Since organizing efforts for Michael Brown began last year, students of color at Bowdoin have become vocal in ways that I’d never seen my freshman and sophomore year here. There is more that needs to be done. It seems like this keeps being repeated over and over again, but for as many times as it is has been said, there is someone saying that we should just be grateful that we’re here and suck it up.

In the past years, elite colleges have changed their demographics by giving out more generous financial aid and making stronger efforts to reach out to underrepresented groups. I found out about Bowdoin when I was in high school because it was on an online list of colleges with a no loan policy. Colleges with no loan policies have a financial aid packet that expects no parental contribution if the student is from a low-income family and only includes grants. Those policies have given many low-income students the opportunity to attend elite schools like Bowdoin.

The fact that it was possible for me to come to one of the top schools in the country even though I was a low-income student seemed like a miracle. I felt extremely grateful.
But now we’re here as low-income students and students of color, and Bowdoin, like many colleges across the country, doesn’t seem to know what to do with us. In the past, Bowdoin has had a lower graduation rate for blacks and Latinos compared to white students. There are constant racial tensions. Women of color are the most dissatisfied group on campus. There are still economic barriers for low-income students when they come here, despite the financial aid that’s offered. I remember asking someone on my first-year floor if I could borrow their OneCard and pay them back because I didn’t have any money to do my laundry. I had to wait for pay day, which if you’re a working student at Bowdoin, is a big deal. I was lucky enough to only have to support myself and not have to work to send money home like other students at Bowdoin have had to do.

I am grateful for Bowdoin’s efforts to try to even the playing field. I have benefited from many of them, like the funded internships that the Career Planning Center gives to students each summer. But I also feel that my sense of gratitude has kept me and many students quiet for a while, and now that we’re speaking out, there seems to be a type of backlash.
Students of color who want their elite institutions to change have been painted as privileged, whiny kids. There is an attitude of,  “Shut up and be grateful.” Do I need to be more grateful than other students that I’m here? Am I not supposed to want to change a place just because it’s elite?

Students of color in colleges across the country are saying, “We’re here.” And we’re not leaving or staying quiet. Elitist colleges like Bowdoin might have been made for white privileged males, but we’re making them ours. This is scary to many, but for me, it’s about time.