Dozens of Bowdoin students traveled to Portland last Friday night to attend a demonstration in support of students protesting racism at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) and other schools around the country. 

The demonstration, held in Portland’s Monument Square, was attended by around 100 people, and attended by activists from Bowdoin, the University of Southern Maine (USM) and elsewhere. It was organized by a USM student group called Students for #USMFuture.

Two Bowdoin students, Ashley Bomboka ’16 and Michelle Kruk ’16, spoke at the rally about the importance of institutional change, solidarity with activists at other schools and the role of allyship. Afterward, they led a march along Portland’s Congress Street from Monument Square to Longfellow Square and back.

The protest came in response to high-profile controversies involving racism at Mizzou, where the president resigned following a series of racial incidents and subsequent protests, and Yale, where an administrator’s email about offensive Halloween costumes and a fraternity party which reportedly turned away students of color sparked discussions about institutional racism. 

Bowdoin, meanwhile, has been involved in visible racial controversies of its own after the “gangster” party last month, in which some members of the sailing team publicly wore outfits caricaturing African-American stereotypes. 

Some students questioned the administration’s response to a series of Yik Yak posts that offended many students in the week following the “gangster” party. Posters criticizing the Yik Yak posts and asking for policy changes were placed outside the offices of President Clayton Rose and Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, as well as other prominent locations on campus. A silent protest was held in Smith Union the next week. 

Many students participating in the Portland protest last Friday saw the event as an opportunity to connect the events happening at Bowdoin to questions of racism at colleges and universities on the national stage. 

“It’s so apparent that it’s not just a problem that Bowdoin has or a problem that Mizzou has,” said Caroline Martinez ’16, who attended the protest. “It’s so many colleges that are complaining about it and having a hard time with knowing how to address it, and most administrators don’t know what to do.”

Bomboka said that, while she expected a bigger crowd, she felt that the event was a success. She estimated that about 50 of the protestors were Bowdoin students. 

In the march, demonstrators chanted and held signs with messages like “No justice, no peace” and “Black lives matter.” Many students thought the public nature of the protest in downtown Portland was significant.

“When we were walking past various restaurants in downtown Portland, people who were eating dinner were getting up and looking out the window and were very clearly interrupted, which is cool, because it’s a whole new demographic that perhaps wouldn’t have been made to be cognizant of this issue,” said Maria Kennedy ’16. 

Kennedy said that she attended to “show solidarity with students at Mizzou, but also at Bowdoin and around the country who are going through a lot of bad things, particularly right now, and show my support for their movement.”

“People all over the country—not just all over the country, but outside the U.S.—are showing their support to Mizzou, and I wanted to do the same thing,” said Martinez, who added that many of her friends are students at Mizzou. 

Martinez emphasized the opportunity that the demonstration provided for Bowdoin students to protest in a new way. 

“It was good to see Bowdoin students there with other people being so strong, chanting very loudly and encouraging each other, because I think Bowdoin is a place that can be very polite and superficial, and sometimes it can be hard to show that amount of energy,” she said. 
After the protest, Martinez said, “The first thing I thought was, OK, we need to bring this to the dean’s office.”