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Inaugural Black Student Summit unites Bowdoin, Bates and Colby students during Black History Month

February 16, 2024

Courtesy of Jordyn Birmingham
CREATING COMMUNITY: President of Bates College Garry Jenkins sits in Ladd House during the Q&A for the Black Student Summit. The Q&A was moderated by associate dean and director of the office of Intercultural Education of Bates College.

On February 10, the College’s Center of Multicultural Life (CML) organized and hosted the first Black Student Summit in conjunction with the Bates Office of Intercultural Education and the Colby Pugh Center for Student Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. About 60 students in total attended the summit across the three institutions. President of Bates College Garry Jenkins also served as the summit’s keynote speaker.

The summit was centered around the theme of Black solidarity. The programming of the summit included three workshops, a Black Solidarity Panel, a Fireside Chat Q&A with Jenkins and an affinity groups mixer hosted by the Black Student Union (BSU), Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness (SOCA), and African Alliance (AA). The workshops discussed career exploration, personal finances and how to prevent burnout.

After many requests from the CML and advocacy from affinity groups across Bowdoin, Bates and Colby, the summit was created with the intention of having educational workshops while also offering an environment in which Black students could connect and discuss their experiences at predominately white institutions. This idea was further explored during the Q&A and mixer.

“We had heard from our students that there was a desire to build more community and solidarity across the state, not just communities and so we were talking about different possibilities,” Assistant Dean of Student Affairs for Inclusion and Diversity and Director of the Rachel Lord Center of Religious and Spiritual Life Eduardo Pazos said. “We came up with the idea of trying to do a Black students summit and celebrate Black History Month (BHM) in our colleges and in Maine as well.”

Jordyn Birmingham ’24, vice president of the BSU, attended the summit and thought the workshops provided useful information many students otherwise may not have received.

“There was a personal finance and budgeting workshop available for students to attend and I think having this workshop was so important in promoting financial literacy amongst college students who may not be getting taught these lessons elsewhere,” Birmingham wrote in an email to the Orient.

Micheka Fenelon ’24, co-president of the BSU, stated that inviting Colby and Bates to the summit made the experience richer and more enjoyable, as it opened the opportunity to make connections, not only on campus, but across the state and within the Black communities at the three participating institutions. The sense of community created was the ultimate goal of the summit.

“I think it opened our eyes to how the struggles we’re facing at Bowdoin aren’t unique. Both Colby and Bates are going through their own hardships whether it be within the board leaders, seeing a divide within the Black community and/or fighting for advocacy/support [from] an administration that oftentimes overlooks [them],” Fenelon wrote in an email to the Orient.

The BSU mixer capped off the summit with various activities such as line dancing and Black Jeopardy. The mixer combined discussing the hardships of the Black experience while celebrating Black joy.

Fenelon expressed how the ultimate goal is that this summit becomes a yearly event that Bates, Bowdoin and Colby would rotate hosting. She also expressed hope for the BSU to be able to organize more activities within the summit itself, along with more participation from students and staff.

“I would extremely appreciate it if more Black students came to this event.… It shows us that you care about our efforts to showcase Black excellence. Inviting Black faculty/staff would be helpful too,” Fenelon wrote. “They are just as part of the struggle as the students are and deserve to feel seen, appreciated and loved. BHM is just [as much] for them as it is for us, and they should totally get an invite to these conferences as well.”


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