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Multiple bias incidents tar conclusion of spring semester

May 3, 2019

Last weekend, a Muslim student received threatening phone calls from a blocked number, and two Asian students had their identities mocked in two separate incidents. These incidents were likely perpetrated by Bowdoin students.

In addition, late Tuesday night, the N-word and other racial epithets were hurled at a black student from a driver and a passenger in a passing car, neither of whom are affiliated with the College.

The College is investigating each of these acts, all of which occurred in the past week, as bias incidents, President Clayton Rose informed students and staff in an email on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m troubled because of the incredible distress this causes the students who were involved [and] causes the wider community, and because it sets us back in the work that we are doing,” Rose said in an interview with the Orient.

Prior to this week, only four bias incidents had been reported this academic year, all during the fall. Three of those incidents involved offensive graffiti and one was a homophobic slur shouted during a concert, according to the Campus and Community Index. Four incidents were reported during the entirety of the 2017-2018 academic year and only three during 2016-2017.

Rose noted in his email, however, that bias incidents similar to those reported this week may have gone unreported in recent years.

According to Rose, the College has identified the student responsible in one of the cases regarding the mocking of an Asian student and will be taking disciplinary action, though he declined to comment on the specifics.

He added that the College is working with Brunswick Police Department (BPD), the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Maine Attorney General’s Office to find the perpetrators of the incidents. The car driver involved in Tuesday’s incident, who is not a Bowdoin student, has been identified. However, the identity of the person in the passenger’s seat who made the comment is still unknown.

The Office of Safety and Security was not available for comment due to the ongoing nature of the investigations.

Anam Shah ’21, who received the threatening phone call last Saturday, said she became fearful at the realization that someone she knew might be targeting her.

“The place that I held so safe and dearly to my heart was a little bit less safe,” she said.

Shah added that she appreciated the administration’s strong response and the support she has received, and she hopes that the incidents can spark a broader conversation about Islamophobia and other forms of bias on campus.

“I think the biggest thing that I have felt through this is that, yes, I want individual accountability, I want this person to know that what they did isn’t okay, but I want that community response,” she said. “Plain and simple, we were all targeted because of something we can’t change about ourselves and something that I know I wouldn’t want to change about myself.”

Arah Kang ’19, leader of the Asian Students’ Alliance (ASA), said that ASA plans to release a formal statement given that two of the incidents targeted Asian students. Kang hopes to resist the normalization that she believes often occurs in the wake of bias incidents on campus.

“If you’re at Bowdoin, you’re a smart person. Why don’t you understand the concept of racism?” Kang asked.

Rose’s email noted that alcohol abuse may have played a role in these incidents. Three of the four occurred during Ivies, Bowdoin’s yearly concert weekend and outdoor celebration where drinking is fairly ubiquitous. Next fall, the Office of the President plans to work with Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) to consider changes to the structure of Ivies weekend, although incoming BSG president Ural Mishra ’20 said that “Ivies is not the issue.”

“I think there is a degree of complacency on this campus,” Mishra said. “We do not understand diversity and inclusion, but we were making steps with significant programming my first and second year about how we become more accepting as a community. I feel like there isn’t that urgency anymore to address things like this.”

BSG, along with Senior Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity Michael Reed and the Advisory Committee for an Inclusive Community, will do a comprehensive review of Bowdoin’s programming around inclusion in light of the incident.

Rose noted that a fifth incident, involving a threat of violence against two students by a person in a passing truck several weeks ago, is also being investigated. That event has not been classified as a bias incident because the language used was not racialized, gendered or grounded in any other identity.

“I can’t make this place safe—it’s not in a bubble,” Rose said. “But we can get better and better, and that’s what we have to do. It starts with me and I need everybody else’s help.”

Kate Lusignan contributed to this report.

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