Throughout my childhood I was reminded that I should never bite the hand that feeds me. I should just smile, sit quietly and accept what I received without further questioning it. As some people have put it: “At least you got something, why should you complain?”
This philosophy dominated my life back home in Romania, where one had to adapt, to tacitly accept the wrong-doing of others, with the hope that one day it would get better. Did it ever get better? We still ask this question 30 years after the Revolution opened our borders and allowed “freedom” to be born.
Before I left for college, my mother reminded me that I was to be a guest at the table and that I should behave like others do: show gratitude, smile and abstain from criticism. “It won’t do you any good,” she said. Living her entire life under a system that pushed aside those that had the courage to speak up had left her with the impression that change was impossible. The idealism that once dominated the rebirth of my nation after 1989 has slowly faded. Some people still have it, marching into the streets whenever something outrageous happens, but the vast majority of my country will sit quiet and accept it. The vast majority witness the wrong-doing and the things that might be unethical or questionable in some circumstances. The vast majority witness how some programs are made solely for the reproduction of the wealthy class and how much individualism is promoted. The vast majority accept this, adapt to it and promote it as a way of life.
We are reminded daily that we are privileged to be at Bowdoin and that we have the chance that others don’t. We clearly are, in a place that tries to ensure that we are very comfortable and have everything that we need. In some ways it makes it seem utopian, because the moment we leave the campus, we enter a different reality. We are welcomed with snacks at events, food trucks are waiting for us at the beginning of the year and even free swag can sometimes be found in Smith Union. There are programs for people of color, LGBTQIA+, low-income or first-generation students. There is something happening here that can fit everyone’s needs. It sure seems like we have everything we want here, but to me, something seems to be missing.
What is missing is the courage to bite the hand that feeds you. It is not a bad thing to do, as no one should think that we are not grateful when we express criticism or heavily target some school institutions with our concerns. It is not negative for students to be aware of their environment, and it is natural for them to want to express their opinion. It is not a bad thing to criticize the place that offers you a free meal, provides a roof over your head and gives you an education. It is not a bad thing, and we should be encouraged to speak up and question everything that we take for granted in this school to see if there is room for improvement.
Should we have a student on the Board of Trustees? Should Bowdoin encourage its workers to form a union? Should Bowdoin Student Government take a stronger stance regarding the workers’ situation on campus? Should the Board of Trustees include more people who work outside of the financial sector? Should we have more exposure to arts opportunities in Career Exploration & Development? Should we hold our class councils accountable to better inform us of what they are actually doing?
These are some questions. More are to be asked. Bowdoin is a place which welcomes us with arms wide-open, pampers us and gives us a lot of comfort. Still, it should not be left without criticism. We need people that can speak up, not ones that sit quietly and accept everything.
This article was inspired by Andrew Hamilton’s op-ed and his commitment to biting the hand that feeds him.
Radu Stochita is a member of the class of 2022.