Update, March 5, 11:47 a.m.:
The impeachment procedings, originally scheduled for today at 1 p.m., have been postponed.
"I have decided to postpone impeachment proceedings until a process can be fully defined and codified in the bylaws," wrote President of Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) Danny Mejia-Cruz '16 in an email to the study body.
This is the first time that BSG has moved to “indefinitely remove” any member from their assembly. The bylaws as they currently stand contain langauge that makes reference to impeachment procedures, but there is no specific procedure described.
BSG will vote on the adoption of a formal impeachment procedure at the BSG meeting on Wednesday, March 9. The articles of impeachment proposed on March 2 remain valid, said Mejia-Cruz in his email, but will not be discussed until after the impeachment procedure has been codified in the bylaws.
Original article, published March 4:
As punitive measures have begun to take form for individuals who planned and attended the “tequila” party on February 20, emotions on campus continue to heighten and debates intensify.
Many of the students involved with the party have been punished by the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, and members of Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) introduced articles of impeachment on Wednesday against two of its representatives who attended the party, Class of 2018 Representative Clare McInerney and At-Large Representative Duncan Cannon ’18.
At the party, several students wore sombreros, and the email invitation stated “we’re not saying it’s a fiesta, but we’re also not not saying that :) (we’re not saying that),” sparking backlash as the third prominent instance of ethnic stereotyping at Bowdoin in sixteen months.
According to one of party’s hosts, she has been placed on social probation until March 2017, must participate in an educational program and Active Bystander Training, must move out of her room in Stowe Hall into Chamberlain Hall and has been banned from Ivies-related events and Spring Gala.
A sophomore who attended the “tequila” party and was photographed wearing a sombrero said he was placed on social probation until Fall 2016. Although he confirmed with a dean that he attended the party and wore a sombrero in a photo posted to Facebook for a short period of time, he said he was sanctioned without meeting with a dean or being asked to explain the image.
Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster declined to comment on the punishments.
Over 120 students packed Daggett Lounge at Wednesday’s BSG meeting to voice concerns over whether impeaching McInerney and Cannon is an appropriate response to their involvement with the party. The debate centered around whether campus conversations and “safe spaces” can effectively educate students who commit acts of bias, or if more punitive measures are necessary.
The articles of impeachment stated that by going to the party, McInerney and Cannon had violated BSG’s constitutional nondiscrimination policy and had performed “injurious actions to other members of the General Assembly.” They also noted that the two had violated the “spirit” of their own previous votes supporting BSG’s condemnation of last semester’s “gangster” party and failed to uphold the Assembly’s stated commitment to demonstrate that cultural appropriation is unacceptable.
This is the first time BSG has moved to “indefinitely remove” any member from their assembly. Impeachment proceedings will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. A two-thirds majority of BSG must vote yes in order to remove McInerney and Cannon from their positions on the assembly on Saturday. However, that result will not expel them permanently: McInerney and Cannon will still be able to petition to rejoin BSG at a later date, upon presenting to the general assembly that they have reflected on and learned from their actions.
The articles of impeachment were introduced at the BSG meeting on Wednesday night by At-Large Representative Lucia Gibbard ’18, Vice President for Facilities and Sustainability Kevin Hernandez ’18 and Inter-House Council Representative Jacob Russell ’17.
Russell noted that the motivation for impeachment proceedings was to hold BSG members accountable to the standards that they themselves had set for the student body in their previous condemnations of appropriation on October 28 following the “gangster” party. He argued that it would be “wildly hypocritical to us for our body to not hold itself to the standards that we expect of everyone else on campus.”
The public comment time at Wednesday’s BSG meeting revealed a range of reactions to the impending impeachment proceedings.
Students like Rob Adams ’17 voiced support for indefinitely removing McInerney and Cannon from the assembly.
“Serving on this panel is a privilege, and it’s a privilege that we all assign to the people sitting down… If you don’t uphold the standards that this panel has set to be on this panel, then you don’t have the privilege to sit on this panel,” Adams said. “I’m not condemning anyone’s figure, I’m not saying you’re a bad person, but to attend an event that hurts other students and those students put you up there, I’m sorry but you lost your privilege to represent those students.”
Bill De La Rosa ’16 echoed this sentiment.
“What these students did violated that agreement that was made on October 28—that is a fact,” De La Rosa said. “And I’ll take it a step further—and I use this word seriously—tainted the experiences of college students, first year students on this campus. They feel trapped to be in this place, that if they transfer they’ll lose their financial aid, and that’s wrong.”
“These actions have consequences,” he added. “These are leaders on our campus that were chosen and elected to represent the student body. Those actions did not reflect that last week.”
Other students spoke in defense of McInerney and Cannon.
“By impeaching Clare and the other student, you’re assuming the validity of the conditional that if someone attends a party, they condone the actions of the party and support everything the party stands for and I think you’re hard-pressed to prove the validity of that condition,” said Caleb Gordon ’18.
Dana Williams ’18, a close friend of McInerney's, said that McInerney's efforts to understand how her actions hurt and offended fellow students should be taken into consideration.
“I’ve talked to her extensively about the ‘tequila’ party and why it was offensive and rather than defend her decision to go, Clare has really tried to understand,” she said. “She’s reached out to students on campus to talk about why it was wrong. She’s apologized, and she’s made a conscious effort. I think that in itself is an important thing."
“Victimizing Clare for a large and complex system of racism will not fix the problem. We need a space where all students feel genuinely welcome to talk about this issue. And so having people like Clare on the Bowdoin Student Government will make...that more of a welcoming environment to everyone. Because without a discussion from both sides that is rational and calm, nothing will get done.”
Joe Lace ’17 said that removing McInerney and Cannon from their BSG positions conflicts with its goal to educate rather than punish members of the Bowdoin community.
“To me that sounds not restorative in any way, it sounds punitive,” he said. “It sounds as if the offended party is effectively perpetuating the divide between the offended and the offender, and where is the learning process in that?”
Maya Reyes ’16 responded that impeaching members of BSG can provide an effective learning opportunity in itself.
“People learn through their experiences and consequences,” she said. “[By impeaching McInerney and Cannon], this institution will learn that actions like these are not what we expect from each other as Bowdoin students who have empathy for their peers who are already coming into a situation where they feel marginalized from the get go, as people who come to an institution that wasn’t created for them.”
Several students in attendance pushed for increased communication between offenders and those offended, as well as a clearer definition of what does and does not constitute cultural appropriation. Others, however, pointed out that these conversations have been historically ineffective.
“We’ve had conversations after ‘Cracksgiving.’ We’ve had conversations after the ‘gangster’ party,” said Dash Lora ’16. “There have been moments to learn, moments for people to have discussions, but it is not the responsibility of students of color or allies of students of color to bring people to have these conversations. It is the responsibility of every single person on this campus to engage in these conversations. If you are willing to avoid these conversations, it is not on us.”
“We should not have to say, ‘OK we can have more and more conversations,’” he added. “The conversations have happened already. We have to punish people who do these sorts of things because then they will finally understand why we want these things to happen, why we want change on this campus.”
Following the public comment time, both McInerney and Cannon made statements acknowledging they felt that it was wrong of them to have attended the party. Cannon apologized for “misrepresenting the BSG and the principles that we stand for,” and those harmed through his failure to connect his “actions at the ‘tequila’ party with previous actions such as ‘Cracksgiving’ and the ‘gangster’ party.”
McInerney delivered a similar statement.
“My failure to connect tequila and sombreros with their deeper cultural implications was an inexcusable act of ignorance and negligence,” she said.
The debate over the right response to the party moved beyond the Bowdoin bubble this week, also adding to the tensions on campus. A number of online sites and blogs, such as National Review Online, the Washington Post and CampusReform.org, picked up on the debate with posts that were largely critical of those who felt harmed by the party. However, several anonymous blogs went further and directly targeted individual students who had been vocal about the harm caused by the party, including De La Rosa and BSG Vice President for Student Government Affairs Michelle Kruk ’16.
In a campus-wide email on Tuesday, Foster wrote: “Unfortunately, we are quite certain we have not seen the last of these situations. We will need to continue to support one another, to see these unwarranted and ignorant attacks for what they are, and to condemn them.”
The “tequila” themed birthday party on February 20 is the third incident of ethnic stereotyping at Bowdoin in just over a year. In October, the sailing team threw a “gangster” party that sparked similar conversations about cultural appropriation on campus. Last fall, at “Cracksgiving,” members of the men’s lacrosse team donned Native American garb at a Thanksgiving party.
The occurrence of the “tequila” party and the content of the campus discussion that followed indicates that there is still a significant gap in the understanding of what constitutes cultural appropriation and ethnic stereotyping and what steps can be taken to achieve a sense of reconciliation.
“We’re up against a complex institutionalized system of racism and something must be done about it, [but] I don’t think that targeting the individual characters of the people at that party is going to be productive,” said Williams at the BSG public comment time on Wednesday.
Editor's note, March 4, 1:03 p.m.: An earlier online version of this story implied that McInerney had received punishments that included social probation until March 2017, completing Active Bystander Training, moving out of Stowe Hall and being banned from Ivies-related events and Spring Gala. This was the punishment for one of the hosts of the "tequila" party, not McInerney. McInerney declined to comment and her punishment is unknown.