Bowdoin students who are currently living off campus in the Brunswick area are selfishly breaking social distancing guidelines and deliberately jeopardizing the well-being of the community. Their actions can have a serious impact on Bowdoin students, Brunswick residents and Mainers. They are setting a dangerous example for other Bowdoin students to follow. It is imperative that we avoid the path they have chosen and openly condemn their behavior.
Undoubtedly, these students represent a small portion of the larger student body. Many Bowdoin students have worked tirelessly to combat current crises—one of public health and another of systemic and institutional racism. I have seen my classmates and friends join grassroots political movements, organize mask drives for frontline workers and work to make their athletic teams more inclusive and diverse places. Many Bowdoin students have met the challenge of this moment. Yet, many have turned and fled in the opposite direction.
Over the summer, I believed that the students moving up to Brunswick for the fall would keep to the immediate bubble of their household. I was wrong. It is clear that the privilege of being able to spend the semester in an apartment with their friends wasn’t enough for them. For whatever reason, they believe they are entitled to even more. I see Snapchat and Instagram stories and hear tales from my friends. Some even tell me things directly. Regardless of the messenger, the stories are the same. The truth is that Bowdoin students in the Brunswick area are throwing parties, some with highly questionable themes, visiting other houses and blatantly ignoring social distancing guidelines.
Bowdoin’s ability to keep students on campus this semester unquestionably depends on the collective action of those in residence halls. But it also depends on the actions of those living off campus. With the campus status being changed to yellow, the line between Bowdoin and Brunswick is more permeable. Off-campus students could see on-campus students at Walgreens or Hannaford. The consequences of this new line of transmission could be severe. Students, faculty and staff members could become fatally ill. Moreover, a large outbreak could jeopardize those students who are on campus due to challenging home environments. The actions of our off-campus classmates indicate that they do not care about these impacts.
In addition, many Brunswick residents are elderly, making them particularly susceptible to COVID-19. These are the workers that greet us at Wild Oats. The servers who wait on us at Little Tokyo. The fans who show up to our sporting events and concerts. Many of them have even taken in students, like me, through Bowdoin’s Community Host Program. I have shared meals with my community host family and celebrated a friend’s birthday with another. Community hosts have graciously and generously invited me and hundreds of other Bowdoin students into their homes and lives throughout the years. In an email to the student body on August 18, Dean Lohmann stated that, “the College has heard from campus neighbors […] who are concerned about the large number of students who are or will be living in the Brunswick area.” How did some Bowdoin students respond? By willingly and deliberately ignoring their concerns.
Furthermore, it is impossible to ignore the profound effect that COVID-19 has had on the Black community in Maine. Black Mainers account for 22 percent of the COVID-19 cases in a state where they represent two percent of the population. This disparity has wreaked havoc on Black communities the very same ones these students posted about on their social media platforms this summer. It is clear that their posting was simply performative. Their actions do not match their words, and now their true colors are on display for the whole community to see.
I am not perfect. I do not claim to sit here on my high horse and criticize the actions of my classmates without acknowledging my role in the problem. I have yet to call out my friends and tell them that what they are doing is wrong. I have, unfortunately, been complicit in this problem. But now, I urge all of my fellow classmates to join me. It is time we confront our peers about the harm they have been causing.
As we search so endlessly during this time of profound hardship for the light at the end of the tunnel, we often cling to the bright spots in our lives for temporary relief. However, we are now seeing the light our classmates shine for what it truly is: a façade that has tricked us. Their current behavior entraps anyone who sees it and gives them the ability to say, “Well if they are doing it, so can I.” Their actions are shameful, repulsive and oblivious to the crises at hand. So, to my off-campus classmates: I see you. We see you. We will not sit idly by as you abuse your privilege to destroy the Bowdoin community.
Ted Fuell is a member of the Class of 2023.