Students reported three bias incidents to the College over the past week, triggering a wave of responses that included a meeting of the Bias Incident Committee, investigations by the Brunswick Police Department (BPD) and Bowdoin security, and a forum for discussion with student leaders and faculty on the issues.
The incidents reported include two cases of malevolent racial symbols and language found on a whiteboard at Brunswick Apartments and a homophobic comment—which escalated to physical violence—made to a student outside Joshua’s Restaurant and Tavern.
According to Director of Security Randy Nichols, security is working with BDP on their investigation of the incident outside of Joshua’s and is investigating the bias incidents at the Brunswick Apartments internally.
The Bias Incident Committee met to discuss the cases on Tuesday and released the details of the incidents in an email to the community on Wednesday.
A male senior, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, was the victim of the altercation outside of Joshua’s on the night of October 10.
At 1 a.m., as Joshua’s was closing, the student said that he went to join three friends—two male, one female—outside.
“They were talking to these two community members,” he said. “One of them started saying these misogynistic things which I took offense to, especially in front of my female friend.”
When the student confronted the community members about the remarks, the community member condescendingly asked if he was her boyfriend.
“I said ‘No, gay,’ and he said ‘Oh, fag,’ and I said ‘Oh, you can’t talk to me like that. It’s not okay to use that word,’ and then he punched me in the face,” said the student.
The student said that he returned home for Fall Break and arranged a meeting with Associate Dean of Multicultural Student Programs Leana Amaez after he returned to campus. He also spoke to Director of Security Randy Nichols and the Brunswick Police Department (BPD), neither of whom were available for comment.
According to the student, the police investigation is ongoing.
“There were also witnesses,” he said. “[The investigation] sounds like something—it’s not dead—it feels like something good could come out of it.”
The student said that he’s always been aware that bias is an issue, but that he’s not going to let this incident affect him.
“This is definitely going to be something on my mind now when I go to drink at bars, but I’m not going to let it control me,” he said. “And I’m not going to, like, hide myself, because I feel like that’s just letting those forces of society win.”
Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster also stressed that, although the incident outside of Joshua’s involved a Brunswick resident, Bowdoin has a strong relationship with the town of Brunswick.
“I don’t think our relationship with the town could be any better than it is,” he said.
The student was also quick to add that he does not feel that there is an issue between the College and the town.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a Brunswick issue,” he said, “as much as it’s just some people just believe this way.”
The other two incidents involved two separate statements written on the same whiteboard hanging on an inside door in the Brunswick Apartments. According to the email statement from the Bias Committee, a student found a large swastika drawn on a whiteboard at Brunswick apartments; the student photographed and then erased the drawing.
The student, who declined to comment, also reported that (s)he had seen—and subsequently erased—the phrase “niggers are the worst” written on the same whiteboard in September.
According Foster, a member of the Bias Incident Committee, the committee determined that communication with the community condemning the issue, taking the form of the campus-wide email, was the best course of action.
“Our decision was to shine the light on these incidents as well as to condemn the incidents,” he said. Foster went on to say that “there’s no place for violence, no place for hateful language, no place for hateful symbols” at the College.
Yesterday, a group of students and faculty met at the Center for Multicultural and Spiritual Life to discuss the bias incidents. Amaez contacted a group of student leaders following the email from the Bias Committee and invited them to take part in that conversation. A number of members of the faculty, including Foster, were also present.
The group discussed their initial reactions to the incidents and thoughts on how to best move forward.
While the meeting was closed to the Orient, some students spoke about the conversation after the fact.
“It creates feelings of discomfort—students can feel like they might be targeted within the Brunswick community,” said Alithea McFarlane ’14. “I’ve heard numerous good ideas [for next steps], but I feel like I’ve been disillusioned and jilted a lot of times because this is my third or fourth gathering [about bias incidences].”
McFarlane went on to mention programs such as “I am Bowdoin,” an organization formed after a bias incident in 2011 that aimed to promote diversity awareness.
“[The programs] started out with some fire, but fizzled out because of lack of direction, lack of knowing where to go, and then [the busy nature of] peoples’ daily lives,” she said. “I like the idea of the OutPeers-like group—just having a list of people who you can contact informally about these things.”
Daniel Eloy ’15 said that he’s hopeful the forum will spur conversation throughout campus.
“I’m hoping that what we talked about at the meeting will hopefully do something, even if it’s just starting a conversation with one person about what the consequences of this are, or get people motivated to talk about it,” he said.
Although not connected to this week’s bias incidents, Nate Schwehm ’16 had a similar experience to the assault at Joshua’s while on campus over the summer. Schwehm said that he and a female student were approached on the Brunswick quad.
“Three guys came out of the woods behind us and started harassing her,” said Schwehm. “I stood up and was like, ‘What are you guys doing here?’, and then one of the guys started swinging at me.”
Schwehm said that he did not engage with the three, and that they eventually left. He went on to say that a few other people mentioned that the three had been seen wandering between Brunswick and Harpswell Apartments, and at that point he called security. All three were apprehended by the Brunswick Police Department on Maine St. later that night and charged with procession of alcohol by a minor.
Although Schwehm and the student attacked at Joshua’s had similar experiences, Foster again said that he does not believe that the incidents are indicative of a larger problem.
“My own take is that I see these as isolated incidents,” he said.
The last incident of bias at the College occurred in 2011, when derogatory and racially inappropriate statements were written on a white board on the 15th floor of Coles Tower. Following that incident, the Bowdoin Student Government released a resolution condemning the acts and students and faculty met in a large, open forum to discuss issues of bias.