The incident at the Pub offers a very important opportunity to reevaluate Bowdoin's approach to campus dialogue on race and diversity. We believe that the recent surfacing of racial tensions is indicative of a flawed approach to what constitutes "honest dialogue" on campus.
The Administration trumpets the importance of "honest" and "respectful" dialogue. In matters such as race, when many approach the issue with deeply-held preconceptions, some people inevitably find it difficult to be "respectful" while remaining "honest." There is a clear spectrum of appropriate discourse; at one end there is honest discussion fueled by often sharply divergent views and at the other there is respectful dialogue, characterized by overriding concerns about offending others.
In its promotion of diversity awareness and tolerance, the Administration draws us far too close to the "respect" end of the spectrum. While it allows the campus to maintain an ostensible air of tolerance and understanding, in reality it forces people to suppress their thoughts on very sensitive issues.
What can be done? President Mills offers an important first step when he says, "What we can and must do is deal with these issues together in an open, respectful, and direct way, free of political correctness and characterized by respect." While the "open" and "respectful" descriptors are common ways to describe such dialogue, the newfound willingness to do so in a "direct way free of political correctness" is significant.
We hope that President Mills and the rest of the campus community take these words seriously and proceed accordingly. It is counterproductive to hold forums without remedying the constraints many students feel when expressing their viewpoints. Overriding all of this should be the realization that it is unreasonable to expect the creation of a racial utopia, where everyone is always understood and always respected.
We all have our own individual perspectives on the past and present human experience, so perhaps it is impossible for everyone to leave discussions on race and diversity without feeling uncomfortable or even offended. People enter these forums with different levels of tolerance and understanding. No matter how many programs attempt to increase respect for diversity, changes must ultimately come from personal resolve.
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