On (the) edge Cultural appropriation: why they're not 'just clothes'
On (the) edge A satirical exploration of the tequila party
Talk of the Quad Coming out Christian
On (the) edge Appreciating the liberal arts: STEM elitism and the myth of the easy major
On (the) edge “I don’t even like black people,” she said.
Talk of the Quad: Coming out Christian
This past summer, I became a born-again Christian. I have since harbored a burning desire to share this experience with others.
I was raised in a Christian household, however, as I moved into high school, I began neglecting most Christian teachings. I left little room for God within my life of rebellion. I usually justified these actions by highlighting the hypocrisy of the Church. Like many, I wrongly equated the Church—which is a broken and earthly institution—with the divine Word of God. I thus rejected Scripture due to human hypocrisy and fraudulence.
This year, everything changed. I first began to sense shifts during the second semester of my sophomore year. It began with a sudden disdain for Bowdoin’s hook-up culture. I gradually began to sense a darkness within the College’s social culture. This was not merely a recognition of youthful pitfalls. Some might call it the beginnings of a spiritual awakening. Others might say I was “finding” myself. For me and most other born-again Christians, it is obvious that God was chasing me. I became aware of the works of certain forces that semester, but I could not give the forces a name.
It was during this time that I also became more aware of a subtle emptiness within myself. In hindsight, this void had been present for years. It was not especially invasive; in fact, I had always been a fairly happy person. On paper, my life was amazing. I had a privileged childhood, seventeen years of elite education, great friends, hobbies and good grades. I was not fighting severe depression or dealing with family woes. Still, I did not know Fulfillment.
One day during this past spring break, my mom brought home the film “War Room.” The movie’s plot centers around a mother who is able to rebuild her broken family with the assistance of Jesus Christ. This suffering woman is transformed into what believers often call a “prayer warrior.” I initially approached the film with skepticism and slight annoyance. However, about halfway through the film, I was overcome with unexplainable awe. Within days, I had repressed the movie’s message; fortunately, the film had already planted a seed of faith within me.
The turning point began at the onset of summer. I spent the first half of the summer conducting research on mass incarceration and the media as part of the Mellon Mays program. I spent almost every waking hour reading and writing in solitude. As I studied the oft-concealed history of our country, I began to see past the elite’s web of lies. The deceptive illusions blinding the public became startlingly apparent. This realization heightened my desire for knowledge. As my understanding of reality began to defog, it became obvious that a key piece of this puzzle was missing.
Though I had become aware of the forces of darkness, the corresponding Light was my last and most precious discovery. As I was researching inside Helmreich House one July day, I found myself lost in an internet hole. I was deep in this study session when a source referred me to the Bible. Strangely enough, in my search for knowledge, I had inadvertently turned to the Book that I had previously deemed outdated. Needless to say, I was shocked by my findings. Within the prophecies describing the End of Days, I saw my own research. I saw the chaos and deception that characterizes modern society.
As we all know, this summer was especially violent. As I read, I realized that all of the brutality, confusion and destruction that we are seeing—such as increasing turbulence in the Middle East, government conspiracy and spikes in natural disasters—has been foretold. Not vaguely—specifically. In that moment, my spiritual understanding came full circle. I spent years attempting to ignore my Christian upbringing. This summer, it came back to me in the most alarmingly beautiful manner.
After the Mellon Mays program ended, I began interning at the Innocence Project in New York. By no coincidence, my New York home was that of my mom’s good friend—a minister. In the city, my faith in Christ flourished. The Innocence Project—a nonprofit law clinic that serves the wrongly convicted—taught me the value and necessity of servitude. My days there strengthened my commitment to serving the underserved. On August 14th, I dedicated my life to Christ at a Brooklyn church.
Since that day, life has taken on a new meaning. Frankly, the insignificance of the physical world is now glaring. I have begun to understand the Spirit. Moreover, I now understand the true meaning of good and evil. I know it sounds crazy, and that’s because it is. Our world is obsessed with explaining life through logic and reason; as a result, our world is broken. That was my old world, and broken it was.
I did not understand the term “born-again” until this ineffable transformation happened to me. I say “happened to me” because this transformation occurred by no action of my own. I had immense doubts and could not see past the facades of religious constructs. I was not searching for God when he found me; it is solely by His grace that I am found. Because of this transformation, I am able to truly see clearly for the first time in twenty years. I now know Life. And I am whole.
John 9:24-25: “Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner. He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”Adira Polite is a member of the class of 2018.
On (the) edge: Bias incidents revisited
By taking punitive measures, the College hinders genuine progress
It’s been eight months since this column began. Needless to say, a lot has happened since then. Most of my commentary has centered around the minority experience—topics have ranged from the first year transition to natural hair.
Though I have enjoyed writing this column, it has made life a bit more complicated. My thoughts have been both time-stamped and documented; thus, while most people are free to change and reshape their opinions at will, I feel tied to mine. My opinions have naturally shifted over the past year, but I have been hesitant to express any variance. This week, I’ve decided to push through that hesitation. I want to make one thing clear: I stand by the cruxes of each article that I have written. I still find the “gangster” party and the “tequila” party problematic—this will never change. However, I have grown increasingly concerned about the way our campus handled these incidents. When the first incident occurred, I was more than willing to participate in dialogue. I considered it a learning experience for all. When the second event occurred, I agreed with those who called for punitive measures. Fed up, I called for swift and harsh “justice.” Though I still believe that action must be taken in these instances, I fear that these actions have decimated conversation.There are two major problems with Bowdoin’s course of action. By simply condemning and punishing those involved, the College alienates a large section of the student body. Those involved are not inclined to listen if they feel that they are being unjustly disciplined. Though the persistent lack of understanding is both perplexing and aggravating, I do not believe that punishment without sufficient education benefits either side.
Many would argue that the campus has already provided ample educational opportunities of this sort—in fact, this was the central argument in favor of punitive action. On this note, I agree. Any student who wishes to learn about racial and cultural issues can easily do so. Unfortunately, many do not. Almost every campus event regarding race is attended by the same crowd of people. A significant proportion of the student body has little to no incentive to attend, so they don’t. We all know this. Though their absence at those events is aggravating, it is no longer surprising. Simply hoping that these students educate themselves is fruitless—we know that current action is failing, yet we stand by.
Because white students can easily evade the topic of race, many first grapple with racial issues only after they have been accused of offensive behavior. Because some lack a basic understanding of the subject, they cannot comprehend the problematic nature of their behavior. If one is operating within this mindset, they are understandably miffed by punitive responses. Frustrated, they tune out completely, impeding any further attempt to engage them. The punishment may decrease the likelihood of future occurrences, but it does so at the expense of potential conversation. If the College desires legitimate inclusivity and understanding, forcibly educating these currently disengaged students should be the College’s first priority.
The havoc wreaked by an emphasis on punishment—and a lack of effective and formal education—also impacts many students of color. Currently, the burden of educating “wrongdoers” continuously falls on the shoulders of minority students. To say that this is unfair would be an understatement. Like everyone else, we are here to get an education—enlightening our white peers was not a part of the admissions contract. The aim of affinity and multicultural organizations centers around community building and support—addressing incidents of bias and discrimination is neither their goal nor their responsibility. Yet, each time a racially charged controversy arises, these groups are expected to act. During times of crisis, friends of mine have spent more time in administrative meetings than in the classroom or library. Many involved have grown weary—in fact, “I’m done” has become a common sentiment. Thus, both sides of the debate are beginning to abandon the possibility of discussion and understanding. It has been both alarming and disheartening to watch this divide grow.
By punishing the offending side and pushing the burden of education on minority students, the College is hindering genuine progress. Though punitive measures may slow the occurrence of ill-themed parties, this course of action merely produces surface-level progress and heightened animosity. A lesson on cultural sensitivity and inclusion should be a part of each student’s Bowdoin experience—we cannot expect penalties to lead to understanding and growth. Bowdoin put effort into diversifying the student body. Now, the College—not its minority students—needs to grapple with that newfound diversity. The College—not its minority students—needs to address the inherent biases present in the student body. As of now, it is simply veiling them. If the College continues down this track, the chasm currently splitting the student body will continue to grow.
Being on (the) edge on this campus can be taxing. Fortunately, because of this column, this year was fairly exhilarating. I have grown immensely since this work began—I end it both wiser and more self-assured. I guess I have Yik Yak to thank for the latter. “AP” out.
On (the) edge: Don’t underestimate the power of representation
The second coming of Harriet Tubman
On Wednesday afternoon, the United States Treasury made an unprecedented announcement; in 2020, Harriet Tubman will grace the cover of America’s twenty dollar bill. When my phone’s news notifications alerted me, I called foul. I checked other sources in disbelief. Eventually, it became clear that the announcement was legitimate. The excitement that ensued was shared by many. In fact, my Facebook timeline is still overrun by photos of Tubman’s face. Though I’m still excited, my initial glee has somewhat faded due to a preoccupation with a number of questions.
I first began to think critically about the news after reading a critique published in The Washington Post. The editorial asserts that slavery existed as the primary foundation of American capitalism; thus, by tying Tubman to American currency, the Treasury inadvertently undermines her legacy. The author also notes the unsettling irony of the Treasury’s decision to place Tubman, a black liberator, on one of black America’s greatest oppressors—money. According to the author, the printing of this new currency serves only to hide the perpetual oppression of black Americans.
In my social spheres, this argument has become almost as popular as the announcement itself. I remain hesitant. The questions the author raises are convoluted—honestly, a “correct” answer may not exist. The concerns she and others have raised are valid, however, such a hasty and complete dismissal of the new prints gives me pause. Indeed, our society is still deeply entrenched in white supremacy, but to reject this long-overdue recognition is counter-productive.
The concerns seem to stem from the fear that society will use these Tubman prints to sweep racism under the rug. This consideration is not far-fetched. Barack Obama’s presidency is currently used as “proof” of a mythical post-racial society; Tubman’s bills could easily take its place. Obama’s election did not better the black condition and it did not keep white supremacy at bay. Yet, it was progress—if only symbolic—and we rejoiced. We rejoiced because despite the stagnation of the condition of the masses, his election gave us representation. Through representation, it changed our self-perception.
The election of Obama is a testament to the power of representation—a power that will be revealed yet again upon the printing of the Tubman bills. You do not need to be a person of color in order to understand the effect that the 2008 election had on Black America. I vividly remember that November night—my seventh-grade, newly-empowered self, sobbed. I was not alone. A wave of newfound ambition was instilled in many. This was especially apparent in black youth. Though some may have erroneously read his election as a sign of racial equality, many knew otherwise. Thus, the strive for black advancement did not pause. The fight continued on the same trajectory. If anything, the election served as fuel.
The Tubman bills clearly differ from the 2008 election. However, like the election, Tubman’s bills have the potential to uplift Black Americans—and more importantly, black youth—through representation. Black heroism is a neglected component of America’s historical narrative. To ignore the impact of this omission is irresponsible. Tubman’s placement on the American dollar affirms her rightful status as an American hero. Instead of being relegated to a separate box labeled “black,” she is being thrust into the mainstream historical narrative. Moreover, because the medium is currency, this change pushes the her—our—narrative into the everyday sphere. Though the printing of these bills may seem relatively arbitrary, I know that the impact will be anything but.
On (the) edge: “I don’t even like black people,” she said.
A journey through implicit and explicit racism
“I don’t even like black people.” My stomach dropped and I put down my fork. “I’m from Miami, I’m allowed to say that I don’t like black people,” the woman continued. Her words were loud and directed towards her friend, yet her eyes were on us. I guess my mom was right; nothing good happens after midnight.
This past Saturday, I experienced blatant racism for the first time. You would think that a black Southerner would have encountered such absurdity before —alas. I’ve mastered the art of responding to instances of shrouded racism. Comments that fall into this category are often made by people who are unaware of the racial biases that their words reveal. The actions or words that their unconscious biases propel are known as implicit racism. This is the type of racism to which I am accustomed. This is the masked and obscure problem that exists at Bowdoin.
Implicit racism is the more acceptable form of racism; it is indirect and easily concealed. Thus, it is racism in its most prevalent form. Because of this, I have not spent much time familiarizing myself with implicit racism’s bolder sibling: explicit racism. Explicit racism, wherein the offender demonstrates a conscious understanding of their racist attitude, is considered unacceptable by most members of our generation. It is the racism bred behind closed doors. Because of this, I was not prepared for The Diner Outburst.
When it happened, my friends and I laughed. By brunch the next morning, it was no longer funny, but we remained mostly unbothered. By the end of my Sunday, I had grown concerned about my reaction—or lack thereof. I realized that I was much less affected by this blatant act of racism than I had been by all of the more nuanced racially-charged incidents on campus.On one hand, knowing that woman’s hostility would never be tolerated on our campus pushed me to view Bowdoin as a safe haven. On the other hand, her unabashed antipathy was somehow easier to swallow than the complicated—and often, anonymous—conversations and events occurring on campus. Her brazen statement was undoubtedly worse than any Bowdoin comment or event that has come to my attention; yet, it was somehow less threatening than the recent campus climate.
The difference lies in the ways in which our society receives implicit and explicit racism. To many Americans, explicit racism is obviously wrong. When the Diner Outburst began, our waitress hurried over and apologized profusely. You do not have to be cognizant about social or racial issues (read: “woke”) to recognize an instance of explicit racism. Thus, white Americans often rally around people of color in the wake an explicitly racist incident.
In contrast, implicit racism is convoluted. It rests on a foundation of unconscious bias, making it is much more difficult to navigate. Someone whose experiences have not forced them to recognize the signs of implicit racism may not recognize its presence. Thus, following an incident of implicit racism, people of color are often left to their own devices. To them, its presence is clear—and it falls under the definition of “racism.” To those who know only of explicit racism, the incident raises no red flags. This dissent can make a shocking, explicitly racist comment less maddening than one that reeks of toxic, yet subtle, implicit racism. I choose to believe that our campus is mostly comprised of good people. This belief is what makes navigating conversations regarding race so incredibly difficult. When students label a comment or event “racist,” the accused immediately become defensive. As a result, conversations quickly disintegrate. In many cases, the discussion ends before it even begins. I believe that this problem stems from a faulty understanding of the distinctions between implicit and explicit racism. Students become defensive because they feel that an attack is being made on their character; in other words, their idea of “racist” aligns solely with incidents of explicit racism.
I hope that this cycle can be reversed through a few crucial changes. One should not assume that an offensive comment is derived from a conscious, malicious bias. Moreover, an accused person should not immediately infer that the accuser believes that your comment or action stemmed from racist intent. Unconscious bias exists in everyone; it is the byproduct of living in a racialized society. Ideally, our campus climate will shift into one that allows for productive discussion on both conscious and unconscious racial biases. Like most difficult conversations, it may not be comfortable, but it will be worthwhile.
On (the) edge: A satirical exploration of the tequila party
Author’s Note: The following piece is a work of satire. I chose to use this approach to address this issue because I have explained and re-explained cultural appropriation and its effects and I am exhausted. I said everything I had to say last semester. At this point, all it comes down to is compassion and respect. For those who are truly still confused or curious, your answers are out there. Please find them.
*All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A bizarre new conversation has found its way onto our campus. The topic—most often referred to as “cultural appropriation”—has created quite a stir. This issue seems to have taken on a life of its own, resulting in a multitude of loving nicknames. The most prominent of these epithets include “political correctness trash” and “the liberal agenda.”
The so-called conversation—moderated solely by new VP of Communications, Professor Yak—arose in response to a party held last Saturday. The party, which allegedly had a “tequila” theme, quickly escalated into a spectacle eerily similar to that of last semester’s “gangster” party.
Photographs posted on Snapchat revealed drunken white students donning sombreros and mustaches. An Instagram post showed four girls posing in front of a tapestry decorated with a sombrero, a maraca and a chili pepper. Sources cannot seem to agree on whether the “Mexican-themed” tapestry was purchased from Urban Outfitters or IKEA.
News of the party spread quickly, due mostly in part to the partygoers’ own broadcasts. Responses to the party have varied. Bowdoin’s Latin American Student Organization (LASO)—a sect of the College’s newly-founded and unpaid Cultural Issues Department—have made their exasperated rage quite clear. Numerous meetings and forums were held following the party, providing a space for open discussion.
Shockingly, sources report that same 40 students appeared at each event; their opposition is nowhere to be found. For the first time in Bowdoin history, those with differing opinions are resorting to “Yik Yak,” an anonymous phone application. The app—founded by Satan and purchased by Trump—is the preferred medium of Bowdoin’s most courageous students. Students at this week’s open discussions waited patiently for the faceless commenters to join the conversation. Unfortunately, it seems that the valiant “green boots” and “purple acorns” of Yik Yak have gone missing. Student Activities has confirmed that a candlelight vigil will be held on the Museum Steps each night until they return.
Despite the opposition’s lack of presence in meetings, the Orient was able to speak with a select group of these students in person. Most of these students had little to say about the party itself, but enthusiastically discussed who they consider to be true culprits: the offended and hurt members of the community.
“F*** their feelings,” said Jeffrey Keebler*. Keebler, a member of both Safe Space and Out Allies, claims that the idea of emotional distress caused by cultural disrespect is absurd. “Cultural appropriation is a myth. It harms no one—my cat has black fur and we talked about it. Our campus needs to continue to focus on the heteronormativity of hookup culture and the lack of male bathroom stalls in the library—issues that affect the student experience.”“To those bothered by this incident, I say: good luck in the real world,” quipped T.J. Edwards*. “These people are so used to being coddled. It’s ridiculous.” Rolling his eyes, Edwards pulled out his phone and speed-dialed the Bowdoin Shuttle. “Yeah, hi. I need a shuttle for one from Thorne Dining Hall to Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.” Turning back to me, he continued, “Anyway. The real world is cold. Grow up.”
Keebler and Edwards are not alone. We also spoke with Elizabeth Whittier*, a white Mainer and certified expert on the minority experience. Like her two peers, Whittier is not quite sure that the party was offensive.
“People are looking for something to be angry about,” she claimed. “I don’t quite understand their feelings, but I do know that they should not be having them.”
The outcome of this incident remains unclear. Many students have called for mandatory campus-wide seminars on the issue of cultural appropriation. In an interview with the Orient, Dean Johnson* stated that the administration cannot simply force students to partake in such discussions, as the student body consists primarily of adults.
“This is a college,” the dean stated. “It is not a high school. We cannot control the actions of our students. The administration has other aims.”
“In fact,” he stated, glancing at his watch. “You must excuse me now. A 22-year-old was found in possession of hard alcohol on Saturday, and I need to draft a letter to his parents.”
While some students strive for cultural understanding and genuine harmony, many students hope that the whole issue will simply dissolve. The latter—the same students whose ideal weekend includes quickly chasing their alcohol with punch purchased with “Polar Points”—are ready for the real world. They are tired of dwelling on the childish feelings of their peers—especially when those feelings interrupt their game of “pepper flip.”
On (the) edge: The dangerous miseducation of Americans through Eurocentric curricula
If your secondary school curriculum resembled mine, then you might have learned to equate success with whiteness. It’s likely that this thought never consciously crossed your mind—but it was there. I prefer to think that school boards do not purposefully instill this notion in their students. However, by solely focusing on the accomplishments and contributions of Europeans and their descendants, teachers perpetuate the notion that members of the white race are the greatest contributors and thus, more naturally inclined to succeed.
In light of recent racially charged tragedies, an attack on the education system might seem petty. It is not. See, the aforementioned subconscious thought that Eurocentric curricula fosters can lead individuals to later harbor views that are much more sinister. When these resulting ideas are voiced, the speaker is quickly labeled racist, ignorant or bigoted. Many will assume the individual is uneducated. In many cases, “uneducated” is a mislabel. I would argue that a lack of education is not the reason behind your Uncle Joe’s racist rants. On the contrary, the education that he did receive might be the true catalyst.
The inflammatory statements made by people like Uncle Joe prompt those around them to respond by attacking only their words. This knee-jerk reaction is dangerous. By reacting this way, one fails to detect and destroy the flawed foundation upon which Uncle Joe bases his ideas. The root cause of his prejudice should be the prime target of those hoping to change him. If we continue to chop away only at the ideas that stem from the root, genuine change will remain a fantasy.
This idea directly applies to modern racial discourse. Consider those who attempt to justify the shooting of unarmed black Americans. Some members of the Black Lives Matter movement are perplexed by those defending the police; I am not. As a woman of African descent, these views certainly haunt me, but I am not even slightly confused by their mindset. Why? Because there is a pattern. Though the explanations always vary, the underlying sentiment remains the same.Regardless of whether the black victim was involved in criminal activity, “thug” is a justifier’s most beloved noun choice. Evidence of drug use becomes reason to denounce the victim’s entire character. To them, resistance, running or cursing suddenly become crimes that are punishable by death.
These are the arguments used by those who attempt to rationalize these tragedies. This mindset is not simply the result of a lack of education. These warped justifications expose the potential—or lack thereof—that the speaker feels the victim possessed. To these people, the dead black man is guilty because he must be guilty. For many of these defenders, these deaths are not that tragic because these black people were not really going to contribute much, anyway. The media is quick to post an incriminating or unattractive photographs of the victim alongside a smiling, clean-cut photo of the officer. As stated, there is a pattern. The sentiment remains the same.Again, this sentiment does not result from a lack of education. Prejudiced views are not inborn. They are taught. Thus, racism is not the mantra of the uneducated, but of the mis-educated. Though many Americans are aware that this mindset has led to the devaluation of the black life, many fail to recognize the connection between this devaluation and the Eurocentric nature of our nation’s classrooms. By ignoring this connection, we are continuing to plant ideas about racial categories—and the inherent value of each—in the minds of our youth.
This failure can affect how children of all backgrounds view race, but can be especially detrimental to the way in which students of color view themselves. Though many minority parents take extra steps to supplement their child’s knowledge of their culture and history, some parents do not have the time, will or awareness to do so. While some of these children are not affected by this lapse in education many, sadly, are. These are the students who move into adulthood consciously or subconsciously believing that their potential is naturally lower than that of their white peers.
If unfamiliar with these ideas, one might swiftly cry “race bait” and denounce the entire concept. Luckily, a multitude of social and psychological studies have focused on the effects of internalized racism. Most of these studies have specifically focused on the black community. Though some have used these studies to spark discussion on internalized racism, the root of this issue is rarely questioned. Though many experiences result in the devaluation of the self, it is especially horrifying that this poison might first be prescribed in the classroom.
The change I’m calling for is quite small. If teachers can spend time discussing Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, then they can also mention that America’s first clock was created by Benjamin Banneker—a black man. If we can take the time to study Ancient Greece and Rome, why can’t we also study Ancient African and Asian communities? Civilization first arose in the Eastern hemisphere—our textbooks do not reflect that. There is more to non-white countries than European colonialism—the curricula of many schools suggest otherwise. The histories and contributions of people of color belong in the classroom alongside those of their white counterparts.
We cannot simultaneously support a classroom narrative that quietly upholds racial inequality and expect to somehow evolve into a magical post-racial society. If we wish to dismantle racist ideology from its core, we must first understand where that core lies. Simply studying the surface accomplishes nothing.
On (the) edge: Conversation surrounding Flint’s water crisis is dangerously stunted
It was almost too easy to choose this week’s column subject. This column focuses on an issue that has weighed heavily on my mind since it first appeared on my radar. Furthermore, since returning to campus, multiple people have asked if I planned to cover this topic. Upon texting my mother for topic suggestions, she replied with one word. “Flint.”
Flint. As many know, this Michigan city is in a state of crisis— a preventable, unnerving crisis. The seed was planted in 2011, when Flint was declared to be in a financial state of emergency, prompting the state to assume budgetary control. Michigan Governor Rick Synder then appointed an emergency financial manager who was tasked with cutting Flint’s budget. A proposal was made to switch Flint’s water source from the relatively costly Lake Huron to the cheaper, riskier Flint River.
Preliminary studies revealed that Flint River’s water could only be considered safe if it underwent treatment with an anti-corrosion agent. This agent would prevent the river water from eroding the pipes—a mishap that could result in discolored, possibly noxious water. After learning that this treatment would cost the state a mere one hundred dollars per day, the results of the study were ignored. In 2014, Flint’s water supply was switched.
In May of that year, Flint’s residents began to complain about the quality of their new water. It was brown. It was rancid. It made them sick. The complaints were ignored. In January of 2015, Detroit’s Water and Sewage Department offered to reconnect Flint to its original water supply. Despite the complaints from Flint residents, the emergency financial manager rejected the Department’s offer.
In February, the Environmental Protection Agency detected high levels of lead in the water, caused by the absence of the anti-corrosion agent. In September, one pediatrician began to publicly discuss multiple findings of lead poisoning —the effects of which are often irreversible. Though the water supply was finally switched back to Lake Huron in October of that year—over five months after the residents’ complaints began —the damage was done. To this day, the water pipes are corroded and the supply remains toxic.
As of now, all of Flint’s approximately 100,000 residents are considered at risk for heavy metal poisoning. Additionally, as of January 13 of this year, there have been 87 reported cases of Legonnaires’ disease, 10 of which resulted in death. Last week, over a year and a half since his citizens first reported this problem, the Governor of Michigan finally offered a weak promise: “I’m sorry, and I will fix it.”
Pause. Now, let’s backtrack and discuss demographics. Flint is roughly fifty-six percent Black. About forty-two percent of its population live below the poverty line. Most of you probably think that you know where I’m going with this. You don’t.
The lack of response and, thus, prolonged suffering of Flint’s residents, in conjuction with the city’s demographics, have led many to label this crisis an example of blatant racism. Many are questioning whether this would have ever occurred in a town whose residents are predominately white. Do I think that the residents of Greenwich, Connecticut would ever be made to drink brown water and ignored for a year and a half? Of course not. But it is not as simple as it may seem.
When I initially read about the crisis, I immediately thought “wow, racism” and ignorantly left it at that. Luckily, Professor Brian Purnell recently pushed me to delve a bit deeper. On Thursday, he asked our class to question the American notion that race is causative. In essence, this is the idea behind the assumption that a White man who killed a Black man did so out of hate for black people.
In a society often divided by race, it is both easy and understandable to think this way. Personally, the continuous killing of unarmed Black citizens makes it nearly impossible for me to avoid subconsciously assuming that white-on-black violence begins and ends with race and race alone. However, this knee-jerk reaction can cause one to ignore the bigger —and often, more insidious—question.
It is easy to say that the residents of Flint were ignored because many of them are Black. It takes more time and effort to evaluate the situation’s context and arrive at a more complex answer. Does the Flint water crisis have to do with race? Absolutely. But skin color alone is not the only answer. Race in America is and always has been irrevocably tied to class and power. Concerning Flint, that is the problem.
A majority of the residents of Flint are Black. Many are impoverished. Most are disempowered. I’m certainly no expert but I would surmise that their voices went unheard because of a centuries-old system—a system that should be dissected and critiqued. This cannot happen when one fails to recognize the simplicity of their thinking.
In order for our generation to exact lasting change, we must first understand issues to their fullest extent. It is imperative that we include context in our discussions. When discussing race-related issues, do not stop at race alone. Search for connections between race and other institutions. Venture to understand the reasons behind those connections. Dare to delve deeper.
On (the) edge: Appreciating the liberal arts: STEM elitism and the myth of the easy major
When I tell people that I attend Bowdoin, I always receive one of two reactions: either the judgmental “What is that?” or the impressed “Oh, good for you.” For those in the latter group, the fact that I go to Bowdoin is enough to warrant praise. To them, the acceptance letter and degree progress hints towards a successful future. Within the walls of this institution, however, simply pursuing a degree is not enough; one must pursue the right type of degree. This belief, likely held by students across the country, is the myth of the “easy” major.
This myth perpetuates the notion that certain majors are not as important as others. For most, the line between an impressive major and a “joke” major is drawn between science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and the social sciences and humanities. Many people place STEM majors on a pedestal and regard others as inferior. This mindset seems to stem from the the belief that majoring in a STEM field will result in obtaining a practical and high-paying career.
I delve into this issue as neither an apologetic STEM major, nor a scorned humanities scholar. In fact, my schedule this semester consists of two lab sciences and two humanities courses. I understand the struggle of spending hours in the laboratory and leaving to find that the sun is long gone. I also understand the exhaustion of watching the sun rise while trying to write a 10 page paper. As someone living both lives, I have begun to question the reasons for the perceived hierarchy.
I have witnessed the aforementioned myth in action many times; from my mother’s caring, yet frustrating, push for me to focus on math and science to STEM elitism from students in my classes. When I return home for breaks, I often answer questions about classes and my eventual future with banter about my science courses only. I find myself instinctively dwelling on “Biogeochemistry” when people ask about my current courses, likely because I subconsciously want to talk about what I know sounds most impressive. Because of my science coursework, I have also heard this myth perpetuated from the inside. Stressed out STEM majors are quick to say they should “just be an English major.” While studying, my peers have looked at laughing students nearby and questioned how they have free time, reasoning that they “must be a sociology major.” Then, there’s the decades-old joke that psychology majors should study a “real” science.
Though I see the trouble with this mindset, I do not intend to vilify these students; in fact, I have caught myself thinking similar thoughts on more than one occasion. Long nights in Hatch Science Library are tiresome, as are afternoons in lab. Degrading the work of others in order to place importance on your own is almost therapeutic. In essence, I believe that this phenomenon comes down to a very common, though underlying, need for validation, as well as a society-bred feeling of self-importance.
The ludicrousness of this myth is glaring once explored. First off, I find it hard to believe that any Bowdoin department could ever be considered easy. A rigorous curriculum is part of the Bowdoin experience, not the Bowdoin STEM experience. Humanities and social science majors may not spend hours in a lab, but this does not mean that they have less coursework than a chemistry major.
At 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, some students might be found testing photosynthetic rates in Druckenmiller Hall, while others might be debating government policy in Hubbard. The world needs our generation to provide leaders in both of these fields. What makes one superior over the other?
The difficulty of the departments is completely subjective; the perceived difficulty of each area will shift with each student you ask. Some people find that essays are a breeze, but struggle to complete their MCSR requirement. Likewise, a number of my friends in STEM find writing an “A” paper to be nearly impossible—these are often the same people who claim that the humanities are easy.
STEM elitism and the easy major myth undermine the importance of the humanities and social sciences. Claiming that certain subjects are useless or unemployable is not just elitist, it’s incorrect. Our world is indeed moving into an era where STEM majors have a plethora of options. However, I implore you to imagine a future without writers, performers, politicians, linguists, historians, psychologists, humanitarians, et cetera. Life as we know it would cease to exist. Frankly, I’m not so sure that is a world in which I would want to live.
On (the) edge: ‘Bowdoin bubble’ means we should hold ourselves to a higher standard
In light of the recent rise in nationwide discussions on race and political correctness, it would be negligent to reflect on Bowdoin’s racial and bias incidents without broadening my scope. Many other schools are having the same conversations that we are now having. Most notably, both Yale University and the University of Missouri have erupted in racial tensions, protests and debate.
Much of the uproar at Yale was sparked by accusations that Yale’s chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity turned black women away from a party, asserting that the party was for “white girls only.” Heavy backlash ensued and was quickly exacerbated by an unrelated incident in which Erika Christakis, associate master of Silliman College, sent an email to students in response to a campus-wide email urging students to be conscientious while planning their Halloween costumes. Christakis questioned whether the original email was an attempt to censure and prohibit students’ abilities to “to be a little bit obnoxious ... a little bit inappropriate.”
Yale students immediately challenged Christakis’ email because many felt Christakis made light of actions that strip students of color of a welcoming and inclusive space. Students held a “March of Resilience” as well as a number of smaller protests. Unsurprisingly, much of the “open” dialogue occurred on Yik Yak.
The current state of affairs at the University of Missouri (or “Mizzou”), is nothing short of horrifying. On October 10, in response to a lack of administrative action following the continuous use of racial slurs, a coalition of black students held a protest during the university’s homecoming parade. Video footage shows the crying protesters being forcibly removed as President Tim Wolfe sat idly by. Wolfe made no statement following the incident, leading to the swift spread of unrest.
This unrest peaked this past weekend, when the Mizzou Tigers football players announced that they would not play until Wolfe resigned. He did so on Monday. The most terrifying part of this debacle came as more and more white students became enraged over Wolfe’s resignation, as well as the negative attention their school began receiving because of it. On Tuesday night, threats directed at black students surfaced on Yik Yak. The most terrorizing of these messages read, “I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see,” “Tomorrow Mizzou will really make national news,” and “Fantastic. #deathtomonkeys.” From what I have heard on our own campus, some people feel that Mizzou and Yale’s problems put Bowdoin’s issues into perspective—and in a way, they do. However, it is important to realize that these institutions’ crises serve as proof that problems can and will escalate rapidly.
Some students are quick to label the claims of students of color—issues and problems that they can never fully understand—as ludicrous or dramatic. It is this mindset, the one behind responses such as “get used to it” and “the real world doesn’t care,” that lead to the terrifying situations we’re seeing at schools like Mizzou. Fostering the idea that the discomfort of minorities is not as important as the fun of the majority creates an environment in which minorities are devalued. This can affect minorities’ perceptions of themselves, but even more detrimentally, the majority’s perception of them. Blatant racism such as “white girls only” parties and “#deathtomonkeys” are the direct result of the majority devaluation of minority bodies.
I am not saying that I predict Bowdoin is headed towards racially exclusive parties or rampant death threats. I recognize that our situation is milder, but the situation still stands. The most dangerous part of our current issue is the ignorance and complacency of many people on this campus. It is disheartening that students at an elite institution are responding to attempts to better the minority student experience with quips about “the real world.” This complacent attitude stifles progress and should not be present at a college that is supposed to be producing our future leaders.
I believe that all of us are aware that our campus is not the real world. We live in a bubble that is impenetrable to many “real world” issues. If we know and even embrace the fact that the real world’s problems and rules do not apply to us, why are we so quick to disregard that bubble when issues of race arise? If this is truly a place that allows students to shape their own experiences within the safety of a hand-picked community, why aren’t students free to demand that that community remain an inclusive and comfortable environment for all of its inhabitants?
It has become alarmingly clear that Bowdoin’s tensions are much, much bigger than Bowdoin; yet, some still choose to pretend that none of it is happening. This inaction is made possible due to a false belief in irrelevance. Many students feel that these problems don’t fit into their world and to those people, I say: you are wrong.
Whether you are aware of it or not, your friends have been affected. Your teammates have been affected. Your awkward dance floor make out from last weekend might have been affected. You yourself may be able to put on blinders and ignore what is happening both on campus and throughout the nation but you’re not as far removed as you think you are.
We must stop alluding to “the real world” as a means of disregarding the emotions and concerns of our students. We must stop comparing our campus’ issues to those of others for the sole purpose of disregarding our own. Students at Bowdoin have the tools to leave this place after four years, go into the “real world,” and change it. By being complacent, we inch into a downwards spiral and accomplish absolutely nothing. You have the tools. Be present and use them.
On (the) edge: Cultural appropriation: why they're not 'just clothes'
This past Thursday, members of Bowdoin’s sailing team held a "gangster" themed party. The team’s party, and its theme, became public knowledge upon their entrance into Super Snack. The team’s attire included baggy pants, jerseys, gold chains and 80’s style LL Cool J hats. One member of the team had his hair braided into cornrows.
I am naturally tempted to embark on a furious rant, but I have decided to instead rein in my frustration and attempt to offer generosity. To those who do not yet understand why the sailing team’s party theme is unacceptable: I am perplexed by you, but I do not resent you. In the aftermath of this incident, however, you need to learn.
Cultural appropriation, in the context of this column, refers to the adoption of one culture’s aspects by members of another culture. An example of this would be if I, an African-American, wore a Native American headdress as part of a costume for Halloween. Though I happen to be part Native American, I do not identify with this culture and know little to nothing about the meaning behind the headdress. By donning this headdress, I would be taking part of Native American culture and turning it into a trendy, meaningless costume. My actions would misrepresent Native American culture and would draw upon stereotypes in doing so. Unfortunately, my good intentions would probably not console an offended party goer who sees a distorted replica of their culture worn as a costume.
If this situation seems uncomfortable, one can only imagine the friction that arises when power dynamics come into play. If my wearing a Native American headress would justifiably disturb someone who identifies with that culture, how must marginalized groups feel when members of the dominant culture “costume” the culture of the people who have been systematically oppressed by that same dominant culture? That is exactly what happened when a team of mostly white students left their dorms dressed as gangsters.
I’ve heard a number of justifications for the sailing team’s party theme. Some say that the event should not upset Bowdoin’s black population because they weren’t mocking us—it was just a costume. Others say the student donning cornrows was dressed as Riff Raff, a white rapper. Proponents of this justification claim that the incident cannot count as cultural appropriation if the imitated figure is white. Furthermore, some students have fully discounted the issue of cultural appropriation as a whole. Unfortunately for these defenders, all of these views are shortsighted.
The Riff Raff justification is nothing short of comical, as Riff Raff is essentially the physical embodiment of cultural appropriation. The worldwide controversy surrounding Iggy Azalea, a white performer who is continuously accused of appropriating black culture, could easily apply to Riff Raff. The argument that this student’s cornrows are justified by Riff Raff’s race is moot. Let me be direct: cornrows are not just a hairstyle. Cornrows, braids, twists—they are not just hairstyles. The earliest depiction of African cornrow braiding dates back to 500 B.C. Intricate hair designs have long been an integral part of African culture and that tradition came to America on the slave ships. These hairstyles have served as a means of maintaining the often kinky, coily texture of black hair. Not only are these hairstyles a part of black culture, but they are also a source of discrimination. Many workplaces ban these hairstyles and some even ban Afro-textured hair as a whole. They are not just hairstyles and they are most certainly not costume accessories.
As for the sailing team’s intentions, I know that they were not mocking the black members of this community; no black person on this campus fulfills the stereotypes that costumes such as theirs uphold. However, whether the involved members of this team realized it or not, their theme directly took negative stereotypes of the black race and made them into a costume. The appearance and dress of black men and women has been both scrutinized and debased for centuries. Furthermore, in countless cases, their dress has been used to justify death.
In fact, one of the most dangerous black stereotypes is that of the “thug.” A quick Google search of this word returns photos of angry-looking black men, many with cornrows, holding guns, money and gold. This trope has resulted in society’s continuous distrust of the black man—a distrust that has become an expected, and even accepted, part of black men’s experiences in America. A black boy, such as Trayvon Martin, cannot even walk home with his life intact because his “gangster clothing” (i.e. hoodie and brown skin) signified his criminal intent. Members of the dominant culture cannot try on these stereotypes for fun then stand idly by while these same harmful stereotypes end lives.
To the Bowdoin community: stop mocking the members of the community who are upset by the sailing team’s actions. Jokes about how Halloween is the cultural appropriation of goth/magical/satanic culture are not funny, and I have a very broad sense of humor. These “jokes” simply reveal a lack of understanding of the afflictions of people who are not like yourself. You do not have to be a student of color, queer, low-income, disabled, or a member of any other marginalized group in order to put your own experience aside for five minutes to try to understand the experiences of others.
I am disappointed for the multitude of prospective students of color who witnessed the Super Snack debacle. If offered admission to Bowdoin, many will likely choose to take their talent and intellect elsewhere. I am frustrated for the black first years whose first semesters have been tainted by such a level of disrespect. My anguish is not only directed towards the sailing team, but towards the community at large. The jokes and eyerolls hurled at those upset by this incident have made me question what I usually consider to be a compassionate community. Those pursuing a liberal arts education supposedly do so because they seek to understand. Sadly, that is the opposite of what I have witnessed on campus this week.
On (the) edge: Discontinuing the Jefferson Davis Award opens dialogue and allows for progress
However, what the writer of the Yak failed to recognize is the grave difference between addressing the dark past and idling in it. There is an inexhaustible disparity between discussing a man whose actions and values do not align with the contemporary values of the College and giving out an award in his honor. The discontinuation of the Jefferson Davis Award is not an affront on history nor is it a means of sweeping Bowdoin’s dirty secrets under the rug. I knew little of this award, or the history of Davis’ connection to Bowdoin, before this week. Its existence did nothing to foster discussion; however, its removal has. How honoring a man who once referred to enslaved Africans as “our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude” could serve as anything other than a slap in the face to students of color is beyond me. I firmly believe that, in discontinuing this award, Bowdoin “addressed its dark past” in the most direct way possible.
On (the) edge: Embracing natural hair and learning to love myself
Yes, you can touch my hair. If you ask.But, before you put your hands on my head, understand that my hair has a history. My first trip to the infamous black hair salon was at the age of four. I remember hair stylists raising my chair to its highest level because I was too short for them to reach my head. Hours were spent in the hair salon once a week and, from age four to 14, the routine never changed—shampoo, blow dry, straighten. At least two hours were spent under the mercy of the torture device known as the hot comb. Trips to the hair salon were so regular that my natural hair was essentially a stranger. The only time I spent with that familiar stranger was the half hour period between shampoo and straighten. On every Saturday afternoon, I willingly allowed my naturally wild and poofy curls and coils to be transformed into the flat monotony of someone else.
In the eighth grade, the desire for straight hair was so fervid that I convinced my mom to let me get a perm. A perm, in the world of black hair, chemically straightens your hair—permanently. The hair stylist essentially massages chemicals onto your hair, waits 20 minutes, then washes it out. I left the salon after my first treatment more confident and prideful than I had ever been; no longer would a humid Tennessee day return my hair to its natural state. The texture of my hair was forever changed. I finally had the long, silky, tangle-free hair that I considered beautiful.
The excitement of these new treatments came to a screeching halt a few weeks later, when my touch-up stylist left the chemicals on my scalp for too long. With tears running down my face, I told the stylist that it felt as if my head was on fire. After numerous wash-outs and no decrease in pain level, it became clear that the damage was done. Upon inspection, I found my scalp, ears and hairline covered in chemical burns. I had to chop my hair off and begin anew. Despite my new short ‘do, I was still determined to have straight hair; so, I returned to my old wash, blow dry, straighten routine.
The summer before I left Tennessee for Maine, one of my best friends convinced me to get a weave. She praised the ease that weaves allow and noted that I would no longer have to put effort into straightening my hair. I got a weave about a week before leaving home and hated it within a few weeks. For one, it was heavy. Its weight heightened the artificiality of its presence, making me constantly feel as if I was trying to be someone that I was not. I consistently received compliments; however, I always felt as if I couldn’t take pride in something that was not really mine. The turning point came around early November of that first semester, mostly due to readings assigned in my first year seminar, “Racism”. The more I learned about systemic racism and the media—issues that were never discussed in my high school—the more I began to question why I so badly desired straight hair. It’s certainly not rocket science. America is stuck on a Eurocentric standard of beauty and my Southern, mostly white, all-girls preparatory school was no exception to that.
I had the weave removed over Thanksgiving Break but continued to straighten until the next spring. While home for Spring Break, I cut off my heat-damaged ends and finally began to love my natural hair. For me, natural hair is not only an expression of self-acceptance, but also one of black pride. Black people, especially women, have been labeled subhuman, ugly and undesirable for centuries. Black women’s bodies were considered the property of white men when contact between the races first occurred—unfortunately, not much has changed since. In finally accepting my hair and all of its blackness, I am giving the middle finger to the notion that beauty means whiteness. I am not saying that wearing a weave equals self-hate or a lack of self-acceptance; many of the most socially aware and self-loving people I know wear weaves and I fully respect that choice. Personally, however, my weave made me recognize how damaged the relationship between myself and my hair was, and that the cause of that damage was largely due to the warped beauty standards of my environment.
I understand that, especially on an elite college campus in Maine, my hair is out of the ordinary. It’s fluffy, coily and soft to the touch. It’s black hair. I understand the desire to touch my hair. But I am not your pet. I am not your property. People seem shocked when I slap their hands away from my head, but I can’t understand why. Would you randomly stroke the hair of a random blonde girl that you don’t know? I doubt it. Do you think that it’s socially acceptable to touch me without permission simply because my hair is different than yours, or because it’s “exotic” enough that I must understand? I once asked a boy why he thought he could touch me without my permission and he replied matter-of-factly, “It looks cool. I figured you were used to it.” I already know that I’m in the minority, and I’m well aware of the fact that I’m different. When I feel someone’s hands on my head without permission and hear the reactive coos and “woahs”, I quickly remember why I used to subject myself to the pain of heat and chemicals in order to achieve anonymity. Touching my hair without permission, no matter how well-intentioned, is othering. I’ve had countless discussions with other black women about how objectifying and alienating these experiences can be.
Contrary to my current tone, I am not a spiteful person. If you ask to touch my hair, I will most likely say yes. Let’s be real, having your hair stroked feels even better than drinking seven Lime-a-Ritas. However, if you touch me without asking, don’t be shocked or offended when I slap your hand away. It’s not personal, but what you’re doing certainly is.
On (the) edge: Differences can complicate the first year transition
For most of us, the beginning of the year has come and gone. Add/Drop period is over. Exams have started. The warmth of summer is beginning to pass and the cold creeps in at night. The excitement of a new year has faded but, for first years, the transition has just begun.
Any Bowdoin student, no matter their background or connection to the school, must go through a period of transition upon arriving as a first year. All of us awkwardly made small talk while uncomfortably lying on the floor of Farley Field House. Many of us sat nervously through class on that first Thursday in anticipation of our first Pub Night. Many more of us returned to our first year bricks confused about the nightmare we had just witnessed. Some students find their place on campus immediately; others feel lost for the entirety of their first year. The transition into college is rarely a completely smooth ride. However, the transition is often harder and more prolonged for those who do not fit the norm.
Though Bowdoin strives to be an accepting and inclusive environment for its students, the availability of resources does not always equal a comfortable environment. At Bowdoin, students of color can easily find safe spaces, whether at 30 College Street (our multicultural house), the Russwurm African American Center, or within a number of student organizations. These are indeed fantastic spaces wherein students of color can gather, but a first-year student of color cannot stay inside the four walls of their safe space twenty-four hours a day. The existence of the African American Society will not protect a new black student from being called the n-word in the “safety” of their dorm. The Deans of Multicultural Life are a few of my favorite people on campus, but they are not standing in Baxter’s basement on Saturday nights to stop entitled white boys from telling first-year black girls that they “have never hooked up with a black girl before," disgustingly insinuating that tonight might finally be the night. Yes, Bowdoin funds a Latin American Student Organization, but that does not keep people from fetishizing girls with words such as “spicy” or hurling “Wait, so, what are you?” towards a student after hearing them speak Spanish while on the phone with their parents.
This experience is often shared by first-year students who are marginalized for reasons besides skin color. The Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity provides an extremely welcoming and affirming place for students who identify as non-straight or non-cisgender, as well as allies. The Center actually has special programming specifically for first-year students to ensure that they are supported as they adjust to this new place. Kate Stern, the Director of the Center, is an on-campus mother figure to a tremendous number of Bowdoin students—myself included. Though these wonderful places and people exist, students cannot live in that safety bubble at all hours. The existence of the Resource Center will certainly soothe—but can never squash—the fear of coming out to your first-year floor. The Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance can (and I hope, does) make first years feel as if Bowdoin is where they belong, but that feeling might quickly flee as they experience the heteronormativity of Bowdoin’s hook-up culture.
In no way do I mean to undermine the transition experiences of all Bowdoin students. Let me be clear: I do not believe that the transition is automatically easier for white, straight students. White, straight students are not a homogenous group. We all come from different places, experienced different upbringings, and harbor different stories. However, for students whose differences are as visible as skin color, or as painful to hide as sexuality or gender identity, there are negative experiences that have been shared again and again, year after year, that complicate the transition exponentially.
To the first years whose transitions have been rocky due to differences (whether it be a difference in race, sexuality, gender identity, or simply a lack of comfort): you are in good company. Do not feel that you shouldn’t feel this way simply because Bowdoin is left-leaning or because safe spaces exist. Your feelings are valid and your experience is real. Furthermore, your current feelings of anxiety are normal and will likely fade as you find your place here. Most importantly, there are a number of upperclass students who have been where you are and are using their experiences to educate the community and shift the campus culture. This is me extending my hand in solidarity. We are with you.
To all students: I encourage you to explore the resources available to you. Check out different multicultural groups regardless of your own race and make the effort to understand the issues plaguing different people. Visit our Resource Center and listen to students’ experiences. You could be negatively impacting the experience of another student without knowing it. Luckily, the information on how not to do so is about a five minute walk from your bed.
Asian Week presents culture, activities
Asian Week, the Asian Student Association’s (ASA) annual cultural event celebrating the continent’s many cultures, kicked off on Tuesday with a documentary screening of “A River Changes Course” and a discussion held by the Cambodian director, Kalyanee Mam. Other events, both old and new, will continue through Saturday.
The ASA has many objectives in its planning and execution of Asian Week.
“Asian Week is an opportunity for ASA members to take ownership over events on campus. The other component is to engage with the campus and the broader community,” said Kathryn Lin ’15, a member of the ASA.
Lin and one of the ASA’s officers, Yabing Liu ’15, agree that this year’s Asian Week differs from those in years past.
“In my four years here, we’ve only had a few events. This year, we’re trying to have a variety of different events and at least one event per day,” said Lin.
“I want the community to be able to engage with culture in a more normalized way. I want people to be excited about culture—cultures that aren’t their own,” said Lin. “I want people to know that it’s really cool to taste teas from different countries.”
“We also want to showcase the diversity that we have on campus,” added Liu. “It’s a platform for people to promote their culture and showcase themselves.”
The screening and discussion on Tuesday had an impressive turnout, and many Brunswick community members were in the audience. According to Liu, Cambodian culture is one of the least-known Asian cultures on campus.
Following the documentary, the ASA planned on welcoming Bowdoin alum and comedian Hari Kondabolu ’04 on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the comedian had to cancel his show due to illness. The Association hopes that Kondabolu, who has toured nationally and appeared on many late-night television programs, will be able to perform on campus at a later date.
SJP organizes week to promote awareness of conflict in Palestine
Students For Justice in Palestine (SJP) spent months planning a week of programming—Justice For Palestine Week—which came to an end Wednesday night.
The week’s activities began on Saturday, with a screening of the documentary “The Stones Cry Out,” which sheds light on the struggles of Palestinian Christians, who are a minority in predominantly Muslim Palestine. The filmmaker, Yasmine Perni, said that she found that people in the West are more likely to pay attention to others’ struggles if they are Christians as opposed to Muslims.
Sunday, Tufts faculty member Thomas Abowd visited Bowdoin and gave a talk entitled “Gentrification and Urban Manifestations of Colonialism: Palestine to USA.”
On Monday, members of the Okbari Middle Eastern Ensemble visited and performed. One of the members had recently traveled to Palestine and shared letters written by Palestinian children. The club held a Skype conversation on Tuesday with a nurse working in the West Bank. The club also received and listened to a video message from a student in Gaza.
On Wednesday, the club hosted a film screening of “Budrus,” a documentary about the non-violent resistance of a West Bank village.
SJP is a fully student-run organization, though it receives funding from the Student Activities Funding Committee.
Members of the group cited campus-wide awareness and education as their goals for the week, as well as for the club in general.
“Mainstream media tends to be extremely biased in favor of Israel,” said Sinead Lamel ’15, a member of SJP. “Our government often speaks in a way that assumes total support and alliance with Israel. Even when people do criticize Israel, they do it in a narrative that ignores Palestinians. We’re trying to bring out the voices of Palestinians.”
SJP is also hoping to attract students who may have never discussed, or even thought about, these ongoing issues.
“Everyone comes to the subject of Israel and Palestine from very different levels. It can be intimidating to talk to people who are very passionate about [these issues] because people might not feel like they know enough to have opinions about it,” said Christopher Wedeman, one of the founders of Bowdoin’s chapter of SJP.
Encouraging discussing is another of the group’s goals.
“Part of the point of the week was to encourage people to come by their own volition so that they can make up their own mind and maybe debate [the issue] with their friends.”
During the summer of 2014, Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip left 2,200 Palestinians, including 521 children, dead. SJP honored these children by stringing up 521 red flags, each with a name of a child, across the first floor of Smith Union.
“We wanted to try to put numbers into perspective,” said Wedeman.
SJP is taking further action to bring attention to these issues on campus.
“There will hopefully be a vote on the ballot for the BSG elections asking the student body whether or not it wants to support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel,” said Wedeman.
SJP meets every Thursday at 9 p.m. next to the dance studio in the David Saul Smith Union. The petition is still being drafted but will be made public in the near future.
Hafu film explores mixed-race in unfamiliar context
While issues of race and identity are currently at the forefront of the minds of many Americans, the Asian Studies Department exposed campus to race relations abroad with a screening and discussion of the Japanese documentary “Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan.” The 2013 film follows the lives of several half-Japanese individuals—“hafus”—as they attempt to fit into a racially uniform culture.
“Hafus are actually quite popular in Japanese media—but they are also stigmatized. They are supposed to live a certain way,” said Professor Toru Shinoda of Waseda University in Tokyo who moderated the discussion following the film.
“No matter how long you live here, you’re not Japanese. You’re not accepted as a Japanese,” said Sophia, a half-Australian, half-Japanese woman profiled in the film.
The hostility expressed towards hafus can be so intense that some parents choose to hide the fact that their children are not completely Japanese.
Fusae, a half-Korean, half-Japanese woman in the film described the moment where she found out that she was not actually fully Japanese. Her mother concealed her Korean ancestry in order to protect her. Fusae’s mother warned her that she should be careful when telling men that she is only half-Japanese.
Fusae recalls, “I really felt that I did not belong anywhere in Japan. I wished to be either fully Japanese or Korean.”
The film also follows Mixed Roots—a group that connects and supports hafus struggling with their racial identity.
Senior Lecturer in Japanese Language Hiroo Aridome noted that students will enroll in Japanese Language courses in order to find their own identity.
Though Japan’s demography is different from America’s, the challenges that accompany a multiracial identity still resonate.
“I’m a first generation American. That has really complicated the answers to ‘What is your nationality?’ and ‘Where are you from?’” says Jorge Gomez ’18, who attended the event and is of mixed race. “I’ve struggled with the question of whether to identify as American or Mexican. That’s why I identify as Mexican-American, as that includes both.”
Wednesday’s screening was followed by a discussion moderated by Shinoda that featured student panelists Emily Licholai ’18, Greg Stasiw ’15, Justin Ehringhaus ’16 and Alex Mathieu ’15.
“People perceive Japan as a homogeneous society with no race issues. I hope that students can understand that this is not true,” said Professor Shinoda.
Student film looks at Thai land rights
While most Bowdoin students use downtime to catch up on movies on Netflix, Paul Sullivan ’16 and Wilder Nicholson ’16, who both hail from Brunswick, used theirs to create a movie of their own.
Their 15-minute documentary, entitled “The Master Plan: Solving Deforestation or Yet Another Strategy to Remove and Evict People,” was created as an independent study project during their semester abroad in Thailand.
The documentary was created with the purpose of giving back to the Thai community that had given so much to the two students during their time there.
The documentary focuses on Thailand’s changing laws regarding land rights and deforestation. Thailand recently enacted laws to slow deforestation. These laws have targeted forest communities and forced citizens off their own land.
“We were both interested in the land management policies,” said Nicholson. “The leaders of the Land Reform Network nonprofit wanted a film that would educate citizens about the government’s new policies.”
Although the pair was able to complete the project within four weeks, the production process was anything but simple.
“During the first week, we sat down and drafted an outline. We discussed which Thai villages we wanted to go to and came up with interview questions. We then actually visited the villages, conducted interviews [with the help of a translator] and collected footage,” said Nicholson.
According to Sullivan, the pair worked on the documentary almost every day. Luckily, both students felt that they were doing something they actually wanted to do.
“It wasn’t like working on a long essay,” he said. “Making a film is fun and we were doing something that was beyond us.”
Though the production process was exhaustive, the editing process proved to be even more difficult.
“We originally had a 30-minute long video, so we had to edit out half of the original product,” said Sullivan.
The editing process was complicated by the necessity of remaining neutral. The pair had to ensure that the film did not lean too far in one direction or another, although it was clear which side of the argument they were on.
“The Thai government’s actions are undemocratic, so it was easy to pick a side,” said Sullivan. “However, we really wanted to make an argument without presenting it in a biased way. We tried to keep narration neutral and simply let the interviewees speak for themselves.”
Despite their efforts at being unbiased the film was significantly censored before its first screening in Thailand. Luckily, Sullivan and Nicholson were able to censor the film themselves.
“Sadly, the content of the film was completely compromised,” said Sullivan. “We made it very clear that it was censored and the film itself almost became a comment on the infringement of free speech.”
The filmmakers were, however, able to hand out uncensored DVD copies of their film to villagers.
The uncensored version of “The Master Plan” was screened at Bowdoin on Tuesday to an audience of about 50 students.
“Although the target audience of the film was rural Thai villagers, we wanted to spread awareness of the issue within the Bowdoin community,” said Nicholson.
The reactions within the Bowdoin community were overwhelmingly positive.
“We just happened to be talking about land rights in one of my classes today and a student in my class brought up our film,” said Sullivan. “That was pretty awesome.”
“I’m actually from Thailand, so it’s really nice to hear them talking about the problem from the coup because it’s a big issue there. I think it’s pretty cool what [Sullivan and Nicholson] did,” said Ponpavi Sangsuradej ’16.
Both Sullivan and Nicholson plan to continue making documentaries. In fact, the pair will soon be taking on a year-long independent study documentary project with Director of the Environmental Studies Program, John Lichter.
This time, the two will explore how the collapse of Gulf of Maine fisheries has impacted local Maine communities.
“I can see myself making documentaries in my future,” said Nicholson. “We will see.”
Visiting artist Nancy Blum shares professional perspective with students
Newly welcomed artist-in-residence Nancy Blum hopes to “bring Bowdoin’s art students the experience of making a living as an artist.”
As the spring 2015 Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project Visiting Artist in Residence, Blum has been spending her first week in Assistant Professor of Art Carrie Scanga’s Printmaking I class.
Audrey Blood ’13, a Visual Arts major who currently works at the Zea Mays Printmaking studio in Massachusetts, is back at Bowdoin to serve as Blum’s assistant. Blum will then stay for another three weeks as an “artist in residence” in the Visual Arts department.
“I always had a fear that I couldn’t be an artist,” Blum said during a campus lecture on Tuesday. “I knew I had aptitude and desire but I did not have a sense that I contained brilliance.”
Public art—art funded by the public and displayed in public places— has given Blum many opportunities. Her current project, which will be displayed in San Francisco General Hospital, will feature glass windows decorated with medicinal botanicals. Fifty feet of her drawings will be translated into glass. Though her work incorporates many different mediums and techniques, drawing remains Blum’s favorite form of expression.
“First and foremost at this point, I draw,” Blum said. “The first step to etching is drawing. Drawing is the first step of many things.”
In describing her creative process, Blum makes it clear that her process differs from typical artistic routines.
“As an artist who has been doing this for a while, my ideas have been developing for decades,” she said. “I don’t draw out a composition or sketch before I begin. I just draw directly from my train of thought.”
Blum and Professor Scanga’s relationship goes back over a decade.
“Nancy was a mentor and studio critic for me when I was a graduate student at the University of Washington. Much of what I know about how to give a good studio critique I learned from Nancy,” wrote Scanga in an email to the Orient. “Nancy can give a critique that sees right into the heart of an artist and draws out authentic action and hard work. She is motivating, extremely caring, and tough.”
Although this is not Blum’s first visit to Bowdoin, she was enthusiastic about the opportunity to return.
“Bowdoin’s an incredible institution. It’s nice as an artist to get to come to a place that’s beautiful, has great facilities, and bright students,” said Blum. “My undergraduate basis was in liberal arts. I think it’s the best form of education for developing the mind.”
Blum did not pursue art until she decided to go to the Cranbrook Academy of Art at age 28. Following graduate school, she did artistic residencies. After many years, and a professorship at the University of Wisconsin, Blum ventured into public art.
During her first week on campus, Nancy will be working on an etching project with help from Scanga’s students. She is aiming to create a series of fifty copper etchings.
“I recently spent time helping Nancy in the studio,” said Daniel Lulli ’18. “It was scary because she’s a professional and I’m a newbie but it was really nice.”
Artistic help is not the only valuable thing that Scanga’s students will be giving Blum; in fact, Blum is most excited for their company.“I mostly work alone in my studio, so it’s really nice to get to interact with students while they help me,” she said.
“She has been an artist-in-residence at many colleges and universities prior to Bowdoin, and she is known for giving great career advice and studio critiques. I expect that the students who interact with her will receive some great mentoring if they’re open to it,” Scanga wrote.
Though the students in Printmaking I will be helping Blum, she will hopefully return the favor.“When it comes to etching, Nancy is very familiar with the material. Having her there as a resource will be incredible,” said Clarence Johnson ’15.
Blum cites botanical renderings, fieldwork, and exploration as her main inspirations. Her work often focuses on floral themes.
“[The flower] has been historically relegated to the background—it doesn’t have any form of agency,” said Blum. “So my content aims to pull it forward and...have it be of a scale that it gets to inhabit the active space.”
“[Flowers] are going to survive us by the way…they’re not quite as innocuous as we think,” Blum said of flowers her lecture on Tuesday.
“When I heard her comment on nature outliving humanity, I thought, ‘That’s a very Bowdoin thing to say,’” said Lulli. “I’m excited to see where this goes. I like her.”
Portrait of an artist: Henry Austin '16
Unlike most of today’s youth, junior Henry Austin has video skills that extend far beyond Snapchat and Vine. Austin, a visual arts and economics double major who hails from Lander, Wy., has been creating short films since his senior year of high school. Although inspired and assisted by others, Austinmostly taught himself.
Although videography is one of Austin’s most refined skills, he said that he is quite adept in multiple artistic areas. He focuses on printmaking in his academic studies at Bowdoin.
Austin spent this past fall semester studying at the Studio Arts Center International in Florence, Italy. While there, Austin took courses in color photography, High Renaissance art history, creative writing and of course printmaking.
“I took a color photography class in Florence and am taking photography again this semester,” he said. “So this academic year has been an introduction to photography as a fine art as opposed to something that I just do.”
Austin’s favorite part of creating art is collaboration, which is why he is drawn especially to making films.
However, Austin said finding a common time that works for all involved parties has proved to be the most difficult aspect of completing a project. But he enjoys the challenge.
“Collaboration is the best part of art, in general,” he said. “Videography in particular requires working in teams—that’s why I’m so drawn to it.”
Austin says he approaches the process of photography and videography in the same way. “Almost everything depicted in my pieces is basically just me having fun with my friends,” said Austin.
The themes of fun and friendship can be seen by watching a few of Austin’s short films. Austin’s short film created in his sophomore year, “Burnt Decks,” depicts his childhood friend woodburning a design onto a skateboard. This short film, as well others, reveal Austin’s ear for music.
“Music selection is always a critical decision,” he said. “I shuffle through my playlist and pick a song based on what type of mood I want to convey. Sometimes, though, I will have a song and make a video for that particular song.”
Although Austin is not focused on videography from an academic standpoint, he has still been able to intertwine videography with his life at Bowdoin. He has entered two campus film festivals in the past and was recently hired by the Career Planning Center as a video intern. Clubs and individuals often contact Austin to shoot footage. Some of Austin’s photograms are currently on display in the Blythe Bickle Edwards Center for Art and Dance.
Austin said he draws inspiration from both renowned artists and his peers.“I like to view others’ work and try to imitate or capture what I liked about their method,” he said.
Austin cited Wes Anderson as his celebrity filmmaker inspiration, stating that Anderson’s refusal to compromise makes him a strong example to follow.
As for long term plans, Austin said he intends to keep his art in the picture.
“The ultimate goal is to fuse art and the process of creation with being active outdoors and exploration,” he said. “The dream job would be some sort of outdoor filmmaking.”
For now, Austin said he seems content with his focus on friends and fun.
“Any time you hit the record button with your friends around, you have nothing to lose—but everything to gain,” said Austin. “Every moment is a special moment that can easily be forgotten.”
To suggest an artist for Portrait of an Artist, email Arts & Entertainment Editor Emily Weyrauch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Night at the Arctic Museum brings new visitors
Though the Quad could have passed for the Arctic wilderness this week, there’s only one spot on campus permanently Arctic-themed.
To generate new interest amongst students, the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum hosted a well-attended open house last Friday evening.
According to Director of the Museum and Professor of Anthropology Susan Kaplan in an email to the Orient, approximately 240 students were in attendance at last Friday’s event, an increase from last year.
“The program provided students an evening social event and encouraged students to see the museums’ exhibitions,” said Kaplan.
For the first time, the annual open house was followed by a performance by Tanya Tagaq, a Canadian throat singer. The open house event, sponsored by Student Activities, featured a tour of the museum, performances by a cappella groups BOKA and the Meddiebempsters and snacks.
Before entering the building, students were able to take a picture behind a six-foot tall, 400-pound picture frame carved out of ice.
“I saw them carving ice on the Quad, and that’s honestly what piqued my interest in attending the event,” said Sophie Cowen ’18.
“I honestly went for the food and discovered while there that the Museum actually has a lot to offer,” said Christabel Fosu-Asare ’18. “There were a lot of interesting artifacts and a cappella never hurts.”
The museum’s current exhibitions include voyager Donald MacMillan’s last voyage aboard the Bowdoin, Early Inuit Art, and The Crocker Land Expedition.
The most popular attractions among students during Friday’s event were interactive ones: the circumpolar map, narwhal and walrus tusks that students could touch, a sledge that students could sit on and a giant student-created touch screen featuring the Crocker Land Expedition.
“Although, naturally, a lot of people showed up because they heard the words ‘free food’, this event drew in a lot of first-time visitors,” said usher John Medina ’18. “As an usher, I was able to watch people explore the museum and I could definitely tell that a lot of people were interested in what they saw.”
The purpose of an open house is to draw in new people and turn uninterested students into regular visitors,” Medina said. “I think the museum will be surprised by how many students return. Also, the kids who were twenty-one and older got free wine so that always works.”
The next exhibition at the museum will feature Arctic beadwork. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free to both Bowdoin students and the public.
Portrait of an artist: Isaac Jaegerman ’16
For most, doodling represents absentminded gibberish. For Isaac Jaegerman ’16, it has always been a passion.
“I’ve loved art for as long as I can remember,” Jaegerman said. “I was always doodling.”
Jaegerman, a visual arts major from Portland, Maine, decided in high school that he wanted to pursue art in college. It was not until he began classes at Bowdoin that he realized he wanted a degree in visual arts. Jaegerman’s portfolio includes drawings, paintings and printmaking. “I’ve found paintings to be the most intellectually intensive [art form] and I really enjoy [that] process,” he said. “But I have the most fun with printmaking.”
Jaegerman spent this past summer interning at Pickwick Press, a print studio in Portland. There, he was able to learn woodblock printing and use presses not available at Bowdoin.
Although Jaegerman said that there is not a consistent theme throughout his portfolio, most of his pieces fall into the genre of realism.
“I’ve been most inspired by realism so far. Claudio Bravo is one of my favorite painters. I also did a copy of one of Richard Estes’ paintings just this year,” Jaegerman said. “It’s easy to fall back on realism, but I’m still trying to figure out what my style is.”
Bowdoin’s art department is allowing Jaegerman to expand his artistic horizons. This semester, he is taking Landscape Painting with Associate Professor of Art James Mullen. He’s currently working on an oil-on-canvas painting of a forest setting. He’s also working on his own self-guided projects, as he is a teaching assistant for Printmaking and is always in the studio.
As for his creative process, Jaegerman sticks to a calculated, organized method.
“I usually have a good sense of what I want my project to look like before I begin,” he said. “I move very logically, step-by-step. I work progressively from area to area. There’s a lot of planning involved.”
Jaegerman is a prominent artistic figure on campus. His art is featured both in the Visual Arts Center (VAC) and in the Robert H. and Blythe Bickel Edwards Center for Art and Dance. His panorama painting of the Quad is on display in the fishbowl in the VAC, and one of his landscape paintings hangs in Edwards. His work was also on display in Bowdoin Art Society’s fall show “340 Miles North.”
While Jaegerman’s pieces remain on display for the enjoyment of students, faculty and visitors alike, the artist himself will be taking his talents overseas. Next semester, Jaegerman will travel to Florence, Italy, where he will study etching, drawing and art history at SACI, the Studio Art Centers International.
This summer, following his semester abroad, Jaegerman will hike across Iceland with Adeline Browne ’16 and Matthew Goroff ’16, thanks to a fellowship from the Bowdoin Outing Club. Jaegerman is planning an independent study using photos from his Icelandic journey to create landscape paintings.
“It’s exciting because I’ve never really done a series before,” he said.
Jaegerman feels that the Bowdoin arts community has something special.
“You can go into Edwards at any time of night, like two or three in the morning, and there will be several people there working on their projects,” he said. “It’s really nice.”
Jaegerman’s multimedia portfolio can be accessed online through his Weebly account.