Kiyoko H. Nakamura-Koyama
John Tanner Horst
Talk of the Quad: Bowdoin Bachelors and Bachelorettes
I have recently found a new solace for my brain in Bowdoin’s constant parade of raucous academia: “The Bachelor.” This is not my first interaction with ABC’s reality dating show where one person simultaneously dates 25 roommates in a month long scramble to find love. I attempted to get on the bandwagon last year, but found myself unable to stomach the premise. For me, it represented a total abandoning of healthy relationships and finding real love. One year later, I decided to give it a shot, recognizing that despite the tag as “reality television,” this is not how life works. However, as I watch more and more episodes, I have begun to notice ways in which the scripted Bachelor/Bachelorette culture of romance has seeped into reality, even here at Bowdoin.
Upon reviewing candidates on seasons of both the Bachelor and the Bachelorette, there is only one true constant: they are all wickedly good-looking people. While this makes for more profitable TV, it reinforces the narrative that the most important factor in any sort of romantic relationship, from making out to marriage, is physical attraction. I think that it is safe to say that there is not a ton of emotional discovery on the shows. By the time contestants are proposing, they have spent maybe five hours of one-on-one time together.
While I don’t believe that the Bachelor/Bachelorette are the social artifacts that drive the core of our romantic culture here at Bowdoin, the framework of these shows provides an extreme that can make our own behaviors a little more apparent. While most of the people here aren’t planning on going from meeting to matrimony in five short weeks, there is a culture of romance that relies disproportionately on the physical, and sidelines any sort of emotional connection as an added bonus.
The first time I became aware of this at Bowdoin was a Friday night out last year. Personally, I really value weekend nights and going out as an opportunity to meet new people and maybe to spend more time getting to know my smile-n-wavers: people that I’ve been introduced to and say hello to, but have never actually talked to. I was in a basement and saw someone spill their drink all over one of my smile-n-wavers. I went up to ask if she was alright, and she cut me off in the middle of my inquiry to give me the once over before informing me that she was “not interested in hooking up with me.” At the time I was largely thrown off and walked away, because this person apparently had a very goal-driven night.
Except perhaps the brusqueness, I don’t think that this is a wholly uncommon interaction here. I think that people view their nights out as a condensed version of the Bachelor, where the goal is to find love through physical attraction. The fact that the first thing this person thought was happening when someone approached her was that they were swooping in for some undisclosed physical mouth assault is troubling. Dating and romance were things that had never crossed my mind with regards to this person. Her once-over scan deemed me not a physically apt enough candidate to engage in any sort of romance.
What is troubling here is that I believe that there are huge parts of attraction that originate in people’s personalities, their humor and whether you enjoy being around them. I don’t want to deny that being physically attracted to someone is important in physical intimacy and that there are plenty of physically intimate situations that don’t necessitate a deep emotional connection. But I think that approaching your romantic life based solely on a lustful desire of pure physical attraction is really damaging. Many people go into spaces that have potential for finding some iteration of romance, filter out potential partners based on the presence, or lack thereof, of immediate attraction, and hope that perhaps over a conversation at breakfast the following morning they might find some emotional overlap.
Additionally, although my experiences as a straight male have been with women here at Bowdoin, this is absolutely a phenomenon that goes in all directions. I honestly don’t think that any group is necessarily guiltier than another, and that everyone could benefit from thinking about this a little more.
I believe that many more people could find the sorts of relationships they are looking for if, as a campus, we separate ourselves from considering the Bachelor/Bachelorette as television that represents reality. Thinking someone is physically attractive may not have any bearing on what one looks for in relationships (most people choose friends, people they like spending time with, based on traits other than physical attractiveness). But looking for someone who you emotionally connect with, and finding that attractive, will most probably result in a stronger foundation for anything from a hook-up to a committed relationship.
Simon Cann is a member of the Class of 2019.
Talk of the Quad: Streetwear and street work: the fashion hustle
About a week ago in my urban crisis class with Brian Purnell, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, we had a lively discussion about “hustling” in “The Wire” a popular TV show based in Baltimore revolving around the narcotics world. Central to this world is “the hustle”—drug users hustling drug sellers by using fake money, drug sellers selling a diluted brand to maximize profit and sellers secretly accumulating their own stash from the supplier’s pot. We came to an understanding that “hustling” is an exploitative practice with the intent to maximize profit, usually with a manipulative undertone. One party discreetly benefits more from an unequal exchange. It was at this time that I thought about a hustle that I was once a part of, one that got people camping out on streets for the supply to be distributed, one that preyed on an almost unwarranted obsession and has a huge return—the fashion hustle. And yes, it was perfectly legal.
The hustle is founded in the resale market of the fashion industry through big brands with high exclusivity. For example, Supreme, founded in 1994, went from being a skateboard company with a relatively small following to outfitting the biggest stars, from A$AP Rocky to Neil Young. Now that celebrities are wearing it, being “cool” had a marked-up price tag bigger than ever. To have a Supreme hoodie in 2017 means being seen in the same clothes or with the same sense of style as these celebrities, and it is not easy dressing like these celebrities. Supreme’s online store opens occasionally with outfits exclusive to that season, and their stores do not allow cameras. Even if you have the means to afford a piece of cloth with the Supreme logo on it, you need an “in,” either having the time and knowledge to camp out during their exclusive drops at selected stores, knowing someone who has a connection to Supreme or knowing someone that had a lot of Supreme clothing before its popularity. Exclusivity drives this market, and from this comes a new group that flourished: the middleman in the resale market, where the majority of the hustling in the fashion world occurs.
The resale market occurs mostly online, through easily recognizable names like eBay and Craigslist. Other means include social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram or various blogs online like WordPress. People post a picture of the product, list the selling price and communicate with each other about the exchange online.
Hugh Mo is a prominent fashion icon on campus who runs @_mostyle_, a fashion blog on Instagram with over 11,000 followers. Although Mo wouldn’t call himself a hustler, he does understand the resale market in the fashion industry very well and once profited from it. This past summer, he camped out for a pair of Fear of God jeans, which he purchased for $1,800. Two days later, he resold the jeans for $3,500.
“Good money is involved, and some items crescendo in value. It’s about predicting the market, like stocks. For example, the first Yeezy 350 low tops, when it first came out, people were not sure if it was worth $400-500 resale price from a $200 retail price. Now they are worth $1,700-$1,800 brand new. If you were smart then, you bought as many pairs then as possible,” explained Mo.
This practice seems simple, enticing and extremely profitable, but there are many barriers to entering this market.
Moe said that to join the market, you either have to have a lot of capital to begin with or you can start by hustling anything you see, starting with socks, newspapers, anything—and build up to sneakers.
In addition to having the means to join this market, one must have the smarts and knowledge of the market prices in order to avoid being hustled. Not knowing the market price could lead you to overpay for a product. Lack of experience could lead to a faulty purchase, where the product could end up being fake or not showing up in the mail. Sometimes, even some of the more seasoned fashion bloggers get hustled.
Mo has been hustled before, which he said is a necessary learning curve for people starting out in the business. People are intent on making money, and such practice opens doors for the inexperienced to be hustled. Mo said his reputation is worth more than a couple of scams.
Simon Chow is a member of the Class of 2019
Talk of the Quad: #activism
The day of the Women’s March, I received a record number of likes on an Instagram post. As I scrolled through my feed on that day, I saw iterations of the same picture over and over. Each featured a crowd of women, many of who were wearing pink hats and holding signs denouncing Trump and his beliefs in one way or another. Each photo also had a substantial number of likes. As I scrolled through the photos of the Women’s March, double-tapping with wild abandon and delighting over the accolades pouring in on my own post, I had a thought: how many people marched “for the ’gram?” Was I one of them?
Although I loved the attention from my Instagram post, and I did put great care into choosing the most aesthetically appealing photo, I know that I did not march for the ’gram. I marched because of fear and concern and love and because it was my civic duty. The problem is this: when I posted to Instagram, was I reducing my action, and the action of others, to a photo op? How should I feel about the fact that instead of posting a photo focusing on the movement as a whole, I made a post focused on why I, as an individual, was in attendance?
The march was flawed in that it excluded many groups: the focus on vaginas excluded trans women, tickets to D.C. and other locations were expensive, those who had to work or take care of family were not able to participate and the March was not accommodating to those with disabilities. Because it was a crowd filled with middle-class white women, law enforcement was respectful and we were not perceived as a threat. The privilege that allowed the Women’s March to be so successful and so momentous is the same privilege that limited it from being an all-inclusive march. I see the Women’s March as a place of privilege, a place of self-aggrandizement but equally so as a place of empowerment, unity, hope and the conception of a movement that needs to continue. The March was for an umbrella of issues. It was a way to say “We’re here! Listen to us!”
Marches and petitions and action in the future need to be more focused and more specific, but for the first day of the new administration, I think that the Women’s March, although flawed in many ways, was what it needed to be.
Instagram activism is flawed in a similar way. By avoiding controversy as much as possible, marchers and Instagrammers alike were able to receive support and generate positive attention. However, by not addressing the flaws of the March, was I complicit in the exclusion of key groups? Was I reinforcing the exclusionary feminism that I so deeply aim to avoid? And what is the effect of widespread social media coverage of political events? Does seeing Instagrams of protests teach people that they can have a part in the government and in making change, or does it teach them that they can look cute holding a sign? Just as the Trump memes desensitized us from the threat of his actions, do well-framed photos from protests desensitize us from the immediacy of the cause? Is liking an Instagram post enough? Is making an Instagram post enough? Is showing up enough? Probably not. It is a right to march but a privilege to feel safe while doing so. It is a right to have free speech but a privilege to have overwhelmingly positive responses. To not use those privileges would be unfair—I just hope I am using them in a productive way.
Nina Alvarado-Silverman is a member of the Class of 2019.
Talk of the Quad: Birthright, Bowdoin and Me
My bucket list got a little lighter over winter break when I embarked on a long-awaited journey to Israel through Taglit-Birthright. The program gives young Jews the opportunity to go on a free 10-day, organized trip to connect with our faith. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve never felt such a profound and instantaneous love for something—I was overcome by emotion and feelings of patriotism every day. I walked through Jerusalem’s Old City in astonishment and celebrated New Year’s Eve dancing in The Shuk. I climbed Masada to watch the sunrise and floated in the Dead Sea. I reflected in Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall where David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s statehood nearly 70 years ago. I grieved at Yad Vashem, shook to my core by the Children’s Memorial. I laughed with newfound friends hiking in the Golan Heights, dabbled in Krav Maga and ate such delicious hummus it was as if I were tasting it for the first time. I can’t wait to return one day!
Upon my return from Israel, I’ve given a lot of thought to the nature of my upbringing and my connection to Judaism during college. Jews are perennial outsiders, representing 2.2 percent of America’s population. But I had a sheltered childhood identifying with the community of my heritage, growing up and going to school on New York City’s Upper West Side, one of the most concentrated areas of Tribe members outside Israel. I was raised in a strong Jewish family, exposed to the rich cultural and social history of the American Jewry. I attend synagogue on the High Holidays and my parents would like it if I married a nice Jewish girl. I grew up to the music of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. I cherish Philip Roth’s writing and the Coen brothers’ films. A Jewish upbringing has had a fundamental impact on my personality, perspective of the world and the people to whom I’m drawn.
When I made the decision to leave New York City for the boonies of New England, I gave little thought as to how it would affect my relationship with Judaism. So this is what it’s like to be an outsider! You call that a bagel? I’ve made friends with peers who have met maybe a handful of Jews in their entire lives before they landed here. “Jewish” rolls off their tongues like an exotic word, which I am not offended by. On the other hand, there are those who find nothing exotic about Judaism. I suppose that’s what you can expect from any college drawing from a large, diverse national applicant pool. I’m not trying to assign blame, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve never fully come to terms with it. And there have been painful moments. Bowdoin’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a human rights organization possessing what I would characterize as a flawed one-sided narrative, attempted to make the College endorse a cultural and academic boycott of Israel per the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. I am a proud, open-minded supporter of Israel and believe in a two-state solution, but engaging in a conversation about this emotional, complex conflict on a liberal campus is like hitting your head against a wall. The petition divided the campus and felt like an attack on my very being. Let’s at least talk directly to each other and look for common ground. As my grandmother used to say, “It couldn’t hurt!”
Even during my wonderful study-abroad year in Paris, I faced the same issues of being a stranger in a foreign, non-Jewish land. Sure, it wasn’t exactly a hardship to give up bagels for baguettes, and the broad, varied demographics of the City of Light felt much like New York City. But the facts speak for themselves: France’s Jews are fleeing the nation at record levels as surging anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism haunt the nation.
I fear the surge in American anti-Semitic acts during Trump’s presidency becoming the new normal. Trump’s alt-right chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, is a noted anti-Semite. Bernard Henri-Lévy recently wrote of the president, “He seems to see Jews as the caricature of the New York establishment that, for decades, took him for an agreeable but vulgar showman.” These are dark days and I’m searching for glimmers of hope. As I navigate my place in the world I want to believe we’re not as divided as it appears. I’m not going to give up pushing for change and I hope you’ll join me. I believe in the resilient American character which President Obama underscored last year, declaring, “We are all Jews.” It’s a lovely thought and I wish it were so. Maybe good Chinese food could then be found outside New York City. But I happily settle for seeing Bowdoin Hillel friends who joined me on Birthright, smiling as we recall memories and inside jokes from an unforgettable ten days.
Gabriel Frankel is a member of the Class of 2017.
Talk of the Quad: The broken container
Last year, I was in Paris during the terrorist attacks, and I don’t know how to tell that story. Similarly, I don’t know how to tell the story about Trump’s recent election. But there seems to be a strange and shivering thread between the two events. Both violent, painful, chaotic. Yet Paris was somewhat contained. This election is not—the common mantra being, “We just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
We tell stories to make meaning of trauma—to contain pain so we can better examine it and give it value. But sometimes we are in such distress that the container cracks. We can no longer write or speak in the same way, we can no longer contain the pain or carry it comfortably.
Paris: the cherry glow of sirens, the bitter cold, windows slamming shut, a vacant Eiffel Tower. Alternatively: my friend who calmly held my hand, the family member who made a quiche, a café filled with people drinking champagne the next day.
Either it becomes a story of horror and fear, which you’ve already heard, or a story of healing and bravery, which feels mawkish and insincere.
I think we dislike narratives which exist in gray, uncertain space. We want them to have logic, to land on one side of a binary—tragedy or comedy, conflict resolved or broken open, a character whose biggest desire is fulfilled or wrenched from them completely. Climax, falling action, resolution.
But trauma, especially when it first occurs, isn’t a neat and tidy narrative. Sometimes there is no narrative at all.
The New Yorker recently featured a piece in which 16 writers weighed in on the election. As my friend Marie Scarles observed, “There are so many different versions of why Trump won, and so many ways for us to imagine the future. Should we pay more attention to poor whites? To Muslims? To women? To LGBTQ? To racists? To immigrants? All seem urgent, but none can be held as the be-all-end-all.”
We are searching for a straightforward answer, an immediate ending so this can be over and done with.
After the election, hunched over my carrel in H-L and unable to write, I got a text message from my father: “Trauma turns us into animals, which means story-telling turns off. We revert to fight, flight or shock.” But sometimes, maybe our storytelling tendencies shutting down is a good thing. Maybe it allows us to survive. Narratives can be healing, but they can also be dangerous.
By attending to many different perspectives, perhaps a new story will eventually arise, something both nuanced and messy, something which contains many strands. Perhaps it will be a story of hope but a particular kind of hope, which Rebecca Solnit describes as “an ax you break down doors with in an emergency … [it] should shove you out the door.”
For now, we are living in uncertainty. The story is that there is no story—at least no singular one—which means there is no singular conflict, no one resolution. I wish I had a coherent story to tell about Paris, but I don’t. For me, the container is still broken open, as it is now for America post-election. This means we must listen to each other, and listen carefully.
Raisa Tolchinsky is a member of the Class of 2017.
Talk of the Quad: My armor of tears
When my little sister Taye was two, I would try to hold her and she would respond with small teeth in my flesh. When she was five, she was ordered to the principal’s office almost every week. When she was 14, she would puff up her chest and demand, “Say that to my face.” I idolized her ability to stand up against mini white supremacists that pulled their eyes back and stuck out their teeth. But even the greatest fighters are not invincible. As I watched her mature, her skin became so thick from such micro-aggressions that she drew pictures on her arm with a knife to make sure she could still bleed. We both squeezed our eyes shut at night and prayed to wake up white.
The sky dripped rain the day my little sister died, I remember vividly. It was the end of my first year at Bowdoin. She hung herself next to a short dress from T.J.Maxx and a forgotten kimono.
Feeling endless sorrow, I now fight for Taye. So many people argue that people of color are thin-skinned, but I argue the depth of people of color’s emotions has built armor. Thick skin is not in spite of emotions, but because of emotions. I watched as peers with emotions as deep as wells courageously made themselves vulnerable by picking up microphones, speaking at Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) meetings, sitting on panels, holding up “Can we talk?” signs after the “tequila” party—making noble attempts to harmonize a microcosm of humanity.
I wrapped myself in armor out of my grief for my sister. However, I learned quickly that having thick skin means people want to see you bleed. By the end of my sophomore year I took on a public fight with the former president of BSG to instate a multicultural representative and by the end of my junior year my voice—my freedom of speech—was marked “unbecoming of a Bowdoin student” and I was abruptly silenced. At the end of that year, I told a faculty member that I felt like someone had violently cut holes through my body and I didn’t know how to stop the bleeding. I was ashamed because I thought the holes were a manifestation of thin skin.
When I saw the reactions rising on Asian Student Association’s Facebook albums: “#ThisIs2016,” I was thrilled that different micro-aggressions towards Asians were being validated. When I held up my sign, “I guess you’re pretty… for an Asian,” I looked into a dark lens that would soon be viewed by over 7 million people. Anonymous eyes scrutinized my face before typing out, “they lied”; “you’re not pretty”; “you’re lucky someone even thinks you’re attractive”; and “most Asians are pretty, just not you.” I heard Taye’s voice, “Say that to my face.”
But I surprised myself: I cried.
I’m beginning to believe that the tears on my cheeks are not a sign of weakness. My emotions give me the strength to step into situations that those who have thin skin may never dare to take on. The courage that’s necessary to take a stand and the inevitable repercussive stabs hurt like hell. And even though the greatest fighters are not invincible, they leave legacies. My sister’s legacy gifted me the emotions that have helped me construct an armor of thick skin. So make me bleed the Niagara Falls. My tears only make me stronger.
Kiyoko H. Nakamura-Koyama is a member of the Class of 2017.
Talk of the Quad: Mike Pence, Indiana and Me
Like many people on this campus, I was filled with shock and dismay as the results of last Tuesday’s election became clear. However, I was already keenly aware of the non-urban, rust belt, working class whites who delivered the Trump-Pence victory. They are my neighbors, former classmates and teachers and, yes, even my friends. I am from the heart of Trump country. In fact, I am from Mike Pence’s hometown: Columbus, Indiana.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Mike Pence and I are similar people. We grew up a few miles from each other. We both attended and graduated from Columbus North High School. And here’s my favorite: we were both president of Bartholomew County Young Democrats. Of course, that misses profound differences. He’s Donald Trump’s Vice President. He crushed teachers’ unions, fought for legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people and signed a regressive anti-choice bill that mandated fetal funerals. I am an environmental studies major with fond memories of driving with my mom around the block over and over again to yell at anti-choice protesters that “Planned Parenthood saves lives.”
Mike Pence and I hold very different values but are both somehow representatives of our shared town and state. Anyone who knows me well is probably aware that I have a complicated relationship with my hometown and it continues to shape me, the person I am and the person I will be. At the same time, I think if you asked my close friends, they wouldn’t hesitate to tell you I really dislike it. They aren’t really wrong. The sight of sunsets over rolling fields will always hold a special place in my heart, but to me, my hometown represents 18 years of feeling out of place.
Though I lived my entire pre-college life in Columbus, most of my neighbors and classmates there would not call me a local. Being a Hoosier is about heritage and values, not birth. In all fairness, I didn’t really consider myself a local either and, when I headed to Bowdoin, I naively assumed that my hometown and home state would be an unimportant part of my identity. I was eager to drive 22 hours to Maine and forget about it all as I moved on to better and brighter days. I was going to my people—the ones I had been waiting 18 years to meet.
At Bowdoin, I have found my best friends in the world but Indiana remains a peculiar part of me. I didn’t know that I had an accent before I came to Bowdoin. I didn’t know that my floormates would think my being from Indiana explained my music tastes. I didn’t think about the fact that I had never skied or sailed. I didn’t realize I would feel compelled to speak up—in class and elsewhere—for the same rural Americans I was bullied by at home.
After this election, I must consider and explain my hometown in a new context. While my peers from the coasts and cities may speak abstractly about the non-urban whites in the rust belt, this suddenly relevant part of our country is something very concrete to me. It is my best friend from second grade who was not allowed to spend time with me after his mom found out I was the ring bearer in a lesbian wedding. But it is also my neighbors who rushed to bring me balloons and a card when they found out I had pneumonia. It is all the kids in elementary and middle school who shunned me when they found out I wasn’t baptized and made certain I was aware I was going to hell. But it is also my high school teacher who still sends me care packages and takes me out to lunch when I go home. While kids in high school hated me for my Democratic political activism, my best friends traveled over 1,000 miles just to visit me for three days during our first year at college. To me, my town is a complex, weird, lived experience. But to others it is the rust belt, the corn belt, tornado alley and now, Trump/Pence country. As many of my peers struggle to understand a part of this nation they have never seen and don’t want to, I feel obligated once again to own and represent a place that is part of me but isn’t really mine.
Nickie Mitch is a member of the class of 2018.
Talk of the Quad: Liberal Arts: not so liberal
I come from a bubble of liberalism. As a New Yorker who attended the same small private school for all 14 years of her education prior to Bowdoin, I had only been exposed to a very progressive, very liberal perspective. I had more openly gay friends than I did straight friends, until recently had never encountered an individual who was pro-life and had only been taught by Democratic teachers. There were four conservative students at my high school and not one them openly shared their opinions with the student body. School-wide assemblies were aimed to figure out how to better participate in the women’s rights movement and class discussions were focused around the intersectionality of identity. My home life was even more one-sided. Since the first Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2008, my mother has donned pink jeans, pink Converse, pink sunglasses and a pink T-shirt with an authoritative portrait of Secretary Clinton on a weekly basis. I was vacuum-packed within my bubble.
Although Bowdoin is a predominantly liberal campus, I come from a community that makes Bowdoin seem conservative in comparison. Bowdoin is my first exposure to living in a community with people who possess fundamentally different views than my own. Difference in political atmosphere is the largest adjustment I have had to make in my transition to college. Despite the fact that it has been engrained into my mind to listen to views that differ from my own, as that is central to progress, I have never had to put that into practice until now.
On the first night of my pre-Orientation trip, outside a cabin along the Appalachian Trail, my group launched itself into a deep conversation about racial inequality. The debate was centered around the validity of the Black Lives Matter movement and affirmative action. Perched in a hammock by the light of a campfire, I was stunned that people could find fault in the efforts of the movement. Although I did speak up, I found myself struggling to form a coherent argument to counter the one with which I so fundamentally disagreed. I had never had to defend my beliefs before. My beliefs had always been the shared by the people around me. There had never been a cause for argument. Upon returning to campus, as the election progressed, I found myself face-to-face with views that women should not participate in combat roles, that there is an age that qualifies as too young to get gender reassignment surgery and, most shocking of all, that Trump should be elected president.
While I was never ignorant of that fact that somewhere in the world there were people whose ways of thinking deviated from that of my community back home, it was never a world in which I lived. Bowdoin’s different environment has caused me to question the roots of my beliefs. Most importantly, while it was obvious before, it is even more obvious now that based on the recent election results, a liberal perspective (my liberal perspective) is not the correct perspective. It is just one perspective among a diverse array of political thought, both on this campus and in the country.
Sara Caplan is a member of the class of 2020.
Talk of the Quad: Humanity trumps ideological differences
The sky sprinkled dirty rain when we arrived in Lisbon, Maine. The five of us sat in my car freaked out, excited and laughing. We got out and walked to the mega-church. A sign read, “Welcome Donald J. Trump.” I let out a protracted sigh that translated as a “what the hell am I doing here?”
Some background on me. I’m a privileged, liberal, Jewish kid from Washington, D.C. I went to school with congressmen’s children and once took my pants off in front of Malia Obama (long story—it was a track meet). I do not fit the typical demographic of a Trump rally.
Around 3 p.m. last Thursday, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go to the Trump rally in Lisbon. Being young and always on the quest for the ironic, I said “of course.”In all fairness to myself, I also thought the rally was historically significant and worth checking out.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what to wear to the rally. Trying to hide my identity, I settled on some jeans, a fleece-lined flannel and a backward Nationals hat (maybe a giveaway?).
I topped it all off with a cigarette that dangled out of my mouth.
I recruited three other friends to come to the rally. Each of them was also somewhat out of place at Trump rally. Two were persons of color, one was a member of BCA and the other fit my description as a privileged, liberal, Jewish kid (but he was from Los Angeles).
What first struck me about the rally was how close it was to Bowdoin. Lisbon is only 30 minutes from Brunswick.Trump signs sprayed through Lisbon’s scenery. The town was definitely excited for the billionaire’s arrival.
Standing in line for the rally, I was struck by the vastly different ages of people there. In front of us, there was a group of high schoolers. Behind us, there was an elderly couple. Wishfully, I wondered whether or not these people were all Trump supporters. Perhaps they, like me, wanted to check out the event for irony’s sake.
Unfortunately the event was sold out and people, including us, were turned away. Even though I had wanted to see Trump speak, this gave us the opportunity to talk to some of his supporters.
I quickly changed the way I spoke. I picked up on my grandmother’s southern drawl and started using “y’all.” One of my friends asked why I was using a southern accent in Maine. I said I didn’t know, but it just seemed to fit.
We went up to two middle-aged women from North Yarmouth. They were friendly, but a little put off by my southern accent. They had gotten tickets for the event, but arrived too late. The seven of us had a nice chat until one of my friends brought up that two protesters had been removed from the mega-church.
One of the women speculated that the protestors were hired by the Clinton campaign. “Every protester that has gotten themselves beat up or beat up people at all Trump rallies were hired by Hillary,” she said.
When I asked the other woman if she thought it was true, she answered in the passive, “It was proven.”
I think those three words best describe Trump’s campaign and the election. Those words imply non-specificity. They suggest someone “proved” it, but they don’t say whom. Finally, and most importantly, they demonstrate the distance Clinton and Trump have from each other. Rarely on Bowdoin’s campus do I interact with a Trump supporter. I suspect these women rarely come into contact with a Hillary supporter. I knew what they were saying was false, but they were convinced that it was the truth.
My adventure into the ironic proved to be a learning experience. The country is polarized; exploring other viewpoints has become satirical. Not understanding and not conversing with people that have different opinions has left us isolated. I disagree with perhaps everything Trump supporters believe. But his supporters are people. If they can respect me then I must respect them.
Jack Arnholz is a member of the Class of 2019.
Talk of the Quad: Two Bowdoin men talk about race
Ryan and Parikshit reflect on their journeys in northern India this past summer and their encounters with racial dynamics in an increasingly globalized society. Ryan, a white American citizen, worked with an NGO in Jaipur. Parikshit, an Indian citizen native to the Himalayan region, worked at a development bank in Delhi.
Fifty-three days into my summer position in India, I, Ryan, found myself shaking hands with the Prince of Jaipur in his private peacock gardens. If you know anything about me, you’re probably wondering how such an unkempt, odoriferous man-child such as myself was ever asked to dine with royalty. I admit that I had the same questions at the time, although I was quick to assume that “all Indians are just super nice.” It took longer than expected to realize the foolishness of my perceptions, recognizing the greater powers at play when considering the presence I brought to India as a white man in a post-colonial society.
It didn’t take long to realize how differently I was treated from other non-white travelers. Gradually, the small gestures of appreciation and praise morphed into more telling dispositions as my summer progressed. I recognized I never had to clear my own dishes, throw away my own trash, clean my own messes. A few times in the classroom where I volunteered, I had to argue with my students after accidently spelling their name wrong that I, in fact, was the one who was incorrect, not them. I was invited to party after party, welcomed to visit friend’s homes to meet family. Strangers would ask me to tutor their children. Passersby would ask for photos.
The most challenging situation occurred within my last week, when a friend, established in the Indian fashion industry, begged me to pose as a member of his international team for the annual statewide beauty pageant, claiming that having an American co-worker would grant him more respect as a professional. It was telling how much social capital a white body held seeing how readily my friend was willing to compromise his own ethics to get me on board. I agreed to this charade, believing there wasn’t much harm in aiding a friend in need. I posed for photos with models, met actresses and directors, lied in interviews, gave bullshit advice on runway walks and headshots and was even called on stage and awarded a trophy during the televised event. But as I looked out at the crowd, I was filled with guilt as I saw the number of Indians that had worked day and night, forfeited time, energy and money to obtain such recognition; whereas, I was able to roll out of bed, slap on my one good pair of pants, show up and get an award. My ease in climbing the social hierarchy was a privilege I was afforded by my whiteness—something that has come to represent great symbolic, cultural capital among the Indian public.
Being in India, a country dominated by mostly non-white bodies, I assumed my race would hold less significance in such a homogenous community. What I wish I realized sooner was how easy it was to use the color of my skin, a physicality so intertwined with class, to produce unconditional perceptions of intellect, modernity and wealth, to access spaces and opportunities in India traditionally barred from the general population. My involvement in Jaipur this summer helped me better conceptualize global power dynamics—although I still struggle to understand how my racial privilege travels with me and how it has come to position me higher on certain locations’ social hierarchies, in places that I certainly do not deserve, value or understand. —Ryan “It’s a brave new world,” I thought as my Hindi-speaking German co-worker haggled, well, tried to haggle, with a rickshaw driver. Throughout the ride I heard his rant (in English), about how he gets charged more because he is white. But, my Hindi-speaking German co-worker was quick to point out how the extra amount is less than a few euros. The economist in me quickly starts thinking about this “premium of being white in India,” making a big deal about getting charged more but enjoying informal services way cheaper than developed nations. Before I could flesh out this theory further, our ride brought us to our destination, Green Park, the heart of “expat” Delhi. Rising rents ergo rising gentrification, gated communities, sprawling parks graced with ramparts of Delhi’s Mughal history and artsy bookstores and cafes characterize these posh south Delhi enclaves that are home for a significant proportion of the growing white population in Delhi.
Some days later, I found myself playing soccer with a Nigerian friend and learned how a different narrative exists for the black “immigrant” population. Scattered throughout the city in varied socio-economic neighborhoods, African immigrants from Nigeria, Congo, Ghana, Uganda and other African nations, who come to India mostly as international students and as economic immigrants, now call Delhi home. Researching a bit more I discovered, and sadly so, that Delhi hasn’t always made them feel at home. I came across newspaper reports and documentaries about discrimination against African immigrants in India. Further, my friend tells me how the Association of African Students took to the streets earlier this year to protest xenophobia, incidents of targeted violence, being stereotyped as drug-dealers and having to brave micro-aggressions in public places.
Economic liberalization took India to the world and now forces of globalization are bringing the world to us. And in doing that these forces are stress-testing the idea of India, an idea based on its post-colonial identity and forged in a celebration of its diversity. Being white in such an India, be it a soul-searching traveler or a wealthy expat, backed by powerful passports, favorable exchange rates and the inadvertent social privilege Ryan describes, enable one to celebrate India’s mythical unity in diversity, to freely explore and question it and even to write about it. The story is not the same, though, for those who do not embody the institutional and social privilege that comes with being white. —Parikshit
Ryan Herman and Parikshit Sharma are members of the Class of 2017.
Talk of the Quad: Coming out Christian
This past summer, I became a born-again Christian. I have since harbored a burning desire to share this experience with others.
I was raised in a Christian household, however, as I moved into high school, I began neglecting most Christian teachings. I left little room for God within my life of rebellion. I usually justified these actions by highlighting the hypocrisy of the Church. Like many, I wrongly equated the Church—which is a broken and earthly institution—with the divine Word of God. I thus rejected Scripture due to human hypocrisy and fraudulence.
This year, everything changed. I first began to sense shifts during the second semester of my sophomore year. It began with a sudden disdain for Bowdoin’s hook-up culture. I gradually began to sense a darkness within the College’s social culture. This was not merely a recognition of youthful pitfalls. Some might call it the beginnings of a spiritual awakening. Others might say I was “finding” myself. For me and most other born-again Christians, it is obvious that God was chasing me. I became aware of the works of certain forces that semester, but I could not give the forces a name.
It was during this time that I also became more aware of a subtle emptiness within myself. In hindsight, this void had been present for years. It was not especially invasive; in fact, I had always been a fairly happy person. On paper, my life was amazing. I had a privileged childhood, seventeen years of elite education, great friends, hobbies and good grades. I was not fighting severe depression or dealing with family woes. Still, I did not know Fulfillment.
One day during this past spring break, my mom brought home the film “War Room.” The movie’s plot centers around a mother who is able to rebuild her broken family with the assistance of Jesus Christ. This suffering woman is transformed into what believers often call a “prayer warrior.” I initially approached the film with skepticism and slight annoyance. However, about halfway through the film, I was overcome with unexplainable awe. Within days, I had repressed the movie’s message; fortunately, the film had already planted a seed of faith within me.
The turning point began at the onset of summer. I spent the first half of the summer conducting research on mass incarceration and the media as part of the Mellon Mays program. I spent almost every waking hour reading and writing in solitude. As I studied the oft-concealed history of our country, I began to see past the elite’s web of lies. The deceptive illusions blinding the public became startlingly apparent. This realization heightened my desire for knowledge. As my understanding of reality began to defog, it became obvious that a key piece of this puzzle was missing.
Though I had become aware of the forces of darkness, the corresponding Light was my last and most precious discovery. As I was researching inside Helmreich House one July day, I found myself lost in an internet hole. I was deep in this study session when a source referred me to the Bible. Strangely enough, in my search for knowledge, I had inadvertently turned to the Book that I had previously deemed outdated. Needless to say, I was shocked by my findings. Within the prophecies describing the End of Days, I saw my own research. I saw the chaos and deception that characterizes modern society.
As we all know, this summer was especially violent. As I read, I realized that all of the brutality, confusion and destruction that we are seeing—such as increasing turbulence in the Middle East, government conspiracy and spikes in natural disasters—has been foretold. Not vaguely—specifically. In that moment, my spiritual understanding came full circle. I spent years attempting to ignore my Christian upbringing. This summer, it came back to me in the most alarmingly beautiful manner.
After the Mellon Mays program ended, I began interning at the Innocence Project in New York. By no coincidence, my New York home was that of my mom’s good friend—a minister. In the city, my faith in Christ flourished. The Innocence Project—a nonprofit law clinic that serves the wrongly convicted—taught me the value and necessity of servitude. My days there strengthened my commitment to serving the underserved. On August 14th, I dedicated my life to Christ at a Brooklyn church.
Since that day, life has taken on a new meaning. Frankly, the insignificance of the physical world is now glaring. I have begun to understand the Spirit. Moreover, I now understand the true meaning of good and evil. I know it sounds crazy, and that’s because it is. Our world is obsessed with explaining life through logic and reason; as a result, our world is broken. That was my old world, and broken it was.
I did not understand the term “born-again” until this ineffable transformation happened to me. I say “happened to me” because this transformation occurred by no action of my own. I had immense doubts and could not see past the facades of religious constructs. I was not searching for God when he found me; it is solely by His grace that I am found. Because of this transformation, I am able to truly see clearly for the first time in twenty years. I now know Life. And I am whole.
John 9:24-25: “Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner. He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”Adira Polite is a member of the class of 2018.
Talk of the Quad: Running and eating: an open letter
I used to be an avid runner. I tackled all distances: 1600m, 5K, 10K and even a half marathon. A full marathon wasn’t quite in my wheelhouse back then, but I was enamored by every single aspect of the sport: the scenery, regardless of if my legs took me through a rural or an urban route, the euphoria afterwards and, most importantly, the drive to be better. The simple things captivated me, too: clicking “Save My Run” on my antique Garmin 405 and the gasps when I would say, “I went on an X mile run!” I loved everything.
I started out as a sluggish, out-of-shape teen, but I slowly grew stronger as a runner. My runs became progressively longer and my pace followed suit—becoming quicker and quicker over time. I joined my school’s cross country team, and within one academic year I went from a junior varsity runner who took nearly 20 minutes to complete a three-mile course to a speedy varsity runner, finishing courses in as little as 16 minutes and 51 seconds. My love for competition grew with each run or race that I completed. With each finished course, however, I grew increasingly competitive with myself, taking my body and mind to their utmost extreme levels.
To put it simply, I stopped eating. I was cognizant of the harm it did to my body, yet I chose to ignore it. I tried to subdue the aches, pains, numbness and countless headaches because I valued becoming better. I valued my speed, but I sacrificed my sanity. A gallon-sized jug of water was fastened at my hip. Many thought it was only for my hydration, but I used it to mitigate my hunger. Everything in my body screamed at me, but I ignored that too. Instead, I chose to hone in on nutrition labels, calories and macronutrients. I thought I was helping myself; I truly did. My race times continued to drop, and so did my weight, even though I had nothing to lose.
My love for running faded fast, as did the color in my eyes and my smile, too. I withdrew from running and spiraled into a life of self-loathing. I hated myself. I hated the constant aches, pains and worries. I hated everything. Running provided balance, and without it I was a loose cannon. I spewed sadness, guilt and anxiety, and I continued to do so—on and off, left and right—for months.
Much of what plagued me back then—nearly two years ago—still lingers over my head. Though the pressure to become a better runner isn’t with me now, I’m still caught in a net of self-loathing. I can’t navigate my days comfortably; my arms, my legs, my shoulders and my chest are all littered with healed slashes that remind me of my weaknesses and pain. They represent the worst days.
Not all my days are bad, however. Some are remarkably good, and I find myself grateful for those days. I’m grateful to be here—to be surrounded by vibrant trees, falling acorns and the ocean. I’m grateful for the experiences so far, but I’m still struggling. I’m struggling to do the simplest, most basic things.
At Bowdoin, I can’t be “normal” without plunging into a full-fledged war with myself. I can’t make meal plans with someone without coming close to cancelling, nor can I enter Moulton or Thorne without anxiety looming over my shoulder. I can feel my throat tighten. I can’t go one meal, let alone one day, without being riddled with food insecurities and anxieties.
Everything that is a part of me—my insecurities, my damaged self-perception, my struggles with running—has been so deeply ingrained that it feels normal. This all feels normal. My lack of happiness some days feels normal, as well as the pessimistic view I have of myself. I don’t want it to be normal for me, but it is.
I wish my relationship with running was better when I initially started. I wish I could go back and yell at myself. In fact, I’m desperate for that chance. I’d be able to circumvent so much unnecessary pain—both emotional and physical—and I’d be without permanent reminders on my body. I’d be free of constraints and I’d be free of myself. I’d be liberated. Sadly, I’m forced to trudge onwards—forced to face my consequences each time I look in a mirror or down at myself.
Jonathan Calentti is a member of the class of 2020.
Talk of the Quad: As an eagle towards the sky
I’ve heard that birds are disappearing. I don’t understand all the implications of mass extinction, but I’m sure that it does not augur well for us. Maybe it’s encouraging that birds have recently found refuge in the Orient. In response to three articles published two weeks ago, I wanted to share something I noticed.
I recently saw a Chukar partridge in Brunswick. I was walking by 52 Harpswell when I spotted two older men across the street, frozen with eyes fixed on something in the lawn next to me. They were pointing and talking excitedly to each other. I will not give a detailed description of the Chukar—the article 2 weeks ago did that well enough—but will say that it’s beautiful. It certainly stands out in a suburban landscape. For its size, it was extremely disruptive that afternoon: the two men all but ran into the road to get a closer look, stopping traffic, while I scrambled to take a picture of it. This encounter roughened an otherwise smooth walk home that had been completely sanded down by routine. It reminded me that there is more to the landscape than my usual walks reveal: there are worlds besides our own that we manage to distance ourselves from but cannot quite escape. Usually, however, it takes something as outwardly extraordinary as a Chukar to wake me to this fact.
A walk across campus is usually rushed—a way from A to B. The Bowdoin landscape is pretty but is rarely more than a background for our determined lives—and a predictable, safe background at that. An erratic squirrel is the most disruptive thing most of us encounter regularly and even that is hardly enough to free us from our busy heads. We rarely observe what we see.
This summer, I worked with a number of avid birders in a community where loafing is virtue. They walked slowly and paused frequently, keen on small details and nuances I could not perceive. They saw things I didn’t and loved the wildlife refuge in a way I could not. As Liam Taylor’s Talk of the Quad explained, going birding gives us the chance to observe and connect with beings radically different from us. Done well, it can be a hobby of humility: past plumage and species lies an experience alien but not entirely inaccessible to us. The distance implied by the difference need not be insurmountable.
In the solitary setting of a beach or forest, it may be natural to step into a more active, inquisitive mindset. But to assume the posture of a birder in our crowded human habitats is a spiritual challenge. It’s one thing to realize we share a planet with people and things with inner lives as rich and vibrant as our own—in theory or in momentary glimpses in the woods—but it’s another, much thornier thing to adjust ourselves according to this knowledge. To wake up and find our mundane surroundings solid and pulsing with meaning. This opening of ears and eyes seems to ask for a lot of heart.
But we don’t have to talk abstractly about what has practical implications and examples close to home. You don’t need to dwell on last year’s frustrating campus dialogue about race to begin to suspect that we aren’t good listeners: I think about any time I let prodding personal stress keep me from following a class discussion, having a conversation with an author or understanding a friend; or how fear of awkwardness and discomfort—truly self-centered concerns—shackle all modes of discourse. There is clearly a difference between ideas you listen to and noises you hear, just as there is between seeing a living thing and feeling yourself in its eyes. Good listening is like questioning: a pursuit of truth, valuable whether or not you get an answer. It should move us. In a community of bad listeners, my peers become a collection of background noises and decorations.
Last February, Marc Lamont Hill gave a talked titled “Fighting for Freedom in an Hour of Chaos” to a small Kresge audience. He talked about global politics, Black Lives Matter and our campus, which was struggling to make sense of itself at the time. I gather that we all want to feel safe and somewhat ordered. We want to know what’s happening and especially where we are going. Most of us plan courses of life on a clean piece of paper, letting our lives fall into place around a few formal activities. We even pencil-in Ivies: binge drinking and hookup culture are not distractions from but rather natural extensions of resume culture. Waxing effusive at meals about the week’s work or the weekend’s social chores, it’s easy to ignore the soft uneasiness in each other’s voices or sadness behind the customary cheer. Our lives are rigidly structured and our community unstable. Last year had many people questioning whether or not Bowdoin even is a community. At least last year people were questioning.
It’s possible that the way we order our personal lives has made the community ill; and it’s possible that below the C.V. and the hard athletic bodies, we are not so healthy and secure. Hill prescribed “radical listening” to our ailing nation and our wavering campus: only by seeking knowledge through other’s perspectives and vigorously questioning our own could we become a community. This, he implied, is the sort of knowledge that diversity and a liberal arts education offer, but hardly guarantee. It cannot be honestly pursued on the way to something else.
Now my point has barely fledged, but I’ve said more than enough: a refuge is a good thing, but it’s far from a home. Birds belong in conversation.
Ben Bristol is a member of the Class of 2017.
Talk of the Quad: Life in Ladd: Post Epicuria
When the topic of Epicuria, the Men’s Rugby team’s annual fall party, came up, all of us who live in Ladd House had major concerns. What might go wrong when hundreds of alcohol-bearing and toga-wearing students came through the doors of our home? Most of us had only experienced the night once, and some never at all. We had no idea what to expect and what was expected of us.
To our relief, the Men’s Rugby team took care of practically everything before the party, but we were still anxious about what would become of our house. I was most protective of the second floor bathrooms. Given that there would only be one bathroom for the hundreds of guests on the first floor, it was assumed that some would inevitably use the bathroom upstairs. All we had to go on were stories of past Epicurias, where all sorts of goodies were found in the bathrooms and showers the morning after.
Before we knew it there were togas, tacos and tons of Bowdoin students coming through our doors some expecting a night that would define their first semester. Upon assessing the aftermath, it was found that we had done a decent job. There were, however, some interesting finds. There were stray togas everywhere, one of them in an Elsa print (nice) and another hanging from the chandelier (impressive). We awoke to a broken thermostat in the basement and a dislodged railing in the first floor bathroom. There were tacos in just about every corner of the house, which provided us with the prolonged scent of tacos mixed with the usual fragrance of beer and BO. There was also pee everywhere: puddles in the elevator, a cup filled in the basement and mysterious stains in the hallways.
Additionally, we heard an interesting tale of a couple consummating their love for togas through performative sex in the coat closet. We found more evidence of friendly activity in the Mahogany Room: a lovely used latex product in the middle of the floor boards accompanied by its blue wrapper (shout out to the rugby player who had to clean that up). Another shout out to the owner of the taco truck who not only aided everyone’s stomachs with tacos but also helped a distressed student who appeared to be napping on a tree just outside the doors of Ladd around 2 a.m. (real hero right there). The real show started when I found myself awake at 6 a.m. and watched some lost students make the trek back to their residences after interesting night-time activities—toga on…or in hand.
Although minor accidents were inevitable, we did everything we could think of to prepare for the night. We knew we had to be proactive about was ensuring the safety of the students attending Epicuria. Ladd house member Tessa Epstein ’19 took the lead in planning a consent-awareness poster series the week before the big night. In the end—despite the wall damage and the various concerning smells—things could have gone much worse. It’s amazing that this is the second large-scale campus event in a row (the other one being Ivies), where there were no transports. As house members and the proclaimed “social leaders” of the campus, we should continue the trend of happy and healthy fun at Bowdoin. Long live Epicuria.
Amber Orosco is a member of the Class of 2019.
Talk of the Quad: Small and beautiful things
I would love to go birding with all of you. I’ve developed this obsession, and I’m finding that I now need some friends to enable me. I can promise, first, that it really won’t take much work to start. Even binoculars, although helpful, are not required. All through the year we can find birds on campus or a short walk away, or take an easy drive to the coast for more excitement. When we arrive to school late in the summer, the marshes are full of herons and travelling hawks. Tiny shorebirds crowd beach edges, nervously out-stepping waves and falcons. As the heat fades, puffins and razorbills dissolve into the deeper Atlantic. Soon after, boldly colored winter ducks gather their breeding forces in the snow—a casual and apathetic audience to our holiday travel.
As the inland lakes freeze and the non-coastal ducks scatter south, remnant bands of black-capped chickadees (singing cheese-bur-ger, my cellphone text alert) and nuthatches (which I call meeps) supply more consistent comfort. Lonely brown creepers offer the occasional errant song (trees, beautiful trees!). After several weeks of frozen breath, it’s a relief when early spring birds trickle back towards our campus. Vireos and black-throated green warblers (zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee) begin their hopping in the Commons. By May, the Pines are heavy with singing warblers. Some ovenbirds (teacher-Teacher-TEAcher) and black-throated blue warblers (I am laz-ee-eey) stick around to commiserate with students during finals. The summer begins again.It’s now been a year—perhaps a little less—since I really started birding. I’ve forgotten about twice as many songs as I remember and misidentified more shorebirds than I’m willing to count. Each time I go looking, I’m accompanied by a fear born of 20—plus years slogging through precisely marketed hobbies, each of which promised about 10 minutes of entertainment and supplied five. I mean to say that I have a millennial nervousness that the whole thing (the activity? The birds? The soil and the trees?) will sort of deconstruct like all my other products. About ten minutes ago I saw a fish crow (UH-uh, like an American crow with a cold and some sass). It remained solid and almost inexplicably realized.
And so there’s this other part to the whole birding thing. The objects of birds develop a form in and of themselves. We can step away from two near—equal transgressions. In the first crime, we capture an avian aesthetic as lifeless color and shape. They cover our hats, decorate our hair, fill our coats. We allow them status only as an image. In the other, more well-meaning offense, we regard them as patterned objects worth conserving.
“The role of avian fauna cannot be overstated in regards to seed dispersal, pest control and ecosystem management,” spoke one beleaguered scientist. But to gaze at them shifts something in the head. Their eyes become really like eyes. Beyond aesthetic, we allow them substance and sentience and will—as though they ever needed our permission. Conservation takes its rightful place as the protection of existence, of feeling, rather than the maintenance of equilibria.How nice, Liam, how quaint. But the craziest part of all of this affection is how naturally it arrives. It takes the smallest gap and the whole thing breaks wide open. In some ways, I’m asking you to trust me. To trust that a glance away from the five-minute lights and noises that attend our lives will not fundamentally shatter our millennial philosophies. To trust that it really, really won’t feel silly to stand there and stare at a robin. It will be such an easy love. So come birding!
Liam Taylor is a member of the Class of 2017.
If you’re interested in joining the Huntington Bird Club or are interested in birds/birding in general, please contact Liam at email@example.com or Isaac Merson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talk of the Quad: If you give a polar bear a rake
Another start to a fall semester is marked by another free T-shirt: grinning polar bears wearing overalls and wielding instruments of manual labor.
Common Good Day gets groups of students (teams, first-year floors and the rogue individual volunteer) together with faculty and staff for an afternoon of volunteer service in the greater Brunswick community. After a morning of pump-up talks and student musical performances in Farley Field House, participants lend about three hours of labor to local nonprofits and municipal organizations. The hope of the event is presumably to promote student engagement with the McKeen Center for the Common Good and long-term service.
It is a noble pursuit to strive for community engagement and service in the student body of a college. At Bowdoin, time is a scarce resource and service is not work that can be done in a day; it requires time and planning and critical thinking and reflection.
A major part of Bowdoin’s brand is its public commitment to the common good. As Joseph McKeen, Bowdoin’s first president, stated in his 1802 inaugural address: “Literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them.” Today, this commitment is restated in the Offer of the College, and understood as Bowdoin’s guiding philosophy. It can be easy to overlook, then, Bowdoin’s status in the world and the ways that, as an elite institution, it furthers private interests and privileges those already likely to succeed in a capitalist society.
As the 2013 National Association of Scholars report reminds us, Bowdoin is overwhelmingly liberal. That’s true. The problem with this liberalism, though, is that it is often surface-level, and focuses on doing small good deeds as opposed to transforming a system that roots itself in injustices and reproduces inequalities. Edward Abbey, the American essayist, wrote: “The conservatives love their cheap labor; the liberals love their cheap cause.”
Common Good Day is a great example of this “cheap cause.” It is the supposedly selfless donation of time to support organizations in need of help: a small, musty historical society, a farm with immigrant workers an hour away, a food bank. We dip our toes into service, shake a hand or two, snap some photos and accept gratitude. But, are the organizations benefitting as much as Bowdoin is?
Without the surrounding rhetoric, Common Good Day is simply a safe group-bonding activity. It’s good for the College and it’s good for the students who walk away feeling as if they’ve done something meaningful. At best, it provides organizations with one afternoon of extra help that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. At worst, it burdens the organization and leaves students with a savior complex. Either way, it doesn’t create a meaningful impact unless it’s surrounded by comprehensive education and critical reflection, and followed up with continued service. In fact, the McKeen Center’s Alternative Break programs do this by holding weekly seminar discussions leading up to a seven-day service immersion program, and following the trip there is a debriefing conversation.
Although it’s easy to slip on an ethically-produced polar bear T-shirt once in a while, promoting the common good as a brand is hollow.
While we’ve written “common good” seven times in this article (now eight), the words themselves mean little. They can be used to justify almost any action. (Consider Bowdoin’s promotion of military service during WWII.) Go beyond the rhetoric and consider what the common good means at Bowdoin, as it’s imagined from the Ivory Tower. Consider, too, what it might mean after you’ve left Bowdoin. Interrogate whether it means anything to you at all.
Emily Weyrauch and Eliza Graumlich are both members of the Class of 2017.
Talk of the Quad: What I did for love
A fun fact about me is that I spent my middle school and high school summers at musical theater camp. I wasn’t very good—directors and teachers and my mom liked to tell me that I had “a really great stage presence!” which means that I could fake it pretty well, even though my voice was closer to the bottom end of average.
My tenure as a thespian left me with a dusty box of stage makeup, a rather awful pirouette and an only-slightly-secret love for musicals. My favorite parts of musicals are their finales. I like the way that they’re joyous, even when they’re sad. Finales feel like endings—solid, with-a-bang, close-up-the-story endings. I like endings. I read the last five pages of a book when I’m only halfway through. I like end-of-the-year banquets. I liked the view out the back of the car driving up the road on the way home from camp. Endings are romantic and solid, simple and comforting.
It’s May of senior year, and I’ve been thinking about endings a lot. I picture the way the Quad will look at graduation, my cap and gown and white dress on the museum steps. I’ve thought about the places that I will want to go on campus and the things that I will want to say to people before I drive across the bridge out of Maine. I want those moments to feel a certain way. Take a bow, curtain falls, resolution.
I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago about what the end of Bowdoin will be like. It will be frenetic, he said. You graduate, and then you’re torn between parents and friends on the Quad, and you can’t find all the people you want to see, and there’s lunch and dinner and last-minute packing, and then you just sort of leave. Bowdoin fades off—an ellipsis, not an exclamation point.
That’s weird and scary. Four years of snow and exams and College House parties and housing lotteries should not just fizzle out and fade to gray; they must deserve more. But to deserve a romantic ending, Bowdoin would need to be finished. The plotlines would be tied up and the questions would be answered and the reprise would be swelling in the background. And that’s not the case.
It’s easy to forget in the midst of the nostalgia induced by impending graduation, but I was really unhappy for my first two years here. It wasn’t Bowdoin, not really—my unhappiness was temporal, not spatial. But panic attacks in the back row of chemistry aren’t fun, regardless of why they happened.
I took my first antidepressant in the back corner of Smith Union in April of my sophomore year. It was one of the scarier things I’ve ever done—suddenly, the messed up stuff in my brain materialized as a real thing that I couldn’t get rid of on my own. Meds were not going to fix me, but they could clear the fog enough to pinpoint what I needed to wrestle with. It’s been two years of that. I was going to stop my prescription this month. I was going to be done by the time I got my diploma. But I’m not ready, not yet. I’m not quite done.
Here are other things I left undone after four years: I never quite got back in shape after a knee injury; I didn’t master statistics. I’ve told a lot of stories in the Orient, but I didn’t tell them all, and I didn’t tell some as well as I should have. There are a few first drafts of essays on my computer that needed second drafts. There are people I should yell at; there are people I should thank.
There are a few weeks left until graduation, and there’s no way that I’m going to tie up all of those loose ends. I can see them flapping behind me, a strange checklist of consequences and failures and unanswered emails. They feel comfortable, though, like old friends. That’s what I’ve learned best in four years—to let things go unfinished.
Here is what Bowdoin has taught me: I can be happy without being okay, and I can be proud of something without it being perfect. Maybe it wasn’t Bowdoin that taught me those things; maybe it was just four years away and four years of getting older. Regardless, those are the lessons I’m leaving with, and I think they’re the ones I needed. Even without a final trumpet blast, I feel good about walking away.
Nicole Wetsman is a member of the Class of 2016.
Talk of the Quad: Just listen
Throughout my childhood, he was a “functioning alcoholic.” Sometimes he held a job in music, and sometimes he was available as a father. I saw his addiction as a thing of the past; my father used to be an addict, but now he’s better. Whenever addiction was brought up in grade school, I felt proud to say my dad used to be an alcoholic, but don’t worry because it happened before I was born. I was the kid who had addiction “in the family.”
It is so incredibly draining to be let down time and time again. I believed every excuse he told me. I trusted him and helped him keep it up. First alcohol, then pills. I now understand why he shuttled me around to various doctors for his back problems. I was a moving piece in his game, an innocent target. Now I know addiction does not end—it is a daily battle.
Today, my father is homeless. He lives in a warehouse where his failed motorcycle business used to be. He sits in an office chair fixing guitars from the Internet that he hopes to sell for “big bucks.” His companion is a pit bull. They sleep on the couch together and eat the same foods—I am thankful he has company.
I do not know what his day looks like or whom he interacts with in the real world. I pray he is not drinking or playing poker with his friends or spending time with his old mistress. He turned 54 a few weeks ago, marking the 11th month since I have seen him.
Parents are expected to be there for you, love you and teach you. They brought you into this world and are responsible for helping you navigate it. For me, it’s different. At Bowdoin, I put on the façade of a normal student, one who worries about her next paper or dinner plans. Yet I carry this unbearable weight on my shoulders. And I know others do the same. We try to hide our anxieties, our fears, our past, our present, but it’s important to be open about them and to speak about them, because this façade is not healthy. It is not real.
Last semester, I read an article titled, “9 Signs You Have a Toxic Parent.” Number five hit me hard. “They refuse to let you grow up.” It is impossible for me to be a woman in my dad’s mind because that means I have become an adult worthy and willing to fight back. Saying this feels right but neglects to take into account his sickness. I can scream and yell at the top of my lungs how sad I am, how depressed I am mourning the loss of my parent to addiction, but it won’t make a difference until he decides to change the course of his life. I constantly ask myself, “Why am I or why is my brother not a good enough reason for him to get healthy?” I cannot apply reason to these questions because he is incapable of being rational. I think back to the time he called me from jail when I was at a Baxter affiliate night during my first year or the time I got a text in the Pub when he told me he was thinking about killing the pit bull puppy. Every time I would tell my friends and laugh it off. I was oblivious to the unhealthy extent at which he confided in me as a teenager and then young adult. No kid knows the protocol when a parent wants to kill a pet or be picked up from jail.
Another element is the constant struggle of sharing or not sharing. I often wonder, “Do I want this person to know this part of my life?” “How will their perception of me change?” “Am I scaring them by sharing my father’s story?” I thought about these questions for a long time before writing this article. I ultimately decided that knowing such an intimate part of my life is essential to knowing me.
We do not know a person’s journey prior to Bowdoin or what they are currently experiencing. I believe that many are often quick to judge and categorize others based on appearance and secondhand stories. We see the girl with the Canada Goose jacket and may think, “That’s an expensive jacket. I bet she also has a beach house.” We see the boy not going to Cabo for Spring Break and wonder, “Why? Isn’t he rich? He hangs out with all the other kids who are going.” We do not always have the whole picture, only bits and pieces. Why make the rest up?
I strongly believe we do not deserve to know just because we ask. Our stories are ours, and we get to decide what to do with them. I am sharing my story with all of you because without it, you cannot fully grasp my identity and my perspective. My reality is that I have a toxic parent, and silence won’t change that—being open is my preferred mode of coping. As Bowdoin students, we are encouraged to share our opinions, but it is also important to just listen.
No matter what age, gender, sexuality or class you identify with, it is our duty as kind peers to be there. I urge whoever is reading this to just sit and listen to your friends. Personally, having someone simply sit with me and physically be present is more than enough if I can’t quite sort my emotions yet. I hope they will do their best to be there for you too. Life is full of surprises, and it’s a missed opportunity if you write someone off based on superficiality or something you heard over brunch.
Abby Motycka is a member of the Class of 2017.
Talk of the Quad: The Old Boys didn't like it
What is a college president there to do?
Willard Enteman began his term as Bowdoin’s 11th president in 1978. Enteman was new to Bowdoin—a Williams graduate in the midst of an academic career as a philosophy professor. In his first semester at Bowdoin, he moved quickly to engage with two of the dominant political issues facing the College. He appointed one committee to look into gender discrimination at fraternities (in other words, the fact that many did not allow women to be full members) and another to examine the possibility of divesting the College’s endowment from companies involved in apartheid South Africa.
Progress was slow. By 1980, a three-sided conflict at Bowdoin had developed between the Governing Boards (of which there were two at the time), the Faculty, and Enteman. Fraternities remained male spaces and the College had divested from nothing. Another controversy arose over faculty salaries, as the College was forced to make tough budgeting decisions in an era of double-digit inflation.
During the summer, the Boards appointed a secretive committee to review Enteman’s performance. In October, the Faculty passed a resolution condemning the “corporate procedure” of the review. On November 10, Enteman resigned.
At the time, many students and faculty at Bowdoin were frustrated by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the conflict.
“The Enteman affair is exemplary of the way things are usually handled at this institution—improperly,” read a stinging editorial in the Orient published the week of the resignation.
The Governing Board’s review was published on November 22, but even then little detail was given about the specific gripes board members had with the president. For his part, Enteman told the Orient at the time, “There is a certain level of support a President needs to have, and I got to a point where I was not receiving that support.”
A quote given by Lawrence Hall, an English professor, to the Harvard Crimson at the time gives some clues about where the conflicts lay. Hall told the paper that the president had "tried to withdraw the college's investments in South Africa, delivered a pay raise that the faculty was promised a long time ago, and he insisted that women be allowed to join the fraternities,” and said that “The old boys didn’t like it.”
Enteman returned to academia after his resignation, taking a position at Rhode Island College and teaching at various other institutions. Thirty-five years later, the gritty details of his departure remain frustratingly elusive: Secretary of Development and College Relations John Cross ’76, who acts as the College’s historian, told me that he knows little about the events because the relevant documents in the Bowdoin archives are still sealed.
Enteman is retired now, living in Providence, R.I. I reached out to him because I was curious to hear about his time at Bowdoin and his departure from his perspective. He was kind enough to correspond over email even though he was recovering from a recent surgery.
“I should warn you that I have nothing nasty or scandalous to say about Bowdoin then or now,” he wrote. “I left Bowdoin as I joined it: filled with admiration for the very positive and nearly magical educational success achieved by faculty and students working together.”
We weren’t able to speak in much detail about his time at the College, but his dedication to applying an academic lens to every facet of his work struck me.
“I remember after one speech I gave early in my time at Bowdoin, a faculty member came up to me and said that he thought liberal education was like a religion for me,” he wrote. “I saw the divestment issue in that context. I thought if we were going to engage that debate, we should do so in the context of liberal education.”
In the context of the debates surrounding divestment now—and many other debates about the College’s policies today—there is something subtly radical about this idea. Like it is at many colleges and universities, the presidency at Bowdoin is as much about organizational and financial management as it is about in-the-weeds academic policies and ideas. Barry Mills came from a background in law, and Clayton Rose comes from finance; each has worked to apply the managerial skills from those backgrounds to the high-powered institution with a complex bureaucracy that Bowdoin is.
To their credit, both also seem to have worked hard to maintain a campus culture that takes the ideals of a liberal education seriously. But there’s a distinction between being a facilitator and an active participant, and your answer about which is better probably depends on who you are. Clearly, the facilitators have been able to accomplish more at Bowdoin than Enteman was. Clearly, someone like Enteman was willing to approach issues like divestment from a philosophical perspective in a way that his more recent successors have not.
Things that happened during Enteman’s brief tenure reverberated—and are still reverberating—in the years after he left. The College required fraternities to go co-ed in 1982, less than two years after Enteman’s departure, and moved further by requiring them to give women equal standing in 1991. In the 1980s, the College’s bylaws were amended to require a committee that considered the social responsibility aspects of Bowdoin’s investments. That committee was dissolved in 1998, but the debates over fossil fuel divestment in recent years have often referenced those about South Africa.
In a column in the Orient last semester, Maya Reyes ’16 pondered how little the College discusses Franklin Pierce and asked for “more conversations about the actions and products of Bowdoin that we aren’t so proud of.” When it comes to Willard Enteman, I have a different, if related, ask: I want Bowdoin to be proud of him and what he stood for as a president.
Many of the questions the College faces today—about where it invests, about the social inclusion of historically marginalized people—came to a head during Enteman’s tenure. Enteman may not have been at the College long, but his presence had a lasting effect on how Bowdoin approaches social and political change. However, for such a historically significant figure, he seems to be largely forgotten.
Think about it this way: it’s hard to go four years at Bowdoin without committing the names of most of the College’s presidents to memory without even trying. Their names are attached to locations most of us know and frequent from our first months here: Appleton and Hyde Halls, Coles Tower, the McKeen Center for the Common Good, and on and on.
The decision to name one building after any one person happens on an individual basis, but collectively they’re an important part of the way that institutional memory functions at a place like Bowdoin. A name attached to a part of Bowdoin’s physical landscape is not an endorsement of every facet of that person’s character, but it is an indication that the namesake is part of a group that made a significant contribution to Bowdoin’s past.
Presidents who came after Enteman have something to their names. Greason might be stuck with the pool, but it’s better than nothing. Bowdoin’s newest academic building is named for Edwards, and it’s hard to imagine that Mills won’t have a building before long. But there’s no Enteman Hall, or Enteman Auditorium, or Enteman Center.
It doesn’t have to come in the form of a building, but it should come from somewhere. We owe it to ourselves to reckon with the legacy of Willard Enteman—and the old boys who didn’t like it.
John Branch is a member of the Class of 2016.
Talk of the Quad: That girl from the Facebook group
“I thought that falling out of one's chair due to sheer excitement was something that didn't actually happen in real life…”
December 15, 2011. 4:57 p.m. Thursday afternoon, probably just hours after I’d gotten my acceptance letter to Bowdoin. The beginning.
Members of the Class of 2016, you’ll remember this. Even if you didn’t read it firsthand, you heard about it on move-in day, on your Pre-O’s, in the dining hall during the first few weeks of school. “Olivia Stone—you know, that girl from the Facebook group?” That’s me, the girl who, as soon as she was accepted to Bowdoin, started posting in the Bowdoin Class of 2016 Facebook group and just didn’t stop.
It made me kind of famous. My dear friend and roommate told me today that she recalls seeing me in the line to get breakfast the morning after we all slept in Farley asking if there were any gluten-free bagels. Recognizing me from my Facebook photos, she thought, “Of course Olivia Stone would be gluten-free.” (I’m not anymore.) Someone else apologized to my first-year roommate that she had to live with me. My fame was not all that flattering.
I remember distinctly sitting at my kitchen counter probably somewhere around 4:50 p.m. that day and deciding that college was a chance for me to be as weird as I wanted to be, as publicly as I wanted to be. I remember feeling bold and therefore cool as I typed out the above comment on Alex Roche’s post. I remember my palms sweating a little while I waited for people to reply, and when they did, being excited by the opportunity to get to know all of my future classmates.
I was helpful; I answered questions about what kind of laundry detergent we should get (high efficiency), whether twin XL sheets are necessary (not really) and what color the couches were in the first year bricks. (I had already asked around—they’re all different colors.) I asked about under-bed storage and clarified the difference between “Carolina blue” and just regular blue. In case you are wondering, there is a Wikipedia page for Carolina blue.
“Hate to be that kid, but anyone NOT follow sports here?” I typed, thinking that was funny and hip. I reposted the KONY 2012 video in an attempt to reveal how informed and socially conscious I was. Yeah, that’s cringe-worthy, I know. Almost as bad as when I posted the legendary photo of my friend Arvind (he doesn’t go here) and I at senior prom, our hands awkwardly twisted into B’s with the caption “Bowdoin goes to prom!”
I had no idea that my overeager Facebook presence would label me as Facebook girl for the Class of 2016. I found out during orientation when, between bouts of diarrhea from some virus I picked up hiking (or maybe just pre-first-day-of-school nervousness, let’s be real), I introduced myself to my classmates and discovered that they already knew exactly who I was.I was mortified. To be honest, I am still kind of mortified when I think about it. In a lot of ways, it has shaped how I use social media now—I almost never make posts anymore, have purged many people from my friends lists and sometimes deactivate my Facebook account. I go back and forth on whether I should make a comeback post in the 2016 group before graduation (now accepting suggestions), but as a general rule, I have stayed far, far away from that thing.
Despite the lingering embarrassment and my not-ideal first impressions, though, Bowdoin has turned out to be more or less exactly the welcoming community I hoped it would be. I feel comfortable being just as weird as I want to be, and luckily, this has morphed into a different kind of weird than the one I put forth on the Internet before arriving at college. It’s a kind of weird I feel a lot more comfortable with than the one who giggled as she commented “labyrinth with david bowie” on the post “Describe your sex life in a movie title.” I can assure you, that was not true, nor was it really that funny.
The Bowdoin Class of 2016 page remains an archive of how I’ve matured, as I bet this Talk of the Quad will serve me years from now when I feel nostalgic about the old couch in the well-loved apartment where I wrote it. Now, I cheesily thank the Class of 2016 for helping a Facebook girl figure herself out. To quote my December 15, 2011 self again, “By the way, congrats to everyone, we have all worked really hard to get here. we did it!!!!”
P.S. The comment “FIRST OLIVIA STONE POST!!!” on that original post, made a year and a half later, got 50 likes.
Olivia Stone is a member of the class of 2016.
Talk of the Quad: The sweet, the bitter and the wise
For a long time, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be happy. This seemed like a distant and shimmering answer and something people couldn’t question. If I said I wanted to be a writer, people would ask me, rapid fire: “What kind of writing?” “Do you want to go to grad school?” “That’s nice, but I meant what are you going to do for money?” Saying I wanted to be happy could mean writing or it could mean a white picket fence in the suburbs or traveling the world or eating granola in my bed. Whatever was underneath “happy,” it remained mine, and no one could question it.
This year I am studying in Italy. It’s been a whirlwind of churches, fruit stands and little old women dressed to the nines. I’ve lit a paper lantern and let it go across the Adriatic Sea. I’ve been invited in for coffee by a nun. I’ve walked through the underground city of Naples.
I was also in Paris during the terrorist attacks. I got bed bugs in Rome. I went through a breakup. I do not mean to present the highs and the lows as a balanced equation. (I am well aware it would be a very, very privileged equation.) I mean only to point to a few moments to say I have experienced extremes.
A year ago in the Bowdoin Orient, I wrote, “I have conquered an eating disorder.” What I meant was that I didn’t use the margins of my notebooks to tally calories anymore. I could live with myself on the days I didn’t run six miles. I could eat an entire slice of cake on my birthday without wincing.
What I should have said was: “I conquered an eating disorder once.
After Paris, I was anxious all the time. I ate cartons of cereal instead of actually feeling sad. When I went grocery shopping, I bounced back and forth between milk brands and brightly stacked vegetables, disoriented, as if on a scavenger hunt without any clues. In between all of this, I was drinking espresso in Venice, watching sunsets and coasting through the hills of Bologna on a Vespa.
I had little to no patience with myself—if I wasn’t happy now, in Italy, when would I be? How could I be refacing an eating disorder when I had so many days here where I was not just happy but ecstatic and overcome with gratitude?
You’d think refacing something means that it would be a little easier to look in the eye. But this version of an eating disorder is different from the one I experienced at 16. It is both deeply familiar and also completely foreign. I have had to relearn it. I have had to carve a new space.
Shame is what pulls you under. When my mom came to visit me in Italy, I said that I’m still struggling. Sometimes I’m scared. It was strange to be having this conversation in a hotel in Italy, a better version of the conversation we’d had four years ago in our living room in Chicago.
At the end of it, my mother said, “I just want you to be happy.” The sentiment was beautiful! Who doesn’t want to be happy? Who doesn’t want their parents to want that for them? For the record, my mother is incredible. But I was mad as hell. There is something unsatisfying and hollow about the word happiness. It’s impossible to pin down. It doesn’t capture much.
And yet, a big part of me wanted to say, “But I am happy.” It wasn’t a lie. Overall, I didn’t not feel happy, even while during the conversation, I was crying and my face was covered in snot.My mother wasn’t wrong in perhaps referencing the fact that I didn’t seem at peace. But why did I feel shame in admitting that things were sometimes not so easy? Why was it so hard to admit that yes, I wasn’t always happy?
I think we are taught that happy means good and sad means bad. Yet “satisfaction” comes from the same Indo-European root that gives us "sad." Disorder, of whatever type, can coexist with “goodness,” and illness can coexist with health. Maybe some difficult things never go away, but we can learn how to re-greet them, to pay attention, to maybe be a little bit more compassionate towards ourselves. Contradictions don’t equate to lies or hypocrisies. We can be kickass students, amazing friends, artists, athletes and partners, and within the context of being those things, we can struggle with what is painful, dark and difficult.
As the Italians say, Non ha il dolce a caro, chi provato non ha l'amaro. To taste the sweet, sometimes you must try the bitter. Meaning, you can have moments of light in a year of suffering or moments of suffering in a year of light. You can wake up in Italy or Spain or Senegal or Brunswick (or wherever you are) and see something painful rise within you, something you thought you left behind many places ago. Hardship, in however it manifests, can be a part of well-being and often is a crucial part.
We can be in awe of the world around us (and be active participants) while also deeply in pain. Bearing witness to ourselves and all of our contradictions, learning to greet (often more than once) our struggles with patience and allowing room for discomfort or grief are, sometimes, a lot of work. A lot of hard work and often excruciatingly difficult. But it is worthwhile and important and worth stopping in the midst of our very busy lives to make space for and observe.
Long ago, in the Welsh language, the word “happy” first meant “wise.”
Raisa Tolchinsky is a member of the class of 2017.
Talk of the Quad: Sandwich City
Copenhagen cold, I called it. The kind of cold that, despite the thermometer reading a balmy 40, felt as raw and as blistering as the dead of winter. The jam-packed excursions of my semester abroad program were over, but I still had three weeks to sit in my dismal pre-war suburban dorm room and finish what I came to Denmark (at least partially) to do: study. I grew melancholy from the Nordic chill and craved the warmth of home.
Growing up in a family that plans Thursday dinner during Tuesday lunch, it was no surprise that I immediately turned to the satisfaction of a good meal to cheer myself up. I powered on my laptop, began to research menus for cafés in central Copenhagen and, after incorrectly translating “goat cheese” to “sheep curd” 15 times, found my first destination: Ibsen & Co., a hipster coffee and sandwich shop in a trendy section of the city.
Trust me, this first culinary expedition was nowhere near as smooth as the hummus lining of the sandwich I ultimately enjoyed. Starting the day at the bus stop I thought was the correct one, I proceeded to trudge through the Copenhagen cold for about 40 minutes in the wrong direction before eventually stumbling into some very confused Danish bakers. After approximately two hours of travel, I finally ordered my lunch and collapsed into the oversized pale blue wooden chair. When I finally bit into the much-anticipated crust, I could taste not only the pride from my excursion, but also the reassuring comfort of home.
With momentum from my recent quest, I perused the local neighborhood. I peeked in stores and markets and noted places I wanted to return. I tasted chocolate samples (lots of chocolate samples) and watched children walking home from school. Strangely enough, this stroll gave me, someone who hates roller coasters and scary movies, an adrenaline rush I’d never felt before. It kept me on my toes. It required me to take risks. And yet, it reminded me of my family, six hours behind, likely just beginning the search for a perfect Saturday lunch spot. The balance of risk and comfort was animating, and I loved it.
For the rest of that semester, whenever I had a free afternoon, I would scour the Internet for a new destination. With each excursion, I grew more comfortable with public transit, more familiar with Nordic food and more confident in my somewhat aimless tours of the Danish capital. I learned the joy of discovering a city, and discovering myself, one sandwich at a time.
Ironically, it wasn’t until sitting in Panera upon returning to Boston that I decided to transform my sandwich-trekking hobby into something more. After discussing my semester abroad with an old friend, he suggested I write a blog. Although I stubbornly said I wouldn’t have enough time, in a few days the first posts of Sandwich City were complete. Since then, my spontaneous European pick-me-ups have transported me to nearby yet unfamiliar neighborhoods, have introduced me to businesses that use food as a vehicle for social change and have taught me to be more self-reliant and curious about the world around me.
My culinary interests crossed into my academic life this past fall when I embarked on a year-long honors project studying Portland’s restaurant industry. To me, connecting theories of social movement and urban development seemed like the prototypical sociology study, and I spent the summer excitedly preparing some preliminary research.
However, within the first few days of the semester, my proposal was rejected. Thesis status in the department required that the paper adhere to strict Academy guidelines, and because my topic lacked a specific academic framework, it was considered “not sociological enough” to ride the honors track. I was frustrated by the decision, and over the next few months worked tirelessly to prove that my proposal, if adapted slightly, could be valid and relevant for advanced study. While I was given a second chance in January, I soon came to realize that in order to ensure my honors status, I would likely end up having to change my focus completely.
With the first draft looming in March, I sat conflicted about how to proceed. I loved flipping through the Press Herald and interviewing the owners of Duckfat and The Holy Donut, but felt as if the hamster wheel of restrictions were forcing me away from what the Academy deemed merely an amateur restaurant review. Nevertheless, as someone who religiously adheres to rules and strives for high distinctions, the thought of abandoning the honors track I’d fought so hard to pursue seemed both intimidating and cowardly.
I began to think critically about my project’s original goals. I wanted to use the skills from my Bowdoin education to examine a topic that made me feel a part of the world around me. I wanted to motivate restaurateurs to unleash the power of food to inspire community and personal exploration. Did fulfilling these goals really require a formal stamp of approval?
With a gradual revelation that my work was inherently mine, I came to realize that my personal interests were meaningful even if they weren’t conventional by traditional academic standards. Whatever emerged from the crusty loaf of that first Ibsen & Co. sandwich could be relevant as long as it was important to me. I felt free to continue with my project in a direction that I wanted, and I retook ownership of my work.
Just before spring break, I chose to abandon the honors track and continue my project as an independent study. Since then, I’ve conducted five more interviews, written two chapters and am searching for magazines to publish my piece. I continue to blog, dragging friends and family along when I want to try a new place. And every once in a while, I go alone, experiencing once again the smell of the food and adrenaline of the city that first pulled me in.
(To visit my blog, please visit https://sandwichcity.wordpress.com.)
Emily Snider is a member of the Class of 2016.
Talk of the Quad: Sister act
Bowdoin might have been the best thing to ever happen to me. Honestly, I said that in a job interview a few months ago but it’s true. Growing up in the cultural wasteland that is South Florida, I never really fit in. Florida felt hot and vain and materialistic and old. Fulfilling my cultural stereotype of the overeager and overly anxious suburban girl who thinks she’s “alternative” and “special,” I spent the entirety of senior year of high school wishing that I could leave the humidity of South Florida for a liberal arts college with the kind of artsy and intellectual crowd that was so different than everyone I knew and had ever met. I set timers for 11:11 every day and every night, just to make sure some greater power knew how much I really wanted “The Perfect Liberal Arts Experience."
Bowdoin the Reality was even better than Bowdoin the Dream. I ate sundaes every Sunday and Wednesday and took classes in philosophy and went streaking at Farley Field House and fell in love with a boy and with my friends and with myself. Sometimes I cried to my mom on the floor of my dorm room and stressed about deadlines and had Snapchat-induced FOMO. Even then, I loved Bowdoin and I loved how it let me grow.
Bowdoin quickly became more than just an Institution of Higher Learning; it was symbolic of my entry into adulthood. So when my younger sister decided she was following me to Bowdoin, I mostly just panicked. I was working to become my own person, but now I was going to have to do it under the watchful eye of my little sister.
Our parents, of course, were thrilled about the idea of us going to college together. They constantly reminded me that I would have someone to sit with at Passover Seders in Main Lounge and take care of me when I got sick, or was more likely being a hypochondriac and had a “concussion.” The eight hours it took to get home wouldn’t be so unbearable when I had Molly to share candy and magazines with and won’t it just be so nice to see your sister walking by?
Molly and I are two halves of the same whole. We share a mom and a dad and a bedroom. Our birthdays are five days apart, even though the doctors thought we would share one. We drove to school together every day, we drove home together every day. We went to summer camp together and shared a closet and even sometimes deodorant. I talked and talked and talked, Molly listened. We fought a lot, mostly because I tried to steal her clothes. Sometimes it escalated to physical violence, but that was pretty rare.
To say the least, I had mixed feelings about sharing Bowdoin with my sister. I worried that when she set up her dorm room, she would unpack parts of me that I was trying to leave at home.
I worried that she would be friends with my friends and watch me DFMO and maybe see me drunk. I worried that she’d think I didn’t have my life together (of course she would, I didn’t…) or tell my parents the embarrassing things I did. Most of all, I worried that she wouldn’t like me in my new habitat.
Bowdoin felt too small for both of us to figure our shit out.
So I went abroad, to take some time for myself and let Molly get her bearings here without me. The distance was mostly good for us. Molly could choose her classes and her friends and her life without my (unwanted) input. While I posed in front of the Duomo and stuffed my face with gelato, I would loan Bowdoin to Molly so that she could carve out her own Bowdoin, under the pretense that it would still be my place when I returned.
My transition back to Bowdoin in the spring felt strange, mostly because it felt more like Molly’s than it did like mine. Unlike a lot of first years who stumble through their first semester, Molly flourished. My little sister wasn’t so little anymore. I had been so obsessed with the idea that she would impede on my turf, not let me “Become Who I Am,” that I failed to see that I was the one hovering over her.
Even though it took us a while to learn how to coexist, having Molly here has been one of the best parts of my Bowdoin experience. We share friends and get dinners sometimes and FaceTime our grandparents together. We fight about whose job it is to book flights home and where to eat when our parents visit. We laugh about our mom’s failed attempts to watch us on the Thorne Live Feed. We bring each other snacks in the library. Now, we live close enough that I can see the light on in her room every night when I go to sleep. It’s not the same as the pillow talk we had as kids, but it’s close enough.
Rachel Snyder is a member of the Class of 2016.
Talk of the Quad: Why I'm a radical
My beliefs do not come from within myself but rather from a life in a world which opposes me.I’m not sure when it started. Maybe a year ago when I finally found a word to describe my gender. Maybe a few months ago when I began to engage critically with the concept of capitalism as a sure fact of the world. Maybe it was last June, when I spoke to a room full of high school teachers regarding the importance of gender inclusivity in school. Maybe during the teach-in, when I spoke very summarily on the experience of being queer and trans and a person of color all at once.
But really, I do know. It started years ago, when people attributed my academic success to my race. It started when I was told I needed to find a girlfriend to take to school dances. It started when cars of people would drive by and yell “Faggot!” at me and my friends in high school. It started when I was told to identify as white on college application forms.
My radicalism—and there can be no weaker word to describe the way I see myself and the world around me—birthed itself through the experiences of 20 years of life. My sense of critical deconstructionism represents more to me than a political stance—it is a weapon and the best and most reliable tool I have for self-preservation. Because I live in a world which constantly reminds me that I should not exist, that I am an anomaly and that I need to fit within prescribed boxes, every action I take, every decision I make, represents more than an individual incident but instead a political statement.
When I introduce myself as agender and explain that I use any and all pronouns interchangeably, I am describing not just a self-identification but an act of revolt against the very institution of gender itself. But when I am forced to use a men’s bathroom or a men’s locker room, I am undermining myself and my beliefs, submitting to a system which I cannot make submit to me.
When I check “Asian” and not “white” on the college enrollment form, I am making a statement about the manner in which I am racialized on a daily basis; I am not perceived as white, and therefore I am not treated as such. However, growing up in a white household has distanced me entirely from the culture of Asian Americans.
I am a radical merely through the fact of my existence. Because my life is a political event, my body as a politicized space is a reality whether I want it to be or not. I am a radical through process of elimination. If I am not a man, am not a woman, am not white and yet also not ‘fully’ Asian, am not straight and yet unable to define my sexuality with words that rely on the existence of a gender binary, I am forced to exist in a liminal space.
I am a radical as a means of self-reassurance. Even if I do not fit into the boxes prescribed to me, I can make my own. Radicalism frees me and my ability to explore my own identity, unbound by the circumstances of my birth.
When I forecast such extremes as the eventual abolition of gender and the inevitable death of capitalism, I do so with the utmost certainty. Because I know there is no other option. I am not the first radical, and I will not be the last. The world, as hegemonically patriarchal and capitalist as it is, produced me and my beliefs, and I am trying my hardest to change what I can and pass on a world just a little bit better than the one that was given to me. Progress engenders radicalism which engenders progress—a cycle of violent ideological death and rebirth towards a better life for everyone.
My beliefs and experiences directly inform one another. I don’t simply have a political stance or set of opinions—radicalism is quite literally a lifestyle of discontent with the system but optimism for the future. There are more of us every day, an unjust society creating revolutionaries like antibodies designed to fight a virus. I do not doubt that one day we will win
Paul Cheng is a member of the Class of 2017.
Talk of the Quad: Romancing a biologist
I’m largely indifferent to Valentine’s Day. A little of my indifference is because I’m in a long-distance relationship and our “do something special together” options are constrained, but most of it is just my personality. I may be sentimental, but I’m not romantic. So when Valentine’s Day rolls around, I’m most excited by the prospect of candy that’s cheap in every sense of the word.
Another thing that excites me about Valentine’s Day is that it’s a great opportunity to tell my friends about the other great love of my life: biology. Valentine’s Day is nominally about romantic love, which frequently goes hand-in-hand with sexual activity. Large portions of biology are about sexual reproduction and its consequences. The approach of Valentine’s Day is a fun occasion to babble about bower bird nests, spider mating dances and the way flowers—such a prominent symbol of romance—attract pollinators like bees. It’s sexy stuff.
This year I’ve been thinking a lot about nuptial gifts. Nuptial gifts are sort of like valentines. They’re objects presented to a mate or potential mate as part of courtship. They are given at a specific time of year, i.e., breeding season. They fall into a narrow range of objects, frequently food. They also—forgive me for saying so—are almost always presented to females by males seeking sexual contact. This last part obviously applies more to nuptial gifts than valentines, but I don’t think it’s outrageous to say that a stereotype of human valentines is similar.
Nuptial gifts are fun to talk about because they can be cute, they can be unexpected or they can be weird. For a cute example, consider the Northern Cardinal. (They’re bright red songbirds with a jaunty crest and black masks and are common near Bowdoin.) A male cardinal will bring a seed to his mate and delicately feed it to her. Adorable, and much more socially acceptable between songbirds than high schoolers. If the pair stays together, the male will continue this behavior, which is probably beneficial for both of them because laying and taking care of eggs is hard work and the female needs her strength. Courtship feeding looks very tender to humans, especially if you take into account that fact that male cardinals attack hubcaps when they can see their reflections. I have a soft spot for brash heroes with a heart of gold.
Spiders provide an example of unexpected nuptial gifts. Most people don’t think of spiders as having much social behavior, yet it’s common for male spiders to present potential mates with a carefully wrapped gift. Whereas a human might present a prospective mate with a box of chocolates, the male spider presents the female with her favorite dish: a dead insect! Of course, there are classy dates and those that are much less so. In the spider world, less-than-classy males wrap useless, empty insect husks and present them to females. (Dear male spiders: regifting food is tacky, doubly so when you eat it first.) On the other hand, female spiders seem to place more value on a nice body than a generous spirit. A spider who eats his own present before wrapping it up might be making a smart choice. (Dear humans: this behavior is only advisable if you’re trying to date a spider.)
Finally we come to a nuptial gift we humans would find weird: an edible spermatophore. Katydids (pronunciation help: “who did? Katie did!”) are a kind of insect related to crickets and grasshoppers, and they usually look like leaves. The male katydid produces an object called a spermatophore for the female. As the name implies, the spermatophore contains his sperm in a packet, and the rest of the spermatophore is an edible substance the male produces. If the female accepts the spermatophore, she will fertilize her eggs with the male’s sperm and gain energy by eating the rest. It’s a weird and unromantic present by human standards, but it means a lot to the female katydid. Reproduction is hard work, and the direct cost of reproduction almost always falls more heavily on the female. The male’s contribution to the female’s wellbeing can make a big difference.
I might not be a romantic person, but even I can see that nuptial gifts are distinctly practical. The human stereotype is that practical gifts are unromantic, but one person’s perfect, romantic present is another’s useless gesture. For our anniversary, my boyfriend took me birdwatching, which I considered to be the height of romance. Notably, his gift meant that I woke up at 5 a.m., woke him and ran around getting our birding stuff together while his brain slowly booted up. His real contribution was driving us to the park (which I cannot do) and his company (which is always welcome). If I were less of a morning person, I probably would have hated it.
If he’d gone a more traditional route and opted for jewelry, I’d have thanked him and quietly fretted over the price—which he knows, and it’s probably why I got to go birding in the wee hours. The human concept of romance is a moving target. Maybe the nonhuman animal metric of usefulness is saner. It’s certainly easier to understand than romantic versus unromantic. For humans, a practical gift like a set of kitchen knives is unromantic. I imagine most people would consider nuptial gifts to be unromantic, too. But it’s possible that a person who considered nuptial gifts in terms of self-sacrifice might squeeze a little romantic sentiment from the behavior. A gift of food is significant to these animals, and nuptial gifts can mean the difference between a successful reproductive season or death. The male katydid gives of himself to feed his mate.
Frankly, whether the katydid’s gift is unromantic is not important to me. What matters is that nuptial gifts are very cool. This behavior is found in many kinds of animals, meaning it evolved independently many times. The basic idea seems straightforward, but there are a lot of variations. Some nuptial gifts are in the context of an existing pair, and others are given between relative strangers. Some animals give non-food gifts. As in human gift-giving, there’s a lot of strategy involved. Is it better for a katydid to produce a few large spermatophores or a bunch of little ones? Should a female spider choose a mate who gives her a (possibly empty) gift or a stud with no gift at all? A lot of research has been done studying nuptial gifts, but there’s a lot we still don’t know. That’s what I love about biology and life in general: there’s always more to discover. That’s beautiful. It’s even a bit romantic.
Jenna Watling is a member of the Class of 2016.
Talk of the Quad: The light room is lit
At Bowdoin, we tend to sort ourselves into camps, groups we identify with or activities we feel passionately about. We’re an athlete or a NARP, a humanities or a STEM major and—perhaps most significantly—a Thorne person or a Moulton person. As two die-hard fans of the Moulton Light Room (MLR), we’re of the belief that this last, seemingly simple preference is nothing if not deeply meaningful.
One of the most distinct and beloved qualities of the light room is the people—the regulars, the staff and even those who only rarely step out of the Tower. It’s hard to put why we love the Moulton Light Room into words, so as we began brainstorming this article (in the MLR, obviously), we asked some of the other Light Room regulars for their one-sentence takes.
When asked, Allyson Gross ’16 couldn’t limit herself to one sentence. “If I have a brand, the Moulton Light Room is part of it,” she professed. The room’s comforting familiarity enables her to remain a “creature of habit,” right down to the tables she chooses to sit at—her personal favorite is along the window wall near the outlet (obviously the best).
A second devotee, Julia Mead ’16, resorted to simile: “The Moulton light room reminds me of a womb, and every time I leave it, I feel like I’m a baby being born prematurely. The outside world is harsh.” The stark contrast between Moulton and the cold, snowy Quad only serves as encouragement to give Irene your OneCard and opt to stay for lunch.
One of Katie’s favorite #JustMLRThings is that the very friendly man who works in the dishroom somehow got the idea that her name is Emily and cheerfully calls her that every time he sees her. It’s been three years now, and the period in which it would have been acceptable to correct him is long over. She appreciates all the effort he’s gone to to remember her name, even if it doesn’t happen to be correct per se.
So what does all this add up to? What makes this humble space so important to us? There are a lot of surface-level reasons, obviously, like the MLR’s clear superiority to both Thorne and the Dark Room. Thorne, in the words of Martin Krzywy ’16, is “simultaneously overwhelming and isolating”—too large, too many people and lacking the space to make meaningful connections. (Plus, the salad bar never has feta.) And the Dark Room is even worse—dimly lit, cold and closed off from the rest of the dining hall’s ambience.
The Light Room, on the other hand, is bright and airy. It’s the best place on campus to linger over your breakfast, feel the sun’s rays graze your face and restock from the seemingly endless supply of Nicaraguan Fair Trade organic coffee. It’s the perfect place to do the New York Times crossword, watch crowds of friends come and go and generally hide from responsibility.
“The Light Room is somewhat of an oxymoron because it is a subterraneous room, dug into the ground, but many people characterize the room with light atmosphere—a light room in an underground space,” mused Henry Austin ’16.
But in the end, of course, it’s not just the space itself that matters to us but the significance we attach to it. The Light Room is more than a place to eat three meals every day—it’s a safe, comforting space that we’ve been able to personalize and make our own. Jenny loves feeling comfortable enough to walk in the Light Room alone for a meal, only to be greeted by a reliable group of her friends. When Katie was abroad last year, this sense of reliability was just what she missed the most in a foreign city. She found herself frequenting a coffee shop called Black Medicine, where she and her friends would meet up to order espresso-based beverages and squat all day, hoping to fill the MLR void in her heart.
The Moulton Light Room is one of our favorite things about Bowdoin, but it’s comforting to think that this feeling of an individualized, reliable space is something we can continue to create even when we’re no longer here. As Jenny makes abroad plans and Katie prepares for graduation, we’ll try to remember the importance of creating these spaces for ourselves wherever we end up. Though MLR might just be a room, the quirks that make it so pleasant will always be a constant.
Jenny Ibsen is a member of the Class of 2018 and Katie Miklus is a member of the 2016.
Talk of the Quad: Straight to the roots
I’d estimate that roughly 40 percent of my college friends know that I’m Jewish. Well, half-Jewish, I guess. I’ve always wondered how obvious it is from the outside. My religious background doesn’t come up in conversation that often, and besides, I have fond memories of Christmas mornings I reference during the holiday season. My mom never figured out a way to explain to my older sister and me why Santa wouldn’t come down our chimney but left presents under the tree for every other kid from our country day school. My mother grew up as the archetypical uniform-wearing Catholic schoolgirl, converted into a righty by a nun who’d continually slap her left wrist with a ruler because “life is made for right-handed people.” She attended church twice a week for nearly 30 years. Her father was even born on Christmas day. When she fell in love with a Jewish man, her faith became a deal-breaker, so she left it at the (mezuzah-ed) door and converted to Judaism in order to marry my father. And although “biologically” speaking, that makes me as much Irish Catholic as I am Jewish, there are times when the former seems like nothing more than a muted recessive gene.
**** When I was a little girl, I earned a reputation in my family as being a little too independent. “I Can Do It Myself,” I’d say when someone tried to pack my lunch box or tie my shoes. My nickname soon became the acronym for my personal mantra: ICDIM. It was during the ICDIM era that I began doing my own hair. I picked a hairstyle I liked and stuck with it—day and night—for seven years. The braid. One single braid, straight down the back of my head. In the beginning, it was cute. I latched onto the hairstyle because I loved it when people told me I looked like my mother, and all the pictures I saw of her as a child showed her wearing the same singular braid. But as the years passed, it grew increasingly less cute. I wound my hair so tightly that the top layer began to break off where the braid began. A “frizz halo,” as my volleyball coach called it, started to form. You can probably estimate in what year a photo was taken based on the circumference of the halo. Despite how unattractive that look became, I felt almost incapacitated to change it. Part of me wonders if this was a residual fear of one of the more scarring moments of my youth: the day I unwove the cornrows I had gotten while on a vacation to the Caribbean. I cried when I looked in the mirror because I was so terrified of the self I saw stare back at me. My hair had expanded so much it had become more like the mane of a lion than the locks of my hair that, for most of my life, had been pin straight. That moment commenced a sort of Pavlonian conditioning in my mind: if I undo the braid, my hair becomes unbearably puffy. Each day I made a choice between which image I disliked less, and so each day I voluntarily bound my hair so that no one—especially not I—could see what it really looked like. ****
I learned the slang word “Jewfro” in high school when I became friends with another girl who shared in my hair troubles. Her definition matched what remains on Urban Dictionary today: “the Jewish form of an Afro,” or “a curly mop of hair with lots of volume.” I began using the term around the house, in reference to myself, when my hair was being particularly unmanageable or when looking at old photographs of my dad in college. One day, my father had enough. I used the term in a snarky line, and he got so angry that he grounded me. I never really felt connected to Jewish culture, so I guess that’s why I never considered the term to be anything offensive. At our temple, which was over half an hour away from where I lived, I was an outcast. I attended Hebrew school only on the days my pediatrician swore I didn’t have strep throat. The experience felt wholly unauthentic. Every Sunday and Monday, when my mom—who to this day hides statuettes of saints among her bookcases—drove me to temple, I wondered why we were not instead travelling to the church down our street. I harbored a lot of resentment toward my father, a man of science who openly argued about the irrationality of believing in God, yet demanded that his kids be raised Jewish. Since Catholicism had played such a strong role in my mother’s life, I always thought that my sister and I should have been raised Irish Catholic or at least been formally exposed to both faiths. But what I really wanted, in typical ICDIM fashion, was to choose for myself what to believe instead of having the decision made for me. ****
Hair straightening was the only “Jewish” (and I put that in quotes because I know that it is not culturally unique) ritual I understood innately. It is so widespread that it is almost customary for a Jewish girl with kinky hair to flat iron or chemically treat her hair until she convinces herself that it’s as smooth and shiny as the paradigm of beauty she constructed in her mind. It was my older sister—my polar opposite in almost every way—who taught me this. When she got a keratin treatment during my freshman year of high school, I saw what I believed to be an ideal solution to the braid that was exacerbating my hair damage. Only a couple of months passed before I, too, was sitting in the hair salon for hours, getting chemicals pasted onto my hair with a slimy paintbrush, just like she had. The tedium of the process—and the woes of post-treatment upkeep—suddenly became a shared experience, a way for my sister and I to connect despite our distance. As different hair straightening treatments hit the market, we tested them all and shared our thoughts on each. Keratin grew out too quickly. Chemical relaxer wasn’t strong enough. Brazilian Blowouts contained carcinogenic chemicals. After a couple years of experimentation, I settled with the keratin, but my sister went for the next-level stuff: thermal reconditioning. In exchange for a hefty investment of time and money, the process makes hair stick straight, puff-less and free of frizz for six months—the longest lasting treatment, but also the most difficult to grow out. Its permanence staved me off, but I watched with a glimmer of jealousy when day after day, my sister rolled out of bed and ran a comb through her hair without it inflating. Eventually, I caved. **** It is not uncommon for me to notice people staring at my roots sometimes. When my friends ask, “How come your hair is curly at the top, but the rest of it is straight?” I have no problem explaining to them that it’s because it’s chemically treated and growing out, although I’m aware of how alien that may sound. Most people don’t understand, and some have even yelled at me for voluntarily “damaging” my “perfectly fine” hair, but their comments never bothered me enough to change my mind. Recently, I was sitting in my friend’s living room when he told me he thinks I should stop getting my hair treated. “Why don’t you just let it be natural?” he asked. Since I was a tween, I’ve been putting on my scalp the same chemicals that morticians use to embalm dead people. I wish that I could look at my friend and tell him that, you know what, I think I am going to stop. But it’s not as easy as it sounds like it should be. Upon immigrating to the United States, my great-grandfather changed our surname from Rabinowitz—meaning “son of the rabbi”—to the less-Jewish-sounding Robbins to avoid persecution. Almost a century later, my hair treatments have become my modern-day tactic of hiding my Jewish identity, an identity to which I never genuinely related, and at times even resented. They have also come to represent the strongest tie I feel to a Jewish tradition, which, as flawed as this may be, is a ritual of suppression. I mistook hair straightening as a solution to the braid I wore in my childhood, when really it was a metamorphosed continuation. Both allowed me to displace my frustration over my inability to be Catholic onto the most visible aspect of my Jewishness: the Jewfro. I thought that confining my hair in a braid or trying to change its physical structure would take care of the larger crisis I couldn’t tangibly wrestle. Without my “Jewfro,” people don’t ask me if I’m Jewish, and I don’t have to sound foolish when I struggle to put a label on my spirituality. I don’t trigger frustration and confusion about being raised as part of a faith that neither of my parents wholeheartedly believe in as I stare in the mirror while just trying to brush my teeth. And when my “Jewish hair” starts to grow in again and the label’s in limbo, I start to think: being unattached to both Judaism and Catholicism has let me invent a spirituality of my own, one that feels more authentic to my beliefs than that of either of my parents’. Lacking the rigidity of one religion hasn’t prevented me from believing in God. But now, when my friends ask me what my natural hair looks like and if they’ll ever see it, even I wonder if I’ll ever stop hiding my roots. Besides, it only takes a few hours in the sun and a blistering red burn to remind me just how Irish I am too.
Talk of the Quad: Discrimination will always be there, but race and ethnicity still matter
My ethnicity has defined me as a person over the years, and I hate when I hear people saying things like “Never let your race dictate who you are.” From my experience, both with and against my will, my race and ethnicity—that is, my outward physical appearance—have defined me as a person both to myself and people around me. Since I moved to the U.S. in 2007, I have heard much talk on race and ethnicity in this nation. I moved around a lot while growing up, and I believe race and ethnicity play a much bigger role, both positive and negative, in the U.S. than they do in most other places. This is especially important in terms of both recent events and trends that have been continuing for centuries: discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Of course, the situation must be rectified. Yet I just wanted to say that ending racial and ethnic discrimination won’t put a stop to all discrimination. I hear a lot of misguided talk on this campus about how once racism stops, our society is going to turn into some utopian wonderland where everyone is happy and unicorns frolic. But that’s simply not the case. We will still discriminate based on more subtle and easily hidden differences. When I was in elementary school in South Korea, my family got into pretty serious financial trouble. We moved to a “rougher” neighborhood, but I was still attending the same nationally run, hyper-competitive school in the middle of Gangnam District, made famous by Psy. I immediately recognized the change in people’s reactions when I told them of my family’s new neighborhood. It was subtle, but it was there. Yet, as soon as I told them about my parents’ jobs, or that I played ice hockey, or any number of things, the reactions changed “for the better” again. Korea is a homogenous country. “Everyone looks the same,” said an English friend when she visited me in Seoul last summer. Despite the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in my homeland, I’d say discrimination is actually bigger there than here. Koreans discriminate, and we discriminate openly. I’m not saying discrimination is good. What I am trying to say is discrimination will always be there, with or without racial and ethnic diversity. Koreans will ask right off the bat where you live and what university you attend. If you don’t live in Seoul, forget about earning instant respect or favors. Even if you live in Seoul, how you are treated will vary significantly based on which district. As far as universities go, if it’s not one of the SKYs (Seoul National, Korea, and Yonsei, the Ivy League of Korea), most wouldn’t take you seriously. Bowdoin isn’t well-known at all in Korea, so most people just assume I go to some bottom-tier community college in the U.S. That attitude usually doesn’t change until they hear me speaking perfect English with negligible accent or read my personal statements, previous research papers or just simple emails. Last summer, while in Korea, I dated a girl whose life had been pretty similar to mine. She was 21, and had a noticeable accent when speaking Korean. She grew up in a conservative home, lived abroad for all of her teenage years, attended an English university, and both her parents were renowned lawyers. When I first met her parents, I wasn’t dressed particularly well because it was summer, and I took the subway to the restaurant, rather than a taxi. At first, her parents did not approve of me at all, just assuming I was from an average family: a social class below their own. It didn’t help that my family moved out of Seoul because my parents hated the crowded city after having lived in La Cañada Flintridge, a wide-open suburb of Los Angeles that’s home to the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. Their disapproval was blatant—interrupting my words, not paying attention, etc. I got talking about my summer internship, my parents’ jobs, Bowdoin and my future plans; their attitudes changed completely. Don’t dismiss this incident as an anomaly. The idiomatic “silver spoon” is discussed all the time in Korea in terms of relationship and marriage prospects, coining new derivatives such as dirt, wooden, gold and platinum spoons. When I first moved to Southern California, I really came to terms with my identity, especially my race and ethnicity. There are a lot of positive stereotypes about Asians and Koreans, and I realized people just viewed me with sprinkles of those stereotypes. I probably would have very different views if the negative stereotypes of my people outweighed the positive ones, but fortunately that was not the case. As a naïve 14-year-old kid in a foreign land with no friends or even acquaintances, those positive stereotypes of my race and ethnicity helped me out a lot, and therefore I just let them slide. There was no reason for me to actively resist when people viewed me positively without even knowing me. Those stereotypes were much better than others that could have applied to me, such as stereotypes about foreigners, kids whose parents both work, etc. Over time, I became more and more connected with my ethnicity. I am proud to be Korean. Yeah, we might be rude and unpleasant, smell of garlic and kimchi, and we probably fixed matches in the 2002 World Cup—but we are also one of the four tigers of East Asia, developing at an incredible pace over the last several decades. We also managed to hold onto a tiny piece of land on a strategically crucial peninsula for over five millennia, sandwiched between China and Japan. I hear a lot of people saying, “I don’t see your race” or “Don’t let your race define you.” To me, those statements are just as ignorant as those made by actual racists and bigots. Race and ethnicity are literally the first thing I see in a person. It’s like an annoyingly loud noise with flashing neon lights. Of course, we ought to not judge others by their race or ethnicity, but that’s a radically different idea from ignoring race and ethnicity completely. If you have suffered because of your race or ethnicity, or if you are someone who supports these people in their endeavors, like many in the US have, I understand your point and I support you in your pursuit of justice. However, never make the mistake of assuming every person of color has had the same experience. My race and ethnicity have put me in uncomfortable, even seriously dangerous situations in the past, but they have also transformed me into the person I am today. “Korean,” is the first word I say every time I am asked the million-dollar question, “What are you?” Race and ethnicity, along with identity, should be celebrated, not neglected. We should be talking more about them. I realize my experience has been uncommon, and I just wanted to share it with you. I want racism and ethnic discrimination gone from this world like a lot of you do. But I have also realized, from personal experience, that discrimination is always there. In the presence of such ethnic and racial diversity in this nation, it is sometimes convenient to assume that all discrimination stems from the different shades of our skin color. Don’t make such a mistake, because other differences among us are caused by much more silent factors. So be careful when you tell me that racism and ethnic discrimination are the last shackles holding us back from Wonderland. In my life, the biggest discriminatory actions I’ve faced have not been inspired by my race or my ethnicity, but other subtleties, including where I live, what my parents do, what school I attend, what I study and what kind of cars my parents drive. To me, discriminations based on subtleties have been far more ugly than those based on the color of my skin.
Talk of the Quad: All alone at the Grand Old Party: the Jim Gilmore story
Talk of the Quad: The mythological existence of Bowdoin squirrels
I’m surprised no one’s beaten me up the tree on this topic: the nature of the sciurine sensation. At Bowdoin, the Yik Yak feed is replete with references to the campus squirrels. Posts or entries on the localized forum allow students to comment on their Bowdoin experience; the campus squirrels are a recurring and important aspect of that experience. Something about the small mammals makes them a fine occasion for campus commentary. They are endlessly fascinating to Bowdoin students and an excellent source of critical comic material. The mythology of squirrels on this campus depends heavily on Yik Yak.
Bowdoin squirrels as they appear on Yik Yak of course are based on a “real life,” material, squirrel phenomenon. Squirrels are an important and unique element in the campus landscape. They are a consistent presence and a campus staple for students. Their role in the landscape is entirely different from that of stationary campus elements, such as buildings and trees. Besides people, dogs and other occasional animals, squirrels are the only constant, mobile and lively element of the campus landscape.
Trees may be their opposite; static and predictable, the arboreal installations seldom draw the active attention of students (except for when they’re lit with fall color for that one or two month window). Community members interact passively with the trees, and if they do actively observe trees, it is never witty, sarcastic, ironic or self-reflexive, which are all characteristic of observations on Yik Yak and especially of squirrel-centric posts.
Squirrels draw active observation because they are dynamic and proximate. The campus squirrels are comfortable in the close company of students—they seem to have an intrepid indifference to students and their activity. Active observation is important to understanding the squirrels, since they represent a Yik Yak dependent symbol and since Yik Yak depends on active observation. (Yik Yak relevant observation is always active.) Squirrels’ close proximity draws in what is often otherwise a tranced audience.
Students’ ability to observe depends on squirrels’ close proximity, but the activity behind the observation depends on their dynamicity. Squirrels exist in a landscape of mostly static, contained, polite and predictable elements—such as trees. They make themselves quite conspicuous as an exception in the landscape and, indeed, the lives of their observers. In this case, the passive is made active by an unsettling, or defying of expectations, or probably both. The squirrels’ close proximity and apparent comfort in that proximity can be unsettling, even scary in a benign sort of way to students, who generally do not expect “wild,” undomesticated animals to ever breach a certain physical sphere. This excitement begets some reflection or judgment from the observer that lends itself well to Yik Yak humor.
Even when they are not dictated or characterized by fear, squirrel-student interactions provide opportunities for comedic observation. There is something inherently funny to Bowdoin students about squirrel behavior; they look frantic, wired, determined and, in all this, cute (like your typical Bowdoin student?). Observers readily perceive that squirrels have their own world of interests, concerns and conflicts that is strikingly different from that of Bowdoin students. That two radically different worlds of experience can occur in a single physical space makes the squirrel-human dynamic especially noteworthy or funny. This is fundamentally why and how campus squirrels have made it into the realm of Yik Yak. It wasn’t until the campus squirrels came into contact with this established campus forum that they acquired the meaning and significance that we ascribe to them today.
Yik Yak is a well attended and hallowed non-physical space, with its own unique symbolic power. A number of campus symbols depend on Yik-yak. It has that effect as a discursive forum that rewards original commentary; it is a well-attended, fractured narrative where campus life is actively constructed and deconstructed. Students articulate and discuss campus elements in relation to other campus elements, as well as in relation to themselves. The physical elements behind the symbols, like the “real life” squirrels, are just a part of the signs’ histories—not the signs themselves. Campus squirrels would not mean what they do without this discursive tool and the squirrel discourse it has facilitated.
Yik Yak is a self-reflexive, highly self-referential system with a huge following. There is a sort of positive feedback loop for signs within Yik Yak. The Yik Yak discourse has the power to sever the symbol from its physical point of reference—to form self-sufficient signs. This is not so in the case for the campus squirrels sign, which depends on a give and take between the physical squirrels and the forum’s squirrel narrative. The squirrels themselves still (seem) to directly inspire many of the Yaks that reference them, while the Yik Yak squirrel discourse directly changes the way students observe the physical squirrels. The squirrels and the squirrel discourse according to Yik Yak work in tandem to shape a single sign. A change or variance in one necessarily changes the other, and the unified meaning abides by this give-and-take. A cultish student following drives the evolution of the symbol.
Eastern gray squirrels are sedentary in the zoological sense—that is, they stay put and do not migrate. The campus squirrels are always present on campus and relate to the same changes in outdoor physical environment (especially the weather) that students do. There’s a barometric quality to them. Sometimes this allows for squirrels, as the subject of yaks, to function as a means for students to comment—often ironically, with the wide trajectory of clever humor—on their own experiences of the Bowdoin campus. One of the most common “strategies” is to superimpose the Bowdoin students’ world onto the squirrels. For example: “I’m not for slut shaming but some of these squirrels must be having outrageous amounts of sex,” or “that squirrel is on so-pro” and countless more.
Though the squirrels appear as the object of the observations deployed on the anonymous forum, in many cases, they are but the means to students’ end of self-reflection (which may be the end of Yik Yak itself). The striking difference between the non-physical worlds of Bowdoin squirrels and Bowdoin students casts in relief many aspects of student life: their interests, concerns and self-proclaimed struggles. Incorporating squirrels into Yik Yak is a comedic way of exposing the world of Bowdoin students. You might say this world is eccentric or flighty—is there a word for that?
Talk of the Quad: Pushing my buttons
My sophomore year, I went to a crowded party in a Harpswell apartment. Squished in the sweaty room, I was standing next to a couch. The insulin pump clipped at my waist was exactly at the eye level of the boy sitting there. He, probably confused that some girl was wearing a pager to a party in 2014, reached up and started pushing the buttons. Not wanting to cause a scene, I asked him to please stop and turned back to my friends. A few minutes later, he started again. I freaked out. He was drunk, I was drunk, and he was quite literally pushing my buttons.
That night I went home crying. I have no wish to shame that person or to make him feel bad. I honestly don’t know who he is, and it really doesn’t matter. He had no way of knowing that I am a type one diabetic or that the buttons he was pushing could send insulin into my body. He was unaware that what he thought was a pager or a weird cell phone was actually the machine that allows me to live.
I wasn’t really upset about the medical repercussions his actions could have had. Rather, I hated that he had called attention to my disease in the middle of a typical Friday night, and I was shocked by just how vulnerable that made me feel.
Since my diagnosis with type one diabetes ten years before, I had convinced myself that it was no big deal. My first year and a half at Bowdoin was no different. If prompted I would happily explain my routine to anyone that asked. I never hid my pump or my disease. I thought that meant I had accepted it.
Any time I have explained diabetes, I have invariably used the same line: “I’m so used to it. I don’t even think about it.”
Half of that statement is true. Yes, I am used to it. But I am constantly thinking about it—I have to be. In truth, what I mean to say is, “I’m so used to it. I don’t want you to think about it.”
Every day, I prick my finger to test my blood sugar six to eight times, a test that I fail more often than I’d care to admit. Every time I eat, I take insulin, and every few days, I have to move the port that connects my insulin pump to my body. My fingers are covered in calluses and wearing an insulin pump for ten years has left little scars and little red marks all over my thighs.
I’ve had diabetes for over half of my life now, and as the clichéd posters hanging in my doctor’s office promised, it really hasn’t held me back. But sometimes it does slow me down. Some days, no matter how closely I watch my blood sugar and take insulin, my blood sugar won’t stay where I want it to be. Sometimes, no matter how much effort I put in, I can’t get the desired result.
And then there are the little things. I worry that my professors will think I’m texting on my cell phone when I bring out my meter in the middle of class or that needles and blood will make the person sitting next to me squeamish.
And there are petty things. When I buy clothes, I have to think about where my pump will go—dresses are a particular challenge. I worry that having a machine attached to me, or even telling someone I have a disease, makes me less attractive.
I tell myself that these things are trivial, that it could be so much worse. And I am grateful; I am so lucky to have the support system and resources that I do. But by calling this “no big deal” and brushing my worries off for so long, I’ve unknowingly come to resent diabetes, something I’ve always prided myself on avoiding.
I was so embarrassed that night sophomore year. I hated that something so small could make me the girl sobbing outside the party. I didn’t want to admit that my disease had that power over me. I thought I had accepted diabetes as part of my life, but really, I had never let myself feel anything about it.
I write this now because November is Diabetes Awareness Month, so it seems like an appropriate time. I could list statistics about how many Americans, or even how many people on this campus, are affected by diabetes. Part of me would love to give a lecture on how type one and type two diabetes are so incredibly different or how saying your sugary dessert is going to give you diabetes just isn’t funny.
But I share this experience instead because how I deal with the medical side of diabetes hasn’t changed much in my time at Bowdoin, but my emotional relationship with my disease has changed entirely.
Before Bowdoin, I went to a small school for seven years. I lived with my family, who were intimately aware of my disease. I spent a lot of time trying to convince them not to worry about me, and somewhere along the line, I stopped telling my parents when my blood sugars were off or when I was having a hard time juggling diabetes, track practice, classes and teen angst. It seemed to hurt them more than it hurt me, so I kept it to myself.
For most people, college is a fresh start. For me, that meant that almost no one knew about my diabetes. I could decide who to tell and how I wanted to tell them. I was a little surprised by how few people seemed to notice, and in a way, I was proud of myself for that. I told people it was no big deal, and they believed me. I just wasn’t doing such a great job of convincing myself. At home, I knew that even if I didn’t say anything, there were people that worried about me, that knew how hard I was working just to maintain normalcy. I didn’t realize how important that was to me until I successfully convinced everyone around me that my diabetes wasn’t worth a second thought.
In my determination to maintain a casual attitude, I never used to let anyone know when I got angry or upset with my disease. I kept those emotions to myself until I literally couldn’t anymore. So now, I admit that it is a lot to handle, and it is a big deal. Being diabetic is hard, and sometimes it gets to me. But the biggest thing I’ve learned in the last three years is that’s ok.
Margaret Webster is a member of the Class of 2016
Talk of the Quad: Exploring love at Bowdoin
“You are like a frog living in the well!” is one of the most common phrases that many Cambodians use to criticize a person who does not know what is happening outside his/her world. The frog is living in such a very tiny world. However, what else can we interpret from this metaphor? I used to be terrified when I heard it. I do not want to be that frog.
In order to pursue higher education, I had to move from my hometown in Kampong Thom Province to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. I lived there for four years in the Harpswell Foundation Dormitory with 47 female students from different provinces. I felt more isolated from home year after year. I rarely visited home during the weekends or holidays. Also, I called home only when I had to. I did not even talk to my parents about my personal life. I did not even hug them when I left home. What I did differed from my other classmates. However, a sense of love to my family is always in my heart even if I do not know how to interpret it.
I discovered the meaning of love when I lived in Harpswell dormitory. I started to communicate with new people in a new world. l learned many things from them. They welcomed me as their sisters. They said sweet words to me. They hugged me. They kissed me. They played with me. Soon after, I behaved toward them as they did to me. I should have done these sorts of things to my family too. Still, I keep doing the same things toward my family.
This year I moved even further away from the love I explored. I have never trained my heart to live in this very huge world; as a result, it had a serious impact on me. I deeply understand that distance makes the love even stronger. After arriving for two days, I had to go on an Orientation Trip. It was the hardest time for me. I went to Pleasant Point with the other nine American students. To me, being with them in a new environment was like being the frog that just got out of the well. They were talking with each other. I did not know how to talk and how to join in the conversations with them. What they talked about was not about something I heard about “in the well,” my world, but it was something they knew about in their world. Sometimes, I did not understand what they were talking about. I just listened to them and pretended to laugh when they laughed even if I did not know what they were laughing about. I followed what they did. I was kind of adapting easily to all activities, however, my heart was unable to handle the new environment.
Along the road to Pleasant Point as well as during the hiking, there was such a beautiful view that I had never seen before. The view was amazing, but it was not able to thrill my heart. I was still calm without any sense of love. I imagined I should have been able to bring those I love to enjoy this view together. I heard the voice of happiness from my parents, my sister and my friends. Then I discovered that true happiness is really in the heart, it is not in the outside world.
However, I believe that the hardest times always lead to positive change. Most obstacles I will encounter in the future will make me stronger. And finally, I hope I am a winner. I am really thankful from the bottom of my heart to all my orientation trip friends. They were the first warm welcome I had at Bowdoin. Even though I did not have much to talk to them about, their smiles, friendliness and kindness were enough for me. Their hearts are like the dew in the morning that blossom me and guide me to find new love in a new world. I have also been welcomed by everyone here in the same way and the more I interact with them, the more I have been aware that I will find a new love. I strongly believe that I can explore a new love the same as the love I have for my family and my friends in Cambodia. I will leave next year with sweet new memories that come along with me wherever I go.
Samphors Khean is an exchange student from Cambodia for the 2015-16 academic year. Read more about the Harpswell Foundation here.
Talk of the Quad: Building and breaking walls
I don’t remember dialing my sister’s number. It was the Saturday of Ivies, and under whatever influence I was under, I unintentionally came out to her. So when she told me she was coming the next week to talk, I was afraid—I had let my walls down for half a moment and didn’t know what the repercussions would be.
My sister and I don’t talk regularly. We realized we were very different people early on and it’s not unusual for us to go months at a time without speaking to each other. When she arrived in Brunswick that rainy Wednesday afternoon, she said she had known all along and asked for explanations—what other things did I keep locked inside? I felt helpless and exposed, in a way that makes me still cringe. I wasn’t used to the words coming out of my mouth—honest, open and vulnerable. After 20 minutes—the longest conversation we’d had in five years—there was a silent and mutual understanding that the process of opening up had been hard for both of us, and she dropped me off before I realized I had forgotten to tell her how much her visit meant to me. To be honest, I didn’t really know how.
This weekend is Family Weekend and I’m thinking about how my family is 3,000 miles west. This weekend, I’ll see countless pictures of families smiling against a backdrop of autumnal colors. I’ll meet parents and tell them my major, my ambitions, how I found Bowdoin. This weekend will be another quiet reminder that my dad doesn’t even know what my major is and that the last picture my mom took of me on campus was in 2012, on move-in day. This weekend I’ll be thinking about when, and how, the communication broke down.
I was 12 when I first started developing feelings for other boys. I was entering a new school and at the age when being different resulted in being excluded, I masked how I felt with fake female crushes. I was an obedient and good kid—my grandma’s favorite, the young artist of the family—and I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary drama in my devoutly Catholic home, so I chose to keep quiet. I was young, I was confused and I was alone.
I came to terms with who I was by the time I entered high school, a feat that was emotionally and mentally taxing. I believed that unless I was strong, everything would fall apart—happy home would be no more. I understood strength as having tough skin and thought that if I evaded my emotions, they wouldn’t bother me. So in turn, I piled on the extracurriculars and coursework and built an image of myself that was composed and collected. I built walls in an attempt to protect myself (and my family) from the truth—and I shut my family out.
It’s hard for my Bowdoin friends to believe that my parents don’t know I’m gay, and I can see why. Bowdoin was a fresh start, in every cliched sense of the phrase: I was free, for the first time, to openly be whomever I wanted and could write my sexuality in capital letters onto my identity. I could walk around campus confident and proud, and I think my friends will agree that my footsteps are loud and my opinions are even louder. I didn’t have to hide.
I’m always nervous before boarding the transcontinental flight home for breaks. Family get-togethers are nice, until family members begin disparaging same-sex marriage and relentlessly asking what kind of wife I want. In my youth, I shrugged these things off. But recently, my strength has failed me, and their anti-gay sentiments have began seeping through the cracks of my tough exterior. I’ve recently begun feeling guilty and a little lost whenever I see the Out Peers list on a bathroom stall, wondering what my parents would think if they saw my name on there when they come for graduation in May.
It took leaving home for four years to understand the importance of being open with the ones you love. I once thought that the continual act of suppressing emotion after emotion and not talking about how I felt would make me more resilient and stronger, but it made me callous, cold and silent. I didn’t know how to converse with my family anymore because I was always fearful of revealing something and being disowned. There were no thoughtful discussions over meals, no heart-to-hearts for nine years and slowly, the periods of time between check-in phone calls and texts grew.
There will always be things certain families do not discuss—how much junk food you actually eat, what you spend your money on, mistakes you make on the weekends. But my family has been shut out of too many things for too long. They don’t know what I did this summer, where I want to be after college, or that I had my first art show this year. In the nine years I spent hiding myself, I stopped being a member of my family.
There’s still a lot I don’t tell people, and I’m certain everyone on campus has secrets and issues they don’t want to or don’t know how to talk about. But I’m starting by breaking down the walls I built when I was 12 and allowing myself to be vulnerable and open. In doing so, I’ll finally confront the pent-up feelings and take the right steps forward.
If love inherently comes with acceptance, then I’m grateful that my sister made that visit. I’m grateful that my parents still call to check in every few weeks. And I’m grateful that I’ll have the community I’ve made here when the process of coming out and returning to my family gets difficult.
Talk of the Quad: Bubble vision
“Topsham Fire stand-by for a page,” hails the omnipotent voice of dispatch, bringing to life the pager on my bedside table. Time to go save the world. I pull on the closest pair of pants as the tones go off, ending my post-dinner, pre-homework Netflix session a little earlier than planned.
“Sagadahoc County dispatch for Topsham Fire, respond to 33 Redacted Avenue for a water leak and ceiling collapse. Time 19:48.” I jog down to my car—passing roommates now accustomed to routine emergencies—and speed off to the station.
I became an EMT after my first year at Bowdoin, and joined Topsham Fire-Rescue shortly thereafter. Although I’ve never really figured out why, it seems like a natural combination of vague pre-med aspirations, repressed urges to drive quickly and loudly through traffic and—as observed by a friend—a persistent hero-complex. Whatever that means.
In two years, I’ve gone through additional EMT training and Basic Fire School. I now function as one of the youngest and least experienced members of the 50-person department. Everyone should spend some time on the lowest rung of the ladder for a while—it’s a remarkably humbling experience.
Despite the title, modern firefighters spend very little of their time actually fighting fires. Most of our work involves car accidents, various cleanups and medical emergencies. Chicago Fire and Grey’s Anatomy don’t do reality justice—it’s far less glamorous and far more predictable.I arrive at the station just in time to pull on my turnout gear and climb onto Ladder three before we go screaming down the snowy road. We arrive at a thoroughly ordinary and uninteresting house, the lieutenant starts assigning roles and we get to work. As we enter the house, one of my co-workers ahead of me instinctively withdraws and gags before continuing inside. Never a good sign. Sure enough, the house is straight out of “Hoarders.” We’ve discovered a domestic jungle of unknown plastic objects, food waste and piles of garbage. What A&E fails to capture about these situations, of course, is the smell. The horror, the horror.
Compounding these problems is the fact that a second-floor water leak has caused the entire living room ceiling to collapse onto detritus mountain, leaving behind eight inches of greyish water, a lot of dry wall and an especially offensive odor. Tasked with finding and stopping the leak, my partner and I trudge up the stairs only to find more of the same situation. We eventually attribute the flow of water to a leaking heating pipe that’s buried under about five feet of trash and debris. It’s time to start digging.
Afterwards, we chatted mindlessly as we loaded the overhaul equipment back onto the truck. It turned out that the owners hadn’t been able to pay the heating bill, so the pipes had frozen and burst.
“Not the kind of place you’re used to seeing at Bowdoin, I imagine,” said the lieutenant as we drove away.
I made an off-hand joke about the first- year dorms, but he was absolutely right. It’s hard to imagine abject poverty anywhere within a 10-minute drive of Thorne Hall.
The one element of my job that I’ve never quite gotten used to is the abrupt and unexpected transitions between the Bowdoin bubble and the “outside world.” This world, for me at least, offers a sharp contrast between the liberal arts minded and the vocational minded. In general, Bowdoin students are blissfully unaware of the hard work, stress and logistics that go into public safety, and how an entire community of people in our area devotes their lives to this field.
“Do you have EMT friends too? Is that even a thing?” asked one concerned teammate.On the other hand, the work environment is completely detached from academically rigorous and socially progressive Bowdoin that we all know and love. At any given time, this can be a welcomed break from the intensity of school, or a valuable source of thoroughly non-Bowdoin perspectives.
I’m not trying to make a value judgment on either community—hard work and compassion are the common themes here. Their manifestations are completely different, however, which can be a little jarring when you experience both worlds multiple times per day.
I drive home from the station, pondering how I can put off homework for just a little longer. And then it hits me: ping pong and milkshakes. Never have I been luckier to have a friend like Katherine, who is invariably down for pong and shakes.
Hoping I don’t still smell like work, I navigate the crowded Union to the beacon of procrastination—the Café. After chatting for a while about classes and parties and how abroad stress is “objectively the worst,” Katherine and I proceed to the game room and prepare for battle. We’re mutually unskilled. It’s perfect.
“I’ve never actually asked you this,” said Katherine, returning a mediocre volley wide right of the table, “but what’s, like, the worst thing you’ve seen while EMTing?”
I get this question a lot. As much as I want to be honest and forthcoming, discussing tragedy and death has never seemed like it fits into Bowdoin’s nurturing and comfortable environment. I don’t want to burden my friends with all the nasty stuff, and I definitely don’t want to fish for sympathy.
“Well, I’ll tell you about some of the funniest things.” I reply, hitting the net for the third consecutive time. We talk about the old drunk guy who thought it would be a good idea to fire up the grill in his closed garage and the car accident where the uninjured kids were—to their parents’ dismay—exposed to their Christmas presents one month early. These are the easier stories.
The ball sails over me and rolls under the mountain of furniture, jackets and backpacks we’ve left in the corner. Katherine’s finger immediately finds her nose, and I turn to the pile.After three years, I still haven’t come up with a good definition for the Bowdoin bubble.
Beyond the obvious ideological and financial differences between the average Bowdoin student and the average Midcoast resident, what gives us such a strong sense of enclosure? I have no answer. I’ve noticed, however, that there’s a camaraderie of determination and hard work in both groups. If nothing else, having one foot firmly on either side of the bubble has demonstrated how artificial it really is. Superficial differences ultimately keep us apart.
Facing the pile, under which our precious ball is trapped, I ponder questions like “Why did I pick the furniture side of the table again?” and “Who decided to buy this heavy-ass coach?” Regardless, it’s getting late and there’s work to be done. It’s time to start digging.
Talk of the Quad: (Dis)ability
I was called a cripple for the first time during Field Day in fourth grade. I fell during a game of kickball and overheard a group of boys in my class laughing about “when Daisy the cripple lost our class the big game.” Not fully understanding the word that these budding kickball professionals had just used, I returned home and Googled the definition. It didn’t take long to find: “One who is disabled. A social cripple—or, socially deficient.”
I was born 11 weeks premature, and due to brain trauma I have a developmental disorder called Cerebral Palsy. I’m a spastic triplegic—use of my legs and left arm is limited because of stiffness and atrophy, and I have poor balance. If you’ve seen me walking around campus, you’ve probably noticed my affected walking pattern, which makes carrying a cup full of hot coffee a grueling experience. Shoutout to travel mugs and other lidded drink receptacles.
On that day in fourth grade I had just turned 10, and I had never thought of myself as “deficient” in any way; by that age I had already endured multiple muscle-lengthening, bone-rotating orthopedic surgeries, and I actually had quite a rockin’ self esteem. Being faced with my apparent social deficiency was a blow to my fragile prepubescent sense of self. I became increasingly introverted and anxious in unfamiliar social situations. When new people asked why I limp, I’d avert their gaze and mumble about a sprained ankle. I faked sick a lot and laughed along when my friends called things retarded. I spent a lot of time playing the Sims by myself and mentally playing out absurd scenarios where someone found a cure for Cerebral Palsy and I could be “normal.” Being labeled a cripple that day triggered a pretty significant period of my life marked by feelings of incompetence and confusion.
One word created a huge shift in my understanding of myself and the world around me. Maybe I’m conflating typical preteen angst with this one moment—but even today it is a word that stings to hear. Now at age 20, I’m a very different person than I was at 10 or 11. I’m comfortable with my body and understand my strengths and limitations. I look people in the eye when explaining why I walk the way I do. I happily advocate for myself and my needs and don’t mind asking for help. At any given time I’m stressing about 700 other things before I’m stressing about my disability; like any other Bowdoin student, I’m preoccupied with papers, meetings and regretful nights in Baxter basement. One of my favorite comedians/activists Maysoon Zayid said it best in her TedTalk: “I’ve got 99 problems…palsy is just one.”
That being said, there are inherent frustrations to being disabled on this campus. I never use the quad-facing stairway to leave Searles because there is no railing and I stress about getting knocked over when herds of people are trying to get in and out. I get nervous walking alone in the winter in case I fall on ice when no one is around. The idea of navigating Bowdoin with less mobility than I have now is daunting—we’re minimally wheelchair accessible.
Here at Bowdoin, we don’t talk about disability. As a community, we’re engaging in lots of thoughtful dialogue around issues of diversity and inclusion; however, disability issues are continually left out of the conversation. There are fantastic spaces here for students of color, queer students or students of different religious and socioeconomic backgrounds to discuss and share their experiences. Bowdoin lacks this space for students with disabilities, and as a result, moments of ableism go largely unaddressed.
I’ve heard friends call one another cripples after an injury. I’ve heard cripple used in 24 College, which I consider my space of comfort, safety and support on this campus. I’ve heard variations of the word retarded get thrown around without hesitation. When people don’t speak up, the damage of words goes unacknowledged, and ableism ultimately prevails.
As a community, we have progress to make when it comes to acknowledging and supporting the experiences of students with disabilities—whether cognitive, physical, emotional or learning-related. I’ve noticed a fear or hesitancy in people when it comes to talking about disability. With so many questions and uncertainties related to what’s right, wrong or offensive, just starting the conversation can feel like a challenge. If we open ourselves up to asking the tricky clarifying questions (Is it okay to ask someone about their disability? Is retarded the right word to use to describe someone with a mental disability? What qualifies as a disability?), we can learn about the issues together in a way that validates and prioritizes the experience of students with disabilities, while still educating others as to why, say, calling someone a cripple isn’t cool.
We need to talk about the power of words, we need to think about language, and we need to be open to asking the tricky questions that make useful conversations happen. Sometimes the best way to communicate something is just by saying it. So as I finish this piece, feeling a vulnerable power in having shared this part of my life, I hope we start talking about it.
If you are interested and want to get involved with tackling diability issues on campus, contact Daisy Wislar (email@example.com), Jacob Russell (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Sarah Bonnano (email@example.com).
Talk of the Quad: Inaugurations over the years
Tomorrow, President Clayton Rose will speak at the College’s 15th inauguration. For this week’s edition of Talk of the Quad, the Orient looked to Bowdoin’s past inauguration speeches. Rose enters a lineage of presidents who have taken the opportunity to explore what Bowdoin represents and how the College defines itself. Below, we’ve included a selection of quotes illustrating previous presidents’ views of Bowdoin’s past and their hopes and concerns about the future.
Joseph McKeen | September 2, 1802“The organization of a literary institution in the district of Maine, which is rapidly increasing in population, is an interesting event, and will form an important epoch in its history. The disadvantages with which the district has contended from the days of its early settlement, have been numerous and discouraging. The scattered inhabitants were long in a weak and defenceless state: for more than a century the sword of the wilderness was a terror to them; and they were frequently constrained to lay aside the peaceful instruments of the husbandman, and to seize the weapons of defence. Planted in detached settlements along an extensive coast, and depending on precarious supplies of subsistence from abroad, it was long before they could enjoy the means of education with which some other parts of New England were early favored. Add to this, that deep and strong prejudices prevailed against the soil and climate, by which immigrations were discouraged, and the population of the district long retarded. These mistakes have yielded to the correcting hand of time; and Maine is rapidly advancing to that state of maturity, in which, without being forcibly plucked, she will drop from her parent stock.”
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain | 1872 “Neither men nor things are what they were, and the question for us is, whether there may not be other courses that might also be worthy of something better than scorn. Let us take no unfair ground. Let us say education is for the man and not the workman. Very well, and by education we mean that training of the man by which he will be enabled to summon and concentrate all his energies upon a proposed end. Let us say that discipline is the chief thing in education. The question is now clear—whether there is only that one course prescribed in an age and society far different from ours, to which every man shall be brought who aspires to liberal culture and disciplined powers...These earnest young men who seek the new course do not seek to avoid discipline or toil. They want their studies to face outward toward action, as well as inward towards life. They want to acquire discipline through studies which take hold on present activities, and whose results abide and can be turned to use. They do not wish to practice with masks and foils that must be thrown away in the field of action, but with the edge and point with which they are to win their way.”
Kenneth C.M. Sills | June 20, 1918“‘In college we deal with the spirits of men, not with their fortune,’ wrote once a distinguished teacher. Our aim is not vocational; our goal is not efficiency. We hold that the real object of education is to make men free intellectually and spiritually, to develop the resourceful mind in a strong Christian character. Education concern is itself primary with the individual. It strives to make him not only more useful, but a happier, more tolerant man. A person who in his formative years becomes acquainted even somewhat distantly, with the best in literature and science and art, who has had some training in philosophical and religious thought, and in the historical point of view has within himself resources that will grow only more potent and more delightful with age. These are all truisms but they need constant repetition.”
James S. Coles | October 13, 1952“More and more often on our campuses today will a student, in introducing a visiting speaker whose ideas may not be common with conservative thought in the country, explain that the ideas of the speaker are not shared by the student introducing him, but that the organization the student represents feels that the speaker should have a right to be heard on campus. I mention these incidents only to indicate part of the background for my own fear that there is developing on our campuses, an atmosphere which does not permit the free expression and exchange of ideas.”
Barry Mills | October 27, 2001“Now, the fact is that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and their aftermath have forced many of us to reassess our lives and our priorities. Things that appeared so vital and important only two months ago can now seem trivial. I have sensed this ongoing reassessment as I travel around the country on behalf of the College. I hear it from parents who tell me how relieved they are to have their sons and daughters studying in the relative safety of Brunswick, Maine.This sort of reexamination is valuable because to some extent, I believe the excesses of the recent past have led us away from what is truly important in our lives and in our society. And as we recalibrate our priorities, I believe that the value of education will be reaffirmed as central to a rational future.The question, though, is where our particular form of education - the residential liberal arts college, fits in any reaffirmation of the value of education.”
Talk of the Quad: TBT abroad
I had been excited to study abroad. Like going to overnight camp in Maine and attending Bowdoin, studying abroad in France was something that my mom had done. She’d told me what an important experience it was, and, like any privileged middle-class American small liberal arts college student, how “formative” it had been for her.
I was looking forward to gaining perspective away from Bowdoin, improving my French, learning about a new culture—you know, living, loving, laughing abroad. “The food!” everyone would rave. “You’re going to just adore French food!” “Thanks!” I’d say, not knowing how to respond.
I got to Paris and my host dad hugged me, asked if I was scared of motorcycles (no), and the two of us promptly zipped off to late-afternoon Vietnamese food in the thirteenth. He and his ex-wife lived together in a loft in the ninth. She cleaned, he cooked. They took me to art exhibits and I posted Facebook photos and I considered staying a year, because it was exciting.
The honeymoon period with Paris wore off, and the excitement stopped shrouding the intense OCD I’ve been dealing with since I can remember. I would post photos on Facebook in front of the Eiffel Tower and at bars and with the kids in my program, who thought I was silly and crazy and fun, but not a real person or something. They would always tell me, “You’re not even real, Phoebe! You’re like, not a real person!” And I’d laugh but be like, well, actually, I am. I looked like I was having fun, but slowly I was becoming kind of miserable.
So one time, I decided to eat lunch alone. It was relaxing. I felt less lonely alone, actually. I started to eat lunch by myself most days—I’d go to a restaurant and treat myself to steak at noon and watch old French people take their lunch breaks to polish off a burger and a beer. But then this sneaky diet I had kind of been on for the past year or so started to keep me company, and soon this exciting preoccupation became consuming and scary and my only friend.
Soon I was eating alone every day, not because I was enjoying my own company anymore but because I didn’t want anyone to call me out on the food choices I was making. There was this store by school that listed the calories in every single item and I would stand there by the cold case for 10 minutes examining every single thing and deciding which I could rationalize eating, and then I would use up my international phone data googling the calories in each food item, too, because one could never be too sure when it came to these things.
When my mom called me to tell me that she had booked a ticket home and it was for tomorrow, I had gotten down to mostly just five major food groups: coffee, sparkling water, cucumbers, radishes, gum. I was always hungry. I was exhausted and headachy and faint and one time I fell in the metro and I almost choked on the celery stick I was eating to will away my hunger pains. I bruised, because I was pretty bony, and I cried and people walked past me. I hated Paris and I hated myself.
Needless to say, none of the things that were supposed to happen in France happened (well, except for Oktoberfest. That was epic.). One day I was starving myself by the Seine and the next I was in a hospital where a dietician named Nicole held a peanut butter and jelly in front of my face and I started to cry. Not in a cute way, but like, really awful tears.
We did a lot of drama therapy with this guy named Doug who’d bring his guitar every Tuesday and then never actually use it. And I spent a lot of time with Nicole, going over my meals and arguing with her about what I had to eat and always losing. And I made friends and got better.The point is this: I worry that we at Bowdoin have a tendency—in all our high-achieving, outwardly squeaky-clean perfectionism—to shroud the rough stuff. And I’m taking the risk of sharing this with you because I still struggle sometimes, and because I can’t preach mental health destigmatization without attempting to destigmatize my own stuff. I care about my Bowdoin community too much to let my own fear of being judged impede my potential to let someone who’s struggling know that they’re not alone.
No matter what you’re going through, or where you’re coming from, know that your struggle is valid, and that there are more people on this campus than you think who know exactly what you’re going through. Let’s talk to each other. You’re not alone.
Talk of the Quad: Groundskeeping as a girl
“Strong is the New Beautiful.” That is what Nike, and subsequently more and more companies like it have been telling us recently. By us, I mean women and girls across America, where fitness and body image have merged to become a multi-billion dollar industry. I was a pretty big proponent of this campaign until I found myself on the Bowdoin groundskeeping crew this summer.
During the summer 2015 job search, I was paralyzed with indecision, a lack of direction and by the overwhelming ambition of my peers. All I knew was that I did not want to be chained to a desk. By the time April rolled around, “Groundskeeping Crew” was one of the last jobs left on Bowdoin’s employment website. My first thought was Hagrid. And then golf carts. As a person who is happiest when active, the job sounded appealing. I didn’t think too far beyond that before I accepted the job.
During my first morning in the break room, I notice one woman (who I immediately am intimidated by), and the rest are men who are neither amused nor impressed that I am standing there. “Anastasia—trash cans with Jake and Hope.” That was my first assignment. “What have I done?” repeated in my head throughout the morning. As I got acquainted with the very trash bags around the Quad that I have often, mindlessly dumped crap into, I realized that this would be hard. As friends and classmates passed by with their backpacks on the way to lab, I felt hyper-aware of what this job would mean for me as a girl. I wondered what other people thought as they passed.
Laughs and friendly jabs were the common reaction when I first committed to groundskeeping. I didn’t mind this so much, but it became harder and harder to take myself seriously.
Throughout my initial weeks on the job, I would regularly incorporate words such as “butch” and “manly” into conversations with friends and fellow students about my duties as groundskeeper. I felt the need to discredit why I was doing what I was doing fearing that if I did not, my femininity would be compromised. Because breaking a sweat every day before 7:30 a.m. in my already sweat-stained t-shirt sounds miserable, right?
Well, the truth is that I kind of love breaking a sweat, and getting dirty, and wearing my tattered, mismatched outfit. The trouble was allowing myself to embrace these qualities rather than apologize for them. The more people appeared confused at my attempts to degrade my own job, which I truly was enjoying, the sooner I realized I was the only one fabricating these thoughts. “Why are you embarrassed? I wish I was doing that,” or “Damn, you must be getting so strong.”
I remember rolling out of the Brunswick Apartments at 6:50 a.m. one morning with another female classmate, both rushing to make our early swipe-ins. I immediately noticed her summery, business casual outfit while I wore the same shirt as the day before, knowing it would be wet again soon enough. She said, “I’m so jealous you get to be outside all day!”
That moment I knew I was wrong. Wrong to have used the word “butch” in this context, especially with myself as the target. I was wrong to assume that people needed to hear a justification for my job. This “aha” moment revealed that for years I have been apologizing for not adhering to a certain stereotype—the classic girly stereotype that I felt alien to growing up with broad swimmer shoulders and a hearty appetite. Somehow, the media and my own experiences led me to believe this discrepancy was a negative thing.
Those days of self-consciously feeling like Rambo as I whacked the weeds in front of Admissions as tours passed by grew into days of gratitude for the beautiful weather and for my more-than-capable body. I felt less alone in the predominately male crew of burly groundskeepers, and more so as an integrated member who could proudly keep up with them (trash talk included).
In hindsight, as out of place as I felt in the beginning, not one of the crewmembers batted an eye or saw reason for gender accommodations. My perception was too clouded with what a girl “should” be doing to notice that I was as in place as I could’ve been.
The fact that society has to grant women permission to feel both muscular and beautiful at the same time, by way of ad campaigns and merchandise, is counter-productive and maybe a little hypocritical. I am sure that I am not the only girl whose self-esteem has been founded upon a misalignment with some public archetype, especially an archetype that is constantly shifting. Accepting yourself for what you like to do—without even thinking to apologize—is the first step to finding what makes you beautiful.
Strong is beautiful, but so are a lot of things; so how about we just start saying “Do what you want, ladies.” Now that’s hot.
Talk of the Quad: Tradition and Ritual
I grew up in the Catholic Church. I went through it all quite unwillingly, of course, but I was raised in it nonetheless. I got a lot of things from the Church and from my Irish Catholic mother, like the ability to recite the Nicene Creed on demand, a strong sense of family and a familiarity-bred hatred for red wine, but prevailing among them is a certain sense of time and ritual.
The Church year is cyclical, turning from Ordinary Time to Advent, from celebration to grief, over and over. There are signposts at which Catholics can nod and say, “I’ve made it to Epiphany, I’m getting through Lent, this too shall pass.” As I was being taught the joy of Easter mass or the solemn anticipation on Christmas Eve, I was also being taught an idea much older than the Catholic Church. The years follow a rhythm, and as we celebrate tradition, we also celebrate how we’ve bettered ourselves (or, sometimes, worsened) as the years have passed. And this is what I’ve retained, even as I’ve left most of the Church’s religious teachings behind.
I spent a lot of the summer thinking about annual cycles. The end of May this year picked up for me nearly exactly where last August left off. I was spending time with the same people, doing the same job, in love with the same man.
Nine months had gone by, but it felt like I had paused the TV and then continued right where I had left off, cycling around again to the beginning of summer. And it’s surreal, to feel like you’re picking up a conversation and that the pause you waited in lasted months. But, even as I loathed the certain sense I felt of never moving on, I could still stare into a backyard fire pit on the Fourth of July and remember so clearly where I was last year when fireworks went off overhead. I knew that things were changing, even against this background of consistent sameness.
There’s this same consistency here on campus, the reassuring ticking over of the wheel of the year, and we similarly look for the subtle alterations to prove that we’ve done something with ourselves over the past 365 days. We like tradition here, surrounded by reminders in the buildings through which we pass that many others have come here before us and lived as we are living. Things follow a course throughout the year, and then we come back in the fall with the uncanny sense that we never left, that nothing has changed in the past three and a half months.
It has to do with being in New England, in part, I think; how many colleges are so imbued with a regional sense of place? Maine has the prototypical seasons: the bonfire falls and heavy snows of winter, the rainy soft springs and the most perfect summers on the East Coast (and I can promise this, as a veteran of 20 years of Mid-Atlantic summers). We take a certain comfort from the inevitability of the changing of the seasons—if nothing else, complaining about the third blizzard in as many days brings people together here to an extent that is the stuff of Orientation icebreakers’ dreams.
I was sitting in the back of the chapel at the opening a cappella concert a few days ago, and I realized it felt like hardly any time had passed at all since I was a first-year sitting in nearly the same place, watching nearly the same show. We have such strong rituals here, such codified traditions that mark the passing of the year and the turning of the seasons. And we use these moments to stop and realize how far we’ve come in the interim, whether we’ve surrounded ourselves with a stronger group of friends (I have), whether we’ve had our heart broken (I have), whether we can rebuild and whether we’ve become a better version of ourselves (I’d like to think I have).
In a few weeks, we’ll hit Epicuria, and we’ll hopefully hit it with all the strength that a year’s worth of wisdom can provide, and then we’ll get through the fall and we’ll break out the Bean Boots. There’ll be campus-wides, and the long-standing divide between Thorne and Moulton will continue. We’ll hit finals and then sleep through a lot of winter break, and then return to the snow. Then it’ll be the Cold War party, and it’ll just be cold, and it’ll blizzard in April. We’ll pretend it’s warm for Ivies, and we’ll regret our choices during reading period, but we’ll grow. And we’ll be back. And we’ll grow and we’ll be back and we’ll grow. And this too, whatever it might be, shall pass.
If you'd like to submit a Talk of the Quad, please contact the Orient.
Talk of the Quad: Ghosts of corporate America
This summer, I interned for a large, upscale department store. It doesn’t matter which one, because I’ve gathered that most department store offices are basically the same.
I won’t bore you with the details of my day-to-day tasks. I do, however, want to tell you a story about one of the most memorable days I had at work. It’s a ghost story. Well, I think it is, anyway. You can decide for yourself.
It had been a beautiful day in midtown Manhattan, though I wouldn’t know it because I sit at a small desk inside a windowless office that hovers 47 stories in the air. If the room did have a window, I would be able to see the office building directly across the street, which is similarly gargantuan and lacking in windows. I might even be able to catch a glimpse of another young man or woman just like me, who has been working tirelessly on an Excel spreadsheet for the last four hours and will continue to do so for another four. They, too, may have taken their shoes off under their desk and their suit jacket would be also crumpled into a ball in the corner, sticky with the July heat and subway residue.
I have several tabs open on my computer. One of them, tucked neatly behind the rest, is a document of the season-to-date men’s jackets sales that I have allegedly been analyzing and will present to my boss later in the afternoon. The other seven or eight tabs include an online restaurant menu for a dim sum place I want to try, a Nicki Minaj music video from 2009, and the WebMD page about exercises for alleviating neck pain.
But my Internet reverie is interrupted when I hear footsteps outside my office, the distinct “clack” of a stiletto. I instinctively hide my open tabs and begin to inspect the spreadsheet that I am supposed to be inspecting. I wait for the footsteps to pass, as they always do, but the clacking stops right outside my door. I hear words.
“Don’t look so sad.”
I look up from my screen, curious where this voice came from and to whom it belongs. A woman who I have never seen before stands in the doorway. She wears an orange dress that compliments her smooth, mocha skin. I have a difficult time placing her age—she has no wrinkles (no Botox either), but there’s wisdom in her face, something that you would only see in a person much older.
“Me?” I say, after some hesitation.
“Yes, you,” she says. “Smile. It’s nicer to look at.”
The woman beams in my direction. After several paralyzing seconds, I see no other option than to beam back, even letting out a fake little chortle in the hopes that it will make her leave. It doesn’t work.
“You worry too much,” the woman continues, a winning smile still plastered to her face. “I can tell. You’re too young to be worrying.”
The woman steps in the doorway, one stiletto now planted firmly inside my office. She looks around, as if to ensure no one else is in the tiny room.
“These people are rubbing off on you,” she whispers.
I immediately thought of my boss, who I had seen smile only once when she had announced earlier this month that she would be out of the office for the week because she was going to Paris with her boyfriend.
“I think I must be tired,” I say.
“No no,” she says. “You’re too young to be tired.”
Apparently, I am too young for a lot of things. This seems to be a recurring theme.
“Okay,” I finally say. “You’re right. I’m not tired, I’m just bored.”
The woman laughs.
“Me too,” she says. “Let’s run away together.”
I smile again, not a fake one this time.
The woman in orange turns to leave. But before she does, she peeps her head back in to say one last thing.
“You have to try harder,” she says. “You have to try.”
Later that afternoon, I tell my boss about the mysterious encounter, describing the woman in great detail. She has no idea what I was talking about.
I never saw her again. And, after some consideration, I have come to conclusion that she must have been a ghost—or, at the very least, a manifestation of my subconscious alerting me to the fact that I had not, in the words of William De Witt Hyde, been losing myself in “generous enthusiasms” as he mandated we all do in his 1906 Offer of the College.
This begs the question: do most of us immerse ourselves in four years of intellectual pursuit only to be chained to a desk for the next 50 years? I think this is my liberal arts superiority complex speaking, but I am not satisfied with spending the rest of my life doing work that doesn’t stimulate my brain in new and engaging ways, nor make the world a more equal, livable place.
As privileged, educated young people, we face pressure coming from all different directions. We are told that in order to be successful, we must “find our passion” in college, use it to make some kind of impact, and above all, achieve financial success. But this kind of pressure can lead to unhappiness—I’ve seen it, and it scares me.
I hope that others will relate when I say that as my time at Bowdoin draws to a close, I have never felt less sure of what I want to do. Yes, I’ll find a job, but how am I supposed to know what I want when I haven’t really done anything yet? What if I care about many different things? Why do I have to pick one? These are questions that I know can only be answered with time. And for now, I need to be okay with it.
If you'd like to submit a Talk of the Quad, please contact the Orient.
Talk of the Quad: The Bowdoin myth
I applied to Bowdoin for two reasons: The College had accepted my best friend early decision, and the Office of Admissions had sent me a glossy brochure, inside of which was one photo in particular that appealed to the romantic idealism of my 17-year-old self.
The photo showed a group of Bowdoin boys, bundled in brightly colored winter jackets as they played pickup hockey on the Quad. Hubbard Hall, framed by a row of trees and bathed in the light of a winter sunset, loomed in the background.
For me, the photo was—and remains—a more generous offer than William DeWitt Hyde’s “Offer of the College.” It offered me a myth of Bowdoin, the myth of a place where the past bled into the present, a place where I could participate in academic toil one day and tomfoolery the next, a place with a literary quality that I'll never be able to describe.
Daily life at the College can’t possibly live up to this myth. During a hectic day of quizzes, 100-page readings, club meetings, essays and internship applications, it’s impossible to remain conscious of everything that life at Bowdoin means. At the end of that sort of busy day, I trudge home across the Quad, my head down, already scheduling myself for a frantic tomorrow.
When I look back at Bowdoin, I won’t remember those days. I’ll remember my four years at Bowdoin for those rare moments when the myth overcame the mundane—those moments when I lived the myth.
I’ll remember a Saturday in January of my sophomore year when two friends and I set out to convert Reed House’s backyard into an ice rink.
We ran garden hoses from Reed’s basement bathroom up the stairs, out a window, and across the yard. None of us had any rink-making experience (and we were all humanities majors), so we expected the process would only take a few minutes. We thought it would be as simple as spraying some water, watching it freeze, and grabbing some skates.
It quickly became clear that we wouldn’t be skating for hours, so we descended into the basement and ratcheted up the water pressure by turning on the hot water. The three of us spent the rest of the afternoon drinking beers, watching “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and intermittently checking on the glacial progress of the rink. Just before dinner, a towel-clad Reed resident burst into our room and informed us with polite anger that there was no hot water in our 28-person House. And when the hot water returned 36 hours later, the rink was still hardly more than a soggy lawn.
I’ll remember reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Blithedale Romance” in the very same Massachusetts Hall in which Hawthorne studied. I’ll remember poring through “Tales from Bowdoin,” a 1901 book described as “some gathered fragments and fancies of undergraduate life in the past and present told by Bowdoin men.” Lounging on the windowsill in the Shannon Room, I’d put the book down from time to time and looked out on the Quad, imagining the Bowdoin men of the 19th century mischievously sneaking toward the Chapel under the cover of darkness.
But most of all, I’ll remember late nights at the Orient House when, after 13 hours of work, we clustered around a computer and collaborated on the final and most important part of the production process: conjuring up a suitably clever name for the editorial. We would spend all night considering Bowdoin’s purpose and its policies, and it all culminated in this pre-dawn moment when every joke was hilarious and no suggestion was too terrible to consider.
At the end of those nights, I strolled across the Quad and stopped at its center to gaze up at Hubbard Hall, which often looked as if it had been superimposed in front of the stars. And in those brief moments, I knew full well that I was living the myth of Bowdoin.
Garrett Casey is a member of the Class of 2015 and a co-editor in chief of the Orient.
Talk of the Quad: What you’re working for
What is a year? A year is what it takes for you to go a long way and end up back where you started, changed. It has been a year. It is spring.
Last year, 2014, was the first I can recall without a May. The month passed silently—no milestone, no ceremony. But my sophomore year in New York City feels surprisingly sophomoric. There is an eerie rhythm and consonance plucked from the cacophony.
Two years out, you begin to forget. Coming to understand something in practice can destroy your ability to explain it, so as postgrad life normalizes it becomes indescribable.
To write another sappy reminiscence for the college paper is in some sense an admission of defeat: have I learned nothing? Let it go! So, we’ll circle back to the big life questions, but first I just want to touch base about learning to love your employer. Soon-to-be grads may initially chafe; I sure did! But I have tried to empathize with the corporation, and would like to share with you a few handy tips (which, like much advice dispensed, is largely a catalogue of my failures).
One. Although the language of the office sounds very familiar, it is more useful to treat it as a distinct derivative. The Standard Written English you have been taught in the classroom is not actually the dominant dialect of late capitalism. Corporatese has all the artfulness of an electrical signal between neurons, because that is roughly what it is. When a manager says “Are we all happy with this?”, the literal meaning of those phonemes in that language is closer to “Can we end this meeting?”, to which the answer should always be a resounding yes.
Two. Meetings expand to fill available time and space, so maintain a high quotient of people who don’t want to be there. If they evaporate away like energetic particles from hot tea, the temperature in the room will drop and the proceedings will slow. The meat is not in the meeting; it is a set-up for more substantive conversations to come.
Three. Insofar as industrial society is a doomed experiment and a joke, your managers are in on the joke. The good ones, anyway, are fully aware of all the profound problematicals. The libarts intellectual colliding with reality exudes feckless impotence: totally correct and still at a loss for what to do. The good manager is a step ahead of you, not behind. They have learned that a fish always thinking of water is apt to hyperventilate.
Four. Workplace commiseration is a bonding agent used by the status quo to deaden you; complaining about your company is not nearly as subversive as mirthfully running circles around it. Some of the most habitual complainers are among the most co-opted tools of the system. Resist assimilation not by negative displays of protest, but by positive displays of humanity.
Five. The corporation is glacial: slow, but massive. If you only watch the speed, you won’t appreciate how it carves the territory beneath. Use its momentum while you dance in the crevasses.
Six. In a healthy relationship, you should be using the corporation, just as it is using you. If the relationship is abusive, not only will you be miserable, but the corporation will suffer endemic ossification.
Seven. “Take professors, not classes”—so choose your bosses and coworkers. If you are lucky, you will get to do good work with idols. But you may also realize that even those who give off the most light and heat offer no salvation. You may notice a new kind of hero, quiet and content. What do you really want? It itches.
For all that, you’ll go from paying to earning; by selling your daily labor, you buy the freedom to shape and tend to a life. You can model some of your landscaping on the world President Mills has overseen. Nouns for things you’ve attended will become verbs to perform: you must orient, you must convoke, you must commence. The curricle (that’s a chariot) will run off the curriculum (a racecourse, originally) unless you lay one down. The most satisfying things in my life today are nascent frameworks for sustaining events and people: peer meetups, apartment lecture series, book clubs, workday morning soccer.
It won’t be the same. Noncommittal diversification gives way to smart concentrated bets; as Stanley Druckenmiller says, “put all your eggs in one basket and watch the basket very carefully.” Like holding cash, holding your time totally liquid is expensive. So people begin to settle where they lie—with careers, and with people.
As they do, and as our time in Brunswick gets harder to recapture, it feels unfair that the blessings of life are so frontloaded; the young have so much already, and on top of that we give them college?
There aren’t many kids around in Manhattan, but when you see the gaggle of giggling schoolchildren erupt against the backdrop of the two hundredth gray commute by 2nd Ave. sidewalk or subway car, you begin to get a hint, a sneaking suspicion. They look happy. If you can’t recapture, can you recapitulate?
Why do you exist?
Of the many humbling realizations of young adulthood, none is so serious as that you were not made for your own sake. On the horizon, the circle closes. Have you not gotten enough college? Good! That’s why you got any. Bowdoin plants the yearning for Bowdoin, and you are begotten of yearning; if we were sated it would cease. A satisfied life is sterile.
Your youth was a gift to you, but also an escape and a rebellion for your parents; work pays for and provokes rebirth, the first job. All of you are graduating with a tremendous outstanding debt: to create, to understand your creation, and thus to redeem. Forge dense new stars.
The past has the air of necessity, for it must have gone just so to lead to you. But as it unfolds you come to see the now-necessary past as a once-contingent future: it just as well could have been otherwise. Constants in your life turn variable; people come in and out like planks in the ship of Theseus, so that by the end nothing original remains except, somehow, identity—which finally dissolves triumphant into the memories of those who owe you everything.
Your parents need you. Hug them at graduation, or their parents, or whomever lives. Tell them what fun you’ve had. They’ve worked hard for you, and the best years of your life brighten theirs.
Toph Tucker is a member of the Class of 2012.
Talk of the Quad: Stung and restless
As the old saying goes, sometimes you are the scorpion and sometimes you are not. More often, however, you are the 20-year-old ecology student who found the scorpion with your foot.
Ceini—who was rubbing my spasming calf muscle—said, “Well, at least now you have a great story to tell.”
“You can definitely win the Most Badass Bowdoin Abroad Experience Award,” Graham chuckled. “If this doesn’t kill you first.”
We all laughed, though my peers and I were out of our depth in the rural South African bush. Could scorpions kill you? How necessary was a trip to the hospital? With no Internet access, no cell phone service and no car, the decision was made for us. We would stay at the Tshulu camp for the night.
Philly, our South African game guard, squashed the scorpion with his boot. He placed the body in a Sasko bread bag to assess the creature from behind a plastic barricade. The scorpion had a big tail and small pinchers.
“Did you know this area has some of the most poisonous scorpions in the world?” he asked. “But those ones are smaller. You should have really watched where you were stepping.”We later found out the scorpion was actually the most poisonous in southern Africa. The Parabuthus granulatus kills about four to six people in South Africa every year—usually children, but I digress. I received a smaller dose of the toxins, saving me from an expensive helicopter ride to the not-so-nearby hospital. It was an unfortunate circumstance with very fortunate results. For that, I am grateful.
As I sat in bed that night, alternating from one odd position to the next to quell the pain, I began to think about how peculiar the whole situation was. Of course the only serious scorpion sting in my abroad programs’ history occurred at our most isolated travel location. Of course the scorpion was the most poisonous species in the region. And of course I was stung while procrastinating to avoid writing a 20 page literature paper. Karma is cruel.
Though the situation included all of the factors that could go horribly wrong, it did not. I never went to the hospital. Instead, I subsisted on an absurd amount of ibuprofen—a limited and precious resource abroad.
We should have tried to denature the venom with hot packs; we instead tried to numb my hypersensitive nerves with ice. I could have, and probably should have, presented systemic symptoms up to eight hours after the sting. I should have been hospitalized for six days, with a steady stream of nerve block pulsing through my veins. But it wasn’t necessary. In that moment, I was both lucky and cursed.
The burning and stinging sensation travelled up to my knee. I found myself contemplating how I ended up running into a scorpion while wearing shoes and a headlamp. The necessary precautions were not enough to fend off the insidious savannah fauna. So what went wrong?
I replayed the scene in a loop as I paced the floor to increase circulation to my limb. Instead of looking at my feet with the headlamp, I was illuminating the path further ahead. My negligence opened a prime opportunity for the scorpion.
The venom made one notion clear. Looking too far into the future can cripple you in the present; preparation does not imply protection.
As the last of midterms roll through, it is important to remember precautions, like studying, only go so far. I plan to take a pause from work to appreciate the view, the chirping of crickets, sun rays peeking through the clouds, and laughs shared with my professors.
If we can disregard the path ahead and focus on where we are now, we may just avoid the threatening tail of the scorpion at our feet. If the scorpion stings, the toxins may take a few days to process. But I promise, the pain subsides by the time you finish watching “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” for the fourth time. (For clarification purposes, in addition to a shortage of ibuprofen in the African savannah, there are also limited movie options.)
To quote seven-time American Dodgeball Association of America All-Star Patches O’Houlihan, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.” Instead, I would recommend skipping the wrenches altogether. Preparation is only effective to a point and obstacles will tackle you regardless. So you may as well stop to smell the pine trees along the way. Just watch your step.
Elana Vlodaver is a member of the Class of 2016.
Talk of the Quad: The fastest year of our lives
Every year, five postgraduate foreigners come to Bowdoin to teach their respective mother tongues as teaching fellows (TFs): two for French and one for Spanish, German and Italian.
The college has partnerships with universities that conduct interviews with students holding the equivalent of a B.A. in English. In each university, the student deemed to be the most adequate is offered a position as a TF. Bowdoin also sends its own students to be TFs in some of those universities.
I am one of this year’s TFs, coming from Blaise Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand, France after a year teaching in an English secondary school. I have to say, the Bowdoin experience has exceeded my expectations—and the expectations of most of the other TFs.
The conditions we are offered are quite exceptional—Bowdoin provides us with accommodation, food, a return flight ticket and a $5,000 stipend. Although it is not easy to save money when you travel during vacations, this enabled us to come here in a comfortable financial situation, and we can enjoy Bowdoin’s amazing food (though not all TFs agree that it’s amazing).
Obviously, living on the campus of an American college is a valuable experience for us—we can embrace a very different culture from our own. A year at Bowdoin is basically a year of free activities. I’ve had a great time singing with the Bowdoin Chamber Choir, and I’ve enjoyed free culture with all the concerts, shows and conferences on various topics. Public conferences are quite rare in France, so I appreciate even more the fact that every day or so, there is an opportunity to improve my knowledge of society, history, politics and many other subjects.
Teaching is an important part of our schedule and is something we enjoy—that’s why we are here! However, we do not have the same workload—the Spanish TF normally is the busiest because of the size of the Spanish department.
On the other hand, the French TFs teach only three hours a week this semester but we are involved in many other activities—WBOR’s French-speaking radio program, “Pardon my French,” drama with a French literature class, helping with vocabulary in the Contemporary France through the Media course and preparing a website about recurrent mistakes in French.We also do not teach the same way. While most TFs lead conversation hours, with the Spanish TF also giving literature-related classes, the German TF’s task is different.
“I assist a professor in the German class,” said Sarah Kissel, who studies at Mainz University. “Then I work with each student one-on-one. So basically, a lot of conversation and helping them with their writings.”
“I really like it when I help them, it’s a difficult language. I think it’s really cool to see their improvement, especially last semester,” she added. “I had these weekly conservation classes with them, and we could really realize the improvement they made over the few months. That was really cool”.
Teaching represents three challenges for us. The first one is that we need to be ready to explain any grammar rule the students might ask about. It does not sound amazingly difficult, but we are not trained as teachers and in most cases, we have been taking those grammar rules for granted since our childhood and never really thought about them.
I have often found myself in the position of being asked about grammar and having to analyze my own language in my mind so that I can figure it out and give an answer. This has definitely proved enriching as that way, we really learn a lot about our respective mother tongues.
The second challenge is that we have to prepare lessons. The main aim is getting the students to speak freely, but it is never easy to give them that confidence. The lesson needs to be a conversation more than a lecture, and whenever possible, fun. I try to draw inspiration from the TFs who taught me English at university, but my composed nature means I am not necessarily the most fun TF. My colleagues do not lack imagination, though.“I do my best to find activities that work. It’s kind of a challenge,” said Tatiana Le Mestric, a French TF from the University of Western Britanny. “I adapted the game of beer pong to make students practice conjugations. I think that was fun. The students were really surprised, but it worked!”
The third challenge basically is our position as a TF. We are in this no man’s land between students and faculty. According to our OneCards, we’re faculty, but we’re allowed to take classes as students, and we have student insurance. We are not much older than actual students, so finding the right balance can be hard, especially with those we teach.
“Sometimes, trying to be friendly and serious at the same time is challenging,” said Angela Lavecchia, who studied in Naples, Italy. “You have to force them, at some point, to do what they’re supposed to do. For me, it’s kind of challenging, but I still like it”.
While some of us have found it hard to get acquainted with students outside the classes we teach, we certainly enjoyed each other’s company.
“I have met wonderful people and I’m really glad that I can call the other TFs my friends,” Lavecchia added. “I really think that if it wasn’t for them, my experience at Bowdoin wouldn’t be as happy and cheerful as it is.”
Most of us have decided what we are going to do after Bowdoin. While I am tackling a career in journalism, most TFs are obviously going to try to teach again. Le Mestric is considering another teaching experience abroad, while Kissel needs another one or two years at university to eventually teach English and German. And Lavecchia has applied to be an English teacher in a high school back in Italy. We are soon going our separate ways, but we will certainly keep very fond memories of our time at Bowdoin.
Benjamin Vinel is a teaching fellow in French at Bowdoin.
Talk of the Quad: Not quite apple pie
Foreignness is strange. Americanness is stranger. It’s subtler, like the feeling of self-consciousness when I order an Americano and feel my place in a heritage of the (however briefly) expatriated longing for a cup of brewed coffee. Perplexed and under caffeinated, I am learning what it is to be foreign and what it is to be American. The Americanness is what surprises me.
I recently boarded a plane and an Irish man engaged me in conversation. He was a Civil War buff who had been to the U.S. several times and had some strong and, truth be told, bizarre opinions. “The United States,” he said, “is not a nation. It is a confederation of states. Ireland is a nation.” I bristled.
While my travel aquaintance’s view of the U.S. seems out of left field even for a non-American, it did give me pause. In Ireland, I am sometimes reminded of my Americanness in tangible ways. My passport is blue and I have to get it stamped in the Non-EU line at the airport. My accent is wider and more nasally. When I’m picking out salad greens, I look for “arugula” instead of “rocket.” When I can’t find it, I get frustrated because the grocery stores here are inefficient and I think I could make them better.
What really catches me off-guard, however, is feeling my Americanness in the abstract and missing my imagined community very strongly. I belong more to Oregon (where I have never visited and may never go) than to Belgium, where I went last week. I feel a connection to Iowans and Hawaiians and Texans that far exceeds only a humanist bond. Alaska is farther away from my state, New Jersey, than New Jersey is from Europe. So why, when I think Alaska, do I still think home?
When I first arrived in Ireland and people asked where I was from, I said, “the U.S.,” or, if I wanted to spend the breath, “the United States.” “Oh, the States!” my interlocutor would say. “The States! I’ve been to Miami and Las Vegas and New York City and LA.” Always (for some reason) these cities. But more notably, always “the States.” As if the plurality was the only essential bit and the “United” superfluous. I now say the “the States,” in conversation, but it always feels awkward in my mouth. Why do I feel that the “United” is essential? Isn’t it?How do I explain that Americanness doesn’t sound like English? That it doesn’t look like a Walmart or J.Crew aisle or smell like an apple pie?
We talk a lot about nationalism—if it is good, if it is bad, if it is real, if it is necessary. Whatever it is, it is on my mind all the time. I feel it nagging at my heels when I cross streets where the cars drive on the opposite side of the road.
Waiting for a walk signal, my Americano in hand, I make my list.
Americanness is uncanny, the foreign always familiar. It isn’t having or not having guns, it’s worrying about them.
Americanness is race with a big question mark and religion with a big ellipsis and work ethic all in quotations.
Americanness is knowing that there are 300 million people and a few islands and an enormous land mass in the Western hemisphere that you are supposed to be allowed to belong to and that are supposed to belong to each other. It is as big as homesickness and as soft as my favorite blanket and as loud as a call with one as the country code.
How is it so big and so little at the same time? When does it fit and when does it feel too large or small? What is it about “we” that is so irresolvable but so strong that it spans oceans and thousands of miles, the magnetic field of us-ness reaching me all the way in Ireland, huddled around my coffee cup, with my me-ness compass’s arrow pointed home?
Katherine Churchill is a member of the Class of 2016.
Talk of the Quad: Incidental memories
This spring, as I struggle with the idea that my time at Bowdoin will soon end, I have found myself rereading a piece that first appeared on this page last April. It’s one that resonated with me back then but speaks to me in new ways each time I return to it. In two months, in two years, and beyond, I hope I will continue to appreciate its message. I am referring to “Life per second,” by Toph Tucker ’12.
As a quick disclaimer, I cannot claim to really know the author beyond the strange way that any two random Bowdoin students do—well enough perhaps to chat at a party, but not necessarily enough to offer a quick hello in passing. And because his piece deals with life after Bowdoin, I cannot even maintain that I truly understand the depth of what he writes. I still have two months before the reality of post-grad life sets in, and I am keenly aware of the time that remains.
Avid readers of the Bowdoin Orient (of which I am a self-proclaimed number one fan) know the gist of it. But for those of you who have not yet read his piece, Toph beautifully and precisely reflects upon his time at Bowdoin, as well as the year that had elapsed between his 2013 graduation and last April. What he finds, living in the country’s most populated city, is that there is actually far less density of social interaction in the real world than at Bowdoin. It’s an interesting notion and one worth considering, even if it is not yet relevant to my life.
But one line has stood out to me time and time again: “When I arrived at Bowdoin I thought only of work. By the time I left, I thought only of people.”
It’s such a succinct way to sum up the years we spend in Brunswick. And while I lack the wisdom or experience to meaningfully reflect on much else of what he wrote, I look two months ahead to graduation and find that these words already linger with me. I will always prefer to think about the nights spent with my friends doing nothing and everything, than to remember the hours I put into studying for that one exam in that one class. Even today, that all seems so inconsequential.
But I could not say the same about myself four years ago (I’m happy to say I think I’ve grown a lot since then). I cannot speak for the rest of my peers, but I came here, like many newly matriculated college students, with the idea that higher education would serve as a means to a successful future. The idea of really enjoying my four years in Brunswick was, at the time, much more of an afterthought.
Back then, I valued academic success and the possibility of securing a job immediately after graduation over so many other things. Because really, who needs a break between school and work when you get two weeks of vacation and ten sick days per year? Don’t forget about federal holidays—thank God for Columbus Day. Of course, I still value this type of success now, though the feelings have tempered.
A friend described this to me over Spring Break as Bowdoin’s “culture of work and doing prestigious things” (not the catchiest designation, I know). Having arrived at college on the heels of successful high school careers, we can all relate to this idea. For the Class of 2015, each of us represents about twelve other applicants who, for one reason or another, ended up elsewhere, and it’s almost as if we work so hard just to validate that we earned these spots.
Amidst the pressure to become a Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholar, graduate Phi Beta Kappa, and land a respected internship with a full-time offer attached at the end of the summer, we sometimes ignore what else Bowdoin has to offer. We ignore the classes which truly interest us for the sake of the 101 (or, now, 1101) that will preserve our GPAs. In between meetings with the Career Planning Center and the fellowships office and our professors, we forget to “lose [ourselves] in generous enthusiasms,” as the Offer of the College directs. Instead, we lose ourselves to the idea that something better is on the horizon. All we have to do is make it through these four years, and then we’ll coast. This is an idea I have finally begun to question.
I will always be proud of what I’ve accomplished academically here at Bowdoin. But at what cost do I hold that pride? I put off going abroad for the sake of my majors and in the interest of devoting enough time to the junior year internship search. Of course, the new friends I made here (while some of my closest friends studied in Spain, the United Kingdom and Russia) have helped define my Bowdoin experience in a meaningful way. But still, losing myself to a semester abroad would have been a worthwhile experience.
So when the memories of each lecture fade and we lose touch with Bowdoin’s culture of work, what do we want to remember? What will we remember? For me, I hope to push aside any recollection of my first year seminar and to instead think about the hours I spent lying with my friends on the Quad each spring. And when I look back on Tuesday nights, I want to be reminded of drinks at Joshua’s, not problem sets in the library.
It’s a sentiment I am glad to have realized at this point in my college career, but it’s one I wish had meant more to me four years ago, back when Bowdoin was still fresh.
So while I anxiously prepare myself to graduate on May 23, I find myself in the thick of never ending problem sets, papers and exams. But in two months when I walk across the steps of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art to shake President Mills’ hand, these obligations will cease to be relevant. In the end, it won’t be my academic successes or failures that measure the four years I spent in Brunswick. Rather, it will be the happy and incidental memories I made during those moments, however fleeting, when work was the last thing on my mind.
Colin Swords is a member of the Class of 2015.
Talk of the Quad: My extracurricular is nothing
At the first affiliate event we hosted at Burnett House, a few first years asked me, “What do you do here?” They did not ask, “What is your favorite meal? Who are your friends? What classes do you like? How do you survive the workload?” They also did not ask, “Are you happy? Have you found love? Have you found yourself?”
I was struck by this question because I was at a real loss for how to answer it. We were standing in a small circle, one of many small circles at the party, holding cups filled with cider and eating a lot of cheese. There’s something about a small circle of people that makes it easy to forget you don’t know anybody in it. After all, we have been practicing standing and sitting in circles since pre-school.
Two of my best friends were standing on either side of me. They answered orchestra and a women's discussion group, Student government and organic gardening, Peer Health and outdoor leadership.
“Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in any of these,” they said to the first years. Their lists probably could have gone on, but these were their main activities. These two friends of mine are bright eyed and beautiful and funny and smart. They are musical and mathematical and read entire books in one morning.
Upon hearing their lists, the first years looked energized instead of intimidated. So many options, so many ways to get involved. It was just what was promised in the college brochure.
I had no idea what to say. I could not answer with a list. I wanted to say, “Sometimes I watch cooking tutorials on YouTube. I fill up journals and can’t read my own writing. I struggle to finish all my essays and readings and take-home exams. Sometimes I call my mom and talk for forty-five minutes.”
What do I do at college? I spend hours lying on the Ikea rug in my room on the third floor of an old house listening to Patsy Cline.
What else? Well, I’m in love with someone 3,000 miles away, and loving someone takes more energy than any extracurricular I’ve ever done. Sometimes I unroll my yoga mat. When I feel sick with worry, I walk to the next town over. I get coffee and let people rant to me about the things that hurt. Often, I bake bread and it goes horribly, horribly wrong. I’m not the head of an organization, but I have conquered an eating disorder.
If there’s anything I’ve done here, it’s learn that it is so much harder to slow down than to speed up.
So here’s to doing nothing. To the quiet moments. To the days you sit within yourself and just watch. To soft music, handwritten words, silence. To listening to the way snow sounds underfoot. To watching dusk and dawn come and go.
We should be proud of the moments we do not try to fill. Not that activities and extracurriculars and essays aren’t tremendous and important. But sometimes I want to gather the busy students, the ones with crunched faces and big backpacks, and say, “Shh. It will all be okay. Let yourself settle. Enjoy the nothingness." There will be times in our lives when the car breaks down, when the children are crying—times that will be much noisier and certainly more difficult than college. And even then, we must commit to the moments of nothing, the moments of sheer, simple joy. Eating a perfectly fried egg. Opening an untouched notebook.
Doing nothing does not mean failure. Pausing does not mean stopping. We are stirring up the dust by learning so much, and we must create a space for that dust to settle.
We are all superheroes with an Achilles heel: We are afraid to stop moving, afraid that if we for one second return to our introverted Peter Parker/Clark Kent selves, the world will be too far gone to save. But the reality is, it won’t. After all, it does take some time to figure out what our powers are in the first place.
Raisa Tolchinsky is a member of the Class of 2017.
Talk of the Quad: The Trojan horse
In kindergarten, Ms. Poger had a big bowl of buttons. They were “counting buttons”—meant to help us with math. If I have eight buttons, and I give you three, how many do I have left? Now, a little bit you need to know about me…
Growing up, I had what my parents termed a “special drawer.” It was below my sock drawer, above my shirts, and it was where I kept all of the small objects I compulsively squirreled: diminutive unfilled notebooks, miniature rubber dog models, tiny binder clips.
I had a glass cup of coins—not even special coins or foreign coins—just shiny nickels, mostly. So, being a small, strange child obsessed with collecting useless and unexceptional things, I was naturally drawn to the buttons.
And they were beautiful. One was tin-colored and conical, with complex cutouts and curlicues. One was brass, square shaped and deceptively heavy, with two-thread loops on the back. All together, they were enchanting, tumbling over one another and tinkling conspiratorially.
Sharing may be caring, but thievery is far more gratifying, and the buttons were like insects to my flypaper fingers. I started to steal them, every few days, after our math sessions. If Ms. Poger has one hundred buttons, and Stevie takes three each week for seven weeks, how many buttons does Ms. Poger have left?
When Ms. Poger discovered that the button bowl was losing weight—that students were pilfering—she took the bowl away in draconian fashion.
The idea was this: that if we were abusing her generosity in sharing the buttons, we lost the privilege of having them at all. In front of the class, Ms. Poger made a big deal out of locking the bowl away in the bottom drawer of her desk. No more buttons.
Thursday at 2:40 p.m. and I’m wondering if the same sort of logic is operating in Coles Tower, except that now, being 22, I’ve graduated from buttons…
Let me explain: There are five Tower RAs, all of whom are wonderful people. I have no unkind words to voice against them. They put nametags on our doors, they have cellphone numbers posted to theirs, and they host pizza parties on the 16th floor catered by Flipside. I have no real complaints.
But it’s Thursday at 2:40 p.m. and I’m looking for condoms. Ok, ok—not for use at 2:40 p.m. admittedly. But it’s important to be prepared—for anything and everything. That’s a rule I also learned back in kindergarten, when, after being confronted with the impossible and explosive nature of the milk cartons, I started always opening my chocolate milk with the spout pointing away from me, at my friends.
So I go down a few floors, to the nearest RA’s door. I’m looking for that Halloween-style, serve-yourself vessel full of the small, light blue packages. No luck.
I know RAs aren’t proctors, and maybe they aren’t told to provide seniors in the Tower with condoms, but why not? I guess I’d just assumed that all Residential Life staffers had access to an off-putting number of condoms with which to arm us residents.
Disappointed on this floor, I head down a few more and stop by the next RA’s apartment. Same thing. And none at the next RA’s floor, either.
There are, surprisingly, no condoms in the Tower.
And here’s the Ms. Poger connection—are you still with me? I wonder if, like the bowl brimming with “counting buttons,” there used to be an awe-inspiring bowl of Trojans made available for students, a privilege which Tower residents abused for too long—stealing condoms, hoarding them, hiding them in their “special drawers.” Then I think about the bowl being locked away forever in someone’s desk. No more condoms.
Not that I’m blaming anyone— I’m certainly not one to judge. But no matter, I still have no condoms, and now it’s 2:50 p.m. And so I do what any rational senior would do when the weather is below zero with windchill, and head for the nearest first year dorm.
So I’m headed to West. Hey—when you got to go, you got to go. (I think I’d rather not tell you all about the day in kindergarten when Ms. Poger’s class learned about that.) On the first floor, I beeline for the proctor’s door, made evident by the whiteboard and—at last!—the condom bowl.
I sort of wish I’d been discovered—a senior hunched greedily over the condoms and, for the first time in my life, choosing something over chocolate, which the kind proctor had also left in the bowl—because it was probably hilarious. Or incredibly frightening.
I’m trying to imagine some analogous scene—to throw some metaphor in here—and I keep thinking about Santa feeding from his plate of cookies, but everything about that comparison is disturbing. Anyway, I stuff the condoms into my bag, and kindergarten math comes rushing back. If the West first years have nine condoms, and Stevie takes them all, how many condoms do they have left? Sorry, West.
Am I embarrassed? A little. Did I abuse the system in taking all of the condoms from West? Undoubtedly. Am I judging myself just as much, if not more so, than you? Likely. But I hope that this, besides being a mildly entertaining story you read this morning while eating breakfast alone and feeling a little socially awkward about it, can be a lesson.
For all those of you who call the Tower your home on campus, don’t waste your time looking for the free condoms. There are none. In the interest of efficiency, head straight to the closest first year dorm—maybe you pass Coleman on your way to the library?—and stock up. And for all of you still in the dawn of your Bowdoin days, living in the first-year bricks—if your condom bowl is empty, it was probably us.
Stevie Lane is a member of the Class of 2015.
Talk of the Quad: The lore package
The night after Thanksgiving, I visited a damp beach in Lisbon, Portugal with a huddle of Bowdoin study-abroad students.
If you’re stuck in continental Europe, this sand is just about the closest you can get to American soil. If you’re stuck in America, there’s a candy cane of a lighthouse in Lubec, Maine—West Quoddy Head, first built in 1808 for $5,000, about four hours north of Brunswick—that is just about the closest you can get to Europe.
Another way of thinking about this is: from Portugal, you can often catch Europe’s last sunset. From Maine, you can often catch America’s first sunrise.
I did not visit the Lubec lighthouse during my time at Bowdoin. Like babysitting for a professor, walking through L. L. Bean in the middle of the night, or joining an intramural team, it is something I thought I would do. Bowdoin after all was once the first college in America to see the sunrise, a fact I was reminded of every time I walked across the tired wax of Smith Union’s giant linoleum sun.
But if I once longed for superlatives and hyperboles (being the farthest East! Seeing those first red rays!) I now longed for closeness—a collapse of time or space, a quick reunion with Super Snack. This beach was, literally, the nearest I could get.
You have probably seen Lynchville, Maine’s “international” signpost, a 1940s-era sign displaying directions to—among other local towns—Paris (15 miles, turn right) and Peru (46 miles, left). I’m living in Italy for the year, in rural Sicily, and I sometimes find myself wanting to come upon a sign a like this: a real one though, with a neat list of mileages to my parents in Oregon, my sister in Rhode Island, my friends in Maine, Utah, China, Mexico.
In the weeks after graduation, the first novel I read was “Mating,” by Norman Rush. It was worth the raised eyebrows I got on the airplane. The narrator is a wry female anthropology student working on her thesis in rural Botswana in the early 1980s. To say that I related to her isolation is an understatement.
When I arrived in Sicily—working remotely for a woman I hadn’t met, living in an empty villa without a car, surrounded by hundreds of acres of vineyards and waves of 100-degree heat—I could go days at a time saying only a few sentences.
I didn’t speak Italian, and no one around me spoke English. Terrified of sounding like an idiot, I chose to feel like one instead, and I kept to myself. Before bed, I swatted mosquitos and read Rush in my basement room, which has one small, barred window and a wardrobe quilted in pink, floral satin.
There is a great line in “Mating” where the narrator talks about her “lore package.” As I understand it, this is the narrative shield we carry to make sense of—and make safe of—the world. She chooses to believe that lions are “torpid during the day,” thus buying herself a break from fear.
Since graduation, I’ve been assembling and dissembling my own lore package, trying to decide what myths I will hold onto. Some are easy to keep: things that I recycle will not end up in foreign landfills, my freckles will not become skin cancer, snakes do not come into houses.
Others are harder. I tell myself that with May’s commencement anniversary, I will no longer catch myself imagining a walk across the Quad, or a Coles Tower party. Twelve months, and I’ll be cushioned by the new, raw post-grad state of the Class of 2015. I think of it almost on medical terms. Get through this flu season, and I’ll breathe easy for decades.
And in reality, that Portuguese beach was a rare indulgence. I rarely let myself miss Brunswick these days. I miss friends, sure, but with Facetime and Facebook and facing emails, those ocean-miles can quickly feel insignificant.
At dinner that night in Lisbon—after over-sauced fish, fluorescent lighting and a free round of port—a friend had interrupted the conversation to ask, point blank, if I felt lonely in Sicily.
I surprised myself when I realized that, at the end of the day, I was not.
This is one thing I am removing from my lore package, then: hyper-connection as a means of self-betterment. I hauled this aim through adolescence without questioning it.
Now, apart from the handful of people I work with every week, there is nobody to make me wonder if I should be connecting more, or if I’m connecting right. There is nowhere to go after 10 p.m., so there is nothing to FOMO. Sheer physical impossibility means social interaction can’t be my goal. Strangely, it’s a relief. It’s life off the hook.
I’m living a sort of grotesque caricature of the watered down “life per second” that Toph Tucker ’12 wrote about as a post-graduate on this same page last year. It’s glaringly obvious that my life here can’t approximate the density of college. I might be spared something in this.
When I visited home for the holidays—flying both transatlantic and trans-America, across over 6,000 miles of salted water and frozen earth—I happily resumed my social rhythms. But on the days and nights when I stayed home, I let myself feel a flicker of satisfaction.
I felt a thrill of self-sufficiency, a slight shock that I wasn’t trying to distract myself from myself. Bowdoin taught me lots of things—its people taught me lots of things—but I’m not sure I learned how to sit tight with my own heartbeat. I didn’t have to.
On January 30, Brazil celebrated Saudade Day, in honor of the Portuguese word that imbues Lisbon’s blue-tiled alleys and seven hills. Saudade connotes a state of deep nostalgia and, often, a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.
In 1660, Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo described the feeling as “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.”
The sentiment seems an inevitable part of growing up, taking stock and looking back. I dare you to stare across the ocean and not feel a tinge of it. But if I sometimes feel this way—a loss of community or childhood or dream—it’s on de Melo’s terms.
After all, there is a quiet pleasure and enjoyment in realizing you have something to miss. And when it feels lonely, you have your lore.
Erica Berry is a member of the Class of 2014.
Talk of the Quad: Beneath the birches and the pine
In 1915, David Endicott Putnam won the Camp Becket Honor Emblem, an award given to campers based on the strength of their character.
Two years later, Putnam, who would come to be known as the “Ace of Aces,” left his job as a counselor at Camp Becket to fight in World War I. In September 1918, his SPAD XIII plane was shot down over France and Putnam was killed. The U.S. Army posthumously awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross. He was 20 years old when he died.
At the dedication of the 9/11 Museum last spring, President Obama spoke about the Man in the Red Bandana, Welles Crowther. While everyone else ran down the stairs, Crowther, a former volunteer firefighter working in the World Trade Center, ran deeper into the building to help get others out. Welles had been a Becket camper and was a quintessential example of one of the camp mottos, Help the Other Fellow.
This summer, I’ll be on staff at Becket, just like Putnam was nearly a century ago. But a funny thing happens when I tell people what my plans are for the summer.
“Really? Oh, that’s nice,” my friends’ parents say. “Nice” lingers, as if they’re not sure if it was really what they meant. My friends ask if it’s going to be my last summer or say I’m too old to be a camper. The Career Planning Center insists that I get an internship.
I get defensive when I tell people that I plan to return for my thirteenth consecutive summer at camp and my fifth on staff. The overachiever inside of me has an urge to justify why I’m not applying for a competitive internship program or a research grant.
I want to tell them about David Putnam and Welles Crowther. But the truth is I’m not going back to camp this summer simply because I think that Becket will make me more like David Putnam or Welles Crowther. Nor do I have any illusions about my ability to turn my campers into national heroes in four weeks, although mature, thoughtful fourteen-year-old boys would be a good start.
Every Sunday afternoon, my phone lights up with the weekly edition of “Jobs and Events I May Be Interested In.” In fact, many of the jobs do interest me. I think I’d like being a White House Intern or a Future Global Leader or a Google Journalism Fellow.
I’d also like to sit in a rocking chair on the porch of the library overlooking the lake and have to put a sweatshirt on because the sun is quickly descending behind the birch trees. I’d like to watch as my campers try to navigate a twenty-five foot, hundred-year-old canoe back to the dock. I’d like to remind them to hang up their wet life jackets.
If I get to be surrounded by the Bowdoin Pines for nine months of the year, I want to be surrounded by the birch trees of the Berkshires for the other three. I want my clothes to smell like a campfire and my arms to be covered in mosquito bites. I want to relive the best days of my childhood and share them with my campers, despite that fact that many people do not consider it the best preparation for my impending adulthood.
My friends and I are stuck in a tug of war between what we want to do for the summer and what we’re told we should do. We’re lucky if nothing is pulling on the should end of the rope. We’re even luckier if the want and should ends are the same.
I hope the Offer of the College is wrong. I hope my time at Bowdoin is not the best four years of my life, but I do hope that the summers in between my years at Bowdoin are the best of my life because they are the last summers of my youth. After college, summer is just a season.
My friends have good, fun, relaxing, boring, warm summers. They sell vacuums and ice cream and stocks. They study Arabic and physics and poverty. They sit on the beach and in cubicles and on subways.
Walking around campus at the end of August, you need more than two hands to count the number of people who ask, “How was your summer?”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they had a terrible summer, but I don’t see people’s eyes light up when they talk about their summers either. It seems that few people have a story they’re excited to tell.
Two years ago, my summer story was about a camper whose family life was so turbulent that nobody could make the trip to see him on visiting day. He pulled me aside before boarding the bus home on the last morning. He looked up at me and said, in an expression of emotion jarringly earnest for a pubescent boy, “you’re like the good big brother I’ve never had.”
Last year it was a story about helping a group of campers—campers who are much cooler than I was or will be—build a cabin that will house hundreds of campers over the next few decades.
When I return to Bowdoin in August, I hope I have another story. I hope my eyes light up when someone asks me about my summer. I hope the excitement I feel to be back at Bowdoin will be matched by the sadness I feel that summer is over.
Matthew Gutschenritter is a member of the Class of 2016.
Talk of the Quad: The waiting room
Recently, I checked the dinner menus and shrieked with delight, because the dessert offering for the evening was dirt cake. Dirt cake night is probably the most exciting night of my life, second only to the night of the Final Rose Ceremony on The Bachelor. I live for dirt cake. Seeing it on the menu is a stop, drop, and roll thing for me. So naturally, I sprinted to the nearest dining hall, bypassed the hot food line entirely, and shimmied over to the dessert bar. I was going to fill a massive, planet-sized bowl with dirt cake and eat it all. I deserved this. And that’s when my life came to a screeching halt.
There was no more dirt cake.
This was a DEFCON 1 situation, people. I blinked, pinched myself, and trembled. I checked the giant pan once more: empty. This simply couldn’t be. Dirt cake? My one true love? I fell to my knees and let out a bloodcurdling scream. My life was over. Images from my childhood flashed before my eyes. I would have to be buried under the dessert bar. I envisioned the headstone: Here lies Olivia, heart broken by dirt cake (or lack thereof).
As I writhed beneath the empty basin, it occurred to me: you know what? No. They don’t run out of dirt cake until I say they’ve run out of dirt cake. So, with a new fervor in my step, I planted my feet into the floor and began to wait. I grew roots. I would not budge. This was a stand-in, folks, and I wasn’t moving a single muscle until I was presented with a new bathtub quantity of dirt cake. My friend Faith massaged my back to keep my strength up. This was war...well maybe not war, but you know, a skirmish.
A half hour passed in this way, and then, he appeared. An angel, if you will, bearing a brand new container of dirt cake. Someone in dining services had driven to Thorne, snatched one from those greedy bastards, and driven it back for me. I had half a mind to take the entire cake back to my table, but no. I am a martyr. I stood back and smiled, arms crossed, saying, “Oh, you’re welcome. Really. No need to thank me” to every soul who scooped a dollop of glorious dessert. I filled my bowl with a heaping portion of dirt cake, even though I wasn’t hungry anymore. I was high on adrenaline and full of victory. My friend approached me as I marched back to my table, bowing to the uproarious (okay, it might have been a smattering of) applause.
“Olivia,” he said, having witnessed the whole spectacle, “I cannot believe they just brought a pan of that stuff back for you. That’s impressive. You’re the kind of girl that those things just happen to.”
I maniacally giggled, licked my spoon, and dug in.
His words didn’t really kick in until a week later, as I sat in a dull economics lecture about consumer power or something with no relevance to my life, obviously, and I got to thinking: what did he mean, that those things just happen to me? Am I some kind of special person, who has the stamina to wait for hours on end? I mean, clearly we would all put our lives on hold in the name of dirt cake, but what more did this say about me?It feels like lately all I do is wait. I wait for class to be over. I wait for the light to change on Maine Street. I wait for that one boy to text me back. I have waited at the C-Store, at the printer, and in the crowded downstairs Smith Union bathroom by the mailboxes (people, that’s my bathroom. Please find other places to do your business).
I don’t think the phrase “good things come to those who wait” is relevant anymore. Sure, it worked in the context of dirt cake, but I think it’s outdated, garbage, and a useless filler phrase that people throw around to condone laziness. And I’m sorry to say I think I’ve fallen victim to it. Not to mention that it seems to me like every time I wait around for something, it ends up being not so hot. I waited around in my house during a party, thinking some strange and attractive boy with a mysterious Scottish accent would round the bend, knock into me, and call me Lassie, but no, I ended up blow-drying pee off of someone’s sweatpants (long story).
I waited to do my laundry but the one machine we have broke, so I had to haul my basket across the quad and do it in Coleman. A few weeks later, after complaining repeatedly about my lack of socks, I stumbled upon a collection of wet socks by the Chapel. They had fallen from my basket as I lugged it back to Helmreich from my Coleman laundry trip, and they had since been nibbled on by squirrels. Maybe if I had jumped on the opportunity to do my laundry earlier, I wouldn’t be sockless and widely known as the Weird Quad Laundry Girl. All I’m saying is, they tell us that patience is a virtue and that waiting is a good thing, but when you really think about it, they’re wrong.
I don’t want to be the girl who waits anymore. I want to stop biding my time. What are we all waiting for? If Jillian on The Bachelor would only just tell Farmer Chris she loves him, (and that she’s ambidextrous to boot!), maybe she wouldn’t still be waiting to get a rose (she could really help out with the crops with both her left and right hand, I think). It’s time to finish that dirt cake, to do our laundry, to get moving, to start farming, to jump in. I don’t really know what these metaphors mean, but it will give you something to think about the next time you’re waiting.
Just kidding. Because you’re not going to wait anymore. And neither am I.
-Olivia Atwood is a member of the Class of 2017
Talk of the Quad: Why do you want to hook up with me?
It is assumed that Bowdoin students understand the social norms that are deeply embedded within the hookup culture. If they don’t, they quickly learn, like I did.
I discovered that it wasn’t okay to contact a person during the week; that’d seem too clingy or overbearing. I learned that both my hookup and myself were expected to send the first text. And that transitioning from a drunken hookup to a sober one was an entirely different story.
I feel like these standards have prevented me from being the forward and bold person that I normally am. So, I decided to run a social experiment and interview my past hookups. I wanted to see if their perception of our hookup mirrored my own.I opened the conversation by asking why each boy had wanted to hook up with me. Boy one said, “Sex,” while Boy two told me, “That’s a tough one, but I have an answer: Because college was a new experience for me and along with that broad experience comes other small experiences, and I guess you were part of one of them.” Notice the contrast. Boy three said I had “asked him to dance” so he said yes and that he “also wanted to hook up with somebody to see what it was like.” Boy four thought I was “a pretty cool person” and “had gotten to know [me] a little.” Boy five declined to be interviewed.
Next, I asked them what they thought of me when they first saw me. I expected similar answers about my defining features, such as my wildly curly hair or five foot tall stature. They gave adjectives like “interesting,” “very short” and “cute.”
After these preliminary questions, I asked them what they expected from me before and after our hookup. Boy one expected to do it again. Boy two told me that he “always expected a first move from me” and after the fact, “wanted me to always be on the same page as him.” Boy three conveyed that he expected to “dance and make out,” and added, “one-night stands aren’t [his] thing.” Boy four stated that he didn’t expect anything serious before or after.
I then told them to say what they liked and disliked about it. They were very honest, which I appreciated. Boy one stated that he “liked the stroll we took in the park afterwards” and “didn’t like that we didn’t have sex.” Truthfully, I didn’t like that part either. Boy two said he “liked that we were exclusive for the most part” and “disliked that [I] played so hard to get.” Boy three told me that it was fun, but thought that me “texting while we were dancing was odd.” That’s definitely fair; I’d think that was weird, too. Boy four expressed that he liked that “we were both on the same page,” and that there “wasn’t really anything [he] disliked.”
They then shared with me what they remembered. Boy one said, “Everything.” Fun fact: I do too. Boy two revealed that I was his “first Bowdoin hookup,” and he could recall our “funny, awkward interactions when we were surrounded by friends.” He was my first hookup here as well. Boy three’s response was pretty standard for a DFMO (Dance Floor Make Out): “I remember we hooked up twice, went to Super Snacks, talked in your room, and watched a movie with some people.” Boy four remembered having a good time with me.
Finally, I asked them to tell me what they would have done differently. Boy one and three said “nothing,” while Boy two wished he had “made it happen more often” and “would’ve made it even more exclusive,” and Boy four wouldn’t have changed anything and was “happy about what happened.”
I was pleasantly surprised by not only their willingness to be interviewed, but also by the candidness in their responses. It’d be hypocritical of me to not answer my own questions.
Boy one, we got along extremely well. You were attractive. I wouldn’t do anything differently now since we’ve gone our separate ways, but I did feel disrespected because you never contacted me afterward. But to be fair, I could’ve contacted you.
Boy two, we were friends at first, and I wanted more. You’d ignore me sometimes then would apologize. I’d react dramatically, so I’m sorry for that. But I eventually got tired of it all and just expected to stay friends with you, which we did.
Boy three, I wanted a DFMO too. Don’t worry.
Boy four, I heard you were a nice guy. I remember approaching your friend to ask if you were single. I’m glad that you liked my honesty; I wasn’t sure if you did. I wouldn’t do anything differently.
In truth, I’m not the biggest fan of the hookup culture here. It seems like a never-ending cycle of objectification and a source of anxiety for both sides.
However, sometimes I think hookups can be fun. They’re liberating and can provide you immediate satisfaction. When Boy one expressed that he wanted to be with me solely for sex, I was okay with that. He was a Tinder hookup, after all.
Some of their answers seemed a bit contradictory. How can I avoid the label of “someone who plays hard to get” if I’m expected to not be clingy? And simultaneously, how can Boy two tell me he wants to be with me again if hookup culture says he’s “supposed” to want to be with me only once, twice, and nothing more?
During my time at Bowdoin, I have always found that students who participate in the hookup culture skirt around these types of questions. I have realized that we abide by these norms for fear of rejection or embarrassment. But these unwritten rules can lead to a severe lack of communication or worse—anger and pain.
So, the next time you find yourself grinding with someone, stop and ask them, “Why do you want to hook up with me?”
You never know, you could be rejected, or you might find they want more. That’s all part of the fun.
-Hayley Nicholas is a member of the Class of 2017
Talk of the Quad: Remembering professor Morgan
I came to Bowdoin for two reasons: the food and the professors. I wanted a place with small classes and brilliant faculty. I wanted professors who would know not only my name, but my aspirations, and who would, however slightly, let me into their world. I also wanted a place where dining halls would serve pad thai. Bowdoin was perfect.
Professor Morgan, whom I first met during Constitutional Law I in the fall of my junior year, was just the sort of professor I had in mind when I came to campus. He would arrive promptly to class at 10 a.m. in a tweed jacket, the chain of his pocket watch dangling from his breast pocket, looking as if he had just stepped out of a Spencer Tracy film.
I remember being astounded during the first few weeks of that class by the obvious breadth of his knowledge about what seemed to be the entirety of constitutional law. Having opened the textbook at the beginning of class, he would proceed to ignore it almost entirely for the next hour and a half as he told us anecdote after anecdote about Chief Justice John Marshall. I remember the look of excitement that would come to his face as he told us a particularly good story, and how he would start to laugh a sentence or two before he reached the punch line.
I didn’t speak much to Professor Morgan those first few weeks—I never had occasion to. But when he handed back our midterm test, I saw that on the back of mine he had written “see me,” with no further explanation. The next day, as I climbed the three staircases to his office at the very top of Hubbard Hall, I wondered what lay in store for me at the end of my ascent. And so when I arrived, I asked him whether I had done anything wrong.
“No, no,” he said. “I just wanted to know who you were.”
And he did want to know. For the next hour, he asked me to tell him about myself: the courses I was taking and my extracurricular activities. We talked about politics, about Bowdoin, and at the end of our conversation, he shook my hand and said, “I’m going to expect to hear from you more from now on.”
I did begin raising my hand more, and he called on me. I don’t recall ever stumping him, but I do remember his smile of vaguely exasperated pride when I would ask a particularly good question, or answer a hard one of his.
As I began to listen to him more closely, I began to see individual court cases not as disparate elements, but as chapters in a larger, fluid story. I started making the trek to his office more frequently and quickly stopped being surprised at how generous he was with his time.
Unfailingly kind and patient, he would discuss his lectures with me and the cases currently before the Supreme Court justices, whom he collectively called “The Supremes.”
Only once did he ever kick me out of his office. I had arrived at 4 p.m., and we had spoken for almost two hours. It was completely dark outside.
Professor Morgan gently rapped his knuckles against his desk and said, “I think I am going to head home soon. I can hear the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass.” I understood myself to be dismissed for the evening.
I don’t remember all, or even most, of the cases that he had filed, encyclopedically, in his head over the course of decades, and which he valiantly attempted to impart to me. But I do remember being consistently and supportively challenged by him, being pushed to think deeply and support my positions.
From Professor Morgan I began to learn patience and nuance and the value of an obsessively detailed study guide. I began to learn how to make an argument without being argumentative, although I did not, perhaps, employ this ability as often as I should have.
Still, these are lessons I will carry with me the rest of my life. He gave me many of my proudest moments at Bowdoin and when I graduated, comfortable and largely confident in my future, it was to him that I owed much of the credit for these emotions.
When I learned that he had passed, I was amazed at all the things I didn’t know about Professor Morgan. His life outside of Bowdoin had always been an abstract concept to me. I didn’t know, for example, that he was a veteran, or a certified Maine guide. I didn’t know that he hunted or fished, although if pressed I probably could have guessed these last two.
I didn’t know these things about him. But I knew Professor Morgan. And I am glad and I am grateful to have had that opportunity.
Talk of the Quad: Looking at both sides of a catholic education
Like most juniors in college, I don’t think much about high school anymore. The days of waking up at 6 a.m. and sitting through seven-plus hours of class every day are over, at least until I enter the real world of nine-to-five employment. I am ostensibly much cooler, smarter and more put-together than I was as a teenager—or at least that’s what I’d like to think. However, every now and then something will remind me of the uniqueness (or if we’re being totally honest here, the weirdness) of my middle and high school experience.
From seventh through 12th grade, I attended a tiny, all-girls Catholic school. When I say tiny, I mean tiny. There were about 180 students in the entire school and I graduated with a class of 23. And when I say Catholic, I mean really Catholic. We prayed before every class, attended daily mass, and took theology courses where we were taught strict Church teaching on issues ranging from premarital sex to abortion to homosexuality.
Needless to say, college was something of a culture shock for scared freshman me. After spending six years in a boy-free environment, there were suddenly boys living next door. No one was warning me about the evils of birth control anymore. Proctors on every floor were handing out free condoms.
As I adjusted to this new and foreign world, I was pretty quick to repudiate my high school experience. I met new people, acclimated to my surroundings, and didn’t define myself by the environment I’d left behind. High school had been one part of my life, I thought, and college was another, totally different one.
But after I’d gotten some distance from all the bad things about my high school—the needlessly strict rules about everything from uniforms to eating in the hallways, the constant focus on Catholic social doctrines I disagreed with, the fact that I knew every single student at my school by name—I started to remember the good ones. Most importantly, I started to realize what I had learned from my six years in an all-female environment.
I realize that most people stereotype the “Catholic school girl” as a lesbian, prude and/or slut. But my experience at an all girls school was much more nuanced and empowering than you might assume.
First, it taught me not to obsess too much about outward appearances. Spending all my time with a group of girls I’d known since age 12 meant I didn’t have anyone to impress, and wearing a uniform meant I put minimal effort into my daily appearance. Makeup was optional, and girls would take pride in going weeks or months without shaving their legs. Nobody dieted or obsessed about counting calories, and nobody was ashamed of having a healthy appetite or loving junk food. We were free from the male gaze, and we relished that freedom.
More concretely, the all-female experience also taught me to be assertive and value my own opinion. Our head of school would often stress that she was not teaching her students to be “nice girls”—she was teaching them to be smart, confident women. My school wasn’t alone in this; a 2009 UCLA study found that alumnae of all-female high schools had higher levels of academic achievement and more confidence in their abilities than students from co-ed schools. Meg Milne Moulton, executive director of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, has suggested that all-girls schools promote an environment in which “it’s cool to be smart,” creating “a culture of achievement in which a girl’s academic progress is of central importance.
This description might sound cheesy, but after two years of college I’ve come to realize just how important that experience was. I’ve noticed in many of my classes (especially those in traditionally male-dominated departments) that boys will confidently speak up and defend their opinions, even after pushback from a classmate or the professor. Meanwhile, girls will often speak more tentatively, qualifying their comments with statements like “I could be wrong” or “This is just my opinion.” I too am definitely guilty of this at times, but I also try to remind myself that my ideas are valid and I should express them regardless of the genders of the other people in the room.
I’m definitely happy to have moved from an all-female to a co-ed environment, and I like having the opportunity to engage in discussions about controversial issues that were often taboo at my high school. At the same time, though, I’m grateful for the opportunities my time at an all-girls school afforded me. My 14 year-old self may not have seen the value in an all-female education, but time (and distance) have made me more appreciative of what it taught me.
Talk of the Quad: Race is real
“Oh my god, that’s so Asian!”
That’s how a student on my study abroad program responded when I told her how to spell my last name.
What’s so Asian? That it’s not spelled like “King Kong”? Does adding the “h” really make it that much more Asian? I would never tell someone they’re “so white,” because what does that even imply?
I’m studying abroad in Nantes, France for the semester and never have I been so aware of my race. When I walk into class with my hair ungroomed and sticking up everywhere—resembling the hairdo of an anime character or K-Pop star—I inevitably hear “dude you look so Asian today.”
If I receive a good exam score, my friends will say that’s “very Asian” of me (because, apparently, intelligence and race are mutually inclusive). My host family considers me Vietnamese rather than American, and when I tell someone I’m from the States, they re-phrase: “No, where are you from, your family?”
To me, the French are more direct, not skirting around issues considered “politically incorrect” in the States. The attention I’ve received for being Asian isn’t malicious or discriminatory, but it is constant, making me want to untangle what exactly it means being Asian-American—while stateside and abroad.
My parents fled political and religious persecution in Vietnam by boat in 1989. After my sister and I were born, we immigrated to the States from the Kuala Lumpur Vietnamese Refugee Center. I spent the first five years of my life in the heart of Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, where I heard more Chinese, Cantonese and Vietnamese than English when walking down the street. In 2001, we relocated across Lake Washington to a predominantly white suburb, where we still reside.
My childhood was a game of switching cultures on-and-off: observing Vietnamese New Year in traditional áo gấm and then watching Tom and Jerry, eating cơm tấm for breakfast and then hot dogs and coleslaw for lunch, and trying to find the English equivalent of Vietnamese words—a struggle I now face with French.
During my mid-teens, my dual-cultured life was the source of a lot of angst. I resented going to youth group with all the Vietnamese families in Seattle, many of whom were recent immigrants—I preferred being with American families. Eventually, my parents gave in: bánh mi was replaced with sliced white bread, and weekly Vietnamese culture and language classes ended. I was never ostracized at school, but I was tired of being embarrassed when my parents, with their thick accents, had to speak to my teachers or when my friends would tell me that my clothes smelled like rice.
Coming to Brunswick was essentially removing myself from my roots, something I didn’t realize until Winter Break in 2012 when, after I expressed my disdain for having to go to Vietnamese Christmas mass, my sister retorted, “Well, that’s because you’re just white-washed now.”
The Class of 2016 is 493 people strong, with 156 students self-identifying as students of color, including 53, roughly 10 percent, as Asian. Before leaving home, this ratio did make me a little nervous—was I going to stand out? But since arriving on campus, I don’t spend that much time thinking about the implications of being a minority at Bowdoin; my experience in our little bubble of political correctness and support has been comfortable and safe.
The two new diversity initiatives on campus, A.D.D.R.E.S.S. and Inter-Group Dialogue, have been facilitating conversations about race, which I find incredibly important because many people don’t know how to confront racial issues. When people found out there was another short Asian student who wears skinny jeans and likes photography my freshman year, I kept getting compared to him as if we were each other’s competition. Please, there is no competition—we’re two completely different people.
Catalina Gallagher ’16 told the Orient earlier this month that, “Part of the reason that people are on such different pages often is that we just don’t talk about race. It’s uncomfortable.” And it’s because of this that I was a little apprehensive about writing this article—because it’s uncomfortable and I’m perhaps making it a bigger deal than it is. But this “big deal” is a reality I have to live with.
In the whiteboard photo campaign (organized by A.D.D.R.E.S.S)—which posed the question “what does race mean to you?”—there are responses saying, “It means nothing.” This couldn't be further from my experience with race: it shapes almost every experience I’ve had, and will have, with the world.
It’s undeniable that my experience in France would be different if I were, say, blonde and Caucasian. People wouldn’t stare because I’m the only Asian in a bar, I wouldn’t have to repeatedly tell people I’m not from China, and people I hook up with wouldn’t call me “my little Asian.”
Phrases like “that’s so Asian” are dividing mechanisms, ways to gather all the stereotypes and throw them into one sweeping generalization in order to differentiate us. At Bowdoin, my identity is very much separate from my race; people know me for my personality or skills. The very fact that people have seen me and pulled their eyes back into slits during my time abroad says enough about how my race is at the forefront of my identity. And I won’t even get started on sexuality.
At Bowdoin, I’m Asian-American; in France, for the most part, I’m just Asian. Associate Director of Health Promotion Whitney Hogan wrote “personal narratives” on her whiteboard for the A.D.D.R.E.S.S. campaign, and that’s exactly what’s being disregarded when race is used as the primary identifier: my history, my stories and my experiences are dismissed.
What’s being left out is my parents’ immense sacrifices and struggles to carve out a life for my sister and me; it’s the process of assimilating into American society; it’s my cultural heritage and how my upbringing has given me a more enriched view of the world; it’s how I’m able to share stories about growing up in the States and about Vietnamese customs with my host family.
I’m still trying to figure out what being Asian-American means to me, and it’ll probably take a lifetime, since meanings change as circumstances and situations do. But after two months in Nantes, one thing I’ve discovered is it’s not so much about definitions or classifications. It’s about how my Vietnamese and American backgrounds interlock and fit together to form just a small portion of my identity.
Talk of the Quad: Dance, dance
For as long as I can remember, dance has been a part of my life. My parents are both musically inclined, so naturally there was always music playing in my house. Even when I was very small, I was always moving to that music—or maybe it was moving me.
When I was five and a half, my parents decided it was time to find me some different, better-equipped walls to bounce off—maybe in a place where my exuberance wouldn’t lead to broken glass—and signed me up for dance classes at a local studio. So began my now 14 year-old love affair with dance.
At the studio, it became clear to my instructors very quickly that I was not going to tolerate any horseplay. After a brief stint in some kind of “dance for five-year-olds” class, I moved into a class of all boys. Though I loved (and still love) moving fast and big—something that we did a lot of in this class—I wanted no part in any of the goofing-off that my fellow seven-year-old boy dancer friends were so fond of. My instructors moved me out of that class, and into a more traditional ballet class, comprised of mostly girls. I never looked back.
Through high school, I was a ballet dancer. As I grew up, those elementary school kids in that first ballet class became some of my better friends. We spent hundreds of hours together, during rehearsals and classes that ranged from feeling excruciatingly long to blink-and-you’ve-missed-it short, I’m pretty sure that in my junior and senior years of high school I spent more time with these people than anyone else (including my family). Together we learned to trust each other, take risks together and perform together. Our relationships extended beyond the studio, so when it came time to leave after graduation, it’s no wonder we were all crying.
After I graduated, I couldn’t really imagine dancing with different people. I knew so much about the dancers I grew up with. I knew how they moved, their tendencies, where they needed support in partnering, where they were strong, which way they usually fell while turning. Knowing this information helped us to work together as a team, and helped me to improve as an individual.
I was so used to this intimate level of knowledge that finding a new group of people to dance with seemed intensely daunting. I knew it could never be the same.
My graduating class’s final performance together, our individual farewell solos and our subsequent goodbyes to the teachers who had played such a huge part in our lives, had a note of beautiful, bittersweet finality, and I didn’t quite feel comfortable messing with that. To be entirely honest, I wasn’t sure if I would dance again.
I didn’t dance the summer after high school. When I arrived at Bowdoin, I explored the idea of joining a dance club but never actually got involved. They weren’t really doing what I was interested in, and I honestly wasn’t committed enough to dance to invest the time.
I tried other things, kept somewhat active and thought I was doing fine. So imagine my surprise when I discovered I had a space in my schedule spring semester and the thought of taking dance again filled me with overwhelming joy—so began the next phase of my life as a dancer.
My dance experience at Bowdoin has been very different from my time in high school. Back then, the work I was doing focused mostly on performance. I did very little choreography, and though I found creative expression through the steps that others choreographed for me, I had little influence over what I did. Here, I am beginning to explore my ability to create.
Even in the intense academic environment that Bowdoin fosters, the hardest thing I do here is choreography. The amount of insecurity and self-questioning that goes into making performance art is ridiculous—sometimes I wonder why I even bother. I want to make things that look good, but I don’t want to pander to my audience. I want to make things that I like to do, but I want to reach people as well.
But what do I struggle with the most? Believing that the work I do deserves to exist. The dance world is filled with incredible work, and to believe that I have a shot at making something that has a place there is not easy. It takes a kind of arrogance to honestly think that your art is meaningful and important, yet it takes intense self-criticism and reflection to make anything good.
Artists of other mediums understand, I’m sure, but my dance is made even more vulnerable by the fact that right now I am choreographing for myself. I have to literally stand and answer for my work every time it is shown. There is no hiding.
I don’t know how dance fits into my future, but I know that I am not satisfied. The thought that I may have walked away from dance after high school is now horrifying. There is something deeply meaningful in movement, and I do not feel I have come close enough to figuring out what that is for me to stop.
As the end of college approaches, I, like any artist, am encountering more and more pressure to set myself up for a career—something I always assumed would not involve dance. But now I’m not so sure. When I first walked into a dance studio, something happened, and it’s still happening today. I don’t know if I will ever really be able to stop.
Talk of the Quad: Poop culture
In an age when the Internet allows universal anonymity, we begin to expect privacy as an unalienable right. When confidentiality is not an option, many people find anxiety in taking a stance—or a squat. In reality, we are much more than icons on computer screens. When it comes down to it, people are all people. And everybody poops.
We are all united in this reality. Any two humans share on average 99.9 percent of their genes, meaning most Homo sapien physiology is identical. Pooping is a unifying characteristic of humanity: all genders sit to poop (or hover if you are a hypochondriac). We all eat and so as a result we all poop. And that’s okay. It’s great, even. So why can taking a seat at the porcelain throne be so stress-inducing?
One hypothesis is that many Bowdoin students seek to project an image of perfection, even at the cost of their own well-being. The counseling staff at Bowdoin is acutely aware of this—Director of Counseling Services, Bernie Hershberger, says he especially enjoys aiding students with perfectionism anxiety.
For some odd, socially constructed reason, we seem to think it is vulgar and uncivilized to poop. Thus, to be perfect, we must never poop. As a means of striving for this ideal, we make every attempt to conceal our “indecent” behavior from our peers. Though we have not spoken to Hershberger about whether poop anxiety is often brought up in counseling sessions, we noticed that when prompted, most of our friends immediately gushed over their awkward restroom escapades. And yet, most students would never bring up poop anxiety on their own in a conversation for fear of deviating from the cultural norm.
A 2011 study at Emory University showed that chimpanzees who frequently fling feces have more developed motor cortexes and connections to a section of the brain used by humans for speech processing. Simply put, smarter monkeys throw more poop. Meanwhile, our human society finds it impolite to discuss such a dirty matter. It is possible that we attempt to hide our digestive measures as a means to separate humans from animals. However, if our closest living evolutionary relatives embrace poop as a means to display intelligence, I am not opposed to flaunting the existence of my own bowel movements (though I will still stick to speech over throwing feces as my preferred form of communication).
A great source of human anxiety is the desire to fit in. Given that everyone and their RA hides the fact that they poop, we tend to deny the existence of our excrement. Everyone has read “Everybody Poops,” by Taro Gomi—an important contribution to the literary canon of defecation. Some people, though, are loath to identify themselves as poopers. This is the great contradiction: we accept the generalization that pooping is part of the human condition, but singling one specific person out is, for some reason, embarrassing. Pooping has become taboo.
Despite this personal acceptance of pooping as a biological actuality, it can be stressful to be sitting on the can in my signature leopard-print slippers only to have another dorm resident come in to brush her teeth or do her hair. There’s no hiding. I’m being outed as a pooper. Although my bathroom guest will not say anything, we will both know. And it causes an unnecessary and unspoken power dynamic between the two of us that would be completely rectified if only people were to talk more openly and casually about pooping.
That’s the thing about this physical process—it is much less social than other bathroom activities. A casual chat over mutual urination or a recap of the day’s events while popping a pimple is normal. But something about that basic human communication while a mass of processed food is travelling out of a bodily orifice into a shared toilet makes people shut right up.
Whether they talk about it or not, many people actually enjoy the process of pooping primarily because they find time for solitude on the peaceful potty. Whether it takes one minute or an hour to process the day, pooping is a sacred time to digest it all.
However, we cannot always afford the luxury of a private toilet at the College. In fact, for many of us, our “movements” tend to be in relatively public places.
What to do when you sit down to do the deed and another lonely pooper wanders in with the same intention? In a multi-stall bathroom with two (or more) students waiting to poop, anxiety can mount. Who will release the Kraken first? Sometimes, overwhelmed by the tension in the room, the only option is to flush the toilet, zip up your pants, and find a different, less populated bathroom.
Thus, it is crucial to find your own favorite place to do the do. We all have beloved personal pooping places. However, we are unable to disclose our favorites here, for fear of the overpopulation—or worse, toilet clogging—of the most serene pooping sanctuaries. We can say, however, that you cannot select your pooping bathroom: it must choose you. Much like Olivander’s wands, when you come across the right one, you will know.
While this article presents poop anxiety with jest, we hope the absurd nature of hiding our body’s actions permeates through the humor. We all do it, and hopefully through lighthearted discussion, we can replace awkwardness with pooping solidarity.
Talk of the Quad: For the love of baboons
Throughout South Africa and much of the world, baboons are considered aggressive, menacing pests. They are frequently shot on site, intentionally hit by cars or electrocuted. Their strange and, to many, ugly appearance has only contributed to their bad reputation. As baboons lose their habitats and are forced to search for their food in cities, more and more killings take place. Environmentalists have neglected to combat this problem and tourists have been taught by local guides to fear these creatures.
After working with orphaned baboons in Tzaneen, South Africa last summer, I found that simply spending time with the animals for which we have preconceived notions of barbarism and mistrust shows us something important: baboons are incredible animals who can love, feel pain and live in communities. They deserve our consideration and protection.
Riverside Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in Tzaneen was started to help the orphaned baboons left behind by the ongoing habitat depletion and baboon killings. Riverside is now home to nearly 600 monkeys and is run by a few hired workers and many volunteers. I was lucky enough to be among them.
All of the work at Riverside focuses on one goal: the successful rehabilitation and release of orphaned and injured animals back into the wild. Though seemingly simple, the survival of reintroduced animals is dependent on a highly refined process committed to proven methodology and intellectual engagement. This method seeks to ensure that the troop of baboons ultimately coalesces, breaks reliance on people, and promotes species interdependence.
During my time at Riverside, several orphaned baboons came in: Cayman, Julian, Dobby and Maya. Like many other monkeys there, they had been found injured on the side of the road, kept as pets, or turned in by the people who had killed their parents.
Maya, whose parents were shot, had been chewed up by a dog and was at the point of starvation when a kindhearted woman discovered her. With scars running up her back and right arm, Maya did not do a lot to dispel notions that baboons are not all that attractive, but I loved her right away.
After getting stitched up and receiving a surgically implanted micro chip, Maya—then just a couple of months old—began the first stage on the long road to release: around the clock, “on-demand bottle care.” Maya would need to be carried around by volunteers who acted as her mother and nursed her back to health. In order to prevent Maya from becoming too attached to any particular volunteer, shifts were taken with as many volunteers as possible.
After a month of waking people up all night and stealing my peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches at lunchtime, Maya was ready for the next big step: to be introduced to the other 26 orphaned babies.
Baboons are extremely family oriented, and have an innate tendency toward establishing close personal relationships. Those in the current troop have learned how to survive, gather food collectively and perhaps most importantly, maintain the peace.
These personal relationships were abundantly evident even among the babies, who were deeply reliant upon their friends for comfort. For example, when the one-year-old baby George (named after the Prince who shares his birthday) needed stitches in his foot, his best friend Loopa was taken to the clinic to keep him company. George, who had been extremely agitated when taken to the clinic, was so happy to see Loopa that he stopped whining and immediately relaxed.
This interdependency extends beyond individual relationships too. Cold winter nights bring all monkeys in the troop together quite literally. Each baboon grabs on to the back of another, so that what was once 26 babies becomes, for about eight hours a night, one giant spoon. Because they are so family oriented, the monkeys are hesitant to take on strangers and Maya’s introduction took several days.
Maya will spend her “childhood” with these 26 other baboons, who will one day be part of her troop in the wild. While the other babies did not seem keen on sharing their home with a new baboon, within three days she was one of them. Although they were only about one-year-olds themselves, Jeroux and Mordechai, the two largest male babies, insisted on carrying Maya everywhere for her protection.
Upon any sign of danger, which was indicated by an alarm call, the babies formed a “mob” all around Maya. When Cayman, who is somewhat smaller than Maya, arrived later in the summer, Maya was among the many who helped to protect him when the alarm went off.
When Maya is old enough, she will be moved to the “middle” enclosure, a larger cage for “teenage” baboons of about 1-2 years old. There, her interaction with humans will be decreased and she will be exposed to an environment that more closely resembles the wild.
Finally, at about two years old, she will begin the process of being introduced to the “main camp,” which currently consists of about 80 adult baboons—the troop with whom she will spend the rest of her life in the wild.
The introduction into the main camp takes careful planning. Maya will spend time in an introductory enclosure, which borders the main camp so that the baboons can interact and get to know each other through the fence through grooming and greeting actions (what we call lip-smacking and butt scratches).
The troop must spend at least a year together in captivity without human contact before it is ready to be introduced into the wild in order to make sure that they can fully coalesce into a functioning troop with the deep, lasting relationships that will ensure success in the wild. After the troop has sufficient time to fuse, the final step in Maya’s journey is the release.
The site of the release must be carefully picked to guarantee that the habitat is stable, has a good water source, contains similar fauna, and is far from human civilization. Scared by their new surroundings, they could disperse and, in the absence of troop support, die. In order to ensure that they become comfortable with their new surroundings an enclosure is built at the release site. They will remain in this enclosure for two weeks, ensuring that they will not disperse upon their freedom. After two weeks, the electric fence is turned off and bridges are built along the exterior.
It is likely that Maya, who will be about two years old when the release occurs, will be among those to take the first steps of freedom. The troop will be monitored actively for six months, and later through the use of microchips to evaluate and improve upon the methodology. Riverside currently has a 92 percent three-year survival rate. Maya has a good chance.
However, Maya should have never been at Riverside in the first place. She should have never been orphaned. Her habitat should have never been depleted. The animosity and mistrust that resulted in her parents being shot was misplaced. Spending the last three months with baboons has taught me that really getting to know animals can show us things we would have never suspected. Baboons have a language of more than 140 distinct sounds and are capable of complex abstract thoughts and emotions.
But even more important than their intellectual abilities is their capability to feel pain, happiness and love, just like we do. We need to think about how we can best help others, especially primates and other animals. Wildlife rehabilitation and baboon rehabilitation in particular, is grossly underfunded and understaffed. These really are incredible animals, and their conservation, both in rehabilitation and education, needs to be a priority.
Talk of the Quad: Farmers on uncommon ground
On a quiet and cloudy Sunday morning, my three housemates and I decided to make the trek to the 38th Annual Common Ground Country Fair. As we headed north to Unity, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I had been hearing about this magical event for my past three years at Bowdoin, both through BOC emails inviting me to join group excursions and from friends and acquaintances around campus, but I had never been there myself. In the spirit of the final hoorahs of senior year, I decided to finally check out what this fair was all about.
The Common Ground Country Fair is described by the Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener Association (MOFGA) as “a rite of passage from our busy summer season into the quieter winter months we know lie ahead. It is a time to rekindle friendships, to learn and to savor all the extraordinary food grown by Maine’s organic farmers…[to celebrate] Maine’s rural way of life.”
Sounds pretty idyllic, right?
Sadly, I can’t say that I felt such a strong sentiment of community and excitement at the end of the day. Rather, my experience at the fair was woefully underwhelming. Sure, it may have been the gloomy weather. Or maybe it was due to my somewhat (unintentionally) judgmental attitude toward agriculture-related events here in the Northeast.
You see, I grew up (and still live) on a beef cattle ranch in western Wyoming, so I have a very particular and different view of agriculture and fairs. Maybe that is why I found the manicured look of fancy and expensive organic farm food a little superficial. Or maybe I was jaded by the fact that the fee just to enter the fair was a steep $15, and there weren’t even that many free samples to make me feel like I got my money’s worth. Either way, I guess I just wasn’t that impressed by the entire event.
All cynicism and judgment aside, though, I could see how and why the Common Ground Fair draws so many people. The sheer physical footprint of the event was almost overwhelming, and if it weren’t for the aid of a trusty map, I think I would have felt very lost and confused. It is obvious that the fair’s organizers have mastered what they do over the past 38 years, though, as the organization was impressive.
The fair could be accessed via train, bike, car or on foot. If you didn’t feel like walking to the entrance from the parking lot, tractor and wagon rides were available. Volunteers were on hand everywhere you looked. (In fact, the MOFGA newspaper reports that 2,000+ volunteers worked the weekend.)
Once inside, the pathways were lined with hundreds of local farmers selling anything from squash and apples to beef and kefir (fermented milk). There was just about anything else you could imagine, too—including food trucks, farming technique classes, art displays, craft workshops and vendors, sheep dog demonstrations, barns full of rabbits, cheese tents, and so much more. Recycling and compost stations could be found around nearly every corner. There were hundreds of people bustling about from all walks of life, from families with kids to barefooted and long-haired hippies (and sometimes even families of hippies). Of course, it was impossible not to run into the occasional group of fellow Bowdoin students as well.
My housemates and I spent our few hours at the fair wandering aimlessly between tents and demonstrations, quietly passing them by or stopping only briefly. It was all very nonchalant. I was naturally drawn to the horse demonstrations and the cattle stalls, however. The true highlight of my day was seeing a pair of Scottish Highlanders, my favorite cattle breed. My housemates also willingly tagged along as I dragged them to the sheep dog demonstrations, where four border collies showed off their sheep and goat-herding skills to a crowd gathered around a large pen. Through all of these events and stops, I couldn’t help but think of my own cattle and my three border collie cattle dogs at home, causing me to become seriously nostalgic.
Despite the overall “meh” feeling of the day and my pre-established sentiments toward events like the Common Ground Country Fair, I would say that the trek was overall worthwhile. My roommates collectively ended up with a bag of apples, three miniature squashes, an eggplant sandwich and some yogurt. I may have left empty-handed, but I walked away with a feeling of satisfaction.
I felt like I was reconnecting with my own agricultural roots, as well as gaining a quiet appreciation for Maine agriculture—even if it is different than that of the West. The fair may not have been my most thrilling weekend experience, but I think it is worth checking out. Maine is a neat place, and the agricultural opportunities and systems that exist here should be celebrated.
Talk of the Quad: A cold forest where nothing smells
Apparently, the College has decided to invest in something even older than fossil fuel—granite, especially the black and white variety and specimens of that variety that are rough and remind one that granite comes from the earth. Returning from two years away from campus, I was greeted all at once by this new stonework—the rectangle around the polar bear statue, the Moulton amphitheater, the gutters by Hatch, the speed humps on College Street, the stone paths out front of the Chapel. It looks clean and serves as an occasional impediment to bicyclists, which I remember as a lazy and entitled class of locomotes.
It is clear—Bowdoin has ambitions on a geologic scale, at least aesthetically. When Orient columnist Matthew Goodrich’s remains condense into crude oil, Bowdoin will use the resultant windfall to put granite facing on the dike around campus that holds back the sea.Ribbing aside, it is a new year, and a fine time for thoughts of image and legacy. What does all this stonework mean for Bowdoin? Aside from demonstrating, of course, that the school is enough in tune with the natural world to figure out where to get a lot of granite, it speaks of wealth and stability and the concept of “timeless beauty.” I am always curious as to what Bowdoin thinks of its appearance. It is clear that, over the past couple of years, the College has been thinking about how it is going to age, and how it is already aging.
You can see on the back of the Chapel, where it faces Studzinski, the claw marks from the vines of ivy that used to grow there. The ivy was handsome and produced small bunches of dark poisonous berries that the crows liked to eat—but its roots threatened the masonry. Like alcohol, ivy is lovely and fortifying until it finds some weakness to pry at—it must be closely watched. Last summer, the decision was made to rip it down.
The art museum, meanwhile, has had a mid-(quarter?) life crisis and has had some work done. I am not referring to the award-winning renovations of 2007, but to the de-greening of the museum’s bronze: the cupola and the statues of Demosthenes and Sophocles are back to their original dull brown. This cleanup work has been called a conservation effort.
In light of the other work around campus, though, I am inclined to read it more as a kind of posturing reminiscent of the Greeks’ recent efforts to rebuild the Parthenon—both presumably stem from a desire not to be officially associated with anything in a state of decay. Looking at the new entrance, we see granite and glass, which speak again of clarity and eternity and share an aesthetic with this author’s Macbook. The new entrance was built to help the museum control its climate—the old main entrance, with its massive ceremonious door, let too much of the outside in. It is at least immensely funny that, as our educations become less and less recognizable to one another, the facade that with names and busts of the old figures and benchmarks of education now bears this ominous sign on the inside of the glass, at its focal point: “EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY: ALARM WILL SOUND.”
Speaking of small pains, I remember sitting on the Quad facing the art museum as a tour guide led a group by the steps at a slow walk. She was telling her charges a story about how, when the lions that guard the facade were installed, the workers accidentally switched them. She added, lying now, that Bowdoin students knew this fact and were charmed by it.
Since I heard that story, those lions have only ever looked to me to be bored with each other and their supposed duty. I was thinking of calling for the College to switch them back, as a gesture, who knows, perhaps in line with the recent wire-brushing of Socrates.
Ultimately, though, the main entrance has been closed, and the cleaning of the statuary was an aesthetic twitch of a conservation effort that gives way to, rather than supports, the overall aesthetic project. That project is to give campus the impression of: glass, bushes, granite, natural light, and if not this gleam of the cutting edge, then at least an obedient cleanliness, like a cold forest where nothing smells. The ideals of this charming aesthetic are transparency and timelessness—two notions around which any student of human experience should hold his or her breath, for fear of becoming inspired by them.
As a final note for Facilities, and for those wondering why the Luddites on campus are always so late: time has changed since the sundials on Hubbard were last adjusted. No doubt, though, the old bronze gnomons will be burnished soon.
Talk of the Quad: A dream pop legend dies at Bowdoin College
When Galaxie 500 arrived at Bowdoin to play a show on April 5, 1991, few knew that the cult dream-pop band was falling apart.
“The notes rang out in cold clarity over the action, condensing themselves into a polar vista, beautiful for all their austerity and absence,” wrote Dan Pearson ’94 in a 2003 issue of the music magazine Stop Smiling. “Hearing it live, you were struck by this sense of space and the power of a single chord or word to ring and dopple out of sight.”
Months before, Pearson and his friend Christopher Heuer ’94 had booked the band to play in Moulton Union’s Main Lounge through the College’s Student Union Committee. In the tradition of college radio DJs eager to engage with underground artists but operating with limited budgets, they booked the band “on a shoestring,” according to Pearson. Last week I spoke with Pearson, who now lives in Connecticut and is working on a novel.
“It meant a lot for us to basically bring these things to Maine,” Pearson said. “Most of these bands that came up had never been north of Boston.”
Galaxie 500 had played the night before in Boston University’s hockey arena, warming up the crowd for the band’s better-known peers, the Cocteau Twins. After a transcontinental tour, Bowdoin was Galaxie 500’s last scheduled date before the band moved on to Japan.
But singer and guitarist Dean Wareham had other plans. Tensions had been building for weeks between him and the other two members of the band, drummer Damon Krukowski and bassist Naomi Yang, as they decided whether to sign to a major label following the success of their third album, “This Is Our Music.”
It was a time of transition for a whole generation of bands like Galaxie 500. Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” which signified the arrival of alternative rock on a mainstream stage, was released five months after the show at Bowdoin.
Sonic Youth, who had been a well-established underground group in the 1980s, released their first album with the major label Geffen in 1990. Their tour the following year was immortalized in a documentary called “1991: The Year Punk Broke.”
Galaxie 500 would never make it to Japan. When the band arrived in Brunswick, a fed-up Wareham had been planning on quitting for weeks, setting the stage for Bowdoin to become an accidental landmark in alt-rock history.
“We were scheduled to go on at nine that night, but the opening band played for an hour and a half while we waited in the green room that the students had set up for us,” Wareham would later write in his 2008 memoir, “Black Postcards.”
“Being a college band, they didn’t know that the opener is supposed to play a short set and then get off the stage. We sat in the green room getting more and more irritated. And that was our final show—an annoying evening at Bowdoin College,” he continued.
Even with the internal tension, the band, with its deceptively simple chord progressions and quietly building percussion, impressed the student crowd of a few dozen that filled Moulton Union.
“It was a truly awesome show,” Pearson said. “The acoustics were awful, but it was the coolest place to have a show.
Still, for Pearson and his peers, it was hard to square the musical excitement with the band’s apparent lack of interest in the school’s scene.
“[Dean] got so finished, he packed up and went out the door and drove away. I don’t even think he said thank you,” Pearson said. “We bought all this beer, and we wanted to have some beer and talk with them, but they just wanted to get back to Boston.”
The next morning, Krukowski called Wareham, still unaware that he intended to leave the band.
“Damon called Dean to say he was going to buy our plane tickets to Japan for the tour we had booked there, and Dean said he quit. Damon asked why and Dean said he had nothing more to say to us,” Yang recalled in a 2010 interview with Pitchfork.com.
Pearson didn’t hear about the band’s breakup until weeks later, when a tearful writer from CMJ (a music events company) called WBOR’s station manager with the news.
“It was a strange thing, because we were so excited and they were in a very different place with their relationships,” he said. “We really felt bad for a few years after, before the published accounts came out, and we thought it somehow had something to do with us.”
Galaxie 500’s records went on to become an important piece of the indie rock canon, but they remain as a tantalizing reminder of what could have been, as many of their contemporaries crossed over to commercial success while still retaining artistic control.
The former members seem to agree that a deal with Columbia Records was imminent, had the band stayed together. Instead, the band was finished, along with the underground era it had matured in.
According to Pearson, students booking shows at Bowdoin felt the effects. All of a sudden, he said, “You weren’t talking to some dude in his apartment in Chicago. You were talking to major labels.”
“There were some very good shows, but by the time we were seniors we had really stopped trying to bring these little shows to campus,” he added. “They were putting more money into bigger acts.”
At Bowdoin, the concert itself seems largely forgotten. I did a double take when I came across a poster advertising the show on a music blog this summer. Of the Galaxie 500 fans I’ve spoken to at Bowdoin, none had heard that the band’s last show happened here.
Still, the ethos that brought the band to Bowdoin in the first place lives on. In spring 2013, The Antlers—a band whose atmospheric, melancholy guitar pop makes them a sort of spiritual heir to Galaxie 500—played WBOR’s spring concert in Smith Union before a similarly enraptured crowd.
Last spring brought an equally successful show from underground rapper Murs. While the members of Galaxie 500 seem unlikely to reunite—Wareham has a solo career, while the other two members perform as Damon & Naomi—independent music has once again found a home at Bowdoin.
Talk of the Quad: In search of a presidential shot
I woke up before my alarm clock on the morning I was supposed to shoot the president. I stared at the ceiling, wishing I could close my eyes for the next half hour and actually fall asleep. I couldn’t. I rolled back my comforter and sat on the edge of the bed.
I brushed my teeth, got dressed and packed my backpack for the day: notebook, pens, earphones, laptop, charger. It was going to be a long day. I put my camera in last. I had cleaned its two lenses carefully the night before. If I was going to shoot the president, it had damn well better be a clean shot.
On the drive over to meet up with the White House press pool, I convinced myself I was ready for the day ahead. In less than an hour, I’d be in a van with the big shots—reporters and photographers from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Associated Press, Reuters and other major national news outlets.
They had all flocked to the island of Martha’s Vineyard—a place I had called home for the last several months—to follow President Obama on his summer vacation. My job was to take pictures and send reports of the president’s activities to a press assistant, who would then forward them to a list of Massachusetts journalists. I worried what the vets would think of me, the “country bumpkin” of the crew. I wondered if they would be able to tell I was still a teenager. I imagined them noticing the lucky belt I was wearing—a tacky bright green with shamrocks on it—and pulled the end of my shirt down a little bit lower.
We drove, first in a yellow coach bus and then in black and silver vans, to a holding area, where the presidential motorcade was parked. State troopers and Secret Service agents walked the grounds. I was filled with anticipation.
The Secret Service patted us down and instructed us to place our backpacks and possessions on the ground in a line. I watched as an agent picked up my camera. He looked through its lens at his coworker and smiled. Even with my zoom lens on, the magnification was far weaker than what he was accustomed to. I pictured him peering through the scope of a rifle and wondered what he’d seen.
Soon, we got word that Obama was ready to hit the road. The White House press assistant warned us that we were not allowed to know where we were going. When we arrived someplace, the “press wrangler,” as she called herself, would email us the name of our location. If anyone outside the White House were to know the president’s destination in advance, it would compromise his safety.
The mystery tour was part of the day’s intrigue. Unlike the other reporters, I was well acquainted with the island’s geography and always had some sense of where we were travelling. Though not truly a local, for one day I felt like one.
I watched through the front windshield as we followed 20 black cars, Escalades and ambulances down the island’s windy one-lane roads. I was riding in the presidential motorcade—it was surreal.
I sent the report out and waited for a copy of it to return to my inbox. In the meantime, I gazed at the van’s speedometer, hoping to catch it exceeding the speed limit. I was disappointed to discover that it rarely did. I’d always pictured the motorcade zipping by at whatever speed it desired.
After a short drive, we arrived at a golf course. The journalists in my van rolled their eyes. The reporters hated when Obama went golfing because it meant we’d be sidelined for hours—no one was allowed on the links.
The yellow coach bus pulled up next to us and opened its doors, luring us in with its free Wi-Fi and air conditioning. As I listened to their conversations, I became aware of just how jaded the veteran journalists were. One reporter read a text from her friend aloud: “See you soon! Have so much fun. What a cool job you have!”
“She doesn’t even know,” she said with a shake of her head. “She doesn’t even know.”
I listened as the others validated this sentiment. Would that be my attitude one day, too? In the moment, I was still fascinated by the fact that the Secret Service agents weren’t dressed in matching uniforms—they didn’t even wear aviators.
After the president finished his round of golf, we still had no information as to where we would go next, or how long it would take. We only knew that the day would end with a trip to the airport—Obama had to fly home for a special meeting the next morning.
I selfishly hoped the President would travel somewhere where I could see him. I wanted that shot. When we arrived at an outdoor jazz performance, I was hopeful, but we were quickly told to stay in the parking lot.
The president and his wife left the festival to have dinner at a fancy restaurant in town. We ate pepperoni pizza on the sidewalk and waited.
Night had fallen and it was clear that the only picture I could get of the president would be one in the dark, snapped as he boarded Marine One. As we drove to the airport, a photographer sitting next to me told me not to feel discouraged if I didn’t get a good picture. Even with his fancy flash apparatus and lens, which was at least three times the length of mine, he doubted he would get anything “usable.”
We parked on the tarmac and the press assistant told us where to stand. We’d have a very short time frame to photograph the president. It was 10:45 p.m. and he was running behind schedule—there was no time to smile and wave.
I waited eagerly for my chance to see the president for the first time. I wanted to slow down the moment. As I waited for him to leave his car, I took photos of the tarmac and the tail of Marine One.
One of the journalists stood behind our van on the edge of the airfield. I couldn’t believe it—she was on her phone. Here we were, watching the president board Marine One, and something on her screen was more fascinating.
While I waited for Obama, I turned to take a picture of her—the jaded veteran journalist, totally indifferent to the moment I was so hyped for. In some ways, that had become more representative of my day than the pursuit of the president himself.
Seconds after I pressed my camera button, the president exited his vehicle. It could not have been worse timing. I swiveled quickly to get a shot and watched the back of his head through my telephoto lens.
The low light conditions required a slower shutter speed (and very steady hand). I knew, without wanting to know, that Obama was inside the helicopter before the shutter fully closed. The picture was complete shit. I blew it by being preoccupied with the uninterested journalist.
“Well, that was it,” the other photographer said to me. “I guess it’s time to go home.”
On the ride back to my car, I reviewed the photos I had captured, hoping that at least the jaded journalist registered clearly through my lens. I was bummed but not surprised that the picture was blurred and unremarkable.
I reassured myself on the drive home. So what if I didn’t have hard evidence? I’d still seen the president in person and it could be a long time before I can say that again.
I’d been a part of the press pool. I rode in the presidential motorcade with the big shots and got a window into their world. I sent out reports to journalists throughout the state. Maybe some of them even read my name.
Three days later, while sitting at my desk, I got a text from my dad, who had gone golfing. Attached was an image of Obama on the putting green. Effortlessly and by total coincidence, my dad had gotten a far better shot than me. No press pass, no waiting in a big yellow bus all day, no planning or nerves or anticipation. I smiled at the peculiarity of it all and revisited my two pictures from the tarmac. Though compositionally weak, underexposed and totally unfocused, I decided I liked them better. A story walked through them.
Talk of the Quad: Tomorrow's farewell parties
I was not—I do not think—among Peter Coviello’s favorite students. He was nonetheless among my favorite teachers.
Pete, or “Coves,” as his self-appointed acolytes called him to make him ours, had many wonderful pupils in whom he delighted. I’m thinking of the unexpected poets of the lacrosse team and the unforeseen theorists at the end of the seminar table who inspired him to clap his hands in joyful assent.
As Professor Coviello departs, I anticipate an outpouring of fond remembrances to rival those of President Mills. So it’s with a familiar proprietary feeling that I once again raise my hand to say something to Professor Coviello and jealously imagine the sea of other—maybe more beloved—students upon whom he might call.
Yet as we all lose Pete, I think that jealousy grants me—grants us—some purchase of this loss. I first took a class with Professor Coviello my sophomore year. It was a seminar on Freud that was among the courses he offered when he returned to Bowdoin in 2010. (He began teaching at the college in 1998).
I admit to some skepticism: What, I chided myself, could this effortless intellectual care for my thoughts?
Yet, when Professor Coviello wasn’t teaching electrically, or gesticulating eloquently, or expertly deploying jargon and obscenity, he was listening intently. Perhaps this is why I never felt as special to him as I, or maybe all of his students, secretly hoped to: Pete is an egalitarian. We were all peers in the classroom, if only for a tantalizing moment.
This democracy is not without pedagogy. Here, as always with Professor Coviello, I’m aware of the injustice I do in paraphrasing him.
The languages we, in academic communities, create and deconstruct together has a great power to sustain and unite us.
Put another way: the vocabulary with which we parse our thoughts and carefully complicate the seemingly simple can be turned to the work of our lives. This talk does not, as Pete might say, do nothing.
I would not be writing now (in any of the ways I am) if it weren’t for Pete.
Once, in a second course with him, I managed to suggest a word that he briefly took to using. To have permeated his vocabulary one one-thousandth as much as he had entered into mine was a thrill I won’t soon forget.
Yet I drifted quickly from Pete’s powerful orbit even while at Bowdoin. My senior year, he offered a course called The Queer Child and unfortunately, I didn’t take it and don’t know much about the course information.
It did cause a stir on campus with its title, and managed to attract to it a number of my English major friends. Queer children, they called themselves. Their eagerness reminded me when I too, was in the throes of his charms.
Even then I felt acutely out of his circle. For this of course I don’t blame him, but to be distant from people who shine as brilliantly as he does is a kind of winter.
But perhaps that’s too sentimental or not poetic enough.
Besides, I would like to think that Professor Coviello teaches a way of thinking and talking that will survive his tenure at Bowdoin, as it survives in me and in all his friends and students.
So farewell, Pete! You will be, and have been, missed.
Caleb Pershan is a member of the Class of 2012.
Talk of the Quad: Sharing unhappiness
I had a conversation with one of my proctees recently that made me angry. Usually after a hard conversation with a resident or a friend, I end up in the same space as that person. If they’re sad, I also get down; if they’re worried, I worry about those same things. In this conversation, though, my proctee was pretty down, and afterward I was angry.
I was angry that in his second semester at Bowdoin he felt pressure to “be OK.” In fact, he felt pressure to be better than OK—he felt like it was his fault for not being happy here. I wondered, how is it possible that someone doesn’t know that people are unhappy at Bowdoin?
Even just among my friends I have seen that Bowdoin students have rough days, rough weeks, rough semesters. So what are we doing every day that gives the impression that we’re always having the time of our lives?
I remember former director of Residential Life (ResLife) Mary Pat McMahon explaining at a ResLife meeting during my sophomore fall that as the first years were settling in and adjusting, it was important to create space for them not to be happy with Bowdoin right away. She said that we should be careful not to normalize any one experience at Bowdoin, especially one of “Everyone loves it here!” Cue the parody of your RA with the constant robotic smile.
Like the dedicated ResLife staff member I was, I internalized this message and tried to carry it forth in my interactions with my residents. (This is why I was so upset that my proctee hadn’t heard that simple statement yet: “You don’t have to be happy at Bowdoin all the time.”)
ResLife doesn’t have a formal mission statement, but I have come to see that its mission is to validate all students’ experiences at Bowdoin and offer support as needed; it is in large part a commitment to empathy.
For my part, I have tried to provide a listening ear to my residents rather than give advice or attempt to solve their problems. I tend to balk at blanket statements like “Everyone should go abroad!” I want to tell people, “No, listen. That doesn’t fit me. My experience is different because I am different.”
So, no, I didn’t tell my proctees during Orientation that classes are hard, sometimes you bite off more than you can chew. I never warned them that eventually even Ladd would lose its luster and every themed party would blur into one sweaty first-year memory. I never said that making the journey to L. L. Bean at midnight isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, the Bowdoin Log is entirely overrated, and your floormates probably won’t be your best friends for the rest of Bowdoin.
They didn’t need me to pave a way through Bowdoin for them or to tell them what things to avoid. They didn’t—and still don’t—need me to label their experiences. Instead they’ve needed me every once in a while to listen to their individual frustrations, their successes and their stories.
The work that ResLife does to change campus culture is slow but essential. In the broadest sense, we try to create space for every individual Bowdoin student to be heard and we try to give voice to the multiplicity of Bowdoins that exist for students, good and bad.
At least, that is what I have gotten from my interactions with ResLife staff members, and what I have tried to pay forward, too. It’s slow because it often happens in late night conversations between just two people when one person is stressed, tired and vulnerable. These conversations are often about feelings we’d rather not discuss by daylight. But in the accumulation of all these conversations, these moments, I see change.
On my most optimistic days at Bowdoin, I see us moving towards a culture of greater empathy and acceptance, and of openness to learning from each other—a culture in which we can be more open about being not OK.
It’s tiring, though. Not just for members of ResLife staff, but for anyone who holds someone else’s frustrations, fears or pain. It can be draining and disheartening. I’ve had more than my share of bad days because of someone else’s unhappiness. I see now that my sophomore slump, which, really, could be better characterized as a sophomore series of slumps, was in large part a result of some of those really bad days.
But from where I stand now, at the end of my junior year looking toward a senior year without ResLife, I am grateful, not bitter. It is through these conversations, as hard as they have been, that I have made some of my deepest connections at Bowdoin.
I am honored and humbled by all of the people who have trusted me with their unhappinesses and their bad days. I have basked in the warmth of the intimacy and genuineness of those conversations. I have held them close to me to remind myself on my own bad days that sadness, apathy, anger, loneliness—they’re natural feelings and I am not alone in them.
Talk of the Quad: Beyond the slump
Walking through Smith Union two weeks ago, I saw more students crowded near the mail center than I’d ever seen before (even more so than the week before Spring Gala, when everyone seems to have a Nasty Gal clothing package). The sounds of S.U. box doors swinging open, paper crinkling and high-fives meant only one thing: College House decisions had been released.
As I navigated my way through all the commotion, I kept hearing one phrase pop up in conversations: “I’m so excited for next year.” Living in a House has been one of the best experiences I’ve had at Bowdoin, so it’s understandable that accepted applicants would feel the same thrill I felt one year ago.
But I couldn’t feel completely excited for them. I grew a little bit more uncomfortable with each text that came in carrying names of those who would be succeeding us at Reed. It was a look into the future, but what about the present?
It wasn’t until I was walking down a sunlit Boody Street later that week that I realized my time is coming to an end, just like the rapidly melting snow. These letters were more than just the announcement of the future of the Houses—they were a subtle reminder that my housemates and I only have a month left. Exactly one month from today, our OneCards will no longer open the doors to the place we all call home.
I feel as if we’re running out of time. Where did this year go? There’s still so much I want to do with the people I run into in the kitchen, so many late night conversations to be had in the living room and events I wish could take place in our yard. (We do have the best yard in the game, after all.)
The limited time I have left in Reed terrifies me because I feel as if I haven’t made the most of the year. Like trying to hold onto sand, so many months feel as if they just slipped between my fingers. I expected a tremendous year, and it was…for the most part. Returning to campus from the summer, my housemates and I laid out in the sun, cooked endless meals together and thoroughly took advantage of the fact we were all living under one roof—something we’d never get the chance to do again.
The elation and naïve hope with which I entered the school year quickly dissipated as the temperatures plummeted. I felt myself succumbing to the legendary “sophomore slump.” I grew increasingly disenchanted with the House system, with the winter months; Bowdoin began to feel stagnant, and I became increasingly stressed by the big decisions looming overhead and the smallest of things—like someone not returning a text message—would upset me more than it should have. My attempts to forge new friendships and to strengthen old ones, something for which the College Houses are the perfect platform, felt feeble.
I fixated on this slump as if it was the heart of being a sophomore on campus. For four to five months, one bad day would continuously lead to another until I had dug myself into a rut of debilitating loneliness.
Nights I didn’t go out I spent on my bedroom floor staring at the ceiling, trying to make sense of the dark corners I hadn’t known my mind contained.
My personal sophomore slump pushed me into a severe depression—one I disguised with a heavy workload and “I’m just tired”—and I cannot say that I didn’t think about leaving Bowdoin, at least sometimes.
Sophomore year narrows your horizon. Friend groups grow closer—sometimes to an irritatingly insular degree—and study abroad and major declaration decisions feel burdensome and momentous. But my year has been so much more than just a slump—it’s been a year of youthful adventures, immense growth and lasting memories. Yes, it’s a year of ridiculous highs and lows, but I’d argue the highs overshadow any low.
It wasn’t until I looked through the photo album of candid moments from this year—in its entirety, for the first time—during Spring Break that I managed to pick my head up and remember how fulfilling living in Reed has been. Each memory came flooding back to me as I glimpsed at each 4” x 6” photograph. I used to compulsively upload these photos to Facebook at the end of each week, obsessed with not letting any hilarious incident or cute portrait be forgotten. I’m sorry if my mass uploading of midnight soccer, impromptu swimming-with-the-bioluminescence trips, or weekend revelry popped up on your newsfeed when you needed to study. Actually, I’m not sorry. These are the memories we need to cherish.
However, I noticed there was a big time frame missing in my album. Four to five months of the year were not documented because I was submerged in my sophomore slump, convinced that I was miserable with Bowdoin. These months are now time that I—with only a month left in Reed—wish I still had.
As the year winds down and my housemates and I prepare to pass the torch down to “New Reed,” I’m taking photos again because although we’re on our way out, this month is still the last chapter of our time at Reed and of our sophomore year.
When I return from being abroad in the spring, it’ll be a little odd not to walk down Boody Street to my room, let alone have half my grade off campus. But if there’s anything this year has taught me, it’s to make the most of the present because it will fly by you faster than you can realize.
To the new generation of Reed: Sophomore year will be one of the best—you just have to look beyond the slump.
Talk of the Quad: The seder, as a modern Jew
“Are you Jewish?”
It’s a girl I sit next to in my English class. She is now sitting across the table from me at Bowdoin’s Passover Seder.
I give her my standard, terribly long-winded response:
“Yes, well, I mean, my mom is Jewish, so technically—I use big air quotes—I’m Jewish. But I never went to Temple and I never was Bat Mitzvah-ed and we celebrate all the Jewish holidays but also Christmas because my dad is Christian—well, technically—more air quotes—he’s both because his dad was Jewish but they weren’t religious so it’s more of a cultural thing I guess. So, yeah. I’m half-Jewish—or, like, three-quarters. But basically no. Not religiously or anything.”
And like everyone else I tell that to, including most likely the reader of this article, my classmate doesn’t care all that much.
“Oh. Cool,” she says.
And yet, it’s important to me, every time that question is asked, to clarify my level of Jew-ness, to emphasize that, though non-practicing, I am a technical Jew. It’s a surprisingly central aspect of my identity. I feel like I owe some strange, intangible allegiance to my Jewish heritage, which I simultaneously know almost nothing about and have never felt any interest in exploring.
Inexplicably, I also feel like I’m part of some invisible global Jewish network. When I’m outside of my home in the greater-New York-metropolitan area—which one-third of the Jewish population calls home—I feel an immediate connection with other people I meet who are Jewish. It’s like their Jewishness automatically makes them comforting, safe, friendly—even if they’re complete strangers. Not that I’d pick up an ominous-looking hitchhiker carrying a lead pipe and smelling like formaldehyde if he told me he was Jewish, but I guess I have to admit that it wouldn’t hurt his case. After all, he could turn out to be, like my Grandma thinks of Aaron Sorkin, “a nice Jewish boy”…right?
I’m thinking about this in Moulton Union while members of Bowdoin Hillel recite Hebrew prayers I’ve heard every year at my family’s Seders that still sound entirely foreign. I’m mouthing along, pretending I know more than I really do, and thinking about the forthcoming meal, which is also my habit at Seders. Last year, Bowdoin served roasted root vegetables. I wonder if they’ll serve them again. I snack prematurely on the matzo in the center of the table; I eat the charoset (sweet apples and cinnamon) but skip the maror (bitter herb).
Looking around the room at faculty, students and community members, I wonder why my Jewish identity is so inextricably tied to the person I believe myself to be. Especially when considering I care so little about observing the religious traditions of this holiday (I skip the hardboiled egg, too).
“It’s so interesting to see all the people who are Jewish at Bowdoin,” my friend comments.“I think that most of these people aren’t Jewish,” I say. But I don’t mean it as a judgment at all. That observation is, in fact, precisely what I like so much about Bowdoin’s Seder. Open to anyone, including my redheaded Irish Catholic friend sitting diagonally from me, the Seder is far more about community than anything else.
Yes—it’s about celebrating a Jewish holiday. But it’s also about not caring if a fellow student skips over the difficult Hebrew words in the Haggadah (the Jewish guide for the order of the Seder). It’s about amending the Haggadah so that the story of Joseph, my knowledge of which is limited to the plot of the musical “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” includes him “committing himself to the Common Good.” It’s about coming together with a group of peers and enjoying each other’s company over a delicious and bountiful meal (thank you, Bowdoin Dining!). Having grown up in a vaguely-Jewish household, I feel relatively confident in claiming that nothing is more Jewish than that.
So I can take from my Jewishness what I want—I can value it while also denouncing my religiosity. I can eat the charoset and not the maror because I am in a position to ingest what I want from this experience and leave the rest on the table.
The time comes for the closing remarks. It’s my friend’s turn to read from the Haggadah. This is the second Seder she’s ever been to, (the first was the Bowdoin Seder last year.) She comes to a Hebrew word, and stumbles embarrassingly. Someone a few seats down murmurs the pronunciation. I suppress laughter—partially because of my friend’s mistake, but mostly because I have no clue how to pronounce the word either.
Talk of the Quad: Though a house is not a home, a library may be
There are some rivalries that just can’t be reconciled. Sparta and Troy. Ohio State and Michigan. The Red Sox and the Yankees. I’ve never had much of a stake in any of those. The only rivalry I’ve ever felt passionate about is the one between the Bowdoin libraries, and for me, Hawthorne-Longfellow (H-L) will always come out on top.
I can only vaguely recall the first time I stepped inside. It was a cool day in June and a dark-haired sophomore in jeans and flip flops rattled off a series of facts I did not care about. (Over one million volumes! Named for members of the Class of 1825! $60 in free printing each semester! Inter-Library Loans!)
It wasn’t—by a long shot—the most impressive of the libraries I’d seen on a college tour. It isn’t considered the most impressive of our campus buildings.
Patricia McGraw Anderson agrees. In her book, “The Architecture of Bowdoin College,” she writes, “The new library is neither a monumental building nor a competitive one.” Monumental and competitive are adjectives that accurately describe Hubbard Hall—Bowdoin’s library until H-L was completed in 1965.
Named for two of Bowdoin’s most prominent alumni, H-L was built over a period of two years and was designed by Steinman, Cain and White, the later incarnation of the same architecture firm that built Cleaveland Hall, Moulton Union and Gibson Hall. In 1982, the building was expanded to include, among other things, the underground passageway that connects H-L to the Hubbard stacks.
It is undoubtedly where I’ve spent the most time on campus over my four years. My dad warned me at the beginning of my college search that this would be the case, but I waved him off. The casual keg-side conversations I yearned for would not be found in a library.
I wish I could tell you that most of this time was spent completing assignments for my courses, but alas, I did not do all of the readings for my classes. (Except, of course, for the ones I’m taking this semester. Hi Professors!) Sure, I liked my courses and have great memories of them, but the time in H-L I treasure most wasn’t spent reading the Federalist Papers.
Instead, I explored old interests and cultivated new ones. Books came to Bowdoin from places like Presque Isle, Maine and Williamstown, Mass. and I devoured them over long breakfasts in Moulton. Those that had sat on shelves collecting dust came alive after I took them out of the library for the first time. I watched the raised seal on page 55 of every book the College owns morph as the years went on.
On the fourth and fifth floors of the stacks, I read the monologues of Spaulding Gray, the dramas of Eugene O’Neill and the short stories of Ann Beattie. I uncovered the history of ballet and the life of one of its greatest stars, Anna Pavlova, who would have rather died an early death than never be able to dance again.
When I should have been outlining papers, I snuck down to the basement to read old issues of Life and Time dating from the World Wars to the Kennedy assassinations. They taught me that “infographic” is just a new word for something their editors had mastered almost a century ago. As the years go on, type faces change and advertisements’ taglines dwindle from six paragraphs to six words.
I attempted deconstructions of the best newspaper and magazine writing with the vain hope that something would stick in my own writing. I fell in love with profiles of people famous and obscure, from John Wayne to Zell Kravinzky, the latter who donated a kidney and $45 million to those less fortunate than him.
I spent more time than anyone I know in the Special Collections reading room where you’re not allowed to have a pen. After a four-day search, I discovered that the marble statue in the landing of Hubbard is Ophelia, sculpted by Pasquale Romanelli and donated by Henry J. Furber of the Class of 1889.
When I was sure Bowdoin had made a mistake by granting me admission, the only thing that could turn my day around was looking out onto the Quad from couches by the third floor windows early on a Saturday morning and watching dogs play fetch and kids climb on the lions outside the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
Libraries are time capsules that remain open for everyone and that’s especially true of H-L. Even its name harkens us back. And yes, the past wasn’t always an excellent one—the building was built at a time where its doors would have been closed to me.
Having time in the middle of the day to randomly wander into the stacks and spend an hour reading is one of the things I will miss most about Bowdoin. It’s the kind of thing that reinvigorates me in a way I’d never anticipated.
In the October 8, 1965 issue of the Orient, an anonymous student wrote a letter to the editor, lambasting the new library as a “good place to take your date, rather than a good place to study.”
The author hoped that change would come soon. He wrote, “In sixty years, the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library will be outgrown and Bowdoin can look forward to another, marvelously improved, designed-with-the-student-in-mind library.”
The next ten years could bring a new library to campus, but I could not imagine one that could have served me better.
Talk of the Quad: Life per second
I didn’t mean to graduate. I did a pretty good job of forestalling it, finding every impediment to arrest the current. But time glides on, nature abhors a vacuum, and I am left with little time to even ask if it was the Best Five Years! Well, except now, at 3:40 a.m., alone in the office.
In the morning I’ll take the train from 116th to 59th Street. I’ll turn East and walk from 8th Avenue until I reach this building, at Lexington. It is tall, a convenient landmark. There’s an emergency kit with a respirator and 250 mL of water under every desk.
I’ll pass many people and recognize none. More people work for this company in this office (one of our 192) than attend Bowdoin. I’ll take the elevator up to six, then walk down to three, sit down in 03E-113 (in the fun wing, f.y.i.), and work. Gladly! For years.
When I arrived at Bowdoin I thought only of work. By the time I left, I thought only of people. Today I am young again, and think mostly of work. It can take anywhere from three months to three years to get together with a friend. There is a lot I still owe you all.
There is one difference between Bowdoin and the world outside. The world is sparse, big and slow. Yes, even here in bustling New York City, there is a deep slowness. Bowdoin is dense, small and fast. Yes, I mean fast. It’s a supercritical chain reaction of people and ideas. You cannot help but run into friends, and Searles Science Building is thirty seconds from the Visual Arts Center and three minutes from your dorm (depending). Now, I can’t even get out of this building in three minutes.
So, yes, I miss the clichéd intimate liberal-artsiness of it all. You do a lot of living per second.Alumni tend to tell students that you don’t know how good you have it, and to make the most of it. But that seems neither insightful nor actionable. I actually have great faith in Bowdoin students’ ability to make the most of it. Moreover, the first thing any alumnus should acknowledge is that our experiences are a poor predictor of yours.
Graduation is divergent. With its bigness comes real life’s particularity, its incoherence. Our cohort dissolves; a generation falls out of phase with itself. Other threads, personal and professional, come to dominate. Life individualizes, independently.
Maybe they were the best fourish years. People rightly disagree. Regardless, the best of the rest of your life will not be so neatly circumscribed by spatiotemporal boundaries, a contiguous place and time with a name you can wear on your back. There are no more semesters.
At homecomings, this stings. For a moment it seems everyone is together again — but it is soon revealed as a mirage, like crossing shadows. What you recapture is a pale imitation. I described this to a friend. “You just have to learn to be happy with less,” she said.
I found that blunt, beautiful, and true. But “less” what? Not less friendship, less learning, or less meaning. Less density.
The campus was and remains a focal point, but the authentic alumni experience is not the ghost we grasp at on campus. It does not play out at the place we mistakenly call “Bowdoin.” Bowdoin exists in the fleeting, contingent reunions, but it isn’t encapsulated by them.
The authentic experience plays out subtly, quietly, for the rest of our lives. Our Bowdoin is diffuse, radiating out 10,000 miles. It has been there all along, but we only see it when our pupils dilate in the twilight of what we’ve known.
What do we see?
We see what Bowdoin teaches, what remains when the cramming fades and the lessons are distilled. We see the true Bowdoin Hello, exchanged between acquaintances who only appreciate the extent of their shared experience once they’re removed from it. We see Bowdoin.
And we begin to notice new lights, in the distance, dotting the sparse expanse in myriad signature colors. We hope we’ve packed what we need for the journey.
Talk of the Quad: Major medal
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, rumors circulated that China was faking the ages of its women’s gymnastics team, perhaps allowing girls as young as 14 or 15 to compete. At the time, I was astounded: People my age were in the Olympics, winning medals in front of a worldwide audience?
The Sochi Olympics ended on Sunday, and they were the first I’ve been able to watch in college. Things were different this time around. “Look at this guy,” a friend said a couple weeks ago as we watched snowboarders trying to qualify for the final. “He’s my age, my height, my weight. We’re the same person.”
What he said was funny, but it didn’t feel that strange or surprising. At this point, most Olympians are somewhere around our age.
“What have I done with my life?” he asked jokingly.
But those of us without world-class athletic skills are going on with our lives. Like the majority of my peers in the Class of 2016, I have a fresh new major. Two of them, actually.
Of course, nothing’s set in stone. “History” and “Government & Legal Studies” are just getting comfortable in that “My Academic Profile” tab on Polaris. I could major in one and minor in another. I could drop both and major in something else entirely. I could drop out of school altogether. But for now, I’ve got a plan. I’ve got an idea of what I want to do. If nothing else, I have a path of least resistance, and I have a solid answer when a relative or a prospective employer or a complete stranger asks what I’m studying.
In “The Political Mind,” cognitive linguist George Lakoff argues that, since we were born, our brains have been internalizing what he calls “cultural narratives.” Essentially, he says that common archetypal narratives (the Horatio Alger success story, the redemption story, etc.) are hammered into our brains as we are exposed to them again and again. We fall back on these narratives as we try to understand the stories of the people around us, even if their stories don’t fit neatly into any of them.
“The Political Mind” focuses on our perceptions of public issues and public figures—like politicians or, maybe, Olympians. NBC figured out decades ago that they could exploit cultural narratives. The network treats every American star, it seems, to a feature or a post-competition interview designed to peg him or her as a character we recognize.
Sometimes it’s inspiring, and other times the network overplays its hand and we recognize that we’re being tricked.
An interviewer asks a skier still in full uniform about his deceased brother and brings him to tears. “Got it,” it seems like we’re supposed to think subconsciously. “This is Bode ‘Overcoming Adversity’ Miller!”
Last week, after I watched this interview, I started thumbing through Lakoff’s book again. This time something else struck me. He writes: “We live our narratives. The lived story is at the center of modern personality theory.”
Right now, there’s a display in a Smith Union hallway of students whose activities at the McKeen Center are literally presented as linear narratives, with cards detailing their activities connected by pieces of yarn. These experiences probably only play a small part in the way they see the overarching cultural narratives of their lives, but the display is an interesting form for telling their stories. Unlike a resume or a biographical paragraph, they acknowledge that there’s a lot of life happening in between those activities.
I’m just starting to get to the point where I can begin to see which cultural narratives my life might fit into, and that gets to the heart of why choosing a major has been a bittersweet thing. Sure, it might be a big milestone in a college student’s life, but it’s also a tough pill to swallow, and a lot of that has to do with its power to influence how we see our own narrative.
In other words, it feels like there’s a lot more to lose than there is to gain. “This is a new breed of the sophomore slump,” Kate Witteman ’15 wrote in the Orient around this time last year. “This slump is the emotional consequence of us narrowing our paths.”
So now I’m thinking about my own narrative like it’s on that wall in Smith Union, too: one big milestone, sure, but with a hell of a lot in between. When we don’t have anything else to go on, our brains resort to cultural narratives to create rough schematics of the people around us. The choice between a major in Mathematics and a major in English can feel like the difference between “young career-oriented professional” and “aimless millennial.” But we know ourselves better than that. There’s still a lot of yarn left between choosing a major and whatever comes next.
Talk of the Quad: Here, there and everywhere: Beatlesmania then and now
At 8 p.m. on February 9, 1964, The Beatles took the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show, making their American debut in the most public way possible. Those who had been lucky enough to land a ticket started screaming and flailing about in the audience before the show even began. The 74 million Americans—that is, 60 percent of the country—tuning in at home shuffled about in their living rooms and adjusted the antennae on their television sets.
Once the live audience had settled in their seats and home viewers had planted themselves on their sofas, Ed Sullivan gave his cue and the Fab Four launched into “All My Loving.” The boys were quick to mesmerize, syncing cartoonish head bobs and foot taps with the beat of Ringo’s drumsticks. In my mind’s eye, I imagine all of America bobbing along with them—rosy-cheeked, wide-eyed, falling in love.
A half-century later, I pressed a few buttons, first on my iPod and then on the treadmill, and started running to “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” The gym was sparse, quiet and so drafty that I kept my sweatshirt on until I’d gained some speed. By the time Paul started singing “Falling, yes I am falling,” I was sprinting. I’ve found Paul’s vocal lilts are best experienced in short periodic bursts, while John’s drones are more suitable for long jogs outside. A mile and a few tracks later, I slowed to a walk and finally stopped. I pressed pause right in the middle of a loud and rowdy “I’m Down,” and for a second the silence stunned me. There was no applause and certainly no fainting fans. Just a few earbudded girls doing crunches quietly on the mats.
If you ask around at parties, “What’s your favorite Beatles album?” you’ll get a disproportionate number of votes for Abbey Road. Objectively speaking, this is probably the right answer. It’s the band’s penultimate studio album and culminates six brief, bursting years of innovation. It boasts one of the most memorable bass lines (“Come Together”), features George’s best track ever (“Something”), and ends in a graceful pageant of transitions as “Golden Slumbers” turns into “Carry That Weight” turns into “The End.” And of course the image of the four of them mid-step made a cultural imprint like no album art before.
Best is not the same as favorite, though, and I often feel like an outlier when I cast my vote for “Revolver.” But it was those specific tracks that made their way to my ears when I was most impressionable. Like anything from childhood, my own private experience of Beatles fandom is steeped in imagination rather than fact.
I lacked the logic of a collegiate amateur music critic, and so I couldn’t have known all the merits of Abbey Road. All I knew was that “Sun King” was boring and “Got To Get You Into My Life” made me want to dance.
We millennials never knew the hits when they first graced the billboards, when the country seemed to scream in unison. But we have experienced the ghost of that fandom. For me, this meant listening at the whim of my baby boomer parents.
In the basement we had this disorganized record closet, and there the Beatles’ chronology became disordered. Before dinner, my dad would put one on at random, and I could only guess at the context of it’s recording. One night 1967’s “I Am The Walrus” would have me in a fit of giggles and the next night we’d have time traveled back three years to “A Hard Day’s Night,” which wasn’t quite as funny, though working like a dog was still pretty hilarious. In that space before dinnertime, I forged my own opinions and understanding of the Beatles without verification from a visible fan base.
Which is to say I got some things wrong. I misheard the word kaleidoscope in “Lucy In The Sky” and for years thought John was singing “A girl with ‘colitis’ goes by.” I was eventually corrected, as I was corrected about many things. I learned that the Beatles did in fact do drugs, which was confusing to me because only criminals did that. I learned that John didn’t think much of George’s solo career and said some nasty things about him after the breakup. And then in college I learned that Abbey Road is probably the best album after all.
But there was a time, before I got all the facts straight, when I was able to live in my own peculiar, anachronistic Beatlemania.
When my dad told us about the “Paul is Dead” hoax of 1966, my sister and I spent a full day searching the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s for clues. On the living room floor there in 2002, it was illogical to really believe that Paul had died and been replaced by a look-alike, but the clues were convincing and I started to doubt the identity of the modern day man claiming to be an aged McCartney. At recess, while the rest of my class played capture the flag, my three friends and I would play “Beatles” and push our already fantastical conception of who they were to ridiculous ends; in my mind, Lovely Rita, Polythene Pam and Lady Madonna evolved into characters complete with costumes and quirks that the lyrics left out. The Beatlemania of my childhood was more than just music. It was an interactive mystery, it was a game, it was an infinite repository of stories left open-ended.
So looking back on it, it seems a funny thing happens when we hijack someone else’s nostalgia and make it our own. We may have tuned in to "The Ed Sullivan Show" 50 years late, but we’ve inherited a version of that fandom that we’ve colored and spun into something private and subjective. My own strange Beatlemania lives quietly within me, and when I catch a glimpse of album art on an iPod or hear a familiar whistling on the path, I suspect a version of it lives in others as well.
Talk of the Quad: A farewell to Mary Pat
There are officially 31 varsity teams on campus, but the largest and most influential one operates off the field. The players make “warm and fuzzy” boards instead of scoring goals and decorate hallways in place of racing; we spend free time practicing toleration and active listening.
“I write to announce that Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Director of Residential Life Mary Pat McMahon will be leaving Bowdoin to become the next Dean of Student Affairs at Tufts University. Although it’s hard to say farewell to such an incredible colleague and friend, I invite you to join me in sending her off with well wishes as she embarks on this challenging and impressive next chapter in her career,” Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster wrote in an email to the student body on Wednesday.
The Residential Life (ResLife) staff at Bowdoin sets the tone of our campus community, and this spring we will say goodbye to our head coach.
Talk of the Quad: 50 years later: a reunion of innovation
As a student in the early 1960’s, I sometimes saw old Bowdoin alumni doddering around campus, fossils who couldn’t possibly know about my Bowdoin. I had the quaint notion that Bowdoin started when I entered in September 1960 and closed down upon my graduation in June 1964. Well, 50 years later I’m one of those old fossils. While preparing for my 50th reunion in June, I’ve had ample opportunity to compare the Bowdoin of yesterday with the Bowdoin of today.
Here are some words penned by a long-dead Bowdoin graduate:
“Ah me, the 50 years since last we metSeem to me 50 folios bound and setBy Time, the great transcriber, on his shelves,Wherein are written the histories of ourselves.What tragedies and comedies, are there;What joy and grief, what rapture and despair!” (From “Morituri Salutamus,” Poem for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Class of 1825 in Bowdoin Colllege, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.)
Talk of the Quad: Hooked by the books
A small college’s symbolic center has always been its library, but at Bowdoin, it doesn’t look like anything special. Hawthorne-Longfellow Library does its job without any of Hubbard’s gothic panache, and by now wears its fluorescence and bad textiles with a tired comfort.
The library instead comes alive through the fulfillment of elaborate routines—shelving, cataloguing and loaning its treasures to the rest of us. There isn’t much wonder that goes into the average swipe, beep and stamp of checking out a book, but to trace these patterns as they wind through the unthinkable breadth of the collection is a bit exhilarating.
I worked at the library over the summer of 2013, doing the ostensibly monotonous... I accepted bins of books from the UPS guy, rifled through them, and placed them on hold shelves.
Talk of the Quad: Off track
If you’ve heard it, you know. By now, most of us would have come across it on some CDs we listened to with our parents when we were kids. The last song ends, fades or crashes out, then silence. But the stereo, or CD player or car radio keeps running quietly—you hear the internal mechanisms click while the CD spins.
And for some reason (your dad is up to his shirt sleeves in groceries while your mom is cursing out telemarketers over the phone, and your uncle is maneuvering traffic at rush hour) no one turns the system off.
Minutes go by and you’re no longer paying attention to the CD, because it is over and the daily world has distracted you. You’re sitting at the kitchen counter or in the passenger seat thinking about how they get lead into pencils, and out of the nothingness comes a chord. Then another. And suddenly there is an outburst of that familiar voice, a fever of brass and bass licks.
Talk of the Quad: A case against digitizing space
The other day, I drew a map of my hometown. I sketched the houses and the office buildings into tight, symmetrical rectangles that contrasted sharply against the scribbles of forest and farmland that abut the village. I penciled the sports fields, demarcated the roads. And then I drew the river—the long, curvilinear body that swings in and out of the town line.
I drew this map because, the other day, I bought a new Samsung Galaxy phone. It is my first phone with Internet, apps and all the good stuff. Because I am currently traveling and because I want to “make my life richer, simpler, more fun” (as its advertisement suggests), I thought I’d get one of these phones to have easy GPS access and instant maps of any location I might end up in during my movements in unfamiliar landscapes.
I thought it would be fun to sketch out my hometown—and then see how one of my fancy new apps would map the place, objectively, of course.
Talk of the Quad: The way life should be—but isn't
I decided to leave Bowdoin sometime during winter break last year. By itself, that isn’t unusual—many Bowdoin students (more than half of the Class of 2015 according to the Orient) choose to study abroad their junior year. A semester abroad is a break from the rigors and routine of the liberal arts life, a chance to escape from Bowdoin’s smallness to the planet’s vastness. And if we tick off the “expanded horizons” box on our list of life experiences (or is that our resume?) in a country where we can legally purchase alcohol, it’s happy accident!
These benefits of going abroad were certainly on my mind last January, but I admit that my main reason for leaving Bowdoin was just that: leaving Bowdoin.
It’s no secret that I feel out of place on campus. The kid who spent his entire sophomore year haranguing against lax investment policies and getting into scuffles with the administration doesn’t exactly scream “typical Polar Bear.” Don’t rock the boat, dude.
Talk of the Quad: Where there's a Wil: the story of Wil Smith '00
Wil Smith ’00 came very close to missing the first day of classes the fall of his first year at Bowdoin. At the end of August in 1996, he happened to be driving past campus and wondered when the semester was starting. He’d been accepted to the College the previous spring, but no longer lived at the address Bowdoin had on file from his application and had not received any preparatory material. So he was surprised when the deans informed him that classes began the next day.
He scrambled to make up for the time he’d lost in missing Orientation and began the semester with the rest of the student body that week. At 26-years-old, Wil was nearly a decade older than many of his new peers. When he showed up for his classes he brought an unannounced plus-one that caught his professors off-guard: his 16-month-old daughter, Olivia, who he was raising as a single father.
Professor Roy Partridge taught Wil’s First Year Seminar, “Racism.” He hid his surprise when Olivia and Wil came to class.
“I’d never had this experience before in my life,” he said. “I’d been teaching 15-20 years.”
Bowdoin in many ways was a whole new world for Wil, although one he would remain embedded in long after graduation. He grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., the youngest of 10 children. His mother died of cancer when he was 15.
Before Bowdoin, Wil spent seven years as an aviation electronics technician, specializing in land-based anti-submarine aircraft in the Navy. He enlisted three years after he finished high school and served in the first Gulf War. He was deployed to all corners of the globe: Sicily, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Iceland, Greenland, Panama, Puerto Rico and Argentina.
Growing up he had loved to read and learn about different places and people, and travel was one of the aspects he most enjoyed about the Navy. While deployed overseas, he made extra effort to immerse himself in the places he was stationed, often venturing to areas the Navy had told him not to go in search of normal people living everyday life. He was frequently in places he did not speak the language of, but he communicated with charades or napkin-drawings. He says he “learned from the common people that most people in this world just want to go about their business, they’re not concerned with these issues that the government is waging wars about.”
When I spoke with him, he was reticent about his war stories and careful not to sensationalize his experiences in the Navy, evincing the humility and tendency to emphasize his role as always one piece of a collaboration, rather than take credit or attention for himself. He consented to tell me one story about the time he was sure he would get shot down flying a special operations mission over Turkey.
“I guess the Turkish government didn’t know we were there and they sent planes up and I was looking out the window and I was looking at these jet planes with these missiles ready to fire and somebody yelling in the headphones. I thought we were goners. And then within seconds they were gone, and I caught my breath again.”
When he was not deployed, Wil was based at the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, which ultimately connected him to the College. He had played baseball, basketball and football in high school and in his off-hours, he coached football and basketball at the Brunswick Junior High School. (Men’s soccer Head Coach Scott Wiercinski was one of the students he coached in basketball.) Some parents were initially skeptical of him, but his dedication to the kids on the team quickly won them over. It was here that he met Tim Gilbride, the Bowdoin men’s basketball coach, who would eventually convince Wil to apply to Bowdoin and to play on the basketball team.
The transition from life in the Navy to life as a student at Bowdoin had a steep learning curve for Wil. He was one of three African-American students in the class of 2000.
He hadn’t told anyone at Bowdoin much about his situation. He was living off-campus and took Olivia with him everywhere because he couldn’t afford daycare. Having missed Orientation, he didn’t know about how to sign up for a meal plan, or that he didn’t have to buy all his books but could read them on reserve in the library. In the Navy he had learned how to tinker with the hardware of computers but had never used word processing. He hadn’t been in a formal classroom since high school and did not feel his high school had prepared him for the rigors of Bowdoin:
“I had never been asked to write a critical paper, where I had to show, create a strong thesis and support it with evidence from the text.”
Wil struggled. He failed a Latin American history class with Professor Allen Wells because he wasn’t able to buy all the books; Dean Tim Foster was the Dean of First Year Students at the time and Wil was the first student he met with on the job. Foster recalls that Wil lost nearly 20 pounds and he vocalized anger at “the manifestation of a very unfair and unjust education system in the U.S. playing itself out at Bowdoin co-starring [himself].”
His classes introduced him to material and modes of thinking he had never encountered in high school. In the divides between his classmates and himself, he saw the disparities between most Bowdoin students—whose high school education had prepared them to be leaders—and the people from his community who he felt had been prepared, “at best, to be managers at McDonalds.”
“We never talked about the grand theories of social structure,” he recalled. “Where I came from we talked about racism as a practical entity which we were experiencing, but never studied it in a sociological or economic framework. To hear that some of these kids came understanding the frameworks, was in many ways maddening to me, because this was the first time as a 27-year-old, who had been in a war and travelled around the world, had ever heard these concepts. And it made me feel like I was never meant to understand them.”
His difficulties did not go unnoticed. That first fall Professor Partridge went to the dean’s office to ask what kind of support they could give Wil. Foster told me that the College was prepared to do nontraditional things to help a nontraditional student succeed.
Betty Trout-Kelly, the assistant to the president for multicultural affairs and affirmative action, reached out. She said she didn’t know what Wil was dealing with, but that Bowdoin would not let him go through it alone. After telling his story, the administration quickly marshaled resources for Wil. They got him an apartment in Brunswick Apartments and a meal plan. An alum donated $25,000 to cover child care expenses for Olivia.
The more time he spent with students at Bowdoin, the more he began to think differently about being a student here. Basketball season started and the team immediately embraced Wil.
“I got to know my friends on the team, those guys were really good to me, and some of my babysitters for Olivia. They were good people. And it was hard for me to reconcile my disdain for a group of people when they were treating me so kindly.”
His teammates, Coach Gilbride and his wife, Lisa, were among the first people he trusted with Olivia and remain some of his closest friends.
He remembered a turning point in an Econ 102 lecture where the professor was talking about the boom of the Reagan years and the benefits of supply-side economics. He saw the other students nodding in agreement but felt that growing up had shown him that the things at the top never quite trickle all the way down.
“In my community, it was none of the rosy stuff that this guy was describing. It was rampant unemployment, crack cocaine, the beginning of the war against drugs, the war against black men,” he remembered. He started building relationships with other students too, who were interested in hearing and learning more about his experiences.
He got involved with a group of students on campus who “challenged the school to change the composition of the school, the demographics of the school, and it wasn’t just the students of color at the time, it was a lot of the majority students as well. They wanted people from backgrounds who were not like theirs to enhance their education.”
When Wil graduated in 2000, he ascended the museum steps carrying Olivia. The two of them received his degree in sociology and economics and a standing ovation from the crowd. As a senior, he was the captain of the basketball team and received the athletics award for outstanding commitment to community service, an award which was later renamed in his honor. After graduation he stayed at Bowdoin, in the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs , working to continue the diversity initiatives he had begun as a student.
After several years, Wil left Bowdoin and got his law degree at the University of Maine, although soon after his graduation, Foster and several other administrators took him out for dinner and implored him to return to Bowdoin as the associate dean of multicultural affairs, a position they had created for Wil. Wil returned to the College dedicated to changing Bowdoin from—in his words—an institution for smart, East Coast kids that didn’t get into the Ivies to a place for dedicated students from high schools across the country.
Talk of the Quad: A bathroom pitch: networking in the stalls
There is a Spartan feel to the men’s restroom in Smith Union. It has three reddish-brown stalls, three sinks and two urinals. The floor is an industrial sort of teal and remarkably clean for one of the most heavily trafficked bathrooms on campus. The walls are almost bare—unadorned except for the sheet of paper hanging above the leftmost urinal, advertising Sustainable Bowdoin’s strategies for being green.
Last time I used one of those urinals, I was reading that piece of paper for what felt like the third or fourth time. The poster boards in other parts of Smith are a veritable orgy of ever-changing color.
They advertise poetry readings and lectures, parties and candidates for student government. Yet despite this flashiness, these posters are rarely read.
Talk of the Quad: Adventure or bust
Two weeks ago this evening, I was sitting at dinner when the conversation somehow turned to speculation about police interactions. My roommate insisted that she would rather be arrested than receive a fine—we pushed back on this, I think fairly—and she admitted that her inclination toward incarceration was because that would make a better story. We all laughed about this, but then acknowledged the motivating power of the do-it-for-the-story mentality.
An hour after this conversation, my aforementioned roommate, Erica, and I were on our bikes, wrangling a few more of our friends to come down to the ocean with us. We were going out into the night and pursuing that flighty temptress, Adventure, but I’m not sure we totally pulled off the aesthetic. The moon was full, but I was wearing my headlamp, and Erica—whose bike is a single-gear situation with foot-brakes alone—was wearing a helmet.
We were the last of our friends to arrive at Simpson’s Point. I turned too early and we ended up on a winding scenic route that cut through the woods before opening onto rolling fields that were eerily beautiful in the dim light. The boys were all lying by the water with their faces inches from the waves, literally watching the tide come in, when we arrived. They gave that up eventually and we sat on the rocks yelling over the wind. When they announced they were leaving for campus, Erica and I pretended to follow them before turning around and heading back to the shore.
Talk of the Quad: The most dangerous game: squirrel-style
Have you noticed the squirrels around campus? Of course you have—they’re everywhere. On no fewer than three distinct occasions I have been walking along, minding my own business, when I walk past a metal trashcan on campus and a cat-sized squirrel rockets out to the lip and stares me down. I mean really looking deep into my soul.
And then if they could, I imagine they would say—in what would be a heavy brogue—a few choice words about going away. I don’t know if this has happened to you, but just wait. I’ve no problem with these bushy-tailed, glorified rats. They’re fine, good company really. Seeing them scurrying around and scampering up trees can be delightful. If you’ve ever watched two of them make squirrel noises at each other, squealing like deranged toddlers, you know it can verge on comical.
Once on the way to dinner at Thorne Hall, I saw one by Baxter House eating an ice cream cone. The little tyke probably thought it was a person. Naturally, I stopped and took a few photos with my phone.
Talk of the Quad: His persistence in resistance
Looking around campus, it’s easy to see the members of the Bowdoin community we’re most proud of. Some—Howard, Chamberlain, Stowe—are so deeply tied to the history of our nation that it would be foolish not to acknowledge the role Bowdoin played in their lives. Others—Mitchell, Druckenmiller, Osher—are the titans of the present. They’re philanthropists who demonstrate the benefits of a Bowdoin education in our society. Today, however, I present to you another Bowdoin alum worthy of our praise: Sumner Waldron Jackson.
I spent this summer on campus, trying to take in every bit of it before I graduate in the spring. I came to appreciate sitting outside of Gibson Hall on the bench in front of Bowdoin’s memorial to alumni who lost their lives fighting for our nation. That’s where Jackson’s name first jumped out at me. A member of the Class of 1909, he would’ve been in his late fifties by the end of the Second World War, and yet he’s listed as among those who died.
Most students don’t know this, but Special Collections keeps a file for every alumnus of the College. So I took down Jackson’s name and class year on the back of my hand and climbed the steps to the third floor of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.
Talk of the Quad: When Brunswick dreams take flight
At the end of Coffin Street, where it meets the side entrance of Farley Field House, there is a small tan house on the corner—the residence of Bob Morrell ’47 and his wife, Nan Morrell.
While living on campus this summer, I went out for a short run one late afternoon, after the temperature had cooled. Toward the end of my run, I decided I did not want to continue embarrassing any of the other runners with my breakneck speed, so I began to walk.
I, like many Bowdoin students on a regular basis, walked down Coffin Street and looked over to see Morrell, sitting at the end of his garage, wearing L.L. Bean slippers that appeared to have been converted from an old pair of Bean boots. Exhausted and looking for an excuse to stand still for a second, I yelled over to the man and asked him about what living next to a college is like—which I presumed to be loud, yet entertaining.
Talk of the Quad: Living humbly for a cause
Even after two years spent working towards a Bowdoin English major and thousands of hours curled in a ball in Massachusetts Hall reading Victorian novelists, African-American poets, French deconstructionist theorists and—my personal favorite—Indian writers writing in English, the passage that most resonates with me is still one I read in high school.
It doesn’t come from a novel that carries much intellectual cachet. It’s not old and dense like Joseph Conrad or Leo Tolstoy; it’s not postmodern and trendy like George Saunders or David Foster Wallace; it speaks more to naiveté than sophistication.
That’s part of what makes it so important, not just for me, I think, but for our generation. The novel is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951. It’s the quintessential book for angsty, disaffected teens, and although I was more happy-go-lucky and innocent than brooding and rebellious in tenth grade, I—like millions of high school students before me—was taken with its narrator, one Holden Caulfield.
Talk of the Quad: Regarding Fat Amy
“Do you know Fat Amy?” “Does one person go ‘doo doo doo’ and the other ‘ca ca ca?’” Telling my campers this summer that I was in an a cappella group at Bowdoin was probably one of the biggest mistakes I made as a camp counselor, all lies about being Harry Potter’s nephew and a Norwegian goat farmer aside. I have none other than “Pitch Perfect” to thank for my problem, or as people now would say and I cringe at the sound of it, “aca-drama.”
For campers and Bowdoin students alike, this movie has allowed outsiders to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes of collegiate a cappella.
My sister somehow convinced me to watch “Pitch Perfect” one night this summer, and being a member of Ursus Verses, I thought it would be a good idea to see what all the commotion was about.
Talk of the Quad: Training Wheels for 22-Year Olds
Lobster rolls, lazy afternoons at Popham Beach, free concerts at L.L. Bean, Cote’s ice cream on the green, and multi-day stretches of perfect weather.Summer in Brunswick has gained legendary status at the College. Yet somehow in my four years at Bowdoin I missed the memo that summer is, in fact, the only worthwhile season to exist in Maine.So as my self-imposed deadlines rolled right on by, unfulfilled (by Winter Break I’ll have an awesome job…by Spring Break I’ll have applied to a job…by graduation I’ll have 40 dollars…) and I faced one gigantic post-grad question mark, I decided to throw in the career path towel and eat as much ice cream as possible instead.
One month later, I commenced a summer of scooping Dark Chocolate Noir sorbetto at Gelato Fiasco and nannying part-time.
I wish I could state in writing that my summer was the idyllic mélange of Maine-y goodness that I always imagined it would be. I pictured myself making daily, sundress-clad trips to the farmers’ market, rising at daybreak for long, healthful jogs in the Brunsick Commons, and whipping up craisin-studded, massaged kale salads for dinner.
Talk of the Quad: Bearded in Cairo
I arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, June 19, eleven days before the onset of nationwide protests that were to depose President Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. I moved into an apartment on 15 Bostan Street, a couple minutes walk from Tahrir Square. In true foreigner fashion, I found myself paying double-price for the taxi, dragging my suitcases into the lobby. Most apartment buildings in Cairo have a doorman—a bawab—and I spent our first conversation trying to explain that I was claustrophobic and was going to walk up eight flights of stairs to my apartment. He smiled and grabbed my suitcases as he stepped into the elevator. I started climbing.
The summer before, I had studied at Middlebury’s Arabic program with a friend who then recommended a language institute in Cairo. I took his advice, and this summer, I signed up for six weeks of an intensive language course and gave myself a week at the end to travel around the country.
In Egypt, like in every other Arabic-speaking country, people speak a local dialect of Arabic known as aamiyya. Aamiyya and fusha are like two languages that, while obviously related, are still noticeably different. I, like every other foreign language student, learned the latter—it is taught in schools, spoken in official capacities and used for all written Arabic. However, I soon learned that no one spoke it outside of a presidential address—ever. As I explored the streets near my apartment, I tried to pick up conversations with whoever was willing. Midway through one, the man I was speaking to paused, saying, “I can’t believe I’m speaking fusha right now”—obviously saying most of it in aamiyya. I was a Shakespearean character walking around twenty-first century London; all I was missing was the medieval outfit.
Talk of the Quad: The Bowdoin mystique
I visited Bowdoin for the first time in February 2011 and stayed in one of the hotels at the desperate end of Pleasant Street, right off of Route 295. To the 17-year-old me who had grown up in a beach suburb of Los Angeles, the opposite corner of the nation was more naturally grim than I had expected. Its buildings seemed to abide the weather with an aged melancholy, as if past generations had fought nature and settled for a stalemate that still held. I remember standing in the deserted and windy stretch of restaurants near the College feeling like Brunswick was a literal ghost town.
When I arrived, I had no sense of what New England life was like in any season. I’m not sure I was even aware of Dunkin’ Donuts, let alone Tim Horton’s. My only frame of reference came from school. I was taking AP U.S. History and American Lit, and junior year academic overdrive shoved a heap of historical associations to the front of my mind. Didn’t James Bowdoin put down Shay’s Rebellion? I’d commit suicide too if I was Ethan Frome and I was this cold all the time. Just focus on the tour, geez.
The character that kept popping up was Nathaniel Hawthorne, Class of 1825, whose stories I had recently been reading. It was all so novel—I connected the towers, shadows and lamp-lit walks of the College with the eerie townscapes of his fiction. The dark outlines of the Pines gave off the same foreboding as the forest that swallowed up Goodman Brown, and the severity of colonial houses seemed to hide unknown evils behind closed doors.
Talk of the Quad: Turning sharp corners
Welcome to the 148th annual Ivies, perhaps the most sacred tradition that Bowdoin knows. And yet, it almost wasn’t. The first Ivy Day was held in the fall, on October 26, 1865, when the junior class assembled before the chapel to plant an ivy and recite the Class Ode.
For eight years after that, there was no Ivy Day to speak of, according to a 1976 Orient article. What would have happened if our grand tradition had never been revived? Would Bowdoin have become what it is today? Would we have devised some replacement for our annual festival of inebriated catharsis?
Probably. Whenever Ivies comes along, people like to say that Bowdoin becomes, if only for one week, what other colleges are like year-round. Maybe this is true, maybe it’s not—so long as we are students of this College, we can’t know for sure. All we know is that Bowdoin isn’t easy (grade inflation aside), and hope that our weekend of coordinated debauchery will make it much easier to re-enter H-L come reading period. Most NESCAC schools indulge in some similar celebration—Nelly and Yeasayer graced the Tufts campus last weekend, and Macklemore has made appearance at Williams, Amherst, and Colby in the past few weeks. When Guster and Hoodie Allen take the stage on Whittier Field tomorrow, students will indulge in bacchanalian revelry like they always do--but this year, it can’t help but seem particularly well-deserved.
Talk of the Quad: Making Mississippi (and Bowdoin) Home
As the college application process concludes for high school seniors, newly admitted students are faced with the decision to enroll—or not—at Bowdoin next fall. As a current first year, this seems like a distant memory, though it reminds me of what convinced me that Bowdoin was for me.
Comparable to many other NESCAC schools, Bowdoin offers a multitude of resources, rigorous academics and a picturesque campus. While I heavily considered these factors, what ultimately drew me to Bowdoin was how I instantly felt at home; after all, the first line of the Offer of the College is “To be at home in all lands and ages.” Perhaps I’m still in the honeymoon phase of my time here, but Bowdoin has definitely become a home for me in the last seven months. This became far clearer upon return from an Alternative Spring Break trip to Pontotoc Valley, Miss.
Prior to the trip, the student leaders assigned the reading, “Have faith in understanding,” an Orient article written by Steve Kolowich in 2006 about his experiences on the trip. Kolowich acknowledged the preconceptions he had prior to his arrival in the South, which were comparable to my group’s collective thoughts about “red states, religious yahoos, ‘values’ voters, country bumpkins carousing around in pickup flatbeds with their shotguns and hounds, stopping periodically to participate in a hootenanny and/or elect Bush.”
Talk of the Quad: Biking in India: More Than Just Point A to Point B
My primary mode of transportation around the chaotic, traffic-choked Indian metropolis I am calling home this semester is a retro-looking yellow fixed-gear bicycle with a big basket in the front, the kind of upright job the kids ride around in “Stand By Me” or “Now and Then.”
I almost look like I’ve made a wrong turn out of my 1960’s suburban cul-de-sac, except for the decidedly not-nostalgic helmet I bought the first day I took the thing out on the roads. This was not entirely my own decision—when I told my mother I was going to be biking, she asked if I had a helmet. When I said I didn’t, and that athough bikes are ubiquitous here, protective headgear is not, she wondered whether I wouldn’t feel very stupid if I ever sustained an injury I could have prevented but didn’t because I was worried about standing out. (Her point was well taken, since in Pune, as a white woman wearing jeans and standing a good few inches above at least half the people I pass by, I’ve already pretty much lost the battle of not standing out. So I wear the helmet and endure feeling like a complete dork, and repeat the mantra, “better to be uncool and sentient, than cool and vegetative,” while I’m en route.)
Along with Vespa-type scooters and motorcycles, bicycles are definitely one of the popular ways to get around in Pune. On a bicycle you can cut through the gaps between cars and trucks to the front of a line of traffic, or successfully run red lights—as long as no cars are coming perpendicularly to you.
Talk of the Quad: Sophomore slump
Yesterday marked the application deadline to study abroad. All sophomores who desire to leave Brunswick and venture into the “real” world next year have made the formal commitment to do so.
This also means that those people—a reported 50 percent of the Class of 2015—have already declared their majors and minors.
The planning this entails has made my fellow classmates and I conceptualize the rest of our Bowdoin careers on a detailed level. When I come back, will I have enough Government credits for a major? Should I major in Biology and try to minor in English? Musings like this have been commonplace among my peers over the past few weeks.
Talk of the Quad: “To Bowdoin!" Abroad among Dukies
Since arriving in India, I’ve done a terrible job following current news events. I’d like to think it’s because I’m too busy or trying to conserve my limited 3G internet access, but neither is true. I actually like the feeling of getting away from news; it’s nice to escape and really be present here.
But this became impossible after Friday, February 1, when the news broke that a fraternity at Duke University hosted an Asian-themed party, sending out email invitations with insensitive and demeaning language. Later images showed partygoers dressed in costumes that promoted Asian stereotypes.
The 17 other students on my Duke-sponsored study abroad program got word of the party soon after it happened. They vented their frustrations, and one girl even drafted a letter to Duke’s student newspaper, the Chronicle. Two days later, I opened my Facebook and noticed a Yahoo News story about the event featured on my news feed. Shocked that the party was making national headlines, I asked my parents if they’d heard anything about it; turns out they’d just watched a segment about the scandal on the “Today Show” that morning.
Talk of the Quad: Bowdoin history: Bearly remembered
On January 13, Madison Whitley ’13, Orient co-business manager, spotted a hat in SeaWorld’s San Diego store that featured a polar bear with a striking resemblance to the College’s mascot. She tweeted a photo to @bowdoincollege, and by January 18 the College had started investigating SeaWorld for possible violations of trademark and copyright law. If SeaWorld did indeed steal the image of the Bowdoin Polar Bear, it also stole a part of Bowdoin’s soul. The College relies heavily on polar bear symbolism and metaphor. Any ensuing legal battle will be a struggle to reclaim the College’s primary means of representing itself, and a key component of its institutional identity.
Talk of the Quad: The only modern sin
Matt Ivester wants to help. As founder of the once infamous anonymous gossip site JuicyCampus.com, Ivester gained notoriety by selling poison to college students in the form of an online network ideal for sharing damaging and shaming information about fellow classmates. Now he’s selling the antidote in the form of his book, “lol...OMG!: What Every Student Needs to Know about Online Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship and Cyberbullying.” But judging from the paltry attendance at his talk in Pickard Theater last night, Bowdoin students aren’t buying.
Talk of the Quad: 21st Century Pop Nostalgia
The trailer for the recent concert film Big Easy Express—in which director Emmett Malloy follows a cross-country tour by popular folk-rock bands Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and Old Crow Medicine Show on a vintage train—opens with a brash monologue.
Talk of the Quad: Seniors Left Astray
For most students at the College, course registration is an exciting time to consider the future. For first years, with the fateful first semester almost under their belts, spring course registration is a subtle affirmation that, yes, you can make it here. In fact, Bowdoin even wants you back for another semester! Sophomores—those confident, savvy Polar Bears—may not know their major quite yet, but they know what they like and definitely know what annoying professors to avoid. And juniors, well, they could care less. Enjoy camping in Australia next spring!
Talk of the Quad: What’s the Beef? Meatless monday
“What was Meatless Monday? Why was it such a big deal?” When a fellow student asked me this, I realized that first years and sophomores never experienced the drama of Meatless Monday, one of the most heated student conflicts I’ve seen at Bowdoin in my time here. What happened on campus in February of 2011 deserves to be revisited.
Talk of the Quad: Hurricampaign
As we sit at Bowdoin evaluating the aftermath of the Frankenstorm—just two weeks after the Great Maine Earthquake—our presidential candidates are scrambling in the face of the destruction, trying to salvage as much as they possibly can from their final week of campaigning.
Talk of the Quad: The Sustainable Siesta
You’re probably reading this while eating lunch or watching TV. I know I would be if I were back at Bowdoin. Soon, you’ll head off to class or to work in your biology lab for the afternoon before getting ready to go out for the night.
Talk of the Quad: Asked about home, across the pond
“Do you really use those big red cups in America?” Of all the questions about the U.S. that I thought I would get asked regularly being abroad in London, ones about the ubiquity of red Solo cups never occurred to me. From a European perspective, red cups, apparently, are what American partying life is all about—well, red cups and not being legally able to drink until 21, a concept I’ve stopped attempting to explain (mostly because I barely understand it myself).
Talk of the Quad: Blow, Bugle, blow!
A note from the editors of the 1890 Bowdoin Bugle presents the new edition as if it were a fellow-graduate of the College: “The Bugle, having taken a complete course in the cerebral convolutions of the heads of the several editors, now comes upon the stage to receive his degree from the hand of a criticizing public. We hope it will be at least, cum laude. What is it he says? Vos salutamus.”
Talk of the Quad: Consider the rabbi
I’m a religion major, as it turns out, and a lot of my impulse to do this came from what I’ve learned in classes at Bowdoin. But participating in the service wasn’t the transformative thing I thought it might be.
Talk of the Quad: Hot Dam: the river gets a makeover
The tension in the room is stifling. I, along with fellow intern Matt Gamache ’13, am sitting in on a conference call with our supervisor at the Nature Conservancy in Maine. Visibly nervous, Kate is negotiating with staff from two other large environmental orgaizations.They’re blowing up a dam.
Talk of the Quad: Late for the Race
On Saturday morning, I decided to go for a short run before meeting a friend for brunch. I started off crossing Park Row towards Maine Street. Before I knew it, I was being stopped at the crosswalk at the end of Page Street.
Talk of the Quad: Bike thieves and summer trees
The talk of the Quad is different in the summer, when the lines that separate Bowdoin and Brunswick, tourist and town resident, student and visiting scholar, become even more blurred.
Talk of the Quad: Once upon a summer on Capitol Hill
The annual pilgrimage of summer interns to D.C. was in full swing by the time I began my first full-time internship at the end of May. There were scores of college-aged kids on the Metro with me every morning, doing their best to look like young professionals in their suits and ties, pencil skirts and heels—because even in the heat and humidity of July, Washington is a very formal city.
On days when I took the blue Metro line into work, most of the people who boarded the train at Foggy Bottom/George Washington University were student-types, living in George Washington University dorms and interning around town, like Simon Bordwin ’13, who was the public policy intern at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) this summer.
Last summer, Bordwin lived at home and commuted into New York for work; this summer he came to work for GLSEN in D.C., because their headquarters in New York “weren’t sure early on enough.” Washington also offered him a new social scene to explore.
Talk of the Quad: The riddle of the unregistered party
Of all the amenities that the College became directly or indirectly responsible for when it elected to dismantle the fraternity system in 1997, the most precarious has to be the distribution of alcohol.
Talk of the Quad: The reality of Arabic at Bowdoin
I keep telling myself, "walk backward, but speak forward." I'm just about to run into one of those damn poles when a kind parent on my tour alerts me.
Talk of the Quad: Stuffed animals
Squirrels and crows may be the most conspicuous creatures on campus, but the College boasts a bevy of beasts far more majestic—albeit less lively. A regal walrus and black-crowned night heron are among the many taxidermy specimens in Bowdoin's collection, and while scores of students weave around the iconic polar bear in Buck every day, other animals lie just off the beaten path.
Talk of the Quad: A meal from home
Talk of the Quad: Portland sea dogs trample the GOP
Last Saturday, the Maine Republican nominating caucuses drew a whopping two percent of registered Republicans. Americans are known for their lackluster voter turnout, but this is a paltry showing even for us.
Talk of the Quad: The far side of the strait
Elena Keamy '12 was halfway across the Strait of Gibraltar when the supervisor of her group of students from Granada, Spain, noticed that one of the girls was wearing a miniskirt.
Talk of the Quad: Vanishing Pines
If a tree falls on Bowdoin's campus, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Judging from the student body's response to the removal of two massive spruces that flanked the front of Hubbard Hall over winter break, apparently not.
Talk of the Quad: Metamorphosis
The elevator cab had drawn up to the sixth floor of Coles Tower with a shudder and was at rest. Its doors slid aside, ready to accept me, but I did not enter. I only knelt at the threshold, just barely tripping the sensor, and unceremoniously dumped my two captives down the dark steel chasm between cab and shaft. They made no sound.
Talk of the Quad: The importance of bean earnest
At Bowdoin, coffee drinking has come to dictate my schedule like a strict nanny. In the words of T.S. Eliot, "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons." As a self-proclaimed environmentalist, I am troubled by my (over)consumption of coffee. I hear a lot of bad things about it. I know that very little coffee is actually grown in the United States and that importing it from abroad requires a lot of fossil fuel. I know that the amount of coffee cups Americans use generates tremendous waste. I know that coffee is grown in tropical regions, and there is significant deforestation associated with its cultivation. Therefore, I try to take some "eco-friendly" actions that work to alleviate the negative effects of my addiction.
Talk of the Quad: The eveningstar
Barry Norman's office at Eveningstar Cinema sits perched above the concession stand at the entrance to the theater, hidden from the view of his moviegoer patrons. His desk sits behind the theater's two film projectors, nestled in between old bucket seats and empty film canisters. There, Norman has been busy planning what he hopes will be a film renaissance for Brunswick.
Talk of the Quad: On finding monument E
Take a walk. It's an autumn day. A Sunday in November, say. Go to the woods on the southeast corner of the Farley Fields, and follow the path with the sign that says "Commons Trail." Do you see the gaggle of ducks flying noisily off the pond? The spindly trees shedding their last brown leaves into the turgid water? Keep walking across Baxter Lane, and then take a left down Hovey Road. You may see a pensive Irish Setter watching you quietly from a yard, turn onto the trail here. There will be mud by the pines, and an opaque pool with planks running over it. Is one of them broken inward? Do you see a cumbersome rock lying on the trail like a giant's nickel? The forest you're standing in is part of the 1,000-acre Town Commons, a great big nook of public land that has been part of Brunswick's heritage for nearly 300 years.
Talk of the Quad: The game of grade inflation
If you were to hazard a guess, what percentage of all grades distributed at Bowdoin are Bs or As? Or put it this way: Just how prevalent is grade inflation? Well, that depends on when you attended Bowdoin. Twenty years ago, the average GPA at the school was 3.06, around 46 percent of all grades given out were in the B range, and 32 percent were in the A range. A decade later, in the 2001-2002 academic year, the average GPA of the student body was a lusty 3.30, just a hair below a B-plus average. By then, just over 87 percent of grades were either As or Bs. Plus and minus modifiers weren't introduced until 2003, to great student indignation. At the time, students fretted that professors' use of modifiers would result in generally lower marks, but grade inflation plodded on undisturbed by this development. By 2007, 49 percent of all the grades doled out were in the A range, and only 8 percent were a C or lower. Hello, Lake Wobegon!
Talk of the Quad: Checking in with the mayor of Pine St. Cemetery
We count on the rituals of college life—walking to and from class, and eating in the dining hall—to see our friends around campus every day, and all too often we miss them in the sea of faces that pass by. But the online world is a completely different story, and I'm not talking about Facebook and Twitter. This year, due in large part to its recent fall out of favor among the student population, foursquare has become a stomping ground for a very special kind of Bowdoin student.
Talk of the Quad: For the love of Renys
"Hold on, let me just get my laptop," I say. I've escaped to South Harpswell with a full bag of laundry and my running sneakers, only to feel the pull of a story a couple of married Maine transplants are more than willing to recount.
Talk of the Quad: R.I.P.: Our Edison, our Disney
There's not much that hasn't been long since said. You've seen his Stanford commencement speech, of course.
Talk of the Quad: Death and pumpkins in Mid-coast Maine
It was approximately 2:45 p.m. on Saturday when Marvin Tarbox Jr., a 59-year-old Shriner from Hancock, flipped his go-cart off a mobile ramp during the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest Parade. The ramp, attached to the roof of a 1990 GMC Suburban, failed, causing Mr. Tarbox to flip end over end and his bare head to strike the pavement.
Talk of the Quad: The functional illiterates of 1976
Sometime this past February, a self-proclaimed "doddering alum" of the Class of 1976 joined the elite club of individuals who have clicked the "Ask Us Anything" button on the Orient Express.
Talk of the Quad: Letterpress roadtripping
In the Independent Film Channel show "Portlandia," Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live fame said anything can be art if you just "put a bird on it." He was referring to art in that other Portland, my hometown, that "alternative universe" somewhere north of California where "young people go to retire" (thank you again, "Portlandia").
Talk of the Quad: Squirrelus Librarius
There is a large Tupperware on Pat Myshrall's desk by the Hubbard-side window of H-L Library, full of doggie treats that have an unrivaled crunch and smack of steak tartar. Professor Paul Franco's black lab, Reggie, bounds up to Pat's window every morning for his snack, as do Mr. Jones, Bean, Sam and Charlie, the other Bowdoin dogs who know her like true Pavlovian disciples, conditioned by her legendary doggie treats and her crooning affection.
Talk of the Quad: Hopper's House
In 1927, Edward Hopper must have set up his easel on the corner of Danforth Street and Park Street in Portland, just across from what was then known as the Libby House, and what is now the Victoria Mansion, a national historic landmark.
Talk of the Quad: The changing face of Maine Street
The Grand City Variety store closed a little shy of two months into the start of my freshman year. I went there once to buy thumbtacks and then it was out of business. I had little opportunity to appreciate the institution, which sold everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to brassieres, but I did have a good deal of time to think about its absence as the storefront sat vacant for the next three years.
Talk of the Quad: Idiots steal table
"I'm telling you man, there're no cameras in West, we'll be fine." First mistake. My accomplice, who has asked to remain anonymous (name rhymes with Villain Lammer), was a bit unsure about the whole thing, so I told him a few things that I thought were true. They weren't.
Talk of the Quad: Our Big Apple
On July 4th, 2011, at around 9 o'clock, a crowd gathered on the balcony of Professor Steve Cerf's penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The sun had already set over the Hudson River, and the buzzing flock of old and new friends, neighbors and relatives, teachers and professors, spry young Bowdoin students and wiser ex-Polar Bears were eagerly anticipating the imminent fireworks display, scheduled to blow, well, any minute now.
Talk of the Quad: On College Rankings
One would not think, meandering around campus, that Bowdoin students are particularly lustful. Maybe it is the pastels of the omnipresent sweatpants or perhaps the relative unpopularity of sun dresses, but whatever the reason, students here just don't seem libidinous in the manner of those at Arizona State, Berkeley, or Miami. Such trivialities as reality, however, have never given pause to the editorial staff of The Daily Beast. And so, the Beast decreed that Bowdoin College was the fourth-horniest institution of higher learning in the land. Never mind the methodology; that would ruin the fun, wouldn't it?