In October 1972, an Orient columnist quipped, “As most upperclassmen will readily agree, it requires a fairly strong issue to fire Bowdoin students up over virtually anything, with the possible exception of the hockey season.” For the most part, this sense of political apathy has continued within the Bowdoin Bubble. However, the past two years have seen student activism coalesce around a handful of topics more forcefully than at any point in recent memory. Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the 2012 Yes on One initiative, among others, have involved students, faculty and staff in efforts that have produced meaningful conversations—even if they have not always met their goals. 

Today, President Barry Mills plans to receive a petition from BCA that was signed by more than 1,000 students and asks Bowdoin to divest its endowment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. This weekend also features the College’s first Palestinian Film Festival, organized by SJP. These are only small steps toward addressing contentious global issues, but they have fostered lively debate among a historically apathetic student body. When Bowdoin students attend a lecture by an activist from the West Bank or a hearing at the Maine Public Utilities Commission, they are engaging with a community that lies beyond Brunswick.  

These student-led efforts have not gone unnoticed by Bowdoin faculty. Last May, 24 professors emailed BCA a letter of appreciation for its efforts encouraging the College to divest. The note communicated that while the individual faculty members might not believe that divestment is the best solution for climate change, they “are grateful to the students for dramatically energizing the conversation on campus.” In opening up a critical space for dialogue on social, political or economic issues, students have earned the right to collaborate with their educators and administrators. 

It can often feel overwhelming to navigate a Smith Union filled with event posters and tables of vocal activists. Many students blindly accept pamphlets and sign petitions out of a sense of social obligation or brush by without engaging at all. This is a disservice to peers who are pushing for change, even if that change comes incrementally. We do not have to sign the petitions if we disagree with them, but we should be willing to have a conversation and think deeply about our own beliefs. When our signatures reflect a genuine desire for change, the petitions will carry more weight when presented to the administration.

Activists at Bowdoin face a particular challenge because their goals may not come to fruition during their four-year tenure at the College. Though we might not agree with each component of what SJP, BCA and other advocacy groups fight for, it is detrimental to look down on student activism at Bowdoin as a whole and abstain from the conversation. These efforts should be respected, not derided. 

The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which is comprised of Erica Berry, Nora Biette-Timmons, Garrett Casey, Ron Cervantes, Marisa McGarry, Sam Miller, Leo Shaw and Kate Witteman.