For the third time in just over a year, an incident of ethnic stereotyping by Bowdoin students at a party has ignited campus-wide tensions, frustrations and pain, and prompted an institutional investigation in response.  

In the latest incident—a “tequila”-themed birthday party in Stowe Hall last Saturday night—some students wore sombreros, according to a student who attended. 

A screenshot taken from the email invitation showed the event being referred to as a “tequila” party and read, “we’re not saying it’s a fiesta, but we’re also not not saying that :) (we’re not saying that).”

Several Mexican and Mexican-American students expressed exhaustion and frustration at the public comment time at Wednesday night’s Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) meeting.
 “As a senior who has seen multiple racist incidents at this college, I’m at the point now where I’m really, really tired,” said BSG Vice President for Student Government Affairs Michelle Kruk ’16. 

 “What happened last weekend completely distorted what I stand for, what I embody and what I fight for. That was wrong, especially in light of what happened last semester,” said Bill De La Rosa ’16.

 Last semester, the sailing team’s “gangster” party, where students wore costumes of stereotypical African-American apparel and accessories, prompted a wave of conversation and protest about issues of race on campus. In fall 2014, the lacrosse team’s “Cracksgiving” party, where students wore Native American costumes, resulted in the discipline of several individual students. 

On Wednesday night, BSG followed a precedent set after the “gangster” party last fall by urging the student body to attend its public comment time during its weekly meeting to discuss the incident and passed a statement of solidarity offering support for those affected.

The statement passed by the BSG, in addition to condemning the incident, offered several recommendations, including that the administration address bias incidents and the hurt caused by them more quickly and that the College develop a standardized process for punishing students involved in these incidents. 

Two major additional recommendations were added to the draft after public comment time. The first encouraged the College to acknowledge the time pressures on students of color tasked with responding to such incidents. The second recommendation, inspired by a new course on Black Lives Matter at Fairfield University, recommended that the Office of Academic Affairs play a role in punitive measures for offending students by mandating academic work in certain subject areas. 

At the public comment time, De La Rosa voiced frustration that a BSG member allegedly attended the party.

“That is disgraceful. That is shameful. Especially because you’re elected by the student body, not to represent a certain group, but the student body,” said De La Rosa. “I encourage the BSG to do something about this—to put a bylaw starting whenever, next year, that you are all elected to represent the student body, and that there should be some sanctions, some consequences, for those that partake in behavior like this.” 

“We have asked over and over and over, and the thing we’re asking for is just basic respect,” said Catalina Gallagher ’16.  

“I have spent at least five hours talking about this. That’s so much of my time,” said Raquel Santizo ’19, who is on the board of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO). “I’m a first year, I should be doing first-year things."

BSG concluded the meeting by setting up an ad-hoc committee to draft an amendment to either the BSG’s bylaws or its constitution to address situations when members of the assembly break the social code.

Of the students who spoke at the meeting, none defended the party’s theme or said that they had attended.  

Several members of LASO discussed meetings that they had held with administrators. A student who attended the party confirmed to the Orient that many of those present at the party had been involved in meetings with the Office of Student Affairs as well.  

The administration has not yet announced how or if it will respond to the incident.

An email to campus from Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster on Monday night announced that his office was “in the process of investigating what we have learned from students and from posts on social media.” Foster asked students with information about the event to contact him or Leana Amaez, associate dean of students for diversity and inclusion.

In an email to campus Wednesday night, President Clayton Rose did not refer to the specifics of last weekend’s incident, but wrote broadly that further work needs to be done to make students of color welcome on campus and condemned insensitive posts on the anonymous social media platform Yik Yak. 

Foster declined to comment on the incident to the Orient, pending the results of the investigation. Amaez did not respond to requests for comment. 

Administrators have largely moved away from the language of “cultural appropriation,” which was used in official emails after the Cracksgiving incident and has still been a common topic of debate on Yik Yak. Foster’s email referred to “ethnic stereotyping,” while Rose’s referenced an “act of bias.” 

Editor's note (2/26/16 at 11:30 a.m.): It was originally reported in this story's second paragraph that students wore "stereotypical Mexican garb including sombreros." That paragraph has been updated to clarify that sombreros were the only stereotypical attire reported by the student who attended the party.