Yesterday evening, all 504 members of the class of 2020 gathered in Pickard Theater for the second part of a program entitled “More Than Meets the Eye.” An addition to Orientation, the program was created to address issues of race and diversity on campus.

Reverend Dr. Jamie Washington, president and founder of multicultural organizational development firm Washington Consulting Group, addressed first years and asked them to continue to maintain an openness toward new perspectives even as they form their own social groups. Part of the program gave students time to converse with other first years they hadn’t met before. Washington also asked students to stand up and participate in self-identification based on race, class and other consequential identifiers. 

Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Leana Amaez planned “More Than Meets the Eye.” She said the decision to address race and diversity during Orientation was something the administration had considered for a while, rather than a direct reaction to the “gangster” and “tequila” parties at Bowdoin last year.

“It would be disingenuous to say that last year didn’t have an impact on us,” Amaez  said. “But I also think it would be unfair to the classes that came before to locate it all in last year’s events. It’s been a much longer process.”

“More Than Meets the Eye” aimed to model how students can address issues of diversity and inclusion.

“There are some challenges that will come with engaging with difference,” she said. “But [the program explains] here’s what’s at stake, and here’s how we can do it better.”

Justin Weathers ’18 was one of the students who collaborated with Dean Amaez to create the program and served as a panelist during the first part of the program during Orientation in August. He said he and other students had talked with Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster and President Clayton Rose last year and requested more focus on issues of race and diversity during orientation to help prepare minority students. 

“I think there’s a concern that a lot of minority students are brought here and they get this romanticized view of Bowdoin,” he said. “But when stuff hits the fan, it’s like, ‘this is not what I thought it was.’”

During the first segment of “More than Meets the Eye,” nine Bowdoin students told stories of their experiences with race on campus. Afterwards, first years divided into groups where they shared their personal perceptions and expectations about race on campus as well as their reaction to the panelists.

James Wang ’20 said, after nearly a month at Bowdoin, he thought “More Than Meets the Eye” gave him an accurate perception of the College’s diversity. 

“I think that the panel did a pretty spotless job of reflecting the experiences that I’ve had so far on campus with diversity,” he said. 

Fiona Carey ’20 felt the program successfully ignited conversations about race among first-year students. 

“I think what was really great is that it really broke the ice,” she said. “A week later my roommate and my R.A. and I had a really meaningful conversation about race on campus during lunch, and that’s what I’ve looked forward to doing at Bowdoin.”

Still, several first years expressed confusion about the relation of “More Than Meets the Eye” to past events at Bowdoin and wished that the events like the “tequila” and “gangster” parties had been addressed more directly. 

“I think that there are a lot of students like me who have heard little tidbits about what happened last year but still don’t know a lot of background,” Carey said. “It’s obvious that programs like this are important, but I think that having that background, especially a story that was so specific to Bowdoin, might show why it’s important to have these conversations.”

Amaez and Weathers both stated that the program wasn’t intended to explain events from last year, but to help first-year students start a dialogue about diversity and inclusion.

Weathers added that he thought including specifics about some of the events last year would have been fruitless. 

“I’m a proctor and first years ask me about it, and there’s no way for me to explain it really,” he said. “I can’t cite all the Yik Yaks that were dropped, I can’t communicate how frustrating that was or how divisive the issues were or how torn the campus was when you’re seeing something really ignorant with 115 upvotes, because until first years experience it for themselves, there’s no way [they] can fully understand it.” 

Weathers was glad first years had the chance to learn about these issues through Orientation, but he emphasized that the conversation must continue outside of structured meeting times. 

“I’m really excited to see [it] because it’s cool to hear a story here and there, but I think that stories are more powerful when you see that they’re not just individual stories,” he said.