Silence ain't golden: express yourself
If campus seems quieter in the winter months, listen more closely. Senior Jen Montalvo intends to bring a new kind of discussion to Bowdoin, and it could be pretty provocative.
Free Speech, a forum to be held next Friday, February 13, is the first event of its kind. In it, students will moderate discussions on 12 contentious, Bowdoin-related subjects. Those topics include political beliefs, race, gender, sexuality, the social house system's effectiveness, "politically correct" culture, religion, and body image.
"I really hope that people will come and get fired up about what they think," Montalvo said. "I am looking for a nice, heated debate!"
The event will take place from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in Morrell Lounge and will run in half-hour intervals. At the end of each time segment, people can opt to switch tables and topics, stay and continue their discussions, or leave.
Burgwell Howard, the College's Director of Smith Union and Student Activities, said he thinks Free Speech is a valuable initiative.
"The reason students come to college is to experience differences in opinions and ways to approach problems so that they can formulate their own opinions," he said.
"Any setting that encourages people to talk to each other, where students, faculty, and staff can come together to share thoughts, is a very positive thing," he continued.
Montalvo said that she had similar feelings and was motivated by the dearth of dialogue at Bowdoin. "There is a lack of forums for discussion here," she said. "I want to create a space in which people can express their ideas."
"The apathy is what kills me, especially in the freshman and sophomore classes," she continued. "The Class of 2004 was the first real class of 'diverse' students, and we've done a lot of work on making it a comfortable place. But just because it's more comfortable now doesn't mean that nothing more should be done. [First years and sophomores] are the ones who need to take up this cause and continue it."
Montalvo said people are often reluctant to attend discussions associated directly with campus groups if they are not members. As a result, Free Speech is a non-affiliated activity and she stressed its informal nature.
"It's not exclusive," she said. "Once something is associated with a group, it says to people, 'That's their issue.' This is something for all students, staff, and faculty. People can come talk about one topic and leave, or come listen to as many as they want. It's very open."
Howard expressed a similar concern. "Students oftentimes are more willing to talk in the classroom setting, and there's a tendency not to have that conversation once they leave that setting," he said.
"Bowdoin has become an increasingly diverse place in all the ways you can define it," he continued. "I think we've done well in enhancing those populations, but getting people to talk about their commonalities and differences is the next step towards building a pluralistic community."
Both Howard and Montalvo said they are hoping for a strong turnout from the community.
"I would hope that people would come to support their peers and to provide their thoughts about particular questions," Howard said. "We may find great consensus or wildly diverging opinions. It's okay to put all the cards on the table and for people not to agree. It's good to say, 'I don't know what I think, I'll go listen' or 'I have a really clear opinion and I'll go voice it.'"
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