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On multiculturalism at Bowdoin

September 1, 2023

This piece represents the opinion of the author .
Eva Ahn

“A commitment to the common good means working, every day, to welcome more diverse perspectives” reads the bold statement at the header of Bowdoin’s Inclusion and Diversity webpage.

The shift in Bowdoin’s admissions statistics over the past four years demonstrates that the College is actively working to create a more diverse student body.  The Class of 2022 consisted of 35 percent students of color, nine percent international students and 15 percent first-generation college students. Four years later, the Class of 2026 consists of 42 percent students of color, 11 percent international students and 17 percent first-generation college students.

In the 2022–2023 academic year, affinity groups at Bowdoin hosted several amazing and engaging cultural celebrations such as Diwali (South Asian Student Association), Quinceañera (Latin American Student Organization), Ebony Ball (Black Student Union) and Night in Asia (Asian Student Association). While these events have succeeded in addressing the growing diversity of our college community, it is crucial to continue striving to provide more collaborative cross-cultural events and celebrations, especially for students of color.

One possible way to honor this growing diversity might be to celebrate International Mother Language Day, an initiative that originated in Bangladesh and was approved at the 1999 UNESCO General Conference. The celebration, which is held on February 21 with a different theme each year, is dedicated to promoting cultural and linguistic diversity while encouraging the preservation of the world’s many languages as a means to foster tolerance and respect for others. The theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day was “Multilingual education—a necessity to transform education.”

According to UNESCO, 40 percent of the global population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand; promoting multilingual education facilitates accessibility and inclusion in learning for speakers of minority and indigenous languages. By celebrating International Mother Language Day, we can recognize the importance of multilingualism in advancing inclusion and ensuring that no one at Bowdoin is left behind.

For Bowdoin College, as a leading liberal arts institution, fostering an inclusive community and commitment to the common good are core values. Integrating more multicultural celebrations in the student body’s culture aligns with Bowdoin’s belief that it is “only through building a more diverse and inclusive campus community will the College best prepare graduates to be contributing and useful citizens of the world.”

To celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity, it’s important to have ongoing events beyond just one holiday.

Another potential idea is to host an annual Cultural Show and Tell event on the steps of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. This event would be led by affinity groups on campus, the McKeen Center, College House Committees and the Town of Brunswick, and it would be open to both the local Brunswick community and Bowdoin students. Participants would take turns sharing objects, ideas and memories that represent their culture, identity and personal experiences.

The event would provide a platform for people both to learn from one another and to appreciate the rich diversity that exists in the community. The relaxed and interactive nature of the event would encourage open dialogue and foster a sense of inclusivity and belonging. Through celebrating diversity and sharing personal stories, the Cultural Show and Tell event would strengthen the Bowdoin community and promote a deeper understanding of the experiences of others.

All of our affinity groups should come together in partnership with the Center for Multicultural Life to organize more collaborative or larger-scale cultural celebrations. This might take the form of a cultural potluck where members of each organization bring a dish that represents their culture. The Smith Union Morrell Lounge would be a great venue for the celebration; if the weather is favorable, it could also be held outside on the Main Quad.

A cultural music festival might be another great way to celebrate diversity. Taking inspiration from events such as the Friend of a Friend Fest, the festival could feature bands and singers performing for 30–45 minutes before making way for the next act. Such an event would provide a platform for a diverse range of music styles and genres, allowing different cultures and languages to be represented. By bringing together musicians from various backgrounds, the festival would celebrate cultural diversity and promote understanding and appreciation of different musical traditions.

Together, these events would foster a stronger sense of community, inclusivity and appreciation for the growing diversity of the College.

Rachel Lin is a member of the Class of 2025.


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