Say It Like It Is Challenging the stigma against female masturbation
Say It Like It Is Administration must take real action and stop making students do its job
Say It Like It Is Gratitude and speaking out for change aren’t mutually exclusive
Say It Like It Is On decolonizing Bowdoin, welcoming people of color and women
Why hasn’t the College taken stronger stances, actions on racial issues?
Administration must take real action and stop making students do its job
Build on the teach-in to move forward together
Going beyond 'we don't say that at Bowdoin'
Why hasn’t the College taken stronger stances, actions on racial issues?
Reversal of hopeful initiative sparks concern about ethnocide in Ecuador
Say It Like It Is: On decolonizing Bowdoin, welcoming people of color and women
In the past week I’ve had several people ask me if it was worth coming to Bowdoin. “Do you regret it? Did it become your home?”
Four years ago I chose to come to Bowdoin because I wanted it to be my new home. I wondered if it could be my home. “Where is home?” isn’t an emotional or existential question. It is a political question. As a bisexual, immigrant Latina woman with no money, I wondered if this country, if this state, if this college, was a place for me.
As soon as I got to Bowdoin, my existence here felt odd. I didn’t want massages during finals, chocolate-covered strawberries for special events and talks about self-care. I wanted to see myself and what I cared about here. I didn’t want men to grab me at college house parties without asking me. I wanted to feel like a respected individual in my own Latina woman skin. The majority of buildings, named after white men, with the exceptions of Russwurm and a few women, did not seem welcoming with their elegance. They seemed imposing. As I walked through the second floor of Hubbard Hall and saw paintings of all the important white men at Bowdoin and pictures of soldiers who had fought in the Middle East, I wondered what it would be like to see something else. What if there were paintings of radical women of color all across Hubbard Hall? What if there were pictures commemorating non-U.S. citizens who had died at the hands of U.S. soldiers? It would seem out of place at Bowdoin. And that is a problem.
We need to recreate Bowdoin as if we were engaging in a deep decolonization project. We need to embrace the people of color who came here and their wisdom and contributions to the world. We need to include the voices of people of color and women in all our departments, not only in Africana studies, Latin American studies, Asian studies and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. I don’t just want representation—a text or picture of one person of color who managed to become powerful and rich. I want to hear and feel the struggles of people of color and women across the world. Only then will we be able to say that Bowdoin is a home for people of color and women, but right now these walls at Bowdoin are silencing with their overwhelming whiteness.
Next year many first years will be coming here and they will be asking the same question: can this be my home?
What will be Bowdoin’s answer? It doesn’t matter that we say “welcome” with words if in action, we are saying that this is not the place for people of color and for women. No fancy food or destressing event is going to calm this hunger down and answer the home question in a satisfying way.
I don’t regret coming to Bowdoin, but I don’t feel like it is my home. Like many people of color and women on this campus, I’ve carved out spaces, had fun times, and made demands, but to say this place is my home now would have a strong and positive political meaning that Bowdoin doesn’t match up to. Bowdoin is not there yet, but it can get there.
Say It Like It Is: Bowdoin community shows its international support to Ecuador
Last Saturday night I was walking to Smith Union with one of my best friends when I heard the news. We were eagerly chatting as we made our plans to go to My Tie after doing some homework, but everything at Bowdoin went out of focus when I heard about the 7.8 earthquake in Ecuador, my home. I barely mustered the energy to say, “I’ll call you back” when my mother gave me the news. I wondered if my partner who lives in the coast, the area most affected by this tragedy, was alive. I wondered how bad it was across the country and not just in the epicenter of the earthquake. Were my brothers who lived more than five hours away from the coastal region affected too? Were my high school friends okay? I frantically messaged and called everyone I knew in Ecuador.
My family and friends are fortunately doing well and I thank everyone who has expressed concern, but I am luckier than many people who have lost loved ones. There are over 500 people who have died and even more who are wounded and homeless. Some are still trapped under collapsed buildings. The long term implications of this for Ecuador will be devastating as well. The low price of oil already had Ecuador in a tough spot economically before the earthquake. On top of that one of Ecuador’s main exports is seafood and the earthquake destroyed many coastal towns, affecting Ecuador’s largest city as well which is in the coast, Guayaquil.
As Ecuador deals with the impact and aftershock of the earthquake – a magnitude 6.2 earthquake shook Ecuador again on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 – I begin to ask myself what I can do while being here at Bowdoin, which if you know me is the question that has daunted me during my four years here. What can we do as an international community in times of crisis like these? How can we show solidarity in a place like the US, which has shown it has problematic ways of helping? Despite the fact that Bowdoin is an isolated liberal arts school, it is an international community. We have students who come from many different countries and we deal with subjects outside the US in most of our classes. But what does this mean in terms of our responsibility not only to the US, but to the rest of the world? I don’t have the perfect answers to all of these questions, but I encourage all of us to begin asking ourselves how to create an international solidarity support network and want to invite you to join a small campaign that Ecuadorian students in our very own school are starting.
Our objective is to raise $5,000 for Ecuador’s Red Cross by May 6th. We’re doing this by individual donations and bake sales. Check out our donation site at: https://www.gofundme.com/2ms6yj6k. And keep your eyes open for people selling food in the union and other locations with an Ecuadorian flag. We’ve already raised close to $1,000 since the campaign started on Wednesday. Thank you to everyone who has come out and supported Ecuador’s victims, volunteered to help with this initiative, or just asked somebody from Ecuador if they’re family members are safe. I’m not sure what an ideal international community would look like, but the type of international solidarity I’ve seen at Bowdoin gives me a little bit of hope in this very dark time for my country.
Say It Like It Is: Reversal of hopeful initiative sparks concern about ethnocide in Ecuador
In 2007, Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, led what was acclaimed as an international example of environmental conservation. He headed an initiative, known as the Yasuní Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) initiative, which would maintain oil found in the Yasuní National Park in the ground in exchange for $3.6 billion. These funds would be raised by the international community and equaled half of the total revenue Ecuador’s government would make from exploiting the Yasuní. Correa, however, changed his mind in 2013 and announced the Yasuní was now fair game.
The problem with the internationally-applauded ITT initiative, as well as with the wonderful fact that Ecuador’s constitution is currently the only one in the entire world that gives nature inalienable rights, is that the actions of Ecuador’s government completely contradicted and belittled these acclaimed efforts. On March 28, 2016, less than two weeks ago, the first well in the Yasuní began to be drilled.
In the midst of all the environmental disasters going on in the world and abuses by corporations, why does this case deserve our particular attention?There was genuine hope that Ecuador’s government would not allow for one of the most biodiverse places in the world to be exploited, that an alternative was found and that other countries would follow Ecuador’s great example. It felt like a huge betrayal for Ecaudor’s government to backtrack on the ITT initiative.
This mistake has also already been made before and feels almost like a joke to many Ecuadorians, like myself, who grew up hearing about the horrible effects Chevron and Petroecuador had in a different location in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, the province of Sucumbíos. People in this area are still suffering from cancer and birth defects and continue to have unsafe sources of drinking water.
According to Amazon Watch, the Yasuní National Park covers “nearly 2.5 million acres of primary tropical rainforest at the intersection of the Andes and the Amazon” and is home to the Waorani, Tagaeri and the Taromenane peoples. There is great concern that these indigenous people, some of the few in the entire world who have chosen to live in voluntary isolation, will cease to exist. Ethnocide will take place.
Ecuador’s government has created a rhetoric that is similar to the one that justified the exploitation and human rights’ violations that Chevron is responsible for: exploiting oil in the Yasuní will lift the country out of poverty. Cutting edge technology will be put into place. The revenue from oil will be used to lift the country out of poverty despite the fact that it’s lost so much of its value.
But as good as this sounds, it’s just not true. History has proven it is not true. Economic interests have proven it is not true—Ecuador holds a large debt with China and will sell the oil from the Yasuní to a Chinese company at a very reduced price. And indigenous people from the Amazon who will be most affected by this have proven it is not true. They’ve said it over and over again in international courts, marches, letters and conferences.
It’s scary for many people in Ecuador, especially indigenous people who will be the most affected by this, to even imagine that at this very moment the exploitation of the Yasuní has already begun. But it should also be scary for people in places like faraway Maine and for the rest of the international community that eagerly supported the Yasuní initiative. The rainforest is said to be the lungs of the world for a reason. The rainforest is a vital part of our ecosystem and the fact that sources of water and land continue to be contaminated puts a bleak future before us. As climate change and environmental destruction continue to gain more attention, it is important to be able to clearly see what will be lost. If the Tagaeri and the Taromenane die because of this oil exploration, which many have predicted will happen, it will be a clear ethnocide. These people will not come back from the dead. Not all of the damage that is currently being done to people and their environments can be undone. And those who end up suffering the most are those who are already the most oppressed and invisible in society.
Say It Like It Is: Gratitude and speaking out for change aren’t mutually exclusive
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.
Say It Like It Is: Don't abandon diversity
BOC budget crisis is about more than canoes and GORP.
I came to the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) with zero outdoor experience. I decided to join because I went on a hike led by a student as part of the Explore Bowdoin program, which provides prospective students who are underrepresented at the College with the opportunity to visit Bowdoin before deciding if they will apply. After getting my first check from my work study job as a line server at Moulton, I walked to the BOC and paid the membership fee. I was excited, but nervous—was this a place for me?
I did every possible activity I could do with the BOC; from whitewater kayaking to camping at Merritt Island to joining Spring Leadership Training in order to be qualified to lead student trips. I quickly realized something that many students have voiced concern about. The BOC was overwhelmingly white, which seemed odd for a college that is as diverse as Bowdoin. I wanted to change this and led trips with Explore Bowdoin and Out of the Zone Leadership Training, trips mostly comprised of students of color and low-income whites. While minorities were getting in touch with the BOC, it was clear that the BOC needed more.
In the past year, since the student-organized Meeting in the Union and open letter to the community published in the Orient, the conversation about race in the College has shifted. With this shift, different spaces on campus have changed to some extent as well. The BOC started off this academic year by putting a free trip pass for all students in their mailboxes and advertised that it would give financial aid to students for whom the joining fee presented an economic barrier. Intergroup dialogue has also been implemented in some programs. There is space for improvement, but for the first time in my four years at the BOC, I felt like we were on the right track to make it a diverse and inclusive space.
But now the BOC faces new financial difficulties, which will force it to reduce its activities and its generous financial aid. Students who have cars, financial resources and experience will still be able to participate in outdoor activities, but for others, the BOC is the only opportunity they’ve ever had to do outdoor activities. The telemark skiing class, which the BOC subsidized for me my first year at Bowdoin, might get cancelled because the BOC can’t afford to pay for the bus that takes students to Sugarloaf. The BOC will also have to reduce other trips that go out every weekend, especially the ones that are overnight. This is concerning because it is a halt to the progress the BOC has been making in creating a diverse environment (and I mean diverse in the racial, economic and cultural sense). Despite the BOC’s commitment to being financially accessible to all students, there is no doubt that students who will be most affected by the BOC’s budget shortage are those who don’t usually have access to the outdoors and haven’t gone on trips before because of the financial barrier it presents.
Bowdoin is not a college that is financially unstable. We have many resources (hopefully a type of emergency fund for when there are budget shortages as well). I’m not asking the Student Activity Funding Committee to give the BOC a disproportionate amount of money which would take away from other clubs. I’m asking the College to change the way they give funds to the BOC and to show they’re going to make sure we have the diverse and inclusive environment we’ve been struggling to create. I want to know that students won’t be the ones who have to pay the consequences of a budget mistake and bureaucratic processes of getting access to monetary resources.
President Barry Mills greatly changed the demographics of the College by increasing the amount of financial aid the college offered to its students, which was a great step in the right direction. Now the College faces a new challenge: how to make students at Bowdoin have the same access to resources in their four years here and thus also increase its diversity in spaces like the BOC which have been mostly white. The question now is if this is a priority for the College.
Say It Like It Is: Challenging the stigma against female masturbation
I’ve never lied when people have asked me if I masturbate. The subject has come up in a range of scenarios throughout the years from “never have I ever” games, events about women’s sexuality, and casual conversations. Every time it creates discomfort and sometimes giggles and questions from women like, “How do you do it? How often? Does it feel weird?”
My first weekend at Bowdoin I felt like I was in one of the most sexually liberal places in the world. I saw people making out on the dance floor, going home together—and for the first time in my life—same sex couples in a public space. At the alma mater of Alfred Kinsey, I assumed everyone, or almost everyone, masturbated. Being a sexual being seemed so acceptable in this context and people talked about their “hook ups” and partners often. But I was surprised.
Some women told me they had never had an orgasm, others that they had never touched themselves and that the idea of it just made them very uneasy. This filled me with questions. What about masturbation made them uncomfortable? Where did these ideas come from? And how did they know what they liked and disliked if they didn’t masturbate?
I began to explore my own relationship to masturbating and tried to answer these questions as best as I could. Growing up I remembered I was told myths that were supposed to keep both men and women from touching themselves. One of them claimed masturbating made an obscene amount of hair grow in people’s hands. I also learned that men always wanted sex and that as a woman I was supposed to be delicate, have no sexual needs and withhold sex from men who had no control over their endless sexual desires.
When men begin to masturbate it’s often seen as a rite of passage—something all guys do—but many women never even begin to do it because of the stigma surrounding female sexuality. When women do masturbate it’s often seen as deviant, dirty and characteristic of a promiscuous woman. Just like there’s often a double standard in dating and hooking up, there’s a double standard with masturbation. Even in a place like Bowdoin College, which in comparison to most places in the country is very open about sexuality, women can feel shame, anxiety and fear when it comes to masturbating (whether it be actually doing it or just having a conversation about it).
Masturbating is a way to connect with your body and get to know what your sexual likes and dislikes are. Sex experts like Tristan Taormino, who came to Bowdoin a few years ago, recommend that people (especially young people like college students) do it even if they’re in a relationship. Masturbating also makes the body release endorphins, which means it’s a fun and destressing activity.
I’m not going to end this piece urging all of Bowdoin to masturbate because the point isn’t to feel pressure to do it and because it’s very normal to feel anxious about masturbating. People don’t get taught how to do it and for many years female sexuality has been heavily repressed and stigmatized. What I do urge people to do is to begin to explore their relationship to masturbation. Why do you do it or avoid it? What are your beliefs about masturbation and where do they come from?
Say It Like It Is: Learning to use white privilege as a tool in fighting oppression
As a person who has one foot in Ecuador and another one in the United States, I have often felt guilty. Guilty that I have U.S. citizenship and can travel around the world while many of my friends in Ecuador can’t. Guilty that I go to Bowdoin College and receive many resources and financial benefits. Guilty that I live with extreme comfort while I have the knowledge that many in the Ecuador and the U.S. are constantly struggling. But guilt is a paralyzing feeling that didn’t show me how to use my privileged position in society.
When I moved to the U.S. and came to Bowdoin I started learning about a privilege I had never heard of before: white privilege. As a biracial Latina student I initially understood this concept abstractly, but didn’t connect it to my life until I took a class called “Race and Ethnicity.” I knew that race existed from a young age by observing the contrasting way in which my white “American” mother and Ecuadorian mestizo father were treated, but I didn’t understand that I had white privilege. Its implications overwhelmed me.
The house where my white mother and grandmother live is an example of the white privilege present in my life. When I go to St. Louis, MO—where most of my family lives—I am welcomed in a safe, well-kept neighborhood, in the same house that my white great-grandparents helped my grandmother buy. This house, where my family and I came when we were going through hardship in Ecuador, represents the racial inequality and injustice present in the U.S. The neighborhood is still all-white, just like it was when my great-grandparents bought it, and it’s located on the “good” side of town. My great-grandparents—who were white—were allowed to buy this house in this neighborhood; that is no coincidence. The practice of redlining continues to have very negative effects on African Americans in St. Louis, but it benefited my white family and allowed them to buy a house at a good price, while blacks were barred from the same options. Even after three generations, I am reaping the benefits of living in a racist society that prioritized my family’s whiteness at the expense of blacks in St. Louis.The fact that my mother is white and lived in a place where practically everyone was college educated, where blacks were legally not allowed to live in for a part of St. Louis’ history, had a huge effect on her chances of going to college. On top of this, as a white student she was perceived as being smarter than her black peers in her school. This type of unfair advantage that my mother was paid at the price of others, blacks, who had to prove their worthiness to teachers who gave it for free to white students. When I began to go to her same high school I realized this continued to be the case. I was immediately put into the most advanced classes when I walked into the counselor’s office with my white mother and only later learned, after talking to my black peers, that black students had very different experiences when they walked into that same office with their parents.
Over the years, I have realized that I have many privileges in my life, but what should I do with all this knowledge of my position in society and the unequal structures that privilege me? Privilege is a tool. It is power and can be used in multiples ways. President Rose’s talk last Tuesday about race is a great, specific example of using white privilege to change unequal relations that still exist in our society. Using white privilege means coming to grips with a reality that you didn’t necessarily create, but that you are benefiting from. This is hard to do, but can also feel incredibly eye opening.
We can all learn how to use privilege wisely to change the very structures that created it. Even if you’re not white, but biracial or something else (like me), by being a student at Bowdoin College, you have a lot of privilege. It’s hard to get to Bowdoin and people struggle to get into this place because of all the benefits that it gives us. It is up to us to use all these benefits to change unequal power structures. It starts by learning about the ways in which we have received unfair advantages at the expense of others.
Say It Like It Is: Feeling safe in an unsafe world
When I was 12 years old my mom gave a talk about being a woman and what this meant for my safety. She said strangers might make aggressive sexual advances on me and might even try to attack me. It was my job to be ready when these things happened, to put on a very serious face that would prevent strangers from approaching me and to be able to defend myself. This angered me. I grew up with four brothers so I wanted to be able to be a part of the world the way they were, but my mother explained to me this wasn’t possible. Why did I have to be more careful than they were? Why were strangers more likely to hurt me?
To hear that I lived in a patriarchal and unequal society, which my mom also pointed out, wasn’t particularly satisfying and still left unanswered questions. As my mom explained the situations I might encounter, many of which I have encountered at some point in my life from having strange men harassing me to get into their cars to being sexually assaulted, I wondered: will I ever feel safe? How can I have peace in my life when there is so much danger, not only for people in general, but particularly for me as a woman? This danger only increases for women of color and non-straight or low income women.
Initially, I felt helpless with all these questions and information. It wasn’t fair—it was just wrong. The situation needed to change, not me or my actions. I lived in fear for a while: fear of jogging, fear of men who I just met, fear of being attacked. It made absolute sense that I would feel like this—I needed to deal with an ugly reality—but I also realized that even though it made sense, it wasn’t the way I wanted to live. Feeling inundated with fear has a real effect on our physical and mental wellbeing. The fear was useful when it made me take precautions, like locking doors and not being by myself in dangerous places, but after that it was just draining. Where can we find solace and become who we want to be in a world that isn’t necessarily what we want? The response to this question might be different for various people, but for me fostering the strength of my body, which had often been an enemy that victimized me, was a first step. The relationship we as women have with our bodies can often be problematic—they can cause us so much trouble! They are targets of stares, comments, threats and even physical aggression.
I realized that although I was more of a target of violence because I was a woman, I was also very strong and able. I began doing martial arts and using my body in very useful ways. I realized I could do pushups, lift people up and down, block a punch and defend myself. It was exciting to see my body as a protector, rather than a burden that made me a target. As women it is especially important to know how to defend ourselves. It can sound scary, but it can also be incredibly empowering and even fun to learn what to do in threatening situations. Not everyone enjoys doing martial arts or engaging in physical activities, but having an able and strong body is something that has been denied to women historically and needs to be reclaimed. In a society that oppresses and often denies women their safety, it is a rebellious act to have a body that isn’t an object made for someone else to watch or attack, but a body that is able and protects and defends us.
Having a body that’s able to defend itself won’t change the power structures of society, but it can give us a little bit more peace of mind, challenge the gender norms that subjugate women and make us feel strong. After the sexual assault case on campus and the incident on Potter Street, many have decided to have self-defense classes. Some of these classes are taking place this weekend and were posted on the Facebook group “Bowdoin Safe Walk.” There are also clubs on campus—like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which meets every Monday and Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. in Sargeant Dance Studio—which students are welcome to join as well. I invite everyone to explore these options.
Say It Like It Is: Administration must take real action and stop making students do its job
The past two weeks have brought to light an issue on campus that was already present way before the “gangster party,” hosted by members of the sailing team. Here we go again. It seems like a repetitive song I want to skip, but seem to be forced to listen to over and over again. Last Saturday, I went to a meeting at Russwurm with President Rose and Dean Foster. Although President Rose’s presence surprised and pleased me, I couldn’t help but feel that all this had already been done before. They listened politely, took the list of demands from the African-American Society and said they would think about it. Thinking is nice and good, but at this point, considering the efforts that have already been made, it is a very weak answer and shows the College’s neglect and irresponsibility in dealing with race.
The administration’s response to the “gangster party” and race at Bowdoin continues to be problematic. Let’s begin with Dean Foster and President Rose’s emails, which have been the only official college responses so far. They both focus on people being offended and hurt and mention no concrete steps to address white privilege on this campus. In fact, they don’t explicitly acknowledge that racism and white privilege exist on our campus. Focusing on “feelings” makes it seem like the problem is simply people’s feelings, specifically the feelings of people of color, as mentioned in President Rose’s email. Thank you, Dean Foster and President Rose, for coming to protect people of colors’ feelings, minimizing the historical context and current ramifications of racist acts and failing to actually take any proactive steps. People’s anger, frustration and sadness about the party are very human reactions to the very real problem this college and country face, but they neglect to deal with the racism in practically every single corner of our communities and the rampant white privilege that constantly goes unchecked.
I wonder: have Dean Foster and President Rose not had time to think and talk about race since everything that was brought up last semester? Did they forget about the list of demands that was made public in an open letter to the community last February? Did President Rose not inform himself of the state our college was in before taking on his position? Meanwhile, I’ve had multiple people, both employees of the college and students, tell me to engage in dialogue. Yesterday I received an email from the McKeen Center that invited me to be part of a small group of students that will plan dialogue sessions on this campus. I love the workers in the Mckeen Center, but I’m not going to be a part of this “dialogue.” It is time for the College’s administration to act, not for the students of color to teach. I will not be the one who leads this conversation when my college as an institution refuses to do so. The presidents of the Asian Student Association have decided they will not participate in the creation of their annual fashion show, which is supposed to show the respected diversity that exists on campus and Af-Am will no longer host parties for prospective students until the College takes action and shows that this is a place for people of color. I fully support these choices.
The list of demands published last February continues to be online for anyone who wants to see it, and I don’t want to repeat what’s already been done by mentioning all of them, but I will expand on one very simple thing that the College could easily accomplish: mandating a training on race for all of its employees. Despite the fact that there have been some baby steps taken in this direction, a lack of skills on how to talk about race and general knowledge of how it functions in society is still a prevalent issue on our campus. Members of the administration urge students to engage in dialogue, but many of our professors don’t even have the skills to have a conversation about race and feel uncomfortable doing it. How then can we have dialogue? Different small trainings have come and gone in various parts of campus, but there has been no cohesion and consistency. There’s an obvious hole that needs to be filled.
What we’re missing on this campus is the willingness of the administration to deal with race, not more programing or discussions on race led by students of color. Saying we’ll have a conversation, thinking about it or sending an email, is just not enough. As a bare minimum all the employees at this college should have a training, which can be used as a foundation for more changes that need to be done. This would at least allow students of color and white allies to direct our energy on being students at Bowdoin and not doing a job that the administration is supposed to do.
Say It Like It Is: Build on the teach-in to move forward together
The teach-in this Thursday was a historic event at our college. As students who are only at Bowdoin for four years, it may be difficult to understand its importance, but ask anyone who’s been here for a while: how often do these events happen? One of my professors said it was as rare as the lunar eclipse, which occurred last week and won’t happen again for more than 15 years. As I talked with different people around me and went to various events yesterday, I began to understand why the teach-in was so important and the meaning it has at the College and beyond.
Before the teach-in took place, I worried that Bowdoin was a place that was too apathetic and that this event might not be successful, but those concerns disappeared as soon as I went to speak to some volunteers and was informed that close to 300 students showed up to an 8:30 a.m. open class on public health and environmental inequalities. This showed a type of willingness to engage with difficult issues of inequality on a large scale that I had never seen before at Bowdoin.
Something I often hear students complain about is that when there’s an event about social justice or race, the same people always show up and there’s no real campus-wide dialogue. This time it was different. As a student organizer of the teach-in, I’ve worked with professors and students who I’d never met before and who made me think about issues I’d never considered. The teach-in was a ten month process that in itself created a new mentality on campus and challenged the Bowdoin community’s way of thinking. This is important because as students in a liberal arts college we are supposed to make connections and learn that our interests are interdisciplinary, but it goes beyond that.
Last summer I went back home to Ecuador and because of my research, I was able to spend a lot of time with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). The CONAIE constantly tried to make Ecuadorians realize that the cause of indigenous people wasn’t just the cause of indigenous people, but the cause of all people. They were able to articulate the intersectionality of their oppression as indigenous people, as poor people, and as people who live in an environment that is exploited by a capitalist system. Their success depended on this – on their ability to blend struggles and walk together with others. They created alliances with leftist organizations and environmentalists, which gave them greater strength and made more people aware of their struggle. The challenge with this, however, will always be to not marginalize any voice or issue while creating a unified force.
In many senses what CONAIE constantly tries to do is what we’re trying to do as well: to understand and articulate our different struggles in order to create a unified force that will make social change. As agents of change, we need to understand people’s struggles and their connection to the issues that we find more pressing. We shouldn’t want to fight alone and we shouldn’t be naïve enough to believe that we can.
One of my favorite panels during the teach-in dealt with environmental racism, a process by which environmental policies create disadvantaged and advantaged racial groups. This panel highlighted the importance of being able to articulate and connect issues that we usually compartmentalize. It taught me that black people in the U.S. are more likely than whites to live in dangerous and polluted environments, suffer from diseases that come from living in those polluted areas, and work in hazardous jobs. What would happen if we chose to ignore the environment or race in this situation?
As people fighting to end all oppression and save our earth we can no longer choose to ignore race or environmental destruction. In order for us not only to survive, but to create a world worth surviving for, we must understand that we are not individual units functioning in isolation.
Although the teach-in took place yesterday, it has not ended. There will be many events to continue the dialogue on race, social justice and climate change, like the Moving Forward meeting today at 12:30 p.m. in Daggett Lounge. But we won’t just talk. We will unite to move forward and create collective actions that will effect change. As human beings, we have a responsibility to each other and to this earth. Issues of social justice and climate change can often feel overwhelming to the point where we become paralyzed, but in order to make change, we need to realize the strength that we have and take action together.
Say It Like It Is: Going beyond 'we don't say that at Bowdoin'
Since I first stepped on Bowdoin's campus, I’ve repeatedly heard the phrase, “We don’t say that at Bowdoin.” It still makes me cringe. I was encouraged by ResLife during my sophomore year as an RA to use it if someone said something offensive and I wanted them to stop, but I could never bring myself to do it. Although this phrase might have been created and repeated by well-intentioned people, it is damaging to Bowdoin and the society that we are a part of. This phrase is used to manipulate people into not using certain words by making them feel like they're not part of the Bowdoin community if they use them.
When we use this approach, we miss the point. Not using certain words because “we don’t say that at Bowdoin,” or because it can hurt someone’s feelings or because it is not PC is not the approach to language we need. Bowdoin students are capable of much more. Instead, we need to look deeper and question why we use these words and what harmful ideas can be reflected and reproduced through our language.
The social censorship that lacks any type of deeper questioning has several problems and helps explain why we still have people on this campus who anonymously write and say outright racist things. Let me be clear: I am not saying that people at Bowdoin should use racist, sexist, or homophobic words. I am saying that we need to delve deeper into the meaning of these words and the unequal power structures these words reflect so we can start to put an end to them. Telling people not to use certain language because it might hurt other people’s feelings is problematic. First, it places the blame on the person who is doing the “feeling.” Second, it individualizes what is in reality a systemic issue. And frankly, it just doesn't work. By focusing so much on the feelings of the people who are hurt, Bowdoin is focusing less on the people who said it and on why they said it.
Why is there racist, sexist, and homophobic language present on our campus? What does it show about us as a community? These are harder questions to grapple with and aren’t usually addressed because there’s the assumption that there is no racism, sexism or homophobia on campus. It would be scary to admit that these are real issues on our campus, and it would also be harder to deal with. How do we address these issues? I hope that there can be a better way than to just cover them up.
The “we don’t say that at Bowdoin” strategy does not adequately ensure that the people who say something offensive won't do it again. Why? Because they didn't get it. The only part they understood is that they shouldn't say X word because it offends Y. Or they shouldn’t say it at Bowdoin. So what will happen once they're away from the person who is offended or away from Bowdoin? They will probably say X word again because they only learned it was unacceptable in one specific instance. They got no deeper reason not to do it and their thinking didn’t change.
What am I suggesting? If you feel the urge to use offensive language don't stop yourself simply because it's not what's done at Bowdoin, because another person will be hurt, or because it's the PC thing to do and the PC police might be around. Stop yourself because you understand what harmful structures your language reinforces. If you don’t understand it initially, don’t freak out or victimize yourself because someone is challenging the language you use.
My best friend (who happens to be a man) called me out the other day for using a phrase that reflected a very sexist attitude, and initially I felt defensive. I felt that as a woman and a gender and women’s studies major I shouldn’t need anybody to correct my language or point at problematic attitudes it reflected. What problematic language and attitudes? Hadn't I questioned it all and done the work? I realized there’s always more work to do and that I do need the people around me, especially my friends, to help me be better. And that’s OK. We can all learn and it’s important to keep an open and active mind. No one is born understanding everyone’s reality or every issue and you can’t be blamed for that. What you can get blamed for is for not listening and using your questioning mind. We are all part of an unequal world and in order to stop reproducing its problems we need to be in a state of constant reflection.
Why hasn’t the College taken stronger stances, actions on racial issues?
I come to you today from a place of anger, but also of hope and love. I write this because I am upset and because it needs to be said, but also because I believe that love means speaking up when you are hurt and trusting that your words will not fall on deaf ears.
As an institution, Bowdoin has failed people of color and will continue to do so if we don’t take immediate action. Yes, as a person of color I have had many happy moments at Bowdoin and received various benefits that come with belonging to this institution, but that does not make the way the College deals with race—or rather doesn’t deal with it—acceptable.
Bowdoin, as a small community, reflects the racial issues of inequality that have brought people across the U.S. and the world to the streets to demand change.
The fact that women of color are the most dissatisfied group on campus, that the Outing Club—Bowdoin’s largest club on campus—is overwhelmingly white, that students continue to dress up like Native Americans, Mexicans and other oppressed people, all show that Bowdoin has a long way to go in making this a campus where people of all races are at home and where there is racial equality.
We do need to create more awareness, but we also need the College administration to take actions that uphold values of racial equality and justice. Why hasn’t the College taken a public stance on the issues of racial inequality that have been brought to the public’s attention by the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson?
At a time when the community of color is in mourning over the deaths of its youth and the terrible reactions of the country and justice system to these deaths, Bowdoin has been cold and silent.
I don’t want to keep talking about how race is a problem; about how it made me feel when an officer in St. Louis asked me for my Social Security number; about the fear in my body when I heard the KKK was heading to Ferguson where my family was protesting; about when a Bowdoin student asked me if I was just some Mexican; about when some of my closest friends left crying from Crack House because it was too hard to see students dressed up like Native Americans right in their faces.
I want students to continue connecting with each other and the community around them about issues of race, but more than that, I want my college to implement policies that won’t allow the same things to keep happening over and over again.
I am a Latina and a Native American student, and I wonder if Bowdoin will ever be a home for me the way it is for a white, wealthy male student. I don’t want the College to tell me that it cares about diversity—I want it to show me that it does.
Some Bowdoin students, including myself, have planned events around Mike Brown’s death—there’s been a shoe memorial, a vigil and discussions—and around other issues of race like cultural appropriation, but we need the College to support us.
I want Bowdoin to make more conscious efforts to integrate this campus and reach out to people for whom this college was not initially made: people of color, people who are not straight, low-income students and women. I want the College to make a public statement that Bowdoin has solidarity with people of color at this difficult time. I also want the College not to allow the athletes who dressed up as Native Americans at Crack to participate in the rest of their season.
I ask students to please ask themselves these questions before raising their eyebrows and dismissing what I’ve proposed: What does it mean when a student can dress up as a Native American or “dirty Mexican” and just get a stern talk, while plagiarism can get a student kicked out of school? What purpose does this type of sanctioning serve? What does the College accept and what doesn’t it? What does this mean about our institution and our values?
The College’s silence around the justice system’s failure to indict Darren Wilson and its failure to implement consequences when issues of race arise show that Bowdoin as an institution either doesn’t understand the problem of race or doesn’t care about it as much as it cares about other issues. And this is unacceptable.
Caroline Martinez is a member of the Class of 2016.