At today’s Bowdoin Student Government (BSG)-led Town Hall, students expressed frustration about perceived inertia in response to bias incidents—most recently, a swastika that was reported in the Hubbard Hall Stacks at the end of September. In total, four swastikas have been reported on campus in the past two years.
To open the event, Natasha Goldman, research associate and adjunct lecturer in art history, elaborated on the historical use of the swastika as an anti-Semitic iconography. Goldman, who has taught first year seminars on the history and memory of the Holocaust, believed that an increase of academic opportunities to understand the historical use of these symbols would erase some student’s ignorance on the impact of the symbol.
Zoe Aarons ’19 and Miranda Miller ’19, co-presidents of Hillel, emphasized the swastika’s tie to the events of the Holocaust as necessary to understand the dangers it poses today. They noted that swastikas on campus are not exclusively anti-Semitic and are used as symbols of white supremacy, nationalism and hate.
“We must keep in mind the unfathomable events of the Holocaust in order to fully appreciate the dangers of using the swastika today,” Aarons said. “Whether it targets a specific group, generally represents hate or lacks malicious intent, this symbol is unacceptable.”
Several students expressed irritation that conversations about diversity and inclusion at the College seem to only happen in the context of blatant incidents such as a swastika, rather than everyday instances of bias on campus.
Kiany Probherbs ’21 argued that students have an obligation to address small-scale incidents, such as microaggressions.
“Call out ourselves, call out our friends, call out our teammates,” Probherbs said.
A central point of discussion, framed by BSG Chair for Facilities and Sustainability Nate DeMoranville ’20, was to what extent responsibility for reducing bias on campus fell to students compared to the administration.
“I am not here to educate, I am here to get educated,” said one student.
Kate Stern, director of the center for sexuality, women and gender, pointed to the Intergroup Dialogue Program, which trains students to participate in and facilitate conversations on race, as well as the More Than Meets the Eye program, a thorough, two-part diversity orientation for all first years which is in its third year, as examples of administrative efforts to address bias proactively rather than retroactively. Still, several students expressed that these programs, though positive steps, are not enough.
At the event’s conclusion, BSG President Mohamed Nur ’19 credited the College for approving its approach to diversity and inclusion during his time at Bowdoin, but said he thinks the College still has a ways to go—and it will need help from all involved.
“I think it’s both the students’ and the administration’s responsibility,” he said. “This can’t work, this can’t happen unless we’re all on the same page.”
Jessica Piper contributed to this report.