Report finds students of color enjoy Bowdoin
Eighty-four percent of students of color at Bowdoin say they are satisfied or very satisfied with their experience here.
This and other findings were reported in the 2003 Survey of Students of Color, which was conducted by the Consortium on High Achievement and Success (CHAS). The organization brings together more than 35 liberal arts colleges in the U.S. "The idea is to compare notes about programs and services that have helped students of color on various campuses succeed academically," Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley said. "It's about being at the table, trying to come up with some collective wisdom."
CHAS presented a report to all participating institutions in June. Bowdoin received an individualized report contrasting it with its comparision group, which contained colleges like Bates, Colby, Holy Cross, Franklin & Marshall, Smith, Trinity, and Vassar.
The survey was the College's first attempt to quantify the level of satisfaction felt by students of color. Bowdoin scored higher than its comparison group in almost every category. The report addressed aspects of college life like the sense of community on campus (57 percent satisfied or very satisfied), the climate for minority students (39 percent), the quality of courses (94 percent), and admistration responsiveness to student concerns (57 percent).
"The report squared with my own impressions," Bradley said. "I think Bowdoin is a pretty healthy environment, and that's reflected in there."
While Bradley said that the positive results were "very rewarding," he said that there is plenty of room for progress. "There's a sense that we're not going to be satisfied yet," he said.
Dean of First-Year Students Margaret Hazlett concurred. "We're generally doing very well, yet there is room for improvement," she said.
When asked about their concepts of diversity, students and administrators mentioned several relevant aspects of Bowdoin life.
Junior Bryant Rich cited Bowdoin's counseling center. "It seems that the center makes a concerted effort [for] people having difficulty with 'diversity issues,'" he said. "Let's face it, Bowdoin's culture might as well be that of a foreign country to many minority students."
Bradley indicated that diversity amongst the proctor staff is lending momentum to dialogue. "From what we're hearing in the first year residence halls, there is discussion going on," he said.
Ninety-six percent of the Bowdoin students surveyed said they had shared a dorm room or apartment with someone whose racial or ethnic background was different from their own. Yet that high percentage may not provide an accurate depiction of Bowdoin
"People here tend to be unwilling to reach beyond their comfort zone, which I think is rather isolating not to mention mundane," Rich said. "This is not to say that there is something wrong with having a core group of friends with whom you are most familiar. I feel as though I would like to see a bit more social variety and a less rigid social structure."
"It's not enough to have lots of different types of people, in terms of religion, race, upbringing, educational experiences, and socio-economic background," said senior Susan Buhr. "What matters is whether the end product involves all these people actually interacting and learning from one another."
Bradley made a similar point. "The question is, to what extent is meaningful interaction happening given the presence of a diverse group of students?" he said. "People need to develop the capacity to confidently and competently negotiate difference here.
"The fact that a school has a lot of minority students doesn't necessarily mean that people have diversity in their interactions," Rich added.
Both deans indicated that since the student body has changed rapidly over the past decade, the College will likely participate in future surveys to measure its progress.
"The history of Bowdoin is white male, so there are people who don't associate with that history who find it a different kind of experience," Hazlett said. "A few years ago, there were roughly eight black students in the incoming class. That's a crisis. We're doing better now on the issue of race and ethnicity from an admissions perspective."
Buhr said she has noticed change in Bowdoin, but was not sure that students were interacting in the most complete sense of the word. "You certainly see many more students of color around the campus, but I don't know that they are actually better assimilated into the school," she said. "They often seem to have multiple campus jobs to juggle, tend to not drink and therefore do not go to social house-type parties, are encouraged to keep their grades as high as possible to ensure their success in obtaining scholarships, and be highly involved in the organization that celebrates their ethnicity."
Many indicated that the College's diversity focus needed to include more meaningful dialogue. "My sense of the place is that it's politically correct and polite," Bradley said. "Professor Eddie Glaude [now at Princeton] used to talk about a 'culture of caution,' and I think that's exactly accurate. If celebrating community and respect causes people who want to express difference or explore a controversial idea to feel silenced, the balance is not right."
Rich agreed that the diversity debate needed to extend beyond racial issues. "Diversity has become a catchword in the sense that we associate it with race and assume that all people of a particular race are essentially similar, which could not be further from the truth," he said. "I think people would learn so much if they just talked to each other more," Buhr said.
Jennifer Finney Boylan, a transgendered Colby professor, is set to speak next Tuesday. Bradley said that gender identity is "another form of difference that we ought to be able to talk about, learn from, support, and see as part of the spectrum of humanity.
"I have been here for eight years, and I think the environment is much healthier and the potential much greater than it used to be," he continued
"The next steps in our evolution are more discussion, debate, and honest expression of disagreement. Talks like the one next week can precipitate other discussions."