To the Editor,
We write to you in support of the name of the Bowdoin “Orient” as former Editors in Chief of this “Oldest Continuously Published College Weekly.” Tradition and history do have a place in forming connections to a shared past and continuing a worthwhile journey with common bonds. As students of the liberal arts, we understand that some traditions and histories were born of things that should never have been acceptable or have become closely associated with such things and now are rightly subject to revision or removal. As Ms. Ha points out in her op-ed, “Rename the Orient,” the University of Nevada Las Vegas renamed its paper from the “Rebel Yell”—a direct reference to the battle cry of the Confederacy—and the College of the Holy Cross, a Catholic institution, changed its paper’s name from “The Crusader”—a direct reference to the religious wars led by Western European Christians against multiple Islamic peoples for control of the Holy Land. These were sound decisions to retire traditions designed to celebrate a painful past.
“The Orient” was not born of such original sin. In this context, the term “Orient” was and is used not to identify Asia or people who originate from there, but rather refers to the Latin word meaning “rising,” “daybreak” or the “east.” Bowdoin, at its founding, was the easternmost college in the United States and was the first to greet the sun each day. The word also suggests helping to set one’s bearings. Neither Ms. Ha nor the Orient editors-in-chief dispute the benign nature of these origins.
Nor do those questioning the name direct their attention to the term “Orient” by itself (other than to point out the recently-named “Occident” prank newspaper as evidence of malign intent). Their focus is on orient’s cousin, “Oriental,” a term used to describe people of Asian descent that carries racist connotations made even more painful by recent events. If our newspaper carried this name, the conversation would be shorter. But in Ms. Ha’s piece, she notes one of her first instances of awareness about her concerns was “the day I first laid my hands upon the 2017 Orientation issue of the Orient.” This sentence highlights the problem. She questions the name of the paper but never revisits the other word with the common root: “orientation.” The context and intent of the terms, their origin and use, do matter. The objectionable qualities of the term “Oriental” that Ms. Ha and the Orient editors properly describe should not be casually applied to all roots. The term “orient” is not so infected by its cognate that it must be retired. There is little beyond the etymological relation of those terms that underpins this debate.
We believe it is consistent to reject the associations of “Oriental” while reaffirming or, better yet, “re-orienting” our shared understanding of why a newspaper on the easternmost edge of the country, bringing news meant to help us understand the place around us, might properly be called “The Bowdoin Orient.” As with most other Orient staff and editors, we spent many daybreaks putting the paper to bed. We think the name is altogether fitting and a tradition worth keeping.
We appreciate the Orient editorial staff’s call for participation in this discussion through letters to the editor, but we would encourage you to go a step further and build dialogues with Orient alumni to gain a broader set of perspectives.
Al Mauro ’89, P ’22 (Editor in Chief ’87), Kansas City, MO
Kevin Wesley ’89 (Editor in Chief ’89), Stow, MA