President Clayton Rose announced plans last week to hire outside researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University to conduct a study on the experiences of students of color at Bowdoin. In an interview with the Orient this week, Rose spoke in more detail about what the study will encompass and how its results will be used. 

Camille Charles, a professor of sociology, Africana studies and education at the University of Pennsylvania, will lead the project and be assisted by Rory Kramer, an assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Villanova University. 

The project is scheduled to be completed by May, at which point a written report of the researchers’ findings will be made available to the campus community. Rose said that while he plans for conversations surrounding the report to take place on campus following the report’s publication, he was not yet sure when those would happen or what form they would take.
After the report is released, Rose said, an internal process will begin for determining which of the recommendations to act on and how to go about doing so. 

Rose said that Charles is being paid by the College for her work on the project, but did not give an amount. He said that he made the decision to hire Charles and Kramer independent of the Board of Trustees, but that the board is aware of the project. 

According to Rose’s announcement, the study aims to answer three broad questions: how students of color experience life at Bowdoin differently from white students, what policies and practices contribute to these differences and what strategies the College could pursue to improve the experiences of students of color. 

“Those of color in our community experience Bowdoin differently than those who are white; the difference can be profound and occurs in every aspect of our lives here,” Rose wrote. 

Rose’s announcement comes after a semester of events that have sparked discussions surrounding incidents of racism and structural racial inequality at Bowdoin and other campuses across the country. At Bowdoin, the “gangster” party held by the sailing team in October and a series of controversial anonymous posts on Yik Yak led to protests and wider discussions of the role that race plays on campus. 

“Without getting after institutional structures and really understanding the barriers that exist or the mechanisms that you can use to facilitate it, you will only make limited progress,” Rose said in an interview with the Orient. “There is also a deep temptation to react very quickly and throw lots of things at the problem without understanding the root cause of the problem.”

In response, Rose said, this project seeks to understand the racial issues facing Bowdoin in a systematic way. Charles and Kramer will be given quantitative data about the College to analyze, and will also make qualitative observations during in-person visits to speak with students, faculty and staff. 

Bowdoin faculty will likely be interviewed by the researchers for their perspectives, but will not act as researchers in the study.

“I do want to give Professor Charles the opportunity to be someone who comes from the outside and gains an understanding of this place,” Rose said. 

Charles, who declined a request for an interview from the Orient, will continue to teach a full slate of classes at Penn. However, Rose said, she plans to make visits to Bowdoin for “a bunch of days at a time.”

Charles knew Rose when he was a student in her department at Penn and she served as a reader for his Ph.D. dissertation. 

“She is uniquely suited among all scholars that I know or know of in the United States to help us. Her work on racism is among the best in the country, and she works at the intersection of race and higher education, and in particular has looked at liberal arts colleges,” Rose said.