
“People had to push me to go there. I didn’t want to ask for help,” he said.
Despite the success of the network of administrators and faculty, the College has sought new ways to help students from diverse backgrounds reach their full academic potential.
The minutes of the February 6, 2012 faculty meeting include a discussion on academic preparedness among entering first years. It describes the findings of a 2008-2009 working group “charged with looking at how we help students with different experiences and backgrounds succeed at Bowdoin.”
According to the minutes, “The group studied the transcripts of 40 students in the bottom 10 percent of the Class of 2007 as well as those of an additional 40 randomly chosen students in the class.”
The group recommended several programs to help students adjust to academics at the College, including an intensive advising program and a lower-level math class. The College has since launched the BASE advising program and begun offering Math 050: Quantitative Reasoning.
The BASE advising program pairs first-year students with specially-trained advisors. Faculty Liason for Advising Suzanne Lovett, one of the people behind the program, distributed a report on the success of the program at the February 6, 2012 faculty meeting, according to the minutes. The report indicated that students in BASE were far more likely to solicit and receive help from their advisors than students not in the program.
Lovett could not be reached for comment by press time.A balancing act
Some students who receive aid said that adding social and extracurricular activities into the balancing act of work and academics is complicated, though most have found few differences between themselves and their wealthier peers.
“I know people who are paying for everything on their own; they’re a lot more stressed out than I am. I have friends who are here on no financial aid, whose parents donate, and then I have friends who are like me,” said one sophomore female.
According to another sophomore female, money “comes up more in some circles than others.”But for her, the differences between students aren’t based on financial aid; instead, she said, differences are “because of what kind of happens to your consciousness when you’re raised with different levels of wealth.”
“There’s an isolated person here or there that likes to flaunt their [socioeconomic] status,” a sophomore boy said, “but you’d be hard pressed to find a person like that.”
Two students disagreed.
“There’s a clear divide between socioeconomic status,” said a junior female. “I can’t just do the same things...It makes it difficult to talk to your friends about these situations. It’s also a learning process for me, to make them understand what I’m going through.”
Ajanel said he thinks Bowdoin students do not discuss wealth or privilege frequently enough, and that most students make little effort to understand his background.
“I actually feel unsafe now when I go back home. I started to lose my street smarts, I guess,” Ajanel said. “Right here everything is calm—nothing that fast, no violence, no drugs, no gangs—but when I go home, I live through that again. I experience that all over again.”
For all the students interviewed, navigating financial situations is trickier when it comes to off-campus activities.
“I’ve never been out to eat [in Brunswick] except when my friends’ parents take me out,” said the sophomore male.
“There are times when I really wish I could go to New York for a weekend,” one sophomore girl said. “When people are comparing their summer plans, that’s when I feel it most.”On campus, though, money is less of an object.
“I definitely think Bowdoin makes a lot of effort to make things equally accessible to everyone. You don’t pay to go to most of the events, it’s a package deal. There’s a ton of stuff you can do without spending any other money,” said a sophomore female.
The senior male agreed.
“Everything’s pretty equal opportunity,” he said.
“Bowdoin does a really good job—you don’t have to spend any money really,” said another sophomore female.
One sophomore male who receives $40,000 in aid found that getting rid of his meal plan significantly reduced his expenses.
“I can never go to the dining hall with people,” he said, but he tries to make up for it by having friends over for dinner. “Other than not going to the dining hall, everything’s pretty much the same,” despite his financial situation.
“Work doesn’t make it harder,” he said. “I still do a lot of extracurriculars. I have time for social stuff.”
I write in response to the editors’ request for my opinion of the NAS report with regard to the government department and to the report in general.
First, although the NAS study purports to be an “ethnography” of Bowdoin over the past 40-plus years, it fails to provide a comprehensive answer to the question “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” As others have noted, the report makes much of the fact that history does not require (or even offer) a course on the American founding, but that does not mean that Bowdoin students are denied the opportunity to study this subject. As the report finally gets around to acknowledging (footnote 1155), the government department offers a survey of American political thought that treats the founding in depth (the NAS likes survey courses!), and has done so for the last 25 years.
Second, the report calls attention to many of the narrow and/or ideologically charged first year seminars on offer, but it passes over more traditional seminars without comment. The government department regularly offers a number of such classes, including “Human Being and Citizen” and “Fundamental Questions: Exercises in Political Theory,” both of which introduce students to the great books of political philosophy. What’s more, every major must take at least one course in political theory to complete the requirements for the major, ensuring that Bowdoin graduates in government (the largest major on campus) will have some familiarity with classic texts. On a related note, at least five government courses assign The Federalist Papers. Although the report generally exempts the government (and economics) departments from criticism, it seems less interested, even by its own lights, in what Bowdoin does well.