Beneath the toga
September 29, 2017
Tomorrow night is Epicuria. Along with Ivies Weekend, this event holds a distinct place in the mythology of the Bowdoin community. But before we don our togas, we should consider the night soberly.
On the one hand, Epicuria manifests much of what has been and continues to be successful about the College House system. As recent coverage from the Harvard Crimson shows, Bowdoin’s transition from a fraternity system to a college-supervised social house system serves as an exemplar for other colleges and universities that are undergoing a similar transition. At the level of institutional practice, Bowdoin’s College House system addresses many of the issues that continue to beset its peer institutions. Epicuria is a case in point. Every single student on campus is invited. No one will be turned away at the door because of who they are, whom they are with or what they look like. Students know that campus security, not law enforcement, would be the first to intervene. For any student who has a medical emergency, Bowdoin security is a resource, not an enemy. Ladd house hosts a Q&A session to provide information about the event. These are not circumstances that many students at our peer institutions can take for granted.
On the other hand, Bowdoin’s social scene is more than a set of institutional policies. At the level of student experiences, on-campus social life at Bowdoin falls well short of the College’s professed aims of inclusivity. As Anne Gregory ’19 and Amber Rock ’19 document in their column this week, women, people of color and queer students often feel unwelcome at on-campus social functions and marginalized by the culture surrounding them. As a result, campus-wide parties are populated disproportionately by white students. Epicuria is no exception.
But the problems plaguing the College’s on-campus social scene are more immediately cultural than institutional. This is not a hard and fast distinction: in the long term, diversifying the composition of the College House system, and of the College more generally, would likely do much to make the on-campus social environment more welcoming to all of Bowdoin’s students. But in the short term—even beginning tomorrow night at Ladd house—it is incumbent on us, the students, to improve our social atmosphere.
Minor steps could make a difference. Students of color have noted that the music played at campus-wide parties caters to white students. Ensuring that playlists included a range of musical genres would be one step in the right direction. Propagating stereotypes about the composition of College Houses can alienate students before they have even stepped into a house. Before you generalize about the character of houses, look at their rosters. As our columnists note, white students set the tone of Bowdoin’s hook-up culture. If you choose to participate in this culture, first understand its racial undertones and how your actions fit within this matrix.
So come tomorrow night, have fun, be safe, and be thoughtful about your toga-clad peers.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Harry DiPrinzio, Sarah Drumm, Alyce McFadden, Ian Stewart and Ian Ward.
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