Update Friday, November 9 at 5:28 p.m.:
Today at 4:59 p.m., Michael Reed, senior vice president for diversity and inclusion, sent an email to the Bowdoin community on behalf of the Bias Incident Group (BIG) regarding “an anonymous act of defacement and transphobia” that took place in a women’s restroom in David Saul Smith Union. The BIG condemned the act as “hostile and cowardly” and underlined the importance of rejecting attacks on groups based on identity or background. In addition, community members were encouraged to “learn more about gender identity and how to be an active ally” by attending workshops for staff and students or by contacting Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion and Director of the Center for Sexuality, Women and Gender Kate Stern.
Original article, published November 9:
More than a week after a student found and reported graffiti on a Free Flow sign in a women’s restroom on the first floor of David Saul Smith Union, many students are angry about the defacement, and frustration that an official statement on the incident has yet to be released to the campus. According to Director of Gender Violence Prevention and Education Benje Douglas, the Bias Incident Group (BIG) convened on Wednesday and is planning to release a report soon.
The poster was defaced with a red marker. Gender-neutral language about menstruation was replaced with female-gendered language. The symbol for Venus, which is used to represent women, was added to the bottom of the poster, along with the words “menstruate” and “TRUTH.”
“I don’t understand,” said Hope Keeley ’21 of her reaction to seeing the graffiti. “I don’t understand people who hide behind a sharpie in a bathroom stall.”
Nathan Ashany ’21 echoed Keeley’s sense of confusion about the thought process behind the graffiti.
“Somebody’s got too much time on their hands and is thinking about other people’s bodies for absolutely no reason,” Ashany said.
Gillian Raley ’21 expressed frustration and distress at the idea of a student intentionally defacing a Free Flow sign and constraining the narrative about who uses menstrual products.
“Those posters are everywhere, and they’ve been everywhere for a while. I think someone had to have a clear, hateful train of thought to actually carry that out—those markings,” Raley said. “I think it’s just always better to use gender-neutral language in any situation that you can, and this one in particular because we do know of narratives where it applies that people who don’t identify as women still menstruate and still use menstrual products.”
Several students expressed surprise that the graffiti was discovered in a women’s restroom.
“I’d like to think that women are more supportive of everybody, but that’s a bias of my own,” said Keeley.
Cameron Markovsky ’21 was not only surprised by the graffiti’s specific location, but also by its very public appearance.
“[Trans rights] is an issue that I tend to associate women being more open-minded with,” Markovsky said. “However … [transphobia] very much goes under the radar right now … I guess the fact that there’s still that discomfort and hatred existing around us doesn’t surprise me, but I guess the overtness of it kind of did surprise me.”
Samantha Schwimmer ’21 was not surprised at the graffiti’s appearance on Bowdoin’s campus or at its location in a women’s restroom.
“I think that there’s a lot of transphobia on this campus and that in our country there are ‘feminist movements’ that are not feminist movements because they want to exclude certain women,” Schwimmer said. “I was disappointed, I was angry, I was enraged—but I was not surprised.”
“It’s frustrating that we weren’t surprised by that, though,” said Bianca Boyd ’21. “Especially on this campus where we are supposed to be a really close-knit community.”
Schwimmer voiced concern for the impact the graffiti may have had on trans and non-binary individuals within the campus community.
“I just want trans students to know that there are people on this campus who see them and stand with them,” she said. “I would like the administration to strongly denounce this … I think the administration needs to make sure trans students feel safe here.”
Schwimmer was aware that the BIG had convened and would imminently release a report, but she expressed frustration that an official statement of solidarity or support from the administration had not yet been issued.
“I know [the administration] can’t make statements about the incident, but I think there could have been a message sent out to the trans community at our school that we don’t tolerate discrimination against people who don’t identify within the gender binary or people who identify as transgender,” Schwimmer said.
The defacement of the Free Flow sign occurred just weeks after a Bowdoin Student Government (BSG)-led Town Hall in response to a swastika that had been carved into a study carrel on the sixth floor of the Hubbard Hall Stacks.
“I feel like there’s a lot of bias incidents that have come up, been discovered, been reported, and it seems like we’re having a lot of difficulty pinpointing where they’re coming from and who’s doing it,” said Niles Singer ’21. “I’m at a crossroads where I don’t advocate for putting cameras all around the school, but at the same time, this isn’t the culture that we want.”
Other students echoed the idea of the graffiti representing a disconnect between the culture that the administration and student groups are trying to create and certain ideological strains on campus. This contrast seems especially stark during No Hate November, a month of programming organized by BSG that aims to bring the campus community together to engage in work around diversity and inclusion.
“I think it’s really frustrating and really aggravating that something like [the graffiti] happened, especially when we’re obviously in No Hate November right now,” said Emma Adrain ’21. “We’re trying to do a lot of campus programming around stopping that kind of rhetoric, and it’s just really frustrating and pisses me off.”