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OPINION: The Offer of the College: an unfulfilled promise for students of color

September 4, 2020

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

Sydney Reaper

To be at home in all lands and all ages
To count Nature a familiar acquaintance, and Art an intimate friend;
To gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work
And the criticism of your own;
To carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket,
And feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake;
To make hosts of friends… Who are to be leaders in all walks of life;
To lose yourself in generous enthusiasms
And cooperate with others for common ends—
This is the offer of the college for the best four years of your life.

Picture Bowdoin’s campus. What do you see? A row of aesthetically pleasing first-year bricks. Students playing frisbee out on the quad. Cute dogs frolicking in the grass off of their leashes. Brilliantly colored leaves in the fall. A layer of white snow in the winter shimmering in the sunlight. Students walking to and from classes sporting their Bean Boots and Bowdoin College sweatshirts. Mischievous squirrels sneaking food out of the trash cans.

Picture Bowdoin’s website. What do you see? A group of students of color sitting on the quad, smiling at the camera. An action shot of a Black athlete playing their sport. A candid photo of a student hard at work in their field of choice or an article about the accomplishments of Bowdoin’s exemplary scholars.

Picture Bowdoin’s athletic department. What do you see? A group of remarkable athletes who manage to perform well on the fields while maintaining high GPAs. A group of people who love their sport and play it because it is fun. A group of friends who will support one another for the rest of their lives.

Did I get it right? Is that what you pictured? When I was a prospective student, that is what I pictured, too. During my visit, I saw the cute dogs roaming, the students playing and the sun shining. Once the sun set, I saw one of the clearest night skies ever. My hosts were kind and welcoming. My coaches were warm and friendly. When I read the Offer of the College, I concluded that Bowdoin was the school for me. Bowdoin was perfect. That is the picture we paint—that Bowdoin is the perfect institution.

As a current Bowdoin student, I do not propose that Bowdoin is not an amazing institution. But I refuse to call it perfect. When I arrived on campus, the scenery was picturesque, most of the students were friendly, my professors were amazing and the athletic teams were successful. But as time passed, I realized that many of the things that I saw on the website while I was a recruit were merely a façade. But, as one of the leaders of the Athletes of Color Coalition, I would like to address athletics at Bowdoin. I asked you to picture Bowdoin in three different settings. Now, I ask you to consider these following questions about our athletic department:

Why do we have systems in place in the athletic department to address hazing, such as mandatory, yearly information sessions and an online incident reporting system, but nothing to address race, identity or racial bias incidents?

How can the administration claim that there have not been any racial bias incidents in athletic settings when there is no racial bias incident reporting system in place and while it is a known fact that some athletes have said the N-word to their teammates and some coaches have said it in front of their players?

Why is it that when an athlete of color reaches out to their coaches to talk about how racism and white supremacy are perpetuated on their teams, their coaches’ responses are “You should’ve told me sooner” or “I’m sorry you feel that way,” instead of “I am sorry that our program has failed you”?

When George Floyd passed away, why did athletes of color have to plead with their coaches to get them to post a “Black Lives Matter” statement on their teams’ social media accounts?

Why did George Floyd have to die for Bowdoin to recognize that there is an issue regarding race on its campus?

Why are athletes of color repaid for constantly putting their bodies on the line for their teams by getting called the N-word and other racial slurs by their teammates?

Why are we, athletes of color, continuously pushing for our teams to have conversations about race?

Why do our coaches justify their silence by claiming that they did not want to “stress anyone out” or “burden anyone by discussing a difficult topic”?

I am tired.

I am tired of being made to feel like I am the “problematic Black militant” when I address something that is wrong with our institution. I am tired of coaches justifying their white players’ bad behavior. I am tired of holding people accountable. I’m tired of writing letters. I am tired of planning what we should do next instead of analyzing the progress we have made. I’m tired of caring about an institution that has made it abundantly clear that it does not care about me or my fellow athletes of color.

I am TIRED.

I am tired of hearing that addressing racial disparities is a burden. If my white peers are burdened by merely discussing race, I wonder if they’ve ever imagined living as a person of color. What would that feel like? Do coaches recognize the privilege they have to be able to procrastinate their participation in these dialogues about the identities of their players? We cannot remove the melanin from our skin. We cannot pick and choose when we want to confront race.

I AM TIRED.

Why is it our job to try to “fix” racism when it is a systemic problem that we did not create? I do not know how to fix racism. All we, as athletes of color, can do is remain transparent about our experiences and the ways that white supremacy is plaguing our teams and our campus. We cannot do that if no one listens to us. Right now, there is not enough support from the coaching staff or our fellow teammates. It is disappointing that a small conversation about the identities of the athletes of color are seen as burdens by white players and coaches who claim to value their teammates of color and are privileged enough to pick and choose when the idea of race can affect them.

I have one more set of questions for you. Reread the Offer of the College and ask yourself:

How can Bowdoin serve to be a home to people of “all lands and all ages” when athletes of color are forced to share the field with teammates and report to coaches who have said racial slurs in their presence?

How can we have a “standard for the appreciation of others’ work and the criticism of [our] own” if administrators, coaches and teammates will not be receptive to the testimonies of athletes of color about how their programs have failed us?

How can we become “leaders in all walks of life” when players and coaches become defensive when athletes of color try to hold them accountable for their actions without the support of the administration?

How can we “lose [ourselves] in generous enthusiasms” when we are constantly made to feel different in a space that is meant to be inclusive?

How can we “cooperate with others for common ends” when others do not cooperate with us and when it feels as though we do not have a common end?

And finally, how can these be the “best four years of [our lives]” when we are asking all of the questions above? How can these be the “best four years” of YOUR life if you simply sit back, privileged in your complicity, and watch us as we do so?

I would like to state, on behalf of the Athletes of Color Coalition, that we demand change.

To all of the coaches: How many players of color are on your teams? Have you ever told them that you support them, value them and love them? If you have and you’ve also stayed silent about these issues, your apathy overrides all of those statements.

To players: Have you reached out to a teammate of color to tell them that you want to educate yourself and that you want to support them? After you told them this, did you remain silent all summer and watch as they struggled to fight against racism alone? If you said yes to both of these statements, your hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed.

To the administrators in the athletic department: Have you engaged with athletes of color about their experiences in the programs that you oversee? If you did, did you actually listen to their concerns or were you simply thinking of combative ways to reply? Ask yourselves about what you have done to help them. How have you held yourselves, coaches and players accountable?

To my Bowdoin Community: We are better than this. I believe in us. Let’s put meaning back into the Offer of the College. Let’s fall in love with Bowdoin athletics again—not because we are perfect, but because we have the heart to embrace our imperfections, the courage to hold each other accountable and the character to learn from our mistakes. Let’s get to work.

Cydnie Martin is a member of the Class of 2021.

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