On Thursday morning, President Clayton Rose released a video regarding the upcoming election and uncertainty that may follow after election night. He questioned how long the results may take and highlighted that the election may become a legal battle. As Bowdoin’s President, Rose maintains a public, non-partisan status. In the video, he asks the College’s students and employees to respect varying political opinions.
Because Bowdoin is a tax-exempt institution, it cannot participate in partisan political activities such as endorsing candidates or participating in campaigns. Under this policy, students and faculty cannot use the College’s resources or property to promote or criticize a political candidate or belief. While student-led political organizations such as the Bowdoin Democrats and Bowdoin Republicans are able to utilize the College’s resources and property for political campaigning, they are prohibited from conducting voter registration activities. Bowdoin Votes, a Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good Initiative, can do so, but it is officially nonpartisan.
At the local candidate forum hosted on Friday, October 9 by Bowdoin Votes, Bowdoin Democrats, Bowdoin Republicans and the Government and Legal Studies Department, District 1 Town Councilor David Watson delved into his opinions about racial bias completely unprompted. In doing so, he jumped to the defense of the police, Watson encouraged listeners to still respect individuals who had discriminatory, problematic histories—individuals such as police officers and his German friend. Silence followed this proclamation, and the forum was quickly ended, with participants being thanked for sharing their non-partisan opinions.
Is this the non-partisanship that we, as an institution, subscribe to? While there is certainly a time and a place for engaging in dialogue with different perspectives can condoning white supremacist organizations really be considered a valid political opinion? Can denying the harm that the police have caused to the Black community be classified as a partisan stance?
Absolutely not. We need to know where to draw the line. We don’t have all the answers, but we need to start questioning what can actually be considered a “partisan issue.”
Bowdoin College, as a nonpartisan institution, explicitly expresses in its faculty handbook that it is dedicated to maintaining human rights on campus. Yet there is never a clear definition on what the College views as nonpartisan human rights. Is it an accepted, unspoken truth that Bowdoin will protect and support its students in the wake of the election? The period of time around the election could very likely prove to be unsafe for Brown and Black students, especially in contentious states. The safety of the BIPOC members of our community is not partisan, and it should not be treated as such. Are there plans in place to keep students on campus safe?
At the end of the day, someone’s right to live in their own truth is not a political issue—identity markers such as race, gender and sexual orientation are not a choice and therefore are not up for debate. Thus, these currently politicized issues should be nonpartisan. They must be accepted as simple human rights.
Yes, we should consider other perspectives. But at what point do we stop re-labeling dismissing hate and violence as political opinion? At what point do we stop using politics as an excuse to violate human rights?
This editorial represents the majority view of the Orient’s Editorial Board, which is comprised of Tucker Ellis, Julia Jennings, Katie King, Kate Lusignan, Nina McKay and Ayub Tahlil.