Class has occupied a larger space in conversation at Bowdoin this year, or at least people want it to. Symbols and experiences of class, wealth and intergenerational mobility have been built up, broken down and disseminated to the campus through efforts from the McKeen Center for the Common Good, the Orient, Inter-Group Dialogue, The Office of Residential Life and other organizations.
Rachel Baron ’17’s op-ed in last week’s edition of the Orient criticized the Department of Government and Legal Studies as “stuck in the past” and in need of changes that will bring it “into the modern era.” We believe this article is misguided and reflects a misunderstanding of the Government and Legal Studies curriculum.
I will end with a story because it’s an easy way to say goodbye. In ninth grade, I joined the cross-country team because my best friend joined the cross-country team. This is how high school works.
Fortune favors us: the American millennial. We were born in the luckiest place, at the luckiest time in history. Our generation, both the largest and best educated in history, is provided and expects welfare programs, a developed and robust economy, public transportation, emergency health care, rule of law, accountability of our leaders, economic mobility, constitutionally guaranteed individual rights and on average eight decades of life.
The sun is shining and the tank is clean. Yes, it’s that time of year again—the long awaited Ivies week(end). Droves of students flood Salvo to update their mandatory Ivies uniforms: fanny packs, overalls, velvet track suit, jorts, obnoxiously bright neon… everything.
In Joseph McKeen’s inaugural address, delivered at the opening of the College in 1802, this one line has stood the test of time and continues to influence Bowdoin’s self-image to this day: “…It ought always to be remembered, that literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education.” But in the two centuries that have passed since McKeen delivered his address, we have become disconnected from the original meaning of the “common good.” I think the typical way we handle the topic of the common good today is to sidestep the full moral implications of the term. We take it to mean that a liberal arts education is meant to educate students to make a meaningful impact in the world and that the very act of being here and receiving an education is in some way contributing to the common good.
The other weekend, I was talking with my best friend from Bates College when the subject of the surprise hit thriller “Get Out” came up in conversation. He asked me, “What did you think?” I gave the usual response, saying it was “so good” and “so funny.” He disapproved of the response and retorted, “No, but what did you really think about it?” Honestly, I had to put a great deal of thought into my response.
Bowdoin’s Department of Government and Legal Studies has an incredible reputation. But it is clear to me that its highly ranked status has in fact impeded the department’s motivation to improve. Bowdoin’s government department was the only department that escaped criticism in the 2013 National Association of Scholars (NAS) report—a report in which the major criticisms of Bowdoin were that it is accepting of different gender and sexual identities, that it emphasizes multiculturalism and that it does not focus enough on traditional American and Western political values.
A few months ago, I wrote an article about my experiences navigating small talk at Bowdoin. The tenor of that article was focused on the function of small talk as a mechanism of forming solidarity: Bowdoin students use small talk to commiserate over shared experiences.
On March 8, 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared the Cold War rivalry a “struggle between right and wrong,” and warned against “the aggressive impulses of [said] evil empire.” The message was clear: Communism would not stand.