As the Board of Trustees, you all have the “fiduciary responsibility for the governance of the College, in particular the health, vibrancy, and ability to satisfy our mission,” according to the Bowdoin website. For those unfamiliar with the term “fiduciary,” it refers to a person or group of persons that have legal ownership of a property or assets. They are ethically bound to act in others’ best interests, and while they are responsible for general well-being, they often manage the finances for a person or group of people. I know the Board’s primary goal is to ensure the economic prosperity and growth of the College, but must that come at the expense of our quality of life on Bowdoin’s campus and beyond?
In a previous Orient article, it was made apparent that not only do students feel distanced from the trustees, but also that many faculty members’ interactions with trustees have decreased significantly over the years. While there are some trustees who make their presence known, a large majority of you all have not interacted with the broader student body, even though your meetings are held right on campus. The topics and decisions spoken about in trustee meetings are not allowed to be shared, even though they directly affect our lives, and student representatives who present to you can’t even vote on the matters presented. While I understand that these meetings are mostly regarding the business and financial interests of the College, it is still your duty to attend to the health and vibrancy of the Bowdoin community. I implore you to adjust the bylaws so relevant information from trustee meetings can be publicized.
The sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen talks about the power and influence trustees from largely corporate backgrounds hold over college campuses; 17 of you are in finance, two are “high profile executives,” and seven of you are in academia. The salaries you decide for upper-level administrators and decisions you make about who is granted tenure are at odds with the very lessons we are learning on this campus about the common good. How can one of the leaders of the Board, President Clayton Rose, who holds a degree in sociology and who has written on the intersections of race in Wall Street, be so ignorant to the realities that the most vulnerable populations are facing at this campus?
Our McKeen Center sends students to Wabanaki lands twice a year, and yet our Native student enrollment is less than one percent; 6.4 percent of the student body identifies as Black or African American, but the 2020 Latin honors list contained no Black students; many buildings are not ADA compliant, with elevators that don’t work or don’t go to the top floor, and some buildings don’t even have wheelchair accessible entrances or elevators at all, such as Hubbard, which you can only get into by wheelchair if you first enter Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, take an elevator to the basement, and get Bowdoin Security to unlock a back door; students who express academic challenges due to mental stress and/or financial strain at home are encouraged to take time off when counseling could be a better alternative; rapists are allowed to roam campus with their survivors; there are white professors who throw around the n-word “academically” during lectures. In addition, how can we forget the omittance of international students from the return to campus plan that you all voted on?
I looked closely at all of your names, and many of those names were familiar. I have had conversations in classes, at dinners and during sports practices with a number of your children. They are in the same sociology classes as me, learning about and acknowledging the corruption of capitalism that no multimillionaire or billionaire is exempt from. They share meals with me, a queer, Black, low-income woman who is always willing to share her experience of racism in this country while they stare in disbelief. They play alongside me during practices and games as we fight for national championship titles in all types of weather, weather that isn’t always great for my natural hair. I don’t want to exist on this campus simply as a way to add a pop of color so your legacy children can say they were in the most diverse place of their lives. I refuse to exist on this campus to provide a free education to your children on matters of race because they haven’t yet discovered the wonders of the internet or thought about a lived experience other than their own. I can no longer exist as a percentage point to ensure your diversity quotas are reached for the upcoming fiscal year.
As the Board of Trustees, you are directly responsible for the tenure of racist professors, for the exorbitant funding and on-campus preferences given to sports teams who do not produce results, for the Judicial Board policies that punish students who fight back when called the n-word, for the negligence in making sure buildings are accessible for all people, for the erasure of the voices that are crying out for you to see us as your equals rather than bodies to profit off of and talk about at your cocktail parties and reunion gatherings.
So instead of making us your talking points and providing you with a sense of well-being because we’ve been allowed to be educated near your white children, show up and do the work that is required to liberate us all from this tyranny. Find time to listen to Black theorists like Sonya Renee Taylor, who has been advocating for the Buy Back Black Debt campaign. Use your generational wealth to revitalize communities of color rather than gentrifying it. The majority of you (if not all of you) are well acquainted with money; that is why you’re a trustee, after all. But if you still can’t understand what is going on in the world right now, throw some money at the problem. President Rose can’t stop talking about how comfortable the College is financially, yet the donation match was funded by two alums. There are people doing the work who will know how to use it and redistribute where needed.
It’s time for you all to wake up to the harm that you and your ancestors have caused, albeit directly or indirectly. Hold yourself accountable because I cannot self-reflect for you. Lean into radical leftist thought if you want to see a brighter world where your children and I can live in peace.
Safiya Osei is a member of the Class of 2021.