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Look who’s talking

September 29, 2023

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

This week alone, Bowdoin hosted talks on Ancient Greek philosophy, the risks of reporting in Russia, life in the Arctic, Irish poetry and illustrated books. The variety of topics reflects the plurality of student interests on campus, so you would expect all talks to be well-attended.

In reality, talk turnout is meager at best. Often, audiences consist mainly of Brunswick residents or students required to attend for class.

Guest speakers are a valuable Bowdoin resource returning to campus since the pandemic, and we should take advantage of what they have to offer.

Students choose a liberal arts education for the opportunity to access a unique hub of scholarship from researchers at the forefront of their fields. In taking classes across disciplines, we are given the chance to engage with broad intellectual curiosities. But we generally have only 32 class periods to fill our time here and thus leave a significant proportion of the 33 departments and 43 majors untouched.

When we ignore Student Digest emails and walk past posters advertising talks in Smith Union and the dining halls, we miss out on vital opportunities to grow as students and thinkers and expand our knowledge about new fields.

Going to a talk will take at most one to two hours of your time and the wherewithal to stay awake. Optional: the courage to listen, the guts to ask and the audacity to shake hands.

Talks are also central to community engagement. They are a chance to come together and learn about something new. Sometimes, the speakers are Bowdoin professors, and we have the opportunity to support them and engage with their work outside the classroom. Some speakers are alumni or professors from across the globe who are accomplishing incredible feats. Others are Maine residents working in the community we make our own for these four years.

You may be surprised by how much you learn from your fellow audience members. An event is a great chance to get a glimpse outside of the Bowdoin bubble—and perhaps even get a snack. Talking and connecting with people of all ages and backgrounds is part of a well-rounded college experience.

Attendance levels at talks may also signal to the administration what students are most interested in, allowing future talks to be tailored to campus preferences. Instead of making procrastinator promises to engage with our interests later—next week, next semester or later in our lives—we should take the chance to attend the talks available to us now.

Going to talks should be as vital a part of our liberal arts education as going to office hours. It is a way to engage with topics we are interested in—or have not yet had the opportunity to learn about. It is a chance to ask questions and listen to the wise words of experts.

Attending talks will make us more engaged peers and global citizens, and the interdisciplinary interaction that they enable has infinite potential. This is the foundation of the liberal arts.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is composed of Janet Briggs, Isa Cruz, Abdullah Hashimi, Kristen Kinzler, Talia Traskos-Hart, Austin Zheng, Sam Pausman and Juliana Vandermark.


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