After recognizing potential obstacles not addressed by the College’s formal plan for welcoming students back to campus last week, Thomas Bao ’21 and Maddie Hikida ’22 launched Polar Bear Community Action (PBCA), a mutual aid network intended to streamline the process for students arriving back on campus.
This social media network, which was started on January 15, responded rapidly to help accommodate students’ return to campus. For many students, it was their first time back in 11 months or longer.
“I realized I was having a lot of trouble with getting to storage, and I realized … if I’m having this problem, then a lot of other people are probably having this problem,” explained Bao in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Hikida faced similar problems in finding transportation to and from storage and arranging a safe move-in plan.
“Coordinating getting stuff from the storage locker to campus was obviously something we had been talking about for a bit,” said Hikida. “I was just noticing concerns I had, concerns other folks had, and I realized what was going on in my personal storage locker group chat of ‘I can pick this stuff up for you’ … could totally happen just for everyone.”
In addition to organizing the retrieval of items from storage, Bao and Hikida hoped the network would help students find transportation from the airport and acquire necessities for the “Hibearnation” period. The network solicited student volunteers to provide transportation and donate supplies through social media, using its Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and Discord chats to identify student needs and connect those students with individuals who were willing and able to help while abiding by the College’s guidelines.
This student-led approach proved successful, and in less than three weeks, Bao and Hikida were able to coordinate dozens of opportunities for students to help one another.
“We were able to match up almost every single person,” said Lucie Nolden ’22, an organizer for PBCA, in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I think by the end, about 90 percent of the people who had either a capacity to help, or a need—we were able to meet that need.”
In addition to calling on students currently in residence, PBCA reached out to recent alumni and off-campus students in the area to provide contactless assistance.
“They were super helpful, because we didn’t have to worry about their moving times and testing, and obviously once [students on campus were] tested … [they] couldn’t leave to drive, which made it hard for a lot of people to help,” said Sam Neirink ’22, another organizer for PBCA. “The off-campus students worked out really well.”
Although the network arose out of challenges unique to this semester, Hikida hopes that PBCA will continue to function in future semesters, even after the College’s COVID-19 restrictions ease.
“I think transportation to storage is a really valuable thing just to keep going for the rest of the time,” said Hikida. “I know that transportation, especially to and from the airport, has been a really big concern for at least the time that I’ve been here, so it’s nice that we finally have something set up, hopefully for the long term.”
In addition to continuing their work in coordinating transportation for move-in days, PBCA plans to expand the network to provide assistance for students throughout the school year. This could include support for first-year students and international students, financial assistance for students in need or even recreational requests for transportation.
“The decentralized aspect of it, the fact that … we are just the middleman putting you in touch makes it a lot easier for those little things to work, rather than Bowdoin was trying to do every single thing,” said Jack Shane ’22, a volunteer, in a Zoom interview with the Orient.