Today in David Saul Smith Union, a group of students will lead a meeting to discuss “injustice both on campus and beyond,” according to a Facebook event. An open letter to the Bowdoin community discussing issues of race and diversity on campus will be released in conjunction with the meeting, and can be read here

Michelle Kruk ’16 spearheaded the letter, while Claudia Villar ’15 and Allyson Gross ’16 led the group organizing the meeting.

The two groups formed independently from a desire to capitalize on the momentum generated by the events held in December to protest the non-indictments of police officers in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, N.Y., as well as other activist events last semester. The letter-writing group formed first, and the idea of a meeting was conceived shortly after. According to Villar, there has been a lot of overlap between the two groups.

 The letter calls for discussions of race to be incorporated into orientation programming and the programming of the Office of Residential Life, the Women’s Resource Center and other campus entities. It also asks that the administration work more actively to promote diversity within the faculty and the Department of Athletics, and that conversations about race be incorporated into more elements of the curriculum. 

The tone of the letter has mellowed since it was initially conceived in December, according to Kruk.

“The context was anxious [in December]. Tensions were high; it was a really difficult time to be talking about these things,” said Kruk. “Everyone was on the defensive, and everyone was pointing fingers in every which direction. None of that was coming from a bad place, all of it was about caring about this place enough to want it to be better...The tone of the letter was probably much harsher than it is now. It’s been nice to take a step back from the letter and come back a month later with fresher eyes.”

Villar agreed.

“It’s been really nice to move away from the harsher language,” she said. “Now, it’s like, let’s work together to make things better.”

Originally, Kruk said, the letter was directed specifically at the administration. It has since changed to address the Bowdoin community as a whole.

“It’s for everyone who has ever been a part of this place,” she said.

The release of the letter is timed to coincide with the meeting, which will be held today. 
“[The meeting] seemed like a fantastic jumping off point for the letter and it also seemed like the most opportune moment to release it,” said Kruk.

Following the meeting, Kruk and Villar said they plan to deliver the letter directly to President Barry Mills.

The meeting this afternoon will include five speeches, bookended by opening and closing remarks. Each speech will focus on one of the issues highlighted by the meeting organizers—racial discrimination, sexual assault, economic inequality, rejection of diversity in gender and sexual identify, and the uneven burden of climate change. The speeches were co-written by small groups, and each will be delivered by someone who did not write it.

“It’s to show that it doesn’t matter who’s speaking to these things, but they impact us all,” said Gross.

According to Villar, the meeting grew from conversations with Gross and others about the underlying connections between climate issues and issues of racial and sexual discrimination. Gross is actively involved in Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA).

 “We decided that we really wanted to have a big event, and how we didn’t want it to be like an academic panel where the same people who have been having these conversations come,” said Villar. “We really wanted it to be something that was inclusive and got the attention of the majority of the community.”

The goal of the meeting, according to Villar, Kruk and Gross, is to talk about the common threads that run through all social justice issues.  

“You can’t fight one type of injustice without fighting others because they’re all part of the same system of hierarchy,” said Villar.

Villar also said that the organizers want the meeting to be open and inclusive.

“We don’t feel that anyone is outright not caring—it’s more of a call against passiveness,” she said. “I think that we want to not be angry with people, but instead invite them to open their mind.”

Neither the faculty nor the administration has been involved in the planning of the meeting. 
“This is really students acting together and joining to bring light to these issues in an extra-institutional way,” said Gross.