In the weeks since a police officer killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, our country has been embroiled in a critical conversation about the racism, police brutality and systemic violence that Black Americans face every day. With Americans taking to the streets in all fifty states to protest police brutality, we, the members of the Orient’s editorial board, stand in solidarity with Black students and activists. In this moment of action and reflection, we call upon all members of the Bowdoin community to demonstrate our collective commitment to the values—not just the rhetoric—of the Common Good.
This begins with a clear-eyed appraisal of our nation’s racist past and present, as well as with a bold reckoning with Bowdoin’s place within it. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky are not isolated incidents, and they are not, as President Rose described them in an email to the College community on May 29, examples of a “small handful” of police officers who “abuse their power and stain the work of their colleagues.” Rather, they are merely the tip of the iceberg of racial oppression. Anti-Black racism has pervaded leading institutions in this country for centuries—be they police departments, state and federal governments or liberal arts colleges.
Righting these injustices will require the work of the entire nation, but it has to begin close to home. As members of the Orient, we recognize our complicity in structures of exclusion that marginalize people of color by elevating white, elite voices within the College. Many students who join the Orient come from privileged backgrounds. Our staff currently is, and historically has been, dominated by white and upper-middle class students. This is a problem that our colleagues face at many other campus newspapers and in the news media at large, but this in no way lessens the level of responsibility those of us on the Orient with more privilege have for failing to prevent and for insufficiently addressing microaggressions and other manifestations of racial bias. While this is a pervasive problem in campus newspapers and the news media at late, those of us at the Orient must take responsibility for our failure to prevent and sufficiently address the marginalization that occurs in our own publication.
We are committed to doing better, both internally as a student organization and externally as your College newspaper. During our hiring process for the 2021-22 academic year, we created a Diversity and Inclusion Committee that will work with the Editors-in-Chief to draft and implement policies aimed at making sure that students of all backgrounds are equally valued and included, particularly students of color and underclassmen. We will also work to make our coverage more representative of the Bowdoin community; we will work harder to approach a more representative group of students when we seek out sources for our articles, and we will also work to solicit opinion pieces and columns from a more diverse group of students. We will also be creating a page on our website explicitly devoted to coverage of student involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement and protests, and we invite all students, particularly Black students and students of color, to use the Orient as a platform to submit opinion pieces or to contact any member of staff with an idea for a news article. This does not need to wait until the fall semester; under these extraordinary circumstances, we will be publishing and reporting all summer.
Unfortunately, the problems associated with the Orient are not unique to it; as a wealthy, majority white and historically male institution, Bowdoin as a whole—and, by extension, many of its student organizations—has been entangled in oppressive racist systems since its inception, and their legacy continues to dictate campus life. But we all have the opportunity to work toward deconstructing these systems, and it is the responsibility of all of us with privilege to engage in this process. While we certainly do not know all of the answers, we know that we must act. Bowdoin is privileged to hold tremendous amounts of capital—both social and material. Even faced with the pandemic-related economic downturn, the College should marshall its capital to support Black Americans who are making their voices heard. We have been glad to see the College announce via email that, for a period, it would be matching all donations to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, Maine Community Foundation’s Racial Equity Program, Maine Inside Out, Maine Youth Justice and The For Us, By Us Fund—Building Capacity for PoC in Maine. This is an important step, but it is equally important that the College see it as a first step, not a final one. There is much more to be done.
Our responsibility is individual as well as collective. It is not news that many of Bowdoin’s students come from significant wealth. In 2017, The New York Times reported that 20.4 percent of Bowdoin’s students come from the wealthiest one percent of American households. The same study showed that the median family income of Bowdoin’s student body is $195,900. Bowdoin’s most privileged students should leverage that privilege to stop injustice. Bail funds are a great place to start. While this list is by no means all-encompassing, organizations such as Campaign Zero, the Minnesota Freedom Fund and the NAACP work tirelessly to end police brutality. Economically privileged students can talk with parents or other family members about the responsibility they have to combat systemic racism by donating what they can. This is certainly a time of greater financial anxiety, but many small donations can go a long way.
Yet our engagement cannot and should not end with donations. As an institution that prides itself on intellectual fearlessness, our community should rededicate itself to studying the checkered history of this country and its systemic racism. But beyond the classroom, we must also hold ourselves accountable in our daily interactions. We should attend Black History month events and other events centered on the Black experience with our friends. When hanging out with peers, we should have honest conversations about privilege, and we should hold others accountable for remarks that reveal unchecked prejudice or racial stereotyping by speaking up when something is said and directing that person to resources on anti-racism. It is the responsibility of students with privilege to engage in this work; this is not a burden that students whose racial identities are targeted by such comments should have to take on. Even though we are unsure when we can gather together on campus again, we encourage our community to sign petitions calling for justice regarding Black individuals who died at the hands of police and the health disparities facing the Black community post-COVID-19, and we should also take this time to educate ourselves. The College’s anti-racism resource page could be a good place to start.
We are working internally to change how our staff members of color experience their time on the Orient, and we want to change the relationship between the Orient and communities of color on campus as well. We want to amplify Black voices and Black experiences. We welcome students of color to share your perspectives with us and to engage however and whenever it is most comfortable for you. We invite everyone in the community to use us as a resource—join our staff, write Op-Eds, share your opinions, engage with us, disagree with us.
The College is not perfect, the students are not perfect and the Orient is not perfect. There isn’t a perfect solution, but that is no excuse; we can all be allies.
Black Lives Matter.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Orient’s Editorial Board, which is comprised of Nina McKay, Kate Lusignan, Ayub Tahlil, Sophie Burchell, Sabrina Lin, Danielle Quezada, Julia Jennings, Samira Iqbal and Aadhya Ramineni.