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Student Activities and College leadership reflect on student engagement

September 22, 2023

Cora Dow
CONCERT SEASON: Singer Maude Latour opened for Social House at the 2023 Winter Concert, which was a spinoff of the once-beloved Bowdoin tradition of Winter Festival.

Campus culture is always evolving, but there are few instances when the change is as abrupt as the Covid-19 shutdown. As the College enters its second year with no Covid testing protocols or restrictions ingrained into campus life, student and staff leadership reflect on the state of student extracurricular engagement.

According to Director of Student Activities Nate Hintze, certain social events on campus are remarkably more well-attended than pre-Covid years. While Trivia Night at the Pub used to bring in only 50–75 participants, now the numbers are closer to 100–200 people. Just last Friday, WBOR and the Bowdoin Music Collective sponsored a concert that brought band Vundabar and musician Gemma Laurence

Baxter Porch, drawing in crowds of students dancing even in an unexpected torrential downpour.

While both Hintze and Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Dean of Student Engagement and Leadership Katie Toro-Ferrari remarked on the success of such events, not all changes to student programming have been seen as positive.

Alex Tesson ’23, the chair of the Entertainment Board (E-Board), started his first year in the fall of 2019 and noted that campus feels like a less united body than it once did.

“The student body is more of a collection of smaller cohorts that sometimes branch out and crossover at events, whereas before Covid, it felt like one massive cohort that fluidly moved across itself,” Tesson said.

From his perspective, more confined social circles have had a negative effect on campus culture. However, Tesson is not trying to use his position on E-Board to simply revive the past, but also to inspire new ideas that will shape future annual events.

“You can look at [this change in campus culture as a] glass half-full and say it’s a great opportunity to start new traditions,” Tesson said.

Despite the success of the recent WBOR concert, live performances in general have not all been so well-attended. Soccer Mommy’s spring concert performance

drew fewer attendees than Student Activities predicted given her name-recognition.

Toro-Ferrari remarked that, regardless of their excitement, students used to go to College-sponsored concerts just for the sake of hearing live music.

Hintze and Toro-Ferrari added that increased club participation in recent years has caused more “pie splitting” of funding and spaces. Most facets of student life and sources of funding stem from the College Houses, ResLife and Student Activities, the entity that funds all 132 registered clubs. Hintze recommended inter-club collaboration while Toro-Ferrari suggested “umbrella-style” clubs that represent multiple interests to combat these issues in student engagement.

Both expressed interest in bringing back the pre-pandemic practice of clubs hosting speakers on campus but have also noticed that attendance at the few events of this nature has been surprisingly low. Hintze harkened back to when Chairman of Netflix Reed Hastings ’83 came to speak on campus in 2016 and packed Pickard Theater. Hintze surmised that online learning could have changed the way students think about listening to lectures.

“I think people have equated a speaker to just being like, ‘I’ll just watch it on Zoom with my own time,’ and not realizing how cool it is to have that face-to-face chance with somebody,” Hintze said.

Toro-Ferrari acknowledged the work that students and staff have done to rebuild the campus community post-Covid.

Bowdoin Student Government President Paul Wang ’24 remarked how proud he is of his class for remaining dedicated to creating campus culture after missing out on their orientation trips, convening dinner and the other events that traditionally define the first-year experience.

“One thing that defined my experience during Covid early on in the pandemic was that there wasn’t a lot of upper-class presence on campus, and the only upperclassmen that were on campus were on ResLife. And so in that way, I feel like there’s a lot of lack of continuity,” Wang said.

Hintze emphasized that there is a gap in generational knowledge, especially in regards to student programming.

“I think we’re still trying to figure out what students want. And then, where are the gaps in what they think they should know? And how do we help them facilitate figuring that out?” Hintze said.

The administration is now trying to give leadership and decision-making power back to students, which Wang mentioned was highly restricted during the Class of 2024’s first year due to Covid protocols.

“Because there weren’t a lot of students on campus, a lot of Bowdoin traditions and institutions were slightly changed,” Wang said.

Toro-Ferrari hopes that students can utilize the administration’s resources but also feel empowered to take the lead in planning events to create something they are truly excited about.

“We can support and help, but at the end of the day, I think one of the opportunities at a place like this is you get to invent and create your fun…. I think there’s a really big difference between when we do things for you versus with you,” Toro-Ferrari said. “There’s a history on this campus of doing that really well; we’re just coming out of a dark time.”

The College House System has also gone through many structural changes in the past couple years, though unrelated to Covid, including the repurposing of Ladd house and the restructuring of House leadership to more concerted positions. Assistant Director for Residential Life Alex Gates believes the changes have been successful in reshaping campus culture.

“A system where each person in a house has a specific goal they are working towards, whether it’s academic partnerships or sophomore cohesion, has really helped improve the events coming out of the houses,” Gates wrote in an email to the Orient. “Students have ownership over the events they create and have a much more focused idea of what they want to do for the rest of campus, which means they are creating events people want to attend.”

College administration and student leaders alike stressed that the College offers countless opportunities to create fun through student ideas, leadership and involvement.

“Nowhere else in life are you going to live within a mile radius of your 10 closest friends at the time and spontaneously be able to bring a DJ in for a set in the Pub, or have a party on the Quad or attend a concert with all of your friends a five minute walk from where you sleep,” Tesson said.


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