The College will have a campus-wide teach-in on Thursday—its first since 1981—despite mixed feelings amongst the faculty. The teach-in, titled “Intersections: Making Connections, Moving Forward” will focus on the intersection between climate change, racism and social justice. Because members of the faculty opposed the proposal to cancel all classes on Thursday, the decision to cancel class is left up to individual professors.
The teach-in will feature panels throughout the day, open classes, a dance performance, and a music performance. All the panels will feature Bowdoin professors, students or staff talking about various aspects of the intersection between climate change and social justice. Some classes require registration, but panels are open to all Bowdoin students.
For a detailed schedule of events and to register for classes, go to bowdo.in/teach-in.
Mary Hunter, A. LeRoy Greason professor of music, was in the initial group of faculty that planned the teach-in. She believes it’s important to engage with difficult topics on a broad scale.
“We don’t talk to each other well across lines. We don’t talk to each other well across racial lines; we don’t talk to each other well across disciplinary lines. I’m not sure we talk well across student-faculty lines. These are issues—questions of race, questions of climate change and questions of social justice—that require us to talk to people we wouldn’t normally talk to in ways that may not be comfortable.”
Hunter believes that, although not all professors will be cancelling classes, there will still be an opportunity for students to learn. Although the number of students may vary based on how many professors cancel class, she does not believe the information and the message will be lost on those who do attend the events.
“My bar is that people learn something that they couldn’t have learned without the day and that they converse in a way that they would not converse without the day.”
Amina Ben Ismail ’17 believes “[the teach-in] represents Bowdoin’s desire in the last couple of months to finally talk about issues, especially racial issues in the U.S. It’s a big accomplishment to me.”
Ben Ismail says she wants those who do not normally think about issues of race, social justice and climate change to think about them during and after the teach-in.
“I really do think that at Bowdoin, it’s divided between the people who are really affected by these issues, or are thinking about them all the time, or are in groups that think about them, and then the people who don’t.”
When first introduced in December, a group of faculty presented the idea of having a teach-in focused solely on climate change. Faculty at the meeting suggested that a teach-in could not be focused solely on climate change when tensions were running high on campus about race and social justice issues.
Although the faculty supported the teach-in by a majority vote at the faculty meeting in May, they did not support a campus-wide cancellation of classes. In an email to the student body, Interim Dean for Academic Affairs Jen Scanlon and Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster stated that the teach-in is not a “Bowdoin event.” Scanlon and Foster also stressed that “lack of participation in the teach-in should not be read as lack of concern for the issues of social, racial and climate justice that affect us all.”
There is a divide amongst professors regarding the day, largely around the cancellation of classes and the politicized nature of the topics. Professors who teach on Thursday have the option to cancel class or hold class as scheduled. Some professors are cancelling their regularly scheduled classes and encouraging students to attend teach-in events.
Associate Professor of English Ann Kibbie says that, although she supports discussing the topics of the teach-in, she is not in favor of cancelling classes to do so.
“What is gained politically from having it on a Thursday so the events are automatically in conflict with scheduled classes?” asked Kibbie. “I still feel as though I don’t have an answer to that.”
Kibbie suggested that the teach-in be held on a Saturday or as a weeklong event with the panels held during the evening. She does not believe that having the teach-in on a class day does any more to highlight the importance of the topics presented.
“It’s creating divisions amongst people that really should be working together,” said Kibbie, “It has created a certain amount of hurt feelings.”
Psychology professor Sam Putnam also agrees that having the teach-in on a class day is not the best approach.
“It diminishes the importance of what we do on campus,” said Putnam, “We all go into this [job] because we’re passionate about these subjects. To be asked to give up a day is insulting to me.”
Putnam is also concerned that the event focuses on just a few issues.
“There are several real issues that are facing the world, the United States and our community and I worry that elevating these ones above others minimizes the others,” he said.
Chair of the History Department Dallas Denery is concerned about the politicization of the day.
“We’re here to challenge students, we’re here to improve critical thinking, we’re here to open up horizons,” said Denery. “But I don’t know if it’s our responsibility to use our position as faculty to push specific political agendas that often have nothing to do with our professorial expertise.”
Some professors are taking an active approach to the day. The education department—currently comprised of Chair of the Education Department Chuck Dorn, Visiting Assistant Professor of Education Sarah Jessen and Adjunct Lecturer in Education Erika Stump—will be cancelling all classes for the event.
Dorn is requiring the students in his seminars to live tweet the event—each student is required to go to at least one panel. He will also be on a panel himself.
John Lichter, professor of biology and director of the environmental studies program, will be opening his environmental studies course for all those interested to attend. The class, co-taught by environmental studies and history professor Matt Klingle, will focus on public health and changes in medicine that accompany the loss of biodiversity, climate change and social inequalities on the planet.
“For the teach-in as a whole I would like students to recognize that we’re in the Bowdoin bubble here but we don’t want to be that way and we don’t want to be isolated and privileged. We want to engage with the rest of the world,” said Lichter.
Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Leana Amaez will participate in the concluding plenary panel.
“I support it because I think it’s consistent with what we do. We create opportunities for students to learn and to engage difficult topics that matter. The notion that our students are excited about talking about these particular issues and that they’re asking for a way to deepen that understanding and to create a dialogue on campus to me is consistent with the values of Bowdoin as an educational institution,” Amaez said.
Although she does not have a particular goal for students on Thursday, Amaez wants students to engage, ask critical questions regarding the topics and to continue the discussion.
“It’s an opportunity for the campus to explore critical issues of our time in an interdisciplinary way.”
Students participating in support of the teach-in have a wide variety of reasons for doing so. Briana Cardwell ’17—a member of Intersection: People, Planet and Power (IP3), the group created last spring to plan the event—said that in light of the past year’s conversations and events, it’s important to discuss issues such as race and climate change.
“As a black female on this campus, last year I was pushed to certain limits. I found it very hard to be at Bowdoin while everything else was going on in the world and be in classrooms where professors would completely ignore or not mention that. That somebody who looks like me is getting gunned down and getting attacked just for being black—that’s why it’s important to me,” said Cardwell, “I didn’t choose to be black and none of us can choose our race but I also can’t choose to talk about it or not and I feel like this is a good way for other people who don’t have to talk about it to talk about it.”
She also stated that issues of climate change are also imminent.
“You can step away from race if you are not of the race that is affected, but you can’t step away from the fact that the environment is going downhill. We are destroying our environment and that is something that is going to affect you, your kids and your kids’ kids,” Cardwell said.
Cardwell and Ben Ismail both find it unfortunate, however, that not all classes will be cancelled for the event.
“By not cancelling classes, and by not allowing it to be a completely open space for [discussions] where everybody can go because there is no class, I think that makes it a bit harder for those people who wouldn’t come out,” said Cardwell.
She believes that by not showing support of the teach-in and the topic discussed by cancelling all classes, professors are also indicating to students that the event and the topics are not as important.
Cardwell asks that students “come and be willing to be educated.”
Both mentioned that without events like the teach-in, many students will leave Bowdoin without discussing important issues such as race and climate change, an idea expressed by DeRay Mckesson ‘07 in his conversation with students last week.
“That makes me really sad, that professors at Bowdoin would think that issues like these shouldn’t mix with their departments,” said Ben Ismail. She believes faculty should not be excluded from the conversation simply because it is outside of their area of expertise.
“The whole point is to feel uncomfortable.”
How the teach-in came about
Although introduced and proposed to faculty and staff last year, in December and February, respectively, the idea to have a day dedicated to climate change has been in the works since former president Barry Mills signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007. Mills then organized a group of faculty, staff, students and alumni to come up with ways to be more sustainable here at Bowdoin. The committee announced in 2009 that the College had a goal to be carbon neutral by 2020. Following the announcement, Bowdoin had a festival that “rallied around issues of climate change,” according to a 2009 Orient article.
Madeleine Msall, professor of physics, was one of the members of that committee.
Following the rally, Msall says that motivation to keep the movement going fell.
“There was a sense, after some years into the carbon neutral commitment passed that we kind of lost our impetus to make the harder choices,” said Msall.
According to Msall, then-President Barry Mills told her that he believed the best course of action would be a faculty initiative. Msall rounded up a group of faculty and discussed what faculty leadership issues on climate issues would look like.
“One of the suggestions was that we should have a teach-in. We should make a moment where we took the idea of that this is so important that we need to focus lots of campus energy on it,” said Msall.
Msall and others also felt it was a good time to broach the topic because students involved in the divestment movement had been asking for faculty support. At the time of the initial conversations, around 70 professors had signed a petition calling for divestment. Faculty had also sent a letter to the Board of Trustee calling for divestment.
The week the teach-in was presented was also the week police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Student leaders of multicultural groups held a vigil in remembrance of Brown and the events happening in Ferguson.
“On the faculty floor, it was very passionate when people said, ‘We understand you’re very active about climate change, but if we’re going to have a teach-in at Bowdoin we need to have a teach-in about racism and all the ways it affects all of us both on campus and the greater world,’” said Msall regarding the initial presentation in December.
The group of faculty expanded and became IP3, the group which planned the teach-in beginning last semester. The faculty approved the teach-in, though not a campus-wide cancellation of class at their meeting on May 4.
8:30-10:00: Open Class: Earth Care: Public Health, Disease, and Environmental Inequalities in the Anthropocene
9:35-9:55: Open Class: Forced Migration and Interdependence: A Climate Dance Event
10:00 Framing the Questions – A plenary welcome with Mark Battle, Susan Kaplan and Brian Purnell.
11:30-3:30: Seventeen different open classes and twelve panel discussions run in multiple parallel sessions. See the detailed schedule for links to panel and class descriptions.
12:00-1:30: Campus Information Expo
2:30: Slam Poets
4:00: Ways Forward – A concluding plenary with Leana Amaez, Sabina Hartnett ’18, Catherine Longley, Roy Partridge and Madeleine Msall.
All Day Intersections: Making Connections, Moving Forward Film Screenings
All Day: Word Art Collaborations: Selections from the Mark Melnicove Collection, 1970-2015