Zero chill: Combining resource centers ignores two unique histories
Last week, The Bowdoin Orient published a letter from the student staffs of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD) protesting the merge of these two institutions into the Center for Gender and Sexuality. I am entirely in agreement with this viewpoint, but I wanted to add an additional justification in arguing against the merge. The decision to create the Center for Gender and Sexuality is profoundly ignorant of the historical legacy of the experiences of both women and queer students at Bowdoin. Doing so serves to put the issues that women and queer students face and have faced at Bowdoin into the same pot, when the reality is that both of these groups have experienced discrimination in distinct and meaningful ways.
Women were literally excluded from attending Bowdoin until 1969; the College became fully co-ed in 1972. Emily Weyrauch’s recent series on the “Women of ’75” has captured the difficulty of the transition to co-education at Bowdoin: a history that includes inflammatory comments and acts rejecting co-education. The creation of the WRC is directly tied to this history of sexism. In a study of women at Bowdoin conducted by Gender and Women’s Studies 280 in Fall 2011, the students address how the WRC became a place for both inclusion and academic learning. Linda Nelson ’83, one of the founders of both the WRC and the Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance, explained during this study that “Somebody tried to burn it [the WRC] down at one point … we did receive threatening phone calls kind of on a regular basis. Some of us were followed around campus.”
The WRC is a monument to the success of co-education at Bowdoin, but also a continuing reminder of the lack of inclusion women originally faced and continue to face. While today issues of exclusion may not be from the college itself, they can still exist in specific academic departments and social spaces on campus. Taking away the WRC as its own independent entity disregards this history of all women’s struggles at Bowdoin. The removal of the word “women” from the new center is an extra insult to the legacy of women who fought for greater inclusion at Bowdoin and who continue to face such issues on campus today.
Marginalization of queer identities has occurred differently from sexism at Bowdoin, particularly in the erasure of these identities from the College and in its history. In 2012, The Orient published an investigation called “Queer at Bowdoin.” This article details numerous examples of ways that both the Bowdoin administration and community acted to remove evidence of queer identities at Bowdoin. In “the 1950s…a student was expelled for ‘lascivious carriage,’ an anachronistic legal term referring to queer sexual behavior. In the 1970s, faculty members who were not seen cavorting with members of the opposite sex were suspect. And Bowdoin kept mum about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s.” Alfred Kinsey of the Class of 1916, originator of the Kinsey scale, has not received the public recognition that some other of our influential alums have received. Queer identities have historically been quieted at the College, an issue that should not be forgotten or assumed to have been solved today.
The 2012 Orient article further details hate crimes against queer individuals that occurred in the past few years—a concern that is still relevant. A June 2016 New York Times article’s headline reads, “L.G.B.T. People Are More Likely to Be Targets of Hate Crimes Than Any Other Minority Group”—a finding by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the Times notes as true even before this year’s shooting at Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida. It is important to continue the legacy of a center that is specifically designed to help deal with this contemporary reality, in a way that the WRC may not be able to.
Further, combining the centers is ahistorical when looking at approaches to issues of both groups. Both women and queer individuals have historically participated in ways that contributed to the oppression of one another, such as a history of heteronormativity among feminist groups or a history of misogyny among queer men. Both groups also can and have historically been productive allies to each other—and understanding of both women’s issues and queer issues should strive to be as intersectional as possible. But the conflation of the two groups comes at the erasure of these historical differences and precludes an understanding that work needs to be done to make both centers as intersectional as possible. Even if conflation is not the professed goal of the administration, combining the two centers essentially has the same symbolic meaning and should not happen.
Zero chill: Career Planning's misguided prioritization of lucrative fields
In November, I was particularly struck by a poster produced by Bowdoin’s Career Planning Center (CPC). The poster was for an event titled “Consulting Across Sectors.” While the message in itself may not immediately appear harmful, its subtext screams, “Don’t worry humanities majors! You too can get a consulting job.” The poster’s headline is ironically titled “Broaden Your Perspective,” and I would suggest that the CPC take some of its own advice.
Despite the CPC’s pronouncements that they will give advice on all professions, the reality is a little more skewed. As the poster suggests, regardless of what you are interested in, the CPC will suggest you take a finance or consulting job. In the CPC’s video featuring last year’s graduating seniors—a video which current seniors attending the virtually mandatory sessions have now seen twice—most of those interviewed had a job in one of these two areas. A disproportionate number of CPC events address professions in these fields, and a quick scroll through eBear will confirm this is the type of job listed most regularly. It is abundantly clear, despite the CPC’s protests otherwise, that the CPC’s vision for most Bowdoin students is a corporate one.
The reason for this seems obvious and at first-glance may seem unobjectionable—jobs in finance and consulting give graduates frequently prestigious, well-paying jobs right out of college. I am not claiming here that jobs in finance and consulting jobs are necessarily immoral or that people who take these jobs are greedy. Of course, people who wish to take consulting jobs can do so and should look to the CPC for advice.
Instead, my issue is with what I see as a one-sided approach. Recently, a friend of mine who is interested in political non-profit work visited the CPC for advice. Rather than helping her, the CPC representative told her the office was advising people interested in this area to consider finding jobs in corporate responsibility instead. This was reinforced in the recent Non-Profit Symposium the CPC held in which the keynote speaker was from JPMorgan Chase and spoke on “corporate philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.”
The issue with this is that corporate responsibility and non-profit work are not synonymous terms. They have different aims and ends and should not be conflated. Both types of work may aim to improve society, but non-profits’ structures and goals can be vastly different than corporations—and often may take aim at assumptions that corporations hold dear. Further, the reason to push corporate responsibility seems to have a reason similar to the push for finance and consulting: these jobs will most likely be higher paying. Again, the desire for a job in corporate responsibility is entirely reasonable—but blurring the lines between non-profit and corporate work is a disservice to students who are interested in taking another direction. Not all “do-gooder” jobs are interchangeable.
While fortunately this Bowdoin student did not take the CPC’s advice to heart, I cannot speak for others. Particularly because in order to ever be able to use eBear to apply for jobs as a senior, students must meet with a CPC representative. This creates an environment where students who are forced or are pressured into meeting with a representative may be pushed in this particular direction when their actual interests lie elsewhere.
The CPC should work to expand the range of its programming and services. If it fails to do so, it should make its various events optional. It may be fine to promote a viewpoint that is focused on finance and consulting, but only if listening to this viewpoint is voluntary. Ultimately, the CPC is supposed to be here to serve us, and it can only do so by accurately reflecting our interests.
Culture of gratitude limits Bowdoin's potential progress
When Bowdoin students were confronted with Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast in his series “Revisionist History,” the most frequent response I heard—aside from justified criticisms of Gladwell’s journalistic ethics—was one of incredulity. How could Bowdoin be criticized for its financial aid policies—the same policies that receive so much praise for their generosity? In conversations and in social media, it appeared that it was almost sacrilegious to criticize Bowdoin for not giving more as this contrasted with the prevailing attitude on campus. But the reality of the situation is a little more complicated: as “Inside Higher Ed” reported in July, Bowdoin does not give as many Pell Grants as some of our peer schools, including Amherst and Williams. Further, we do not necessarily have the financial diversity that campus attitude would have us believe: a recent New York Times report listed schools where there were “more students from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent”—out of the 38 schools in the U.S. where this is true, Bowdoin is listed as No. 25.
I see the response to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast as part of the larger problem of Bowdoin’s culture of gratitude. It is one which I see created by the administration and socially enforced by students. Bowdoin drills into us a need to be thankful. Administrators make a point to remind us that not every school does so much to ensure the well-being and happiness of its students—look at all of the resources available to us! This is then reinforced by perks—from lobster bakes to the abundance of talks we have been treated to this semester.
We begin to offer stock responses whenever someone begins a complaint. Criticisms of the unappealing options at the dining hall are often met by others’ reminders of how Bowdoin has such good food generally—after all, we’re ranked as the second-best school for food in the country. Obviously, this is a light example. But the attitude extends to issues of much greater importance—individuals are often loath to criticize Bowdoin’s various services or responses to campus issues, or when they do criticize them, frequently feel the need to qualify their statements by stating how generous Bowdoin is for what it does have. Overall, the prevailing attitude seems to be: what is the point of complaining when things are so good for us?
And, generally, things are good. I am grateful for Bowdoin’s various resources, care for our well-being and all of the various perks. I would not want to see them go away. However, like every other college in the country, Bowdoin isn’t perfect. There is room for improvement on a number of meaningful issues—the diversity of faculty, our role in the environment and our role as a social agent, just to name a few. But this culture of gratitude frequently prevents important change from taking place and breeds complacency. Even more importantly, this attitude frequently stifles even the discussion of potential change. When we reinforce the idea that Bowdoin has done so much for us, it often appears silly to desire improvement.
The logic behind these arguments isn’t sound. Just because we are doing well in some areas does not mean that we cannot still do better. A reminder of the benefits we have at Bowdoin is important—but ultimately so that we can continue to improve upon them. Speaking out isn’t shameful, it’s productive to a better school and society. In this column, I will aim to address not only larger issues on Bowdoin’s campus and beyond, but also ‘the little things.’ Above all, I will advocate for changes, even when they may seem trivial. While this may be seen as irritating complaining—and I wouldn’t necessarily argue with this characterization—I believe that we need constant reminders that we should never be satisfied with the status quo, whether it’s at Bowdoin or in society at large.
Rachel Baron is a member of the Class of 2017.
It's time for Bowdoin feminists to be political
There currently exist no political feminist groups on campus. To be sure, there are women’s groups that engage with feminism—namely, the Women’s Resource Center and all of the groups that fall under its umbrella. But what none of these groups do is actually get in the political ring. Second-wave feminism demonstrated not just the power of calling attention to sexism, but also—and more importantly—the need for collective action. While many groups on campus fall into the sphere of consciousness-raising, recognizing that the problem exists is only half the battle. Where’s the fight?
We’re told to discuss our body images and our sex lives. We’re told to love our vaginas. We’re told to be unashamed in all of our sexual choices. But how can we do this if we don’t have the power to make our own reproductive decisions? It’s impossible for women to have good or healthy sex if we are constantly afraid of becoming pregnant. For many women on campus in Maine, and across the country, this fear is dangerously, palpably real. As Bowdoin students, we have access to resources like a health center that pays for our Plan B and condoms, and a Planned Parenthood across the Topsham bridge. We cannot take these resources for granted; they are essential, and they are systematically being taken away from American women.
When we were trying to find a campus group to help sponsor a lecture by pro-choice activist and author Katha Pollitt, we spoke with a group that works to promote healthy and informed sex lives. They were wary of sponsoring the talk for fear of appearing political. The irony here is that healthy sex requires bodily autonomy and access to reproductive resources that politicians are threatening everyday. You can’t advocate healthy sex under the guise of being apolitical. It is not useful to understand how to use birth control if you cannot access it.
In the quest to make sure that comfort is the ultimate goal, the current forums to discuss women’s issues quiet their political implications. As a result, feminism at Bowdoin often fails to move beyond intimate conversations and sipping tea. Even when it does, it takes the form of empowerment events like The Vagina Monologues and Take Back the Night. There’s a limit to the effect of these events. Fundamentally, they encourage us to find an oasis within a hostile climate instead of fighting against the climate itself.
After graduation, we, as Bowdoin women, will get paid less than our male classmates for the same job. We will be edged out of our careers because we choose to have children. We will watch our right to terminate a pregnancy fade away. This is ridiculous. It’s 2015. Why are we losing ground on advances made in the ’70s? Discussion without action will not make change. Calling legislators, knocking on doors and protesting: these are actions that make change. We need to take serious and swift political action. The boat needs rocking.
We are starting a chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America on Bowdoin’s campus. NARAL is a national organization that fights for the full range of reproductive rights. We encourage Bowdoin students of all genders to join and support our group. But regardless of your stance on this issue, we advocate that political action is not being annoying, it is fundamental to the College’s mission of the common good. We can keep talking about these issues, but it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.
Rachel Baron and Uma Blanchard are leaders of NARAL at Bowdoin.