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Letter to the Editor: In support of the name of the Bowdoin Orient

April 8, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the authors.

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.

Sincerely,

Al Mauro ’89, P ’22 (Editor in Chief ’87), Kansas City, MO

Kevin Wesley ’89 (Editor in Chief ’89), Stow, MA

Comments

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7 comments:

  1. Class of ‘22 says:

    What do you suggest we do to assert the origins of the Orient? Or should we just assume that every single person who attends or visits our campus knows Latin and Bowdoin trivia? Who are you to determine that “the term “orient” is not so infected by its cognate that it must be retired,” especially when current students who have experienced the hate behind that term are telling you otherwise? Your only argument seems to be keeping tradition for the sake of keeping tradition at a college you no longer attend and for a newspaper which you no longer write for. In the wake of a hate-filled year for Asian Americans, this seems like an ill-advised position at best.

    • Class of '20 says:

      Certainly, it would not be reasonable to expect every visitor to know Latin and Bowdoin trivia, but it would be reasonable to expect them to do some basic research on the name of the Orient before condemning it as anti-Asian based on a phonetic similarity to the word “Oriental.” To make an analogy, “Coles” is phonetically similar to “Coal,” but it would not be reasonable to change the name of Coles Tower just because some feel the name is an homage to fossil fuels and environmental degradation.

      As to your second point, one would assume “the term “orient” is not so infected by its cognate that it must be retired” because we use the word frequently in many contexts without any apparent racist connotation — “First Year Orientation,” “Disoriented,” “Reorient” for example.

  2. Rational Alum says:

    If a change in name is enough to sully your experience, maybe you didn’t have as good of a time as you thought you did.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Literally read the room. Smh yt ppl

  4. Winthrop North says:

    I appreciate my classmates’ argument and agree with their reasoning, but I also remember my own advice from a couple of decades ago to some Old Boys tut-tutting change via letters to the editors of the alumni magazine: alumni are important to the life and sustainability of the institution, but the College exists for its students; it is, in fact, its only reason for being. That said, one can reasonably ask: where does it end? Does the name Bowdoin itself pass muster? Must it?

  5. k irving ‘21 says:

    we get that orient is a homonym but thank u for the sage reminder anyways. generally when one definition in particular is negatively connoted one tends not to use that word sans context (ie titularly). weird hill to die on.

  6. Winthrop North says:

    IF – and it’s a big “if” – The Orient must/should be renamed, the obvious best option IMHO is: The Bowdoin Sun. There’s an argument to be made that it should have always carried that name.


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