This week, Harvard professor Anthony Jack visited campus to lecture about the systemic difficulties of being a first-generation or low-income student, especially of students whose educational backgrounds do not align with norms at elite institutions like Bowdoin, because of an extremely inequitable educational system.
Moreover, Jack elaborated on the ways in which these institutions fail to provide inclusive spaces. Simply bringing students from disadvantaged backgrounds here is not enough—as Jack points out, “access ain’t inclusion.”
We want to thank Jack for coming this week to speak with students and community members and for staying to engage in further conversations with faculty and staff. We would also like to applaud the administration for welcoming dialogue—indeed, providing funding for such a dialogue—about the experiences of first-generation and low-income students and opening up room for critiques about practices of higher education.
Events such as this one are powerful avenues for raising awareness about the complexities of student experiences at elite institutions and at Bowdoin. Bowdoin is striving towards diversifying its student body and making the College more accessible, but Jack’s talk pointed out how the College is still failing a certain group.
While the lecture was featured as a part of Black History Month, the issues aren’t just racial, and they aren’t just historical. Jack’s talk sheds a light on the realities of contemporary higher education. Understanding these issues is crucial for everyone on a college campus today.
The college has a critical part to play in building space for these conversations. But the process for change should never be simply top-down. As we have seen in the past, when students hold the administration to higher standards, it is forced to respond. Real steps can be taken through not only progressive discourse but also through sustained activism.
Students pushed for transparency and conversations with administrators, and President Clayton Rose answered questions from students at a meeting of Bowdoin Student Government three weeks ago and in Reed House Thursday night. And Rose acknowledged during the discussion in Reed that student activism impacted a change in college policy regarding wages for Bowdoin’s benefits-eligible hourly employees.
While we can and should continue to demand substantive programming from the administration, it is also imperative that as a student body we continue to hold Bowdoin up to a higher standard; voicing our discontent with the status quo is a form of power.
As put forth by Jack, “demand as much from Bowdoin, as Bowdoin demands of you.”
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Emily Cohen, Roither Gonzalez, Sabrina Lin, Alyce McFadden, Rebecca Norden-Bright, Ayub Tahlil and Tianyi Xu.
Editor’s Note, 2/21/20, 1:27 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that the College plans to raise wages for all benefits-eligible hourly employees.