Panel and photoshoot reveal everyday prejudices
A group of students of color held a panel at Quinby House to discuss their experiences with racially based confrontations at Bowdoin and beyond in a program entitled “Shit White People Say to POC”—people of color—on Tuesday.
The event was organized by the Asian Student Association (ASA) and the South Asian Student Association (SASA). The two groups also collaborated on a photo exhibit in David Saul Smith Union that went up on Tuesday night highlighting microaggressions against Asians and Asian Americans. Both the event and the exhibit were a part of No Hate November, a month of programming coordinated by Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) that aims to build a more inclusive campus community.
The program, moderated by ASA President Mitsuki Nishimoto ’17, asked seven panelists how they respond to leading questions about their identities—such as, “Where are you from?” and, “If you hate it here, why don’t you go back?”—and led discussion on how their social and academic experiences have been shaped by instances of stereotyping.
Raquel Santizo ’19 raised her qualms with the segregated party scene at Bowdoin. Alexis Espinal ’17 spoke about being both white and Honduran and being marginalized by both groups because of her identities. Olivia Bean ’17 told of being consistently mistaken for a different black student by a professor in a seminar.
Although planning for the event started months ago, and the election of Donald Trump and the subsequent racial attacks across the country have shocked many on campus, the event went on as planned.
“[The event] was [originally] intended to be a small thing like … ‘What Kind of Asian Are You?’ because Asian Americans, we experience different microaggressions,” said Arah Kang ’19, an organizer of the event. “And then we were like, ‘why don’t we expand this?’ Because a lot of POCs feel these microaggressions.”
“We had heavy discussion: do we push this back or go as planned? Especially right after the elections because a lot of things got shut down and things were being pushed back, and I was like ‘No, this is what we needed the most.’”
At the event, seats were scarce, and many students were left standing. Afterwards, students expressed gratitude that the conversation had taken place.
“I was very happy that a lot of non-POCs were here to listen to the talk,” said Bethany Berhanu ’20. “Because I was honestly expecting mostly people of color just listening to the things we were going to go through. So it was really nice that a lot of people came here to be informed about these things that we all go through.”
Xin Jiang ’20 thought the event was very accurate.
“I’m very grateful that they did this,” she said. “As a first year, the other event that they did that touched on race was during Orientation and I felt like that one was more meant as an educational program, while this event was more revealing the actual truths that people of color are going through every day.”
Although the panel discussion evolved to include the voices of different students of color, the photo exhibit is designed to highlight stereotyping of Asians and Asian Americans. Inspired by #thisis2016, a hashtag and story series that exposes aggressions against Asian Americans that are not often discussed, ASA attempted to take a more Bowdoin specific angle and include a more diverse set of Asian voices.
“We really wanted to do a photoshoot that kind of addressed stereotypes that Asians and Asian Americans might face and some microaggressions that we’ve experienced or heard from other people,” Nishimoto said.
“I can’t say that I know what the black students or the Latinx students were going through last year, even though we all are students of color, but we did feel that Asian Americans are often left out of conversations, not only at Bowdoin, but also in general in this country.”
ASA hopes to continue its programming by inviting Ben Chin to campus in December. Chin is a Bates graduate who was met with racist attack ads during his campaign for mayor of Lewiston.
“ASA has been pretty dormant over the last few years,” said Kang. “We haven’t had any bad incidents, so we thought this would be a good time to do something.”
“What I loved about ASA was that it created this really awesome community of students who identify as Asian or Asian American on campus,” said Nishimoto. “But something I felt was lacking was kind of like campus activism, if you will, or just kind of making ourselves more present on campus as a community.”
Editor's note, November 27, 4:45 p.m.: This article has been updated to clarify that the panel and photo exhibit were a part of No Hate Novemeber.
Poet Denice Frohman opens up through spoken word
For Latinx Heritage Month and Beyond’s penultimate program, poet Denice Frohman performed her brand of witty and biting cultural narratives in spoken word Wednesday night at Jack Magee’s Pub & Grill.
The event began with four performances from members of Bowdoin’s Slam Poet Society before Frohman took the stage.
Frohman, a queer Latina woman who grew up in New York City, tackles issues of identity, race and privilege in her work.
Her first poem of the night, “Accents”, celebrates her Puerto Rican mother, who makes “play-doh out of concrete English.” Later, she spoke about two gay men she saw at a Puerto Rican Day festival who beautifully and unapologetically conquered the space around them on the dance floor.
Almost all of the poems she performed trace a personal narrative or dilemma. Even “The Hour Dylan Roof Sat in the Church”, a poem Frohman wrote as she dealt with grief in the wake of Roof’s shooting of nine African-Americans at an historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was in part inspired by a conversation with her hairdresser.
“You have to think about the spaces in which you operate with privilege and how you talk to people moving along the spectrum [of racist actions],” said Frohman. “How often am I who I say I am?”
For Frohman, it is this personal connection to her work that got her into performing.
“I hated writing when I was in high school,” said Frohman. “Generally speaking, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of writers of color, so when I got to college my freshman year, I was exposed to spoken word. That really exposed me to a lot of writers of color and this idea that you could sound like yourself and you didn’t have to change who you were.”
The performance drew a packed crowd to the pub, and inspired many of the audience members to begin or continue to write their own work
“It was really refreshing because she is familiar with putting her culture into her work,” said Esther Nunoo ’17, one of the night’s opening performers. “She has an accent, you hear her accent, she owns her accent and I love that. I think that’s dope, and she makes me want to work.”
“Things like this are fantastic,” said Maddie Lemal-Brown ’18, another slam poet performer. “It’s expressed in a way that you can’t do in any other place. I think it should be mandatory for every Bowdoin student to come and see amazing performers like Denice.”
The final event for Latinx Heritage Month and Beyond will take place Thursday, November 3, when Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz speaks at Kresge auditorium.