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Digital inexcellence

September 2, 2022

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

Bowdoin considers itself a champion of equity—and in many ways, it is. The College has boasted a need-blind admissions process for US citizens since 2008, and earlier this year, it extended this policy to international students. Additionally, Bowdoin’s financial aid features all grants; the College does not have students take out loans as part of their aid package. Once again, an impressive and generous gesture. This year, in the same spirit of generosity, all Bowdoin students are receiving custom 2022 MacBooks from the College, free of charge.

Except there’s a caveat with the phrase, “all Bowdoin students.” While the College has been lauded for this “equal access” initiative—an article in the Times Record declares, “All Bowdoin College students will be given free laptop computers and tablets this fall”—this narrative is not the truth. In an out-of-character step, the College has neglected to give new laptops to a number of students involved in the College’s THRIVE program, a collection of programs designed to help students of color, first-generation college students and low-income students transition into and succeed at the College.

These students, who received MacBooks from the College when they first arrived on campus, were told they were ineligible for an upgrade for this very reason. Now, a playing field intended to be leveled is concerningly lopsided; the students most in need of the College’s support have been denied access to a crucial resource.

In an email to THRIVE students, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Michael Cato wrote that Bowdoin’s goal with the initiative was to “fully equip all Bowdoin students with the digital tools essential for success in the twenty-first century.” In the same email, Cato broke the news to THRIVE students that they will “continue to use the devices they already have.”

In an interview with the Orient, Cato admitted that “in what we see historically, most students [arriving to Bowdoin] have a computer.” So why use funds for new computers when most students already have one? And why exclude THRIVE from this initiative?

In addition to being the most recent MacBook model, with 512 gigabytes of storage and 16 gigabytes of RAM, new student laptops are quicker and more powerful than those on the shelves at your local Apple store—one of the key reasons administration bought new laptops for Bowdoin’s students.

For some THRIVE members of the Class of 2023, this power issue is compounded with another problem—a faulty machine component.

In 2019, a number of Bowdoin THRIVE students, including all Geoffrey Canada Scholars, were given a 2019 13-inch MacBook Pro in an effort for digital equity. This July, Apple agreed to pay a 50 million dollar preliminary settlement on a class action lawsuit which targeted these exact models. The lawsuit alleged that the butterfly keyboard—a component of the 2019 MacBooks—suffered from sticky and unresponsive keys that could easily be rendered useless by dirt and debris.

For these THRIVE students—who shouldn’t be expected to have the time or financial means to travel 26 miles to the closest Apple store—a broken keyboard is more than a minor inconvenience. Bowdoin provided these new laptops with the explicit purpose of making sure that campus was digitally equitable. This laudable commitment is undermined by the fact that some THRIVE students are left with an inferior machine.

The median family income of a Bowdoin student is $195,500—nearly three times the national household median income of $67,521. At a school where 20 percent of the student body comes from the top one percent, it is shameful that Bowdoin is failing to live up to their promise of “digital excellence.”

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is comprised of Lucas Dufalla, Clara Jergins, Lily Randall, Juliana Vandermark, Halina Bennet and Seamus Frey.


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