On Monday, the Asian Students Alliance (ASA) and the Athletes of Color Coalition (AoCC) hosted a campus-wide conversation, “How to be a Better Ally,” over Zoom. The event was split into two sections, with the first half designated as an “open mic for people to share their feelings on the continued violence against the AAPI community and police brutality against Black and brown people.” During the second half, participants were split into breakout groups to discuss their personal experiences on campus and how to make Bowdoin a more inclusive, supportive place.
“We just really wanted to provide a safe space for people to have conversations. It’s not like we were trying to lecture at people or have a set program where we tell them information—it was more about dialogue between different identities on campus,” Jay Yoon ’21, ASA vice president, said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
The event began when Cydnie Martin ’21, AoCC co-vice president, asked Yoon if ASA would like to collaborate with the AoCC. Martin and Yoon noticed there had not been any conversations about allyship that were intended for students who weren’t directly affected by the recent incidents of violence and police brutality.
During the first half of the event, many attendees spoke about the need for allies to recognize how current events affected other students.
“We still need substantial institutional change. I think the first step in understanding the pain and the violence against people that look like us is knowing that … when these things happen, I see myself in these people, and I don’t really have a choice in the matter,” said Lester Jackson ’21, AoCC co-president.
Kendall Rogers ’21, AoCC co-president, spoke about the pressures to maintain academic engagement while coping with the issues affecting his community and those of people he cares about, especially since many of his professors haven’t recognized these issues in their classes or created a space for students to reflect.
Vanessa Apira ’21 added that many students can act as allies in the classroom without direct contact with an affected person. This can be done by paying attention to how coursework and topics may impact students.
“I think, in a Bowdoin-like environment, it’s always good to remind professors or other people that people are people first, and you shouldn’t peddle trauma for academic gain,” Apira said.
The need for allyship beyond the aftermath of a single event was highlighted as well. Kevin Chi ’21, ASA co-president, touched on this when discussing his conflicting feelings at seeing that so many students were attending the event.
“I’m really happy that I’m seeing all these faces that I never see in a lot of affinity group events show up to this event, especially white athletes on campus,” Chi said. “The other feeling that I feel is just, ‘Where have you all been?’ And it’s really good to see that you care enough to be here. You know, [I’m] curious why you’re here tonight when you haven’t been at other events.”
Martin reflected on how this translates into a need to change how we think about allyship.
“I think the way we think about allyship right now, it’s very reactionary. Something bad happens in the country, and then after that, we post on Instagram or something, maybe reach out to one or two people of color and then that’s it. But I think allyship should be a lifestyle,” she said.
After the open mic, participants were split into breakout rooms to discuss questions posed by the AoCC and ASA, as well as to consider how to be better allies and make Bowdoin more inclusive.
In a Zoom interview with the Orient, Isabel Ball ’22 said that she appreciated having so many different people from all across campus in the same virtual space. She noted that, in her breakout room, there was a staff member who worked in institutional research. She had typically only seen coaches and professors at such events and appreciated that this conversation included more perspectives.
Yoon enjoyed her breakout room but had hoped it would feel more like a dialogue.
“It was a productive and cool conversation … but it almost felt like I have to be the one to share my experience as opposed to being a more two-way conversation,” she said.
Nailah Khoory ’22 said that she wished there had been more participation in the larger meeting.
“I was hoping that there would be more questions,” Khoory said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “It didn’t seem like there was a real conversation.”
Rogers attributed some of the hesitancy to speak to students’ lack of experience with conversations like this, which made them less equipped to participate in them. In the future, both Rogers and Yoon hope to foster more collaboration between the two groups, as well as between other affinity groups.
Rogers and Yoon emphasized the importance of continued engagement and participation with allyship.
“We want this to be a continuous, consistent effort—part of people’s lifestyles—and that happens in the classrooms, that happens in their teams, that happens in their rooms,” Yoon said. “There [are] so many spaces on campus where minorities could feel isolated or alienated, even when they’re surrounded by people, just because of their identity and how culture operates at Bowdoin. So I think it’s important to recognize that showing up to one of these events and checking it off your list isn’t enough. It has to be a part of your daily life.”