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Letter from the Editors: Reflecting on our name

April 2, 2021

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

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.

Best,

Kate Lusignan and Nina McKay

Volume 150 Editors in Chief

Comments

Before submitting a comment, please review our comment policy. Some key points from the policy:

  • No hate speech, profanity, disrespectful or threatening comments.
  • No personal attacks on reporters.
  • Comments must be under 200 words.
  • You are strongly encouraged to use a real name or identifier ("Class of '92").
  • Any comments made with an email address that does not belong to you will get removed.

25 comments:

  1. Class of 2010 says:

    Rename “orientation,” for the reasons above.

    Rename “matriculation,” as its Latin derivative confuses the Greek words for “register” and “womb,” lest the term cause unintended offense to wombless folks.

    Abandon the polar bear mascot, as polar bears are known to sometimes attack and even kill circumpolar peoples.

    Rename Bowdoin College, whose namesake, in 1787, oversaw the murder and execution of economically disadvantaged organic farmers who merely protested civil rights abuses.

    This is important work. Thank you.

    • Student '21 says:

      You are so close to getting the point! Yes, we should not be proud that our institution is named after exploiting colonizers!

  2. Class of 2024 says:

    The Orient name was never intended to be a slight towards the inhabitants of Asia; instead, it was a homage to our College’s location in the east. While a certain NESCAC north of us might be more easterly, it is at its core a romanticism of the role of light and truth – that we here see the rising sun first.

    In an age of “reclaiming” words like ‘queer,’ why can’t we reclaim our own? Why must the Orient name be captive to unrelated abuses?

    • Class of 2023 says:

      As a queer and Asian person, I can tell you that the reclaiming of the word “queer” was done by the queer community. I don’t think Bowdoin as a majority-white institution is in any position to “reclaim” the word like you suggested. I really don’t know who you’re referring to by the words “we” and “our.” For some people who also call Bowdoin home, the utterance of this word symbolizes racial slight and prejudice. Your call for “reclaiming” feels more like a “just get over it.”

      Language, like symbols and contexts, evolves. Words, whether innocuous or malicious at their genesis, change meanings all the time. It’s not a matter of “who’s right” in interpreting the origins of the term “Orient,” it is whether you choose to accommodate members of the Bowdoin community whose life experience has found this term particularly painful and odious, or to dismiss these sentiments as “unrelated abuses” and insist on the reinforcement of a certain semantic orthodoxy that elude most, if not all, Bowdoin students.

      I urge you to assess the “relevance” and “abuses” of terms not through your own lens but those of other people as well.

  3. Class of 2018 says:

    Today, “Oriental” is a rude term for a person and has largely died out.

    But as an adjective, “Oriental” still has legs, like at the Oriental Restaurant on Mill Street in Brunswick.

    Orient is a unique name with a cool history. Don’t change it.

  4. Alyce says:

    Kudos Kate and Nina on a persuasive letter. I think I can speak for all the seniors of 149 when I say we wholly support you in this decision. Very excited to see what name you land on!

  5. Class of 1999 says:

    Yikes, this seems pretty extreme to me. The name itself is known to refer to the East and the sun — things that could not in anyway be considered offensive. But it would be changed because it resembles another word that could cause offense for people who do not the real history? There are real injustices in Brunswick and beyond. Time would be better spent looking into one of those.

  6. Eric Ardolino, Class of 2010 says:

    We must commend the editors for this letter. Their intentions are to promote inclusiveness, and this should be celebrated.

    As they state, the original intention behind the choice of the name “Orient” is not clear, but to focus on this is missing the point.

    If the simple action of changing the name of a college newspaper can make someone feel more included on Bowdoin’s campus, then why not do it? And by doing so you would make a broader statement of inclusion.

    The opposing arguments laid out in the comments above are not surprising, but are disappointing nonetheless. Arguing semantics is an attempt to distract from the greater issue that Commenter #1 is missing. Dismissing “oriental” as a derogatory term is short-sited and problematic (working as a physician I hear my Asian colleagues referred to as oriental by patients on a daily basis). And suggesting to simply “reclaim” the word Orient is a clumsy attempt to speak for an entire ethnic group who likely doesn’t agree you.

    This is a simple fix with little downside which could have profound importance on the message that Bowdoin sends to its Asian students, faculty and staff, and should be supported wholeheartedly.

    • Class of 2010 says:

      Dr. Ardolino:

      We are discussing meaning and truth in language/linguistics. The editors ask if we should understand words by their most uncharitable characterizations, even if those characterizations are debatable, far-fetched, or mistaken. By definition, this whole controversy is about semantics.

      In this context, I am not sure inclusivity is best accomplished by proposing rules where truth-seeking is met with suspicion (or “disappointment”), but projected feelings are reified as concrete, self-affirming facts. Contrary to your rhetorical question, inclusivity cannot entail the appeasement of righteous anger whenever it bubbles up. Hypothetically, a conservative Saudi student might have passionate views about Bowdoin’s Western liberalism, but those views would hardly prompt institutional changes in the name of his feeling “included.” What we refer to as “inclusivity” is something that relies on certain foundational values and, when conflicts arise, normative rules of argument. But if words don’t mean what they mean, and feelings need no persuasive reasoning, I fear that we won’t understand each other, and we certainly won’t understand the world.

      People may have good faith disagreements about this proposal, and dismissing earnest questions as “problematic” or unrepresentative of “an entire ethnic group” (true of all opinions) does not bring us closer to understanding.

    • Concerned Student says:

      The downside is making all speech, all words, all sentiment captive to an assigned context. Eric, I share your concern and dismay that someone has felt excluded by the name of our newspaper. But virtue signaling is not the broad, grand statement you seem to hope it to be. Perhaps instead we can educate each other on the history of the Orient name – and see it is not easy to just declare it “offensives.” Sticks and stones may break my bones, Eric, …

      Alas, as ‘99 pointed out, there is more work to be done – work that actually has an impact.

  7. Class of 2009 says:

    I applaud the editors for this letter and opening up this dialogue. There is a lot more to say, but I will keep it short, because the other comments here should not go un-checked: Of course the name should change – it is offensive. We should welcome the opportunity to rename the paper to reflect the values of the Bowdoin family. Bowdoin has plenty of work to do on diversity & inclusion, this should actually be one of the easiest decisions the campus community considers.

  8. Arnold Horshack says:

    Hahaha! This is the best satirical publication I have ever read. (Wait, these are all fake articles, right?)

  9. Class of 2023 says:

    It seems that people in the comment section may be missing a crucial distinction between intent and impact.

    Although the name’s origin had no harmful intent, the impact of the name in our current context, which is informed by the historical and contemporary use of the word Orient to refer to Asia, is deeply negative. It has connotations of a racist and violent present and past. In this case, the newspaper’s name’s historical and etymological origin does not matter as much as how it is perceived by the students and other community members to whom it could racistly refer. The name should change, and the initial intent of the name does not matter.

    • Class of 2024 says:

      There is no critical distinction between intent vs impact. Your feelings cannot and will not invalidate my intentions and a neutral act.

    • 2023 says:

      @Class of 2024: Somebody didn’t do the DiversityEdu course, and it shows

  10. Class of 2023 says:

    After reading both articles at hand, I see no issue in changing the Orient’s name. A newspapers name is such a small aspect of college life, and if it can be changed to make people more comfortable on campus I am all for it. Coming to college is hard, why not make other people’s experiences more comfortable.

    Also, for those debating the semantics of the word, the existence of the annual Occident goes against the idea of the paper as a way of “orienting” the community. Additionally, while Orient could refer to Bowdoin’s location (as Occidental College in LA), using Orient and Occident to refer to East and West is outmoded vocabulary that has inseparable connotations no matter how you slice it.

  11. Class of '21 says:

    There are many ways in which you could help the Asian American community right now, especially those outside of wealthy enclaves who really need the protection and support. Pretending that changing the name of a college newspaper, whose name has never referenced an outdated racial slur, will help anyone in the Asian community is just unproductive and dangerous. It is just a way for college students to pat themselves on the back without really lifting a finger to help anyone who needs it–in essence, creating a problem in order to announce that you’ve solved it and should be lionized for it. If politics is going to continue to consist only of empty virtue signaling like this, nothing will fundamentally change for poor communities of color who are being attacked and who need your help in real, tangible ways.

    • Teddy K says:

      The leftist seeks to satisfy his need for power through identification with a social movement and he tries to go through the power process by helping to pursue and attain the goals of the movement. But no matter how far the movement has gone in attaining its goals the leftist is never satisfied, because his activism is a surrogate activity. That is, the leftist’s real motive is not to attain the ostensible goals of leftism; in reality he is motivated by the sense of power he gets from struggling for and then reaching a social goal. Consequently the leftist is never satisfied with the goals he has already attained; his need for the power process leads him always to pursue some new goal.

  12. Rational alum says:

    This makes a lot of sense! Not only has the term taken on a racist meaning, but even the original usage is outdated since we’re not even the easternmost college anymore. Didn’t your Bowdoin education teach you about the importance of change? Mine did.

  13. M ‘22 says:

    People have been saying for years that the name of the Orient is outdated and I personally don’t see a good reason to keep it. Understanding the name of a school newspaper shouldn’t require a knowledge of Latin. New name idea: The Polar Bear Express! And if students hate it 150 years down the line, I don’t care if it changes because I will be dead.

  14. Class of '92 says:

    Personally, I have only ever heard the word in question used when talking about this particular periodical, an Agatha Christie novel and movie (both pretty good), a Peter Sellers movie (not very good), a soccer team in the south of London (even less good), a precursor name of an airline now known as Delta (don’t even get me started), and when discussing Edward Said (is his work still discussed on campus today?). I wasn’t triggered when I came across the term in those contexts, and still subscribe to the belief that intent matters, but concede that others may feel differently. As others apparently do: One commenter above asserts that “the term taken on a racist meaning”; another states simply that, “Of course the name should change – it is offensive.” I graduated from the college a few decades ago, long enough ago that I am leery of most assertions that begin with “of course”, but leave it today’s students to figure out what name is best for the campus newspaper. Times change, people change, and brands change too — sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad reasons, and sometimes just because*. 1/2

  15. Class of '92 (continued) says:

    (The adjectival variant of this particular word, on the other hand, of course that’s offensive … although I guess I make a grudging exception for its use when people talk about a certain restaurant near my house, a certain company that sells lots of cheap stuff online, and a certain country in South America. Still, though, I always try to talk around it in such contexts, lest some of the commenters above are within earshot, but more fundamentally, because it seems the polite thing to do. I’ve got other fights to fight.)

    *If the editors of The ____ have published this letter as a way to troll alumni and get them talking about a publication that they haven’t thought about since graduation, I must say: well played! You probably have a successful career in punditry, or advertising, or as an online influencer, or in politics, in your future. 🙂 2/2

  16. Class of '10 says:

    If the paper was christened “The Orient” five years ago, then changing the name would be a no-brainer. The fact that the name now represents 150 years of history, warts and all, merits a bit more deliberation. We oftentimes overvalue names, traditions, and symbols, but they do serve to forge intergenerational links between members of a group.

    In the decade since I left Bowdoin, the college has changed immensely, and definitely for the better. But those little things that stay fixed in time, like singing “Raise Songs” at a reunion or going back to Moulton when passing through Brunswick, are reassuring notions that, young, old, or among the generations long past, we’re all part of the same story.

    By the same token, some traditions are genuinely problematic. Ultimately, this decision is up to the current students of the college. I suppose if it was up to me, I would add some art to the paper’s logo to clarify the meaning. Perhaps the sun rising above the pines.

    Just be glad that your email address doesn’t have an “88” in it. Now I need to explain to people that no, I’m not a fascist, I was just born in 1988.


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