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Showing up to Af/Am/50

November 8, 2019

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Bowdoin’s Africana Studies program, the John Brown Russwurm Center and the Black Student Union (BSU, formerly the African American Society). A celebration is in order.

Throughout the next few days, students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors will have the opportunity to participate in programming that provides a multi-faceted and community-wide recognition of this milestone. The events planned for the next few days offer a rich array of perspectives from alumni across fields, from education reformer Geoffrey Canada ’74, H ’07, to Saddie Smith ’75, a member of Bowdoin’s first class of women, to activist and podcaster DeRay Mckesson ’07.

To all returning alumni: thank you for taking the time and energy to travel to campus and share your experiences this weekend, and thank you for the work that you did while at Bowdoin to make our campus a better, more inclusive place. And thank you to the students, faculty and staff who have been working to organize this weekend’s events.

As a student body, we have the chance to learn a lot this weekend, both from our alumni and by coming together to reflect on a decades-long process of diversification and inclusion that is far from complete.

We live on an unequal campus within an unequal world, and we often acknowledge this fact. But there is a difference between simply acknowledging an issue and actually acting upon it.

As we have learned from dozens of current Black students at Bowdoin, there is still a lot that we as a campus need to do.

With prospective students on campus for Explore Bowdoin II, the future of this institution is on our minds. These students will see the College at a high point—celebrating the perspectives of Black students past and present. But this is not a typical weekend at Bowdoin. To realize that vision will require continued work and meaningful engagement beyond these few days.

Even in the midst of a hectic academic time, it is important to turn our attention to the work that has been done to diversify the space we inhabit. After all, there is more than one kind of learning that should happen on this campus; critical educational opportunities can also be found outside the classroom.

To reap the benefits of Af/Am/50 programming in a way that will create change beyond these three days, Bowdoin students must show up—and bring a friend. The normal routines and commitments that crowd our lives can and should pause in recognition of this occasion. This weekend, make an effort (and not excuses) to engage with the perspectives and insights that these remarkable alumni and guests are bringing to our campus.

If you are an individual with privilege, come to these spaces as a listener—someone seeking to learn from and celebrate experiences different from your own. We all must remember that merely showing up and leaving these lessons at the door is not enough.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Emily Cohen, Brianna Cunliffe, Roither Gonzales, Alyce McFadden, Nina McKay, Reuben Schafir and Jaret Skonieczny.

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