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BSU hosts panel on Bowdoin, diversity efforts in reaction to SFFA v. Harvard

December 1, 2023

On a Wednesday night panel hosted by the Black Student Union (BSU), Claudia Marroquin, the senior vice president and dean of admissions and student aid, discussed some of the ways that the admissions office is trying to build a diverse student body after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard case, which prohibited race-based affirmative action in college admissions.

The panel, entitled “SCOTUS & Affirmative Action: The Judicial Attack on BIPOC in Education,” was held in Moulton Union’s Main Lounge. Mitch Ishimwe ’26 and Aaniyah Simmons ’26 co-organized the event. The panel included perspectives from professors, students, Marroquin and an attorney.

Marroquin said that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard case does not regulate colleges’ recruitment or yield practices, which has led the admissions office to expand its recruitment efforts at public schools and Title I schools, which enroll a high number of low-income students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

“With our in-person travel, we targeted Title I schools … because there is a natural overlap between low-income students and students who might be Black or brown,” Marroquin said on the panel.

“The Supreme Court decision affected the decision-making process in the way that we can consider race as a deciding factor. [It] doesn’t touch recruitment or yield as of yet.… Everyone’s expecting more litigation in the years to come,” Marroquin said in an interview with the Orient. “The hope is that by having a larger funnel, the results will continue to show diversity, but there’s a lot to be seen this year.”

Assistant Professor of Sociology Jamella Gow, one of the panelists, said that affirmative action is only one step in addressing structural racism at institutions like Bowdoin.

“Affirmative action isn’t the only step; it’s also transforming institutions of education themselves by making them not just spaces that recruit more students of diverse backgrounds, but ones that make those spaces more welcoming,” Gow said.

While the Office of Admissions cannot see the race of applicants in this year’s admissions process, other demographic markers, including whether applicants are first-generation, are still visible.

“Even though our process has been a really holistic one where race has never been a single factor, it does feel different in how we’re having to read applicants,” Marroquin said.

The Office of Admissions has been paying closer attention this year to applicants’ socioeconomic status by looking at their Pell Grant eligibility. Since the College is need-blind, admissions officers can’t see applicants’ family income, she said in the interview.

Marroquin stressed that these efforts are not the College’s way of finding a proxy for race, but instead that they are a way of building diversity in broader ways. Still, Marroquin does not see socioeconomic diversity as a substitute for racial diversity.

“I was a first-generation college student but I’m also incredibly fortunate that I’m no longer a low-income person. However, the experiences that I’ve had and the fact that I’m also an immigrant—that can’t be encapsulated by my socioeconomic status alone,” Marroquin said. “My child, when she applies to college … is also going to be a person of color, and I’m sure there are going to be injustices that she faces that may not be represented by her socioeconomic status alone.”

Panelist and Visiting Assistant Professor of Government Túlio Zille noted the importance of faculty diversity.

“Representation is definitely not enough, but it’s also definitely very important,” Zille said. “From a faculty standpoint, when I’m in a classroom, when I see people I identify with, I feel more comfortable pushing back, pushing the boundaries.”

Starting with last year’s applicant group, now the Class of 2027, applicants are invited to answer an optional prompt that asks how they have navigated “across or through difference.” The Court’s opinion stated that colleges could consider student essays about how they have navigated race as a factor in admissions.

“Again, it wasn’t something Admissions just made up to have it as a proxy,” Marroquin said. “The question is very intentional in that one of the missions of Bowdoin is that students who are entering a diverse and complex world know how to navigate through difference. It’s not about race; we can talk about difference through a variety of lenses.”

In response to a student question regarding whether Bowdoin would consider getting rid of legacy admissions at Bowdoin, Marroquin responded that only five percent of Bowdoin students are legacies.

“[The percentage of legacy students at Bowdoin] is very low in comparison to other institutions,” Marroquin said. “There’s the assumption that a legacy just got in because they’re a legacy student…. That is not true. It would be unfair to make that assumption because students are multi-faceted…. We have explored it; it’s been in conversation, whether Bowdoin would abolish … [legacy admissions].”

Four students on the panel also spoke about their experiences as people of color at the College. Becca Silva ’26, one of the panelists, explained her sense that funding for affinity groups is too low.

Simmons explained her sentiment that Bowdoin’s current number of Black students is inadequate. Last year, Simmons remembered learning that the Class of 2026, then the most diverse class to date, had around thirty Black students.

“If we think that thirty Black students is a very diverse class, I’m very ashamed,” Simmons said. “That’s not representative of a school that I want to go to.”

Ishimwe, who moderated the panel, said in an interview with the Orient that she co-organized the panel because she worries what the Court decision will do to the representation of Black students on campus.

“I remember when they overturned the decision and being like, ‘What are we going to do now?’ There are so few Black Bowdoin students on campus already. And [I remember] being really scared that there would be even less and that we’ll get even less community,’” Ishimwe said.


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