After reading the recent opinion pieces by three seniors of color on the racially themed parties that were held on this very campus two and three years ago, I am struck by the lack of a white opinion on these events. As a first year, I am still coming to terms with this new environment and the demographics of my class and the College as a whole, yet I am keenly aware of a racial divide that underlies many social and academic interactions on campus.
Although we were in the crux of midterms, I felt I needed to read Pamela Zabala’s ’17 honors project per the advice of a few senior acquaintances in order to supplement the thoughts I’ve had since the College House Crawl. The term “hypercultural white spaces” jumped off the pages of Zabala’s thesis and immediately brought to mind nights at College House parties: the floor is slippery with cheap beer, “Mr. Brightside” is blasting and white students push me and my friends aside as they squeal and embrace each other. At Bowdoin parties, the setting is still quite homogenous and there seems to be a white flight whenever the music changes to a beat you can actually dance to.
I write this piece not as another “angry student of color,” but as a student who is disappointed by people who were obviously aware of their privilege that used it to forcibly suppress those whose views opposed their own. As a class of ’21 representative and the first year liaison to Bowdoin Student Government, I feel it is my duty to seek out information that will affect not only my future, but also the future of my class and the classes to come. It simply is not fair to us as first years to have these events be whispered about behind closed doors and never publicly addressed and explained. These events are so embedded in this campus. I feel myself having to wade through the muck of repressed emotions and unspoken opinions on my way to Druck. If the trend documented by Zabala continues, then it seems we’re due for another racially charged incident in the next two semesters.
I refuse to stand by and let this trend continue. For students who don’t have to care, I get it. You get to coast through life with your tunnel vision and exist blissfully with a clear conscience. But tunnel vision can lead to a devastating collision; a collision you will not be prepared for because you refused to take notice of the people who are hurting right next to you. We first years as your peers, as your teammates, as your mentees and as your friends, deserve a hell of a lot better. We came here ready for the best four years of our lives and instead are witnessing how the College is not what we were hoping for. Both sides of the incident may have believed that it is up to the administration to create policies (or remove policies) in order to appease their needs, but I believe as adults we need to have the conversations ourselves and stop trying to prevent our peers who are trying to heal from doing so. The administration won’t be there to facilitate discussions once we graduate, so we must learn to communicate amongst each other now.
I am not offended for the sake of being offended. I am concerned and I want to work towards a future where students of all backgrounds can coexist and accept—not simply tolerate—each other’s presence. In order to do so, there must be a willingness to be uncomfortable. I’ve had foot-in-mouth moments myself. With mistakes comes learning; understanding cannot occur unless questions are asked.
So now I have some questions and I hope they will be taken seriously and thought through carefully: where are the students who saw no problem with the theme of these parties and actively suppressed the voices of their peers? Why are they refusing to speak even now after there has been time for reflection and reconciliation? How can I, as a black woman, come to terms with an institution that is drenched in “white culture” and normalizes silence? How can we ensure that your experiences are not repeated, and we first years get the best four years of our lives that Bowdoin presented to us?
Safiya Osei is a member of the Class of 2021.