I keep telling myself, "walk backward, but speak forward." I'm just about to run into one of those damn poles when a kind parent on my tour alerts me.
I'm about halfway through my tour when we reach Sills, which is where I always go through my spiel about the languages taught at Bowdoin.
"The College offers 10 languages: Spanish, German..." and then I promptly list the rest, always ending on my subject of choice: Arabic.
"A few years ago, the College didn't offer Arabic, but after hearing the student body's desire for the subject, approved it as a program and now offers two courses in the subject."
The tour group usually nods its head in approval, happy to see that our administration is responsive to its students.
While I don't break the hearts of any prospective students on my tour group, I've slowly become more and more agitated with the status of Arabic at Bowdoin. I became more troubled by the situation midway through last semester, when the Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee (CEP) decided that studying either Chinese or Japanese was now worthy of a minor.
It's not for a lack of time commitment that Arabic is not a minor, as we meet every day for an hour.
Even though Friday class can be tough, I understand that one of the best ways to study a language is to immerse yourself in it as best you can. So I have no problem with the hours we spend in Chase Barn Chamber.
However, by the time I graduate, I'll have taken seven courses of Arabic at Bowdoin, one abroad, and four over the course of one summer at an intensive language program.
Taking 12 courses satisfies every major that Bowdoin offers, but instead, I'll be graduating without even a minor.
Getting a degree in the subject is certainly not my sole motivation in studying Arabic, but to spend so many hours on a topic and thenreceive no recognition for it is just absurd.
It is also problematic that Arabic does not satisfy any requirements. As Professor Hopley, both a great man and the College's only Arabic teacher, once said in an interview with the Orient with regard to the culture and religion of the Middle East,
"Arabic can't be divorced from the two."
So how is it that the class does not satisfy an International Perspectives credit or a Exploring Social Differences one when a significant part of our class is devoted to the culture and history of the region?
Additionally, course offerings are limited. While Professor Hopley teaches independent studies in the language, he can only commit to meeting once every week for one and a half hours.
That's understandable, as he will be teaching four classes: one introductory and one intermediate-level course, and two independent studies. What is not understandable is that there is clearly a demand for more classes and professors of Arabic and the College is doing nothing in response.
One of the more common questions I receive while giving tours has to do with comparing the College to its peer schools, notably Amherst, Williams, Middelbury, and Swarthmore.
While tour guides are told not to entertain such questions and make comparisons, privately it's an entirely different matter.
We often measure our success as an institution using peer schools as barometers. Although this method may be flawed, if we are to play the game, then Bowdoin lags behind all four on the Arabic front.
Both Williams and Middlebury offer the language as a major, while Amherst currently offers four classes as part of its Asian languages and civilizations department, and Swarthmore offers seven courses as part of their Islamic studies major.
The Arabic program has progressed, going from informal classes taught by a student to having a full-time professor, but the journey is far from over.
The Middle East remains an extremely important region, and to truly understand it, one must know its language.
Bowdoin College is an exceptional college, but to be great, it must not be half-hearted in its approach to language knowledge.