Almost exactly three years ago, on February 20, 2016, a group of (mostly white) Bowdoin sophomores infamously gathered in a room in Stowe Hall, donning sombreros and drinking tequila. Although this story is a familiar one to Bowdoin seniors, it might not be to first years.
The campus was outraged. The Tequila Party, as it came to be known, occurred only months after another racially-charged party, the Gangster Party, where students wore cornrows, baggy clothes and other accessories stereotypically associated with African-American culture. Dozens of students attended Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) public comment time to demand that the student representatives condemn the events and remove students who attended the Tequila Party from the BSG assembly. After the story went viral, first thanks to a post on Turtleboy Sports, several students of color who had spoken out faced vitriolic online harassment. A Washington Post columnist weighed in. It wasn’t good.
Those of us who were here during the parties remember conversations about race dominating campus. We remember the outrage and the discomfort that rippled across the student body. The events heavily shaped our first year here and have followed us since. This experience taught us to do better.
Since then, these conversations have been happening less, if at all. Institutional memory is short-term, and we are worried that the memory of those parties is fading and may disappear once current seniors graduate. Our worry is reasonable: according to an honors research project conducted by Pamela Zabala ’17, racial bias incidents happen every 3.5 years. If the calendar is correct, we are due for another soon.
But we don’t have to be. We need to be proactive. That’s why the new Real Talk on Race program, which facilitates conversations for first years, is so important. The College is providing students with the environment to hold these discussions. Even though Bowdoin promotes “intellectual fearlessness,” most students still try to avoid confronting race in their daily lives. We commend the administration for demonstrating its dedication to creating space for these conversations.
Now it’s up to all students to carry their end of the burden, because it should be everyone’s responsibility. Students of color have repeatedly expressed frustration about the expectation that they educate their white peers about issues related to race. While conversations with peers are important, white students should also take the time to educate themselves. Read the “Diversity Matters” series published in the Orient last spring, which stemmed from intensive sociology research (including 48 interviews) with last year’s senior class. Read Zabala’s thesis; it’s available in the library and online. And when people of color come to campus to speak about their work—next week, there is Senegalese storyteller Boubacar Ndiaye, the week after that will be White House correspondent April Ryan—show up.
Three years ago, our school was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Since then, we may have learned not to post culturally appropriative photos on social media. But it’s important to learn more than that. We should actively attempt to counteract our biases in our actions and words, and call out others to do the same. These are tools that will not only make our campus a more inclusive, accepting place for all students, but we can hopefully take them with us beyond Bowdoin.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Emily Cohen, Nell Fitzgerald, Roither Gonzales, George Grimbilas, Calder McHugh and Jessica Piper.