With pictures of professors passionately lecturing and students of various backgrounds having engaging conversations plastered on Bowdoin’s website, one is bound to make assumptions about the academic culture of the College. It’s a picturesque bastion of liberal arts education, a breeding ground for new ideas and radical thought, a nursery for critical thinking and passionate debate. This image isn’t entirely a farce. It’s certainly better than either of our high schools, in terms of quality of discussion and diversity of background (both economic and ethnic). The professors, overall, have exceeded our expectations. But there’s still something amiss about the Black experience in the College’s classrooms.
JAIDA: For me, what’s toughest is the way that social justice is abstracted in the classroom. I know plenty of professors and students alike who can recite the basics of critical theory, or rattle off some of the key points of the most recent Ta-Nehisi Coates article, or explain exactly why Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” is a load of bootlicking trash (or so I’ve been told! I have absolutely no political opinions at all). But there’s so little action. I’ve been to exactly one (1) Bowdoin Labor Alliance meeting during my time here; around five of us met under the cloak of darkness on a weeknight on the first floor of Hubbard Hall. The normal meeting room, I was told, was locked accidentally. It seemed to me like subterfuge, but maybe I’m just messy. It was a great conversation, and a wonderful cause, but it felt as smarmy and clandestine as a ’60s Communist Party meeting, which was simply not my vibe. If I can personally name around five bona fide commies* on Bowdoin Twitter, why didn’t this meeting feel like a family reunion? It didn’t because I’m not actually friends with my Twitter mutuals, but also because our campus is great at talking the talk, but so horribly shitty at walking the walk. Get your head out of a book and onto the streets. Quit talking about that “critical-radical-neo-Marxist” whateverthefuck you just finished reading. Maybe divest some of that generational wealth for the culture instead. Make the check out to Wakanda, or something.
JAYNA: Yes! This past semester I took a literature class that was incredibly engaging and challenged me in many ways—Black Women’s Lives in the 20th Century. The first day… I walked in… shocked. It was the first time I saw so many Black people in a classroom!! I was so excited to just exist and be in such a room! Further, I had two wonderful female professors of color who were excited to teach us! Truly, and I am not exaggerating here, I had never experienced such a thing before in my life due to growing up in a white suburb in Connecticut. But as the semester continued, I grew more and more disappointed. The non-Black students in my class were great overall and showed a real interest in the course. However, a problem still remained: the non-Black students there wanted to be there. You may be saying to yourself, “Jaynaaaa… wtf!!” But hear me out guys—on average, the students that were there were already well-versed in Toni Morrison, Lorraine Hansberry and more. Of course, the class gave them a deeper understanding and made them analyze work in ways they never had before, but they were already genuinely interested and eager to attend class. The people who should really be there are the ones who claim to be so uneducated in BIPOC issues, yet also refuse to attend classes such as Black Women’s Lives. Don’t DM me asking for resources and claiming you “never knew things were this bad at Bowdoin” when you have simply refused to engage when the College is literally giving you the opportunity to do so. Like c’mon Miss. Girl how could you have not known??
In all seriousness, we hope this article encourages non-Black students to stay engaged. And to go further—continue to do actual on-the-ground work. If all you do is write scalding tweets or repost your friends’ Instagram stories, you may not be doing enough. Not to gas Bowdoin up, but there are seriously amazing professors of color (although there should be more) that are more than equipped and ready to teach you about studies that relate to racial issues and injustices in all sorts of disciplines. Take the courses and do the work of educating yourself to stay active. While the idea of a credit that ensures all students take a class regarding race/ethnicity is nice, the College shouldn’t have to force its students to do so. You guys should already want to.
We expect to see these classes PACKED.
And remember… when we say slavery, you say sorry.
*I do not and have never associated with the Communist Party, Clayton.
P.S. This doesn’t count as anti-racist literature. This week, read Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s work on prison abolition. It’s compelling stuff.