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Stop expecting normal

September 25, 2020

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

Four days ago, the Washington Post released an article regarding the Climate Clock, a Manhattan fixture providing us with a deadline for irreversible action on the impending climate crisis: 7 years, 101 days, 17 hours, 29 minutes and 22 seconds from when it was unveiled on Monday.

For the present moment, the world may not be ending yet, but we are scared. We are living in incomparable times for our country—from a pandemic, to a president threatening to disrupt our country’s transfer of power, to millions of acres of land burning in the West and South America, the death of Justice Ginsberg and police brutality against Black Americans. In response to these myriad crises, we have reorganized entire segments of our society, in increasingly absurd ways, to try our best to recreate a false sense of normalcy.

So how has the Bowdoin experience played out this fall? We’ve moved back to letter grades from a universal Credit/No Credit system, deciding that students can be accurately judged this fall despite the health crisis only getting worse since the spring. Student leaders are expected to bear the burden of programming engaging events on top of their remote classes and home lives. There are even students in China being forced to choose between sleep and participating in class discussion at 2 a.m..

The virtual experience of the College House system—now stripped down to its barest parts of Sunday House meetings and group bonding exercises—is a perfect example of this problematic rationale. Expecting students to organize events and attend weekly meetings for College Houses they may never live in is just one example of a misguided strive towards “normal” expectations for student involvement in Bowdoin activities and academics.

It feels strange to strive for “normalcy” when what is normal for Bowdoin—and for the outside world—was never ideal. Even in our frustrating experiences with virtual calls, one must also acknowledge the privilege that comes with the thinking that “normal” at Bowdoin was ever free of barriers such as racism, socioeconomic inequality and other systematic disadvantages that privileged students and staff sometimes do not acknowledge. Nevertheless, professors, deans and other administrators must start responding differently to student stressors. This is especially true as work environments now extend beyond the grind of academic life on Bowdoin’s campus to encompass personal hardships, such as ones that K Irving ’21 shared in her op ed, that create unequal barriers to academic engagement.

In a Zoom interview with the Orient this week, Jeremiah Brown ’23 noted that “Maybe we need to let go of trying to recreate what we had. . .and instead embrace change.”

We wholeheartedly agree. A shift is needed. We need to focus on making life work for the present moment—however that may be most feasible. More than likely, this will look very different from what we have always been used to. And that’s okay.

In the macro sense, Bowdoin will not reverse the clock on the most pressing issues in our world or ease our fear, hurt and great sense of foreboding for crises to come. But Bowdoin can work on building itself as a microcosm of the Common Good by listening to student demands for Credit/D/Fail options, providing adequate and no-strings-attached financial aid and becoming more transparent and flexible for leaves of absence next semester.

We are scared—but even in this fear, we can take care of ourselves and each other, and we can ask the College to stop expecting the past and start preparing for the future.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Orient’s Editorial Board, which is comprised of Julia Jennings, Diego Lasarte, Kate Lusignan, Nina McKay, Katherine Pady and Ayub Tahlil.

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One comment:

  1. Class of '23 says:

    As a member of a college house, I cannot agree more with the editorial board’s assessment of the current college house experience. We are expected to be hosting affiliate specific and campus-wide events on a regular basis. There is so much other stuff going on in our lives and creating virtual zoom programming should not be added to that list. Current sophomores are unlikely to ever actually live in their current college houses. In President Rose’s recent email about the spring semester, he mentioned the importance of having a low density of students on campus this spring. This likely means that the class of ’23 will be the odd ones out, and never actually live in the college houses that we are supposed to be programming for. Bowdoin, why waste our time!


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