To Bowdoin students, alumni, faculty and staff; Orient staff members past and present and members of the Brunswick community:
When we joined the Orient nearly four years ago, we, along with many other then-first-year staff members, had questions about the name of the paper. When we asked upperclassmen, we heard that the name came from the Latin word “oriens,” for sunrise, and that the paper was given this name because the College is one of the easternmost institutions in the United States (although the University of Maine in Orono and Colby College had already been established at the inception of the Orient). We were also told that the name was connected to the sun on the College’s seal, as the term “orient” was more widely used to describe the rising sun; daybreak, dawn—a definition now labeled “obsolete” by the Oxford English Dictionary.
Since the paper’s establishment in 1871, the connotations surrounding the term “orient” have changed drastically. According to the Washington Post, the term “oriental” was used to describe people of Asian descent by mainstream media up until the 1960s and ’70s. But since the start of the 21st century, both state and federal governments have begun outlawing the use of the term to refer to individuals in official documents, recognizing its association with America’s extensive history of anti-Asian racism, including imperialism, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps and racial quotas.
As members of the Orient’s staff, we had access to the story of how the paper got its name. But, as the experiences of other Bowdoin students clearly demonstrate, many never have the opportunity to have such conversations. With the problematic and othering connotations the term has accrued, some may spend all four years on Bowdoin’s campus encountering the name “the Orient” multiple times every day, wondering what justification could exist for the college newspaper at a predominantly-white institution with a wealthy, male history to be named “the Orient.”
It is not the responsibility of students outside our organization to seek out these justifications. And even if they did, the term carries too much weight for many to ever comfortably identify with it. Students have a right to exist on their own campus without the additional emotional labor imposed by the fact that their school newspaper’s name could be said to normalize the language of anti-Asian discrimination.
As a staff, we have begun having internal conversations about the history of the name, the weight a name carries and our role in working toward racial equity within our own organization and on campus. We have continued conversations started by staff members well before us about how the connotations surrounding the term “orient” have changed since 1871. On the near eve of our 150th anniversary, we are talking about what the next 150 years may look like and how our institution will reflect the values of our staff and the broader Bowdoin community.
More often than not, we are proud of the newspaper’s commitment to serving as an open forum for thought and discussion on issues of interest to the community, as well as its history of reflecting diverse opinions of students, alumni, faculty and staff. We hope to continue to serve these roles as we engage in this conversation. We understand the nostalgia that many members of our community feel as they read the Orient from wherever they are in the world, and we hope that conversations about our name both honor these connections and signal towards a future that reflects the current values of the community, namely a commitment to racial equity and inclusion.
So, as we continue these conversations internally and with you, and as we move forward with the next steps of this process, we invite you to do the same. Talk amongst your community, educate yourself on the history of the term and share your thoughts through an Op-Ed or a letter to the editor.
We sincerely hope we can all learn together in the coming months.
Kate Lusignan and Nina McKay
Volume 150 Editors in Chief