Every Monday and Thursday for the past few weeks, first-year students have gathered with their floormates in classrooms across campus for a “Real Talk on Race,” a moderated conversation about the experience of being a person of color at Bowdoin.
These new mandatory discussions are facilitated by two upperclassmen—one white student and one student of color—who have undergone a seven-week intergroup dialogue training with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Facilitators ask students to think of themselves simultaneously as individuals and as part of the larger Bowdoin community. The meetings are 90 minutes long, and they will continue on a biweekly basis until every first year has attended.
Moderator Ryan Telingator ’21 said he thinks it is paramount that Bowdoin students have conversations like those had in Real Talk on Race.
“I love being a part of these conversations as a listener and hearing all these people talk about their experiences with race,” Telingator said. “I think it has been really rewarding to see the program expand from what it was this fall, to now hitting every freshman brick.”
He added that he has enjoyed facilitating.
“I just love being able to hear the different conversations—the different perspectives—and being a part in making conversations about race more prevalent on campus,” he said.
The initiative was primarily organized by Kate Stern, associate dean of students for diversity and inclusion, and Eduardo Pazos, director of religious and spiritual life. Pazos said that their main goal for the dialogue was to bring the diverse group of students in the first-year class together and enable them to have productive conversations.
“What happens when you have people from all over the world, all over the country, you bring them to this single community, it’s important to give tools for engagement,” Pazos said. “Real Talk on Race is informed by the research of intergroup dialogue, and intergroup dialogue is a really effective way of having conversations and creating empathy, creating compassion and mutual understanding.”
Pazos added that he understood the limitations of the talk but hoped that it could lead to more substantial changes.
“This [talk] is just a little snippet of that, just starting the conversation,” he said. “It’s 90 minutes, but it’s hopefully a way to get students engaged with each other, start talking to each other, and this would hopefully evolve into bigger actions on campus.”
Stern said that part of her and Pazos’s goal was to contextualize the conversation within the experiences the students have had so far at Bowdoin.
“[We] have been working with the first-year deans and the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) to put this in the context of orientation,” she said. “During Orientation, you’ve had ‘Perspectives’ and ‘More Than Meets the Eye’ … and then the conversation in Pickard with Dr. Jamie Washington, and so we conceptualize [Real Talk on Race] as the third part of Orientation.”
First years were not the only students invited to the conversations—eight sports teams attended in the fall. Some student-athletes, including Per Black ’22, attended the talk both with his floor in Maine Hall and with the sailing team. He said that the difference in demographics between the two groups changed his perspective on the workshop.
“Our sport team is not super diverse, and our floor and building are a lot more diverse,” he said. “That was something that was interesting—to have some different perspectives.”
Some first years expressed feelings of doubt when approaching the discussion. Ethan Strull ’22 said that he was wary of the conversation beforehand, but was pleasantly surprised at how it went.
“Knowing college freshmen, I had low expectations, but the [talk] definitely exceeded what I thought,” he said.
Adedunmola Adewale ’22, whose floor missed the talk due to lack of coordination, said that she felt race is not talked about enough at Bowdoin.
“In the Bowdoin community in general, [conversations about race] are not a thing. After we talked about it at Orientation, everything sort of died down,” she said. “I feel like we should talk about it … I think it’s important for us to acknowledge our differences.”
Usira Ali ’22, who has not yet attended the workshop, was excited for a space to talk about race. but also expressed frustration that the school can only do so much. At the end of the day, she said, it’s really up to the students.
“It’s the school’s job to raise awareness about the topic of race but it’s imperative of students to take the initiative and involve themselves with these incredibly important topics.”
Ali added that the failures of these talks are not solely the fault of the college, but equally of students.
“[It is] the fault of the audience to address these issues in their everyday lives. There has to be substantive recognition of how privilege is a multifaceted and complex discussion that stretches further than a one and a half-hour talk.”