James JelinNumber of articles: 12
First article: February 12, 2015
Latest article: December 2, 2016
Another white guy Activists must listen and empathize to have more effective conversations
Campus must agree on what progress means following ‘gangster’ party
Another white guy Understanding the relationship between sexual assault statistics and our lives
News in brief College remembers Grobe
Another white guy ‘Broken windows are not broken spines’
Understanding the relationship between sexual assault statistics and our lives
Activists must listen and empathize to have more effective conversations
Whatever it is, we need to acknowledge our race without being defined by it
‘Broken windows are not broken spines’
Campus must agree on what progress means following ‘gangster’ party
NASA organizes first Native heritage month at Bowdoin
Concerned about low membership, club emphasizes outreach.
The Native American Student Association (NASA) put on Bowdoin’s first Native American Heritage Month in November featuring multiple speakers and events. The program focused on intersectionality and outreach, as the club voiced concerns about low membership.
“Last year [the club had] six Native American students, and now it’s back to two,” aid NASA co-leader Dylan Goodwill ’17.
She pointed to NASA’s lack of a formal adviser and the absence of Native American studies in Bowdoin’s academics as reasons for the club’s low membership. The College does not have a Native American studies program, and there are no courses being taught next semester with “Native” or “Indian” in the title.
“The only Native American faculty or staff member is JT Tyler, and he’s on security,” Goodwill said. “So he’s cool, we hang out with him. But … we just need more support.”
NASA planned these events in part to bring Native American culture to Bowdoin’s campus on its own terms.
“We are tired of having to do these talks about cultural appropriation,” Goodwill said. “This is something that’s not about us in a Halloween costume, it’s showing what’s really going on… It feels like something for us instead of about us.”
NASA co-leader Rayne Sampson ’18 hoped the month could provide an opportunity for more students to engage with the Native community at Bowdoin.
“Many students who aren’t Native themselves feel a degree of hesitation about getting involved because they see it as a group for Native people by Native people,” Sampson said. “We’re hoping more people see that NASA is a way they too can get involved.”
Goodwill said that with so few students, the future of the Native American Student Association is uncertain.
She added that nearly every year, members of NASA have wondered if the organization would survive, and it always has. As she prepares to graduate in May and move back to the reservation where she grew up, Goodwill said she is proud of NASA’s accomplishments this year.
“We’re just excited that it’s our first Native American Heritage Month at Bowdoin,” Goodwill said.
One event was a panel featuring professors from Bowdoin, Dartmouth and the University of Maine called “Water is Life: Indigenous Lands & Environmental Justice.” The event was an attempt to engage with the ongoing protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and also discussed other water issues, such as lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan.
Goodwill said that the pipeline affects Native Americans across the country. She has family members who have gone to Standing Rock to protest as well as friends who are currently there.
“It’s hard knowing that I am not there,” she said. “Talking about the DAPL is a way for me to be the activist I want to be, but on Bowdoin’s campus.”
It hits close to home for her, as she is a member of the Navajo tribe who grew up on Window Rock, the largest Native American reservation in the country. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused the release of massive amounts of toxic wastewater into the Animas River, turning the entire river bright yellow. The Navajo nation filed a lawsuit earlier this year alleging that the EPA failed to deal with the disaster and compensate Native American who rely on the river to farm.
In Maine, the Penobscot nation has teamed up with the Department of Justice to appeal a court decision stating that the tribe’s reservation does not include the water in the Penobscot River.
“[DAPL] is just a continuation of what has been happening on all of our reservations,” Goodwill said.
Interdisciplinary artist Anne Walsh discusses art in the context of a Trump presidency
Thursday night, interdisciplinary artist Anne Walsh gave a talk that she revamped the day before in response to the unexpected election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.
In an interview hours before her talk, she admitted that “life got in the way” of her plans for the talk when Trump won on Tuesday.
“I felt that it was so irrelevant for me to go across the country and pull out my slideshow and go, ‘Here’s my work,’” Walsh said. “And then I was leaving and … I thought about how I could curate a selection of pieces to show today that would allow me to say something I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about.”
She hoped that in her talk she would be able to say “Here’s how I can move forward, here’s where I’m going to find my faith, and here’s where I’m going to draw courage from to endure.”
Much of the talk took on new, unexpected meaning in the context of Trump’s election on Tuesday, particularly when Walsh focused on one of her pieces featured on The Thing Quarterly, a website that “publishes objects.” The piece displays a solid rubber wedge engraved with a letter Walsh wrote to tennis star Billie Jean King as a young girl after King beat Bobby Riggs in one of the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis matches.
During her talk, she projected the wedge on the wall and read the engraving aloud.
“[Y]ou are my inspiration because you are so strong,” she had written to King. “You are so passionate about equality for girls and women. You won that match for me and for everyone who cares about women’s lib.”
Reading the letter again, Walsh almost began to cry. She said it was a realization that this letter was something that her own young daughter could have written if the Hillary Clinton had won the election.
“Let’s make some doorstops,” she continued. “Let’s keep the door open.”
Walsh said that seeing art in the San Francisco airport before her flight here reminded her of the craft’s importance.
“I don’t know if any of what I’m going to show you today is going to make you feel hopeful or like organizing,” she said. “But the work that I saw today made me feel better. One of the places I have to begin is just by affirming what my values are, and one of them is just that I really deeply believe that all kinds of art need to exist … I’m going to keep making work.”
Much of the content of Walsh’s talk focused on the concept of translation. She played audio recordings from a piece which she and sound designer Chris Kubick produced in conjunction with the Whitney Museum of American Art. They recorded psychic mediums attempting to contact the deceased artist Joseph Cornell’s spirit and “translated” that into audio tours for visitors at the museum.
In her piece “An Annotated Hearing Trumpet,” she began by attempting to adapt the book “The Hearing Trumpet” into a movie. Instead, she has created an ongoing interdisciplinary project including images and writing that will eventually be published as a book.
The project has become like a hall of mirrors that explores what it means for humans to adapt and translate art.
“The book that was gonna be a movie is gonna be a book about a book going to be a movie,” she said.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Erin Johnson was a graduate student of Walsh’s at the University of California, Berkeley. She said she was excited for her own students to get to meet one of her most influential teachers.
“There’s this nice closing of a circle for a moment in which we can all have conversations together that were started in my own life via Anne,” she said. “Thinking about lineage and influence is exciting and important to me as an artist and a woman.”
Through music, students work to increase inclusivity at parties
As the College works to expand racial and ethnic diversity, recent efforts by the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) and the African American Society (AfAm) have drawn attention to one commonly overlooked aspect of racial inclusivity on campus—the selection of music in the College House party scene.
LASO First Year Representative Ray Tarango ’20 emphasized the way that music contributes to the segregation of the party scene.
“I know that a lot of people don’t go to parties...because they feel like the music that they’re used to isn’t what’s being played,” he said. “I think it plays a huge role.”
Two weeks ago, LASO teamed up with Baxter House to throw a party featuring a mix of English- and Spanish-language music like bachata and reggaeton, a rare presence at College Houses.
Baxter and LASO members observed that their collaboration attracted far more students of color, particularly Latin American students, than most College House parties.
“Socially we’re pretty segregated on campus,” said AfAm board member Rebkah Tesfamariam ’18.
Baxter House member Julia Amstutz ’19 agreed. “Your typical Baxter partygoer doesn’t also go to LASO or doesn’t also go to AfAm.”
Last year, AfAm and Ladd House threw two parties together: a sports jersey themed party and a concert and party featuring Tut, a rapper from Tennessee. Both heavily featured hip-hop and rap and were highly attended by students of color.
These parties are held out of a desire to move beyond panels and talks that address race on campus. They are among the first attempts to change the College House parties that the College works to make central to Bowdoin first-years’ weekend nights.
Tesfamariam discussed the importance of creating a more integrated social scene.
“If you’re not used to being around people of color or people of different backgrounds than you in social spaces,” she said, “you’re more likely to not understand issues like cultural appropriation.”
Tesfamariam placed less emphasis on the importance of music. Still, she said that it was a factor.“I stopped going to college house parties because I thought there was nothing there for me, and I can hear the music that I actually listen to at AfAm parties,” she said.
Amstutz said that College House parties play a bigger role than people realize in first years lives.
“A lot of that socialization and bonding with your floor or meeting people happens at parties,” she said.
Tesfamariam, who has been a first-year proctor for the last two years, agreed.
“There is an expectation that you’re going to go…It feels so central to campus. Especially [to] first years,” she said.
Amstutz said that Baxter has had difficulty appealing to a broad range of students on campus.
“You could see [Baxter] as more homogeneous than heterogeneous, which is part of the reason why our house is meshing so well initially,” Amstutz said. “But it’s also why we may run into some issues with who we appeal to with our events.”
Baxter residents have put effort into changing this stereotype and making Baxter a more inclusive space, but have faced challenges.
“We tried really hard to break it, and it hasn’t quite worked out yet,” Amstutz said.
Tesfamariam spoke more optimistically. She said that the dynamics of College Houses this year seem far more inclusive than previous years and that Baxter’s efforts to destigmatize the house “gives me hope, for sure.”
“A lot more students of color showed up to this party than any other party I’ve gone to,” Tarango said. “And I think that should be taken into account more.”
“You don’t have to do a whole party related to Latin American music, but just include it in whatever playlist you’re making to at least have some sort of variety for everyone to feel like, ‘Hey, I can go to this party. I can have fun.’ Because I think that’s really missing at the party scene here at Bowdoin,” he added.
AfAm and Ladd will be hosting another party together on Friday November 18.
News in brief: College remembers Grobe
Professor of Mathematics Emeritus Charles A. Grobe Jr. died after a long illness on September 29. He was 81 years old.
Grobe taught at Bowdoin for 35 years. In an email to the Bowdoin community last Monday, President Clayton Rose wrote that “his former students and colleagues carry with them fond memories of his sharp, dry wit and never-failing good humor.”
Grobe began teaching at Bowdoin in in 1964, after earning his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. In 1968, Elizabeth (Betsy) Mendell, his wife, also joined Bowdoin’s faculty, becoming the first woman to have a faculty appointment at Bowdoin.
“He was a family man,” said Isaac Henry Wing Professor of Mathematics William H. Barker. “He was just devoted to his two sons and his wife.”
Grobe gained a reputation for impressive blackboard lectures.
“He was very precise,” said Barker. “He would write very carefully and it was beautiful.”
Outside of teaching, Grobe had a passion for photography. On the cover of the 1974-1975 Bowdoin course catalogue is an orange and red photo Grobe took of a boat at sunset at Five Islands in Georgetown, Maine.
It was the only course catalogue cover in Bowdoin’s history to feature a photo that is not of a building on campus. Very few covers have photos at all, most simply featuring text and the College insignia.
“He was always very proud of that photo,” said Barker. “It is a lovely shot.”
Beyond mathematics and photography, both Barker and Rose remarked on Grobe’s incredible character.
“When he was ill, he showed true, really incredible courage,” Barker said.
“He was a remarkable member of the Bowdoin community and a remarkable teacher and scholar and a remarkable partner with his wife,” said Rose.
Puppeteer Paul Zaloom satirizes white anxiety in on-campus performance
For its first performance on a college campus, “White Like Me: A Honky Dory Puppet Show,” will come to Bowdoin this evening for a playful but wickedly satirical story about white anxiety.
Created by puppeteer and performance artist Paul Zaloom, the solo show repurposes garbage, toys and tchotchkes to explore the way white people respond to the increasing diversification of the United States.
Zaloom pinpoints the show’s origins to a pitch meeting years ago where most of the artists wanted their work to focus on issues like sexual orientation, ethnic identity and race.
“I’m sitting there and listening to artist after artist getting up and talking about this. And at one point I said to myself, geez, what about me?” said Zaloom. “And then my next thought was… I’m a white male. What do I mean, what about me?”
The bulk of the show consists of a toy theater spectacle called “The Adventures of White-Man,” which chronicles a White-Man who leaves his home planet of Caucazoid to “civilize” Earth. Eventually, White-Man begins to fear the prospect of becoming a minority in the United States by 2040.
According to Zaloom, his work has always been political and his puppetry has played an integral part in creating subversive and satirical performance art.
“We’ve never been taken seriously, and that actually gives us a lot of power … in most cultures, puppets have satirized the powers that be,” Zaloom said. “And they’ve gotten away with it.”
Though many high-profile comedians have stopped performing for college campuses, saying that students are too easily offended, Zaloom welcomes the dialogue that his show inspires.
“Students are really engaged in these issues and thinking about them,” said Zaloom. “I’m really interested to hear what people have to say.”
Professor of Theater Davis Robinson, who worked to bring Zaloom to campus, sees great value in this form of comedy as a means to make light of common anxieties.
“It’s a time when we need to be able to diffuse and laugh a little bit about the anxieties that are out there,” he said. “[He’s] able to talk about contemporary issues and politics in a way that’s thoughtful but also entertaining,” said Robinson.
Zaloom encourages all aspiring artists and performers to try out puppetry.
“Check it out,” he said. “You don’t have to make a career out of it, but you can sure have a hell of a lot of fun and amuse your friends. Or piss them off. Or whatever.”
Portland to host first U.S. Arctic Council meeting outside Alaska; subcommittee meets at Bowdoin
Portland will host a historic international forum on the Arctic on October 4-6. It is the first Senior Arctic Officials meeting to take place in the United States outside of Alaska, reflecting Maine’s growing significance to the Arctic region.
Nearly 250 government officials, business leaders and indigenous community representatives from around the globe will attend.
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental organization featuring representatives from the eight Arctic countries and six groups representing indigenous Arctic communities. They produce assessments of issues affecting the Arctic and have negotiated two legally binding agreements between the eight member states.
Last Saturday, the Arctic Council Subcommittee on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment met on Bowdoin’s campus. Several Bowdoin students attended, including Tharun Vemulapalli ’19, who works at the Arctic Museum.
“The broad topic of it was how to better engage with indigenous people … not just coming up with policy and telling them what to do,” said Vemulapalli.
When the committee broke into working groups, they asked students to take notes for them. When the groups were asked to present their conclusions to the whole committee, some unexpectedly requested that the students do so on their behalf.
“They were very open to having students involved. In fact, they were thrilled,” said Susan Kaplan, professor of anthropology and director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center.
The Arctic Museum completed an Arctic Trail map just in time for the forum, showcasing the sites of Maine’s Arctic heritage across the state.
In recent years, Maine has established itself as a gateway to the Arctic region. In 2013, the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip moved its headquarters to Portland. Between 2012 and 2015, Portland’s exports to Iceland grew over 2,000 percent and the Port of Portland doubled in size, according to Dana Eidsness, director of the recently created Maine North Atlantic Development Office at the Maine International Trade Center.
Portland is positioned to become even more significant as the earth’s climate continues to warm and travel through the fabled Northwest Passage, a shortcut from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific through the Canadian Arctic, becomes a reality. Arctic ice has melted enough that the route has become usable during the late summer and early fall. If the passage’s popularity continues to grow, Portland, the northernmost major U.S. city on the Atlantic, will become an essential international shipping port.
Efforts to travel from Europe to Asia via the Arctic have failed for centuries. But earlier this month, a cruise ship sailed through the passage for the first time in history. It stopped in Bar Harbor, Maine on its path.
Much of Maine’s recent Arctic relevance is due to the work of Senator Angus King. In 2015, he and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska co-created the Arctic Caucus, with the goal of turning the US into an international leader on Arctic policy.
King lobbied the State Department to bring the Arctic Council meeting to Portland.Bowdoin continues to play a role in the matter as well. Professor Kaplan is on the host committee for the Arctic Council meeting, and a key reception for the incoming forum attendants is being hosted by Bowdoin.
“We have more Arctic experience than almost anybody else in the state,” said Dr. Genevieve LeMoine, curator of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum.
She and Kaplan have spent decades doing on-the-ground research in the Arctic.
Bowdoin’s history with the Arctic dates back to the 1800s. Robert Peary, who graduated from Bowdoin in 1877, led the first successful expedition to the North Pole in 1909 and Donald B. MacMillan—for whom MacMillan House is named—built the first schooner designed specifically for Arctic exploration in 1920. It was called the Bowdoin.
Campus must agree on what progress means following ‘gangster’ party
From President Rose’s inauguration speech to Caroline Martinez’s Orient article last month, there’s been a lot of talk recently about the need to have substantial conversations about injustice. But to be frank, I’m a little confused by these calls to action. Is that really what we want? Because if it is, if we actually commit to airing out our racism like dirty laundry, we need to admit that it’s going to be a terrible experience.
It would undoubtedly foster understanding and progress for the community, but we would hear a lot of things we don’t want to hear. If we succeeded in engaging the people on campus who don’t care about cultural appropriation in an open conversation, that list of racially charged Yik Yaks that has been spreading around Facebook would be instead vocalized in public. It would be a barrage of racism on our campus.
But that’s what uncomfortable conversations look like. They accept that sometimes racist things need to be said out loud in order to be changed. And while that’s what we claim to want, the campus’s current tactic is not to air them out, but to put them in a tiny box out of sight.
We tell people, “We don’t say those things here,” deem opinions unacceptable and communicate to our student body, “If you think this, you need to hide it.” It makes it nicer in public, but dirty laundry in a closed space festers. We see it leaking out into Yik Yak, where people’s mild skepticism of cultural appropriation is transformed into hate speech.
In his email to the Bowdoin community, Dean Foster wrote about the need to be uncomfortable, the need to have "open and honest" exchanges "where we listen as much—or perhaps even more—than we speak." But he also deems the "gangster" party “narrow, stereotypical,” and “deeply disturb[ing].”
Isn’t there a contradiction there? How can we have have an open exchange of ideas when we’ve already decided that one side is right and the other is wrong? That's not a exchange of ideas, that’s an instruction.
So do we want a conversation or a condemnation?
We can imagine two visions of Bowdoin. In the first, for the sake of genuine conversation, we take the idea seriously that cultural appropriation is not a big deal. It’s hard, but these upsetting conversations result in the white people on this campus better understanding and empathizing with the experiences of people of color. Yet by choosing to air out ignorance, we've forced the people of color on campus to listen to the depths of racism that we know exists here. We've forced them to patiently educate their oppressors.
In our second vision of Bowdoin, we create clear lines of what is and isn’t okay. People of color deal with much less racism in public settings and are able to live their day-to-day lives freer from microaggressions and the constant weight of racism. But the underlying problems persists and the prejudice lives behind closed doors. The “gangster” party attendants know not to go to Super Snack in costume, and everything seems fine until you look at Yik Yak.
What Bowdoin do you want?
As a white guy, I don’t think I’m the right person to say what’s best for the people of color on this campus. But I don’t think we can have it both ways, and I think we need to consider this question seriously. Before we can make progress, we need to decide what it looks like.
Another white guy: ‘Broken windows are not broken spines’
Freddie Gray lies on the ground with a few police standing near him. They pull him to his feet. He screams as they drag him into the police car. One of the officers yells “walk!” at him. Sometime in the next half hour, while he is in police custody, 80 percent of his spine is severed at his neck.
Soon after, the Governor of Maryland declares a state of emergency and activates the National Guard to combat the rioting.
Last Thursday, The New York Times reported this as “Demonstrators gather in Baltimore over Freddie Gray arrest, death.” On Monday, the New York Post said “Crips and Bloods team up to ‘take out’ Baltimore cops.” On Tuesday, President Obama condemned rioting and called the participants “criminals and thugs.”
These headlines reflect what we feel about the events in Baltimore. There is a quiet battle being waged on the frontier of our opinions, and we need to be critical of the way that language is used to manipulate us.
Last Wednesday, Baltimore Police Union President Gene Ryan likened the Baltimore protesters to a “lynch mob.” This comparison has been applied to Ferguson protesters by the likes of Fox News, Mike Huckabee and conservative pundit Laura Ingraham. They ironically tried to reappropriate our hatred of racism for the sake of dehumanizing black protesters. These words are bullets fired at the oppressed, and if nobody fights back, they will strike.
DeRay McKesson ’07, the community organizer who recently spoke on campus, was interviewed by CNN on Tuesday. The interview quickly became a fight over linguistic control of the story.
Anchor Wolf Blitzer probed McKesson, telling him, “I just want to hear you say that there should be peaceful protests, not violent protest, in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King.” Blitzer tried to make the narrative of Baltimore into a story of violent protesters who even the reasonable community organizer denounces.
McKesson refused to bite, reframing the issue around the police violence: “Think about the 300 people that have been killed [by police] this year alone…. There’s been property damage here…but remember there have been many days of peaceful protest.”
McKesson’s narrative was less about the rioters, and more about the conditions of police brutality that instigated the riots.
Finally, he left us with a simple but powerful image: “Broken windows are not broken spines.”
I’m inspired to see McKesson actively oppose the efforts of the press to manipulate its audience. I’m inspired to see him use concise, persuasive language, factual examples, and poetic imagery to remake the meaning of a national story. Most of all, I’m inspired to attend the school where I imagine he developed many of these skills.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “a riot is the language of the unheard,” that it is the reaction of a people who are “neglected and voiceless.” Uplifting voices, then, is the solution to rioting.
No longer does a voice necessarily require money—in the age of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Upworthy and Buzzfeed, we just need to be interesting and effective communicators to be heard. We, liberal arts students, are spending four years being trained to do just that.
We take science and reasoning classes to learn to use logic and data. We study history, sociology, anthropology, Africana studies, gender and women’s studies and more to understand the context in which these events occur. We take writing seminars, English classes and art classes to learn to communicate, persuade, and move people.
It is our responsibility to take what we are learning and apply it, to use our voices to uplift those who have not had the opportunities that we have.
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the most popular American book of the 19th century on our campus. Nine months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his legendary “I Have A Dream Speech,” he spoke here at Bowdoin, where students from his alma mater would often spend an exchange semester. Eight years after graduating, DeRay McKesson is using Twitter—and now CNN—to reshape the meaning of the Baltimore riots as you read this.
More than ever, we find ourselves in a media war. If every one of us chose to engage in Bowdoin's history and in the fight to seek justice, we could be an army of change that would reach into every aspect of American society and would recreate the conversations our nation has about race. The lives of men and women like Freddie Gray are on the line.
Another white guy: Whatever it is, we need to acknowledge our race without being defined by it
I always forget until I see these articles published that next to everything I write is the phrase “Another White Guy.” I am momentarily taken aback, and I question why I made the choice to preface myself with those words.
I’ve heard similar anecdotes from friends and acquaintances who always seem on the verge of telling me that the title is unpalatable.
But why should it be? It’s true! I am just another white guy and we all know it. Why is it so unnerving for me to acknowledge it?
Part of the problem is that whiteness is usually invisible. Black actors play the black character, whereas white actors get to play characters defined by characteristics entirely separate from their race—the funny one or the villain. This means that identifying oneself by race is an active, unimposed choice. I think it makes people uncomfortable that I would choose to identify with a race that is usually associated with prejudice and oppression.
But as long as blackness is coded as something, I want to make whiteness coded as something too. I want to make it clear that I have not had average experiences, I have had white experiences.
In her article last week, Emily Simon ’17 asserted that by my column’s acknowledgment of my whiteness and guyness, I am “proudly [claiming] ownership of [my] status.”
For some reason, us white people seem to think that attempting to hide our whiteness will give us more credibility. This fundamentally misses the fact that choosing not to identify by our race is an exercise in privilege—in the power over our identity that our whiteness affords us. I want to disrupt that by making my whiteness unavoidable.
More importantly, though, hiding from our race means refusing to engage with the complexity of our identities. My ancestors’ success was founded on slavery and my parents’ on segregation. My existence is coded with histories of violence. I am among the millions of white male voices that have dominated American society and culture since the establishment of this country.
But treating class and privilege as dirty secrets does not make them go away; it only gives them more power and entrenches us further in our differences. Because our reaction to race and gender is this reverent uneasiness, I am incapable of acknowledging my being a white dude without reducing my identity to solely these traits.
I either don’t talk about my race or I’m on team racism.
Neither of these are productive ways of moving forward. Further, for us to even pretend it is possible not to notice my whiteness is a farce.
I could have titled this column something other than “Another White Guy,” and it would have made it easier for you to not think about my race and gender. But you still would have thought about it. You just probably wouldn’t have said anything about it out loud.
I proclaim my status simply by existing. I get paid more, there are more places I can live, I am less likely to get arrested, and if I do, I spend less time in jail. I exude whiteness in everything I do—erasing it is impossible.
We need to work towards neither hiding our race nor defining ourselves by it.
With this title, I’m trying to confront the weirdness of being white and wanting to be a good person. I’m trying to be upfront about the humorous irony here, the egotism I must have to think my thoughts on social justice are so profound that it even makes sense for me to write a column whose goal is a world with fewer columns written by people like me.
And yes, the name is tongue-in-cheek. Race is awkward and complicated and full of contradictions very few really understand, and the truth is that there are aspects of my relationship with race that are kind of funny.
So maybe I just shouldn’t talk about it, then. I think there are many among us who don’t think there is anything funny about race, so is it disrespectful for me to write about it in this way?I see the legitimacy of this argument, but I also believe that confronting whiteness is a fundamental piece of confronting racism. Particularly in this community, where 66 percent of us are white, restricting conversations about injustice to solely identities of color would mean disengaging 2/3 of the school. This is not the path to racial understanding and community.
I gave my column this title to be upfront about who I represent: I represent somewhat self-aware white people who have messy, problematic relationships with race, and I honestly believe Bowdoin needs that.
Another white guy: Understanding the relationship between sexual assault statistics and our lives
I recently had a discussion where I found out that a lot of my friends are terrified of being falsely accused of sexual assault. They think it could happen at any moment and that there is nothing they can do about it.
As if reading from a script, everyone had something to add:
“You know the girl carrying around the mattress? I was reading about it, and it seems like she made it up.”
“I had a friend who it happened to and it’s kind of ruined his life. He was asked to take a semester off without a hearing, and when he came back he found out she had dropped the case. The worst part is that even though I have no reason to, part of me still doubts him just because she said it.”
“It’s like the worst form of slander—your friends stop liking you; you can’t get a job.”
I was shocked. I had never worried about falsely accused men. When sexual assault came up, my first thought was always for the survivor. It has always felt like my duty as a feminist to trust any woman who accuses a man of rape.
In order to debunk my friends’ claims, I began researching false reports of sexual assault on college campuses. I had heard that only two percent of accusations were false, and I wanted to confront my friends with the facts.
I found numerous studies that estimated what percentage of reports are false. Though most put the percentage between 2 and 11 percent, there was almost no consistency. David Lisak, a prominent psychologist who studies the behavior of rapists, found that six percent of reports were false and 14 percent did not include enough evidence to make a determination of their accuracy.
That study was done at one school: American University. I am skeptical that a single school can represent every college in the country, only included cases that were reported to the university’s police.
I was also surprised to find out that there is very little consistency in how consent is defined; American University calls sexual contact non-consensual if one party is “under the influence of a controlled or intoxicating substance.” Any amount of alcohol or drug, then, could arguably prevent someone from giving consent.
Bowdoin’s policy says that people cannot give consent in a state of “incapacitation” that prevents them making “informed, rational judgments. States of incapacitation include, without limitation, sleep, blackouts, and flashbacks.” With different samples of women and different versions of consent, it didn’t seem to me that Lisak’s study was even relevant to a place like Bowdoin.
It started to become clear that there is no existing research that can give us an accurate understanding of how often false accusations happen at colleges.
I started questioning other statistics I’ve heard. The study finding that one in five college women experience sexual assault or attempted sexual assault has been widely cited. The study only surveyed students two large public universities, however. Again, two large public universities cannot adequately represent the entire nation.
The study also included someone “rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it is over your clothes” in its definition of sexual assault. While this forced contact is undoubtedly unacceptable, it is clearly not what people imagine when they hear “sexual assault.” This data, too, did not seem applicable to our conversation.
I looked into the Center for Disease Control (CDC) report that recently found that one in five women in America (not just in college) experience rape or attempted rape. The study found that two million women, 1.6 percent of the female population, experienced rape or attempted rape in 2011. In a Department of Justice survey, 250,000 women reported experiencing rape or attempted rape. Confusing things further, the FBI found that only around 80,000 cases were actually brought to police.
Perhaps this discrepancy comes from the CDC’s language: it asked women if they had ever experienced specific sex acts while “drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.”
Critics have been quick to point out the word “or” prompts women to include drunk or high sexual encounters to which they consented. On the flipside, the range of encounters this language encompasses allows for the inclusion of instances that women might be hesitant to self-label as rape. Should we be including instances that the victim herself doesn’t consider rape? There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer.
The more I learn about these statistics, the more I realize how unhelpful they are. I don’t buy just 80,000 cases in a year, but I don’t buy two million either. It’s nearly impossible to come to a conclusion about rates of sexual assault when there is no widespread agreement on what sexual assault and consent are.
Ultimately, I don’t think we can apply this data to our everyday lives. My friends can’t prove their fears are valid and I can’t prove they aren’t. We’re all just going off our contradictory and irreconcilable gut feelings.
All I can say is this: I’m going to pay close attention to the sobriety of my sexual partners to make sure that they’re not anywhere close to “incapacitated.” If I do that, I seriously doubt I’m going to be accused of sexual assault.
Another white guy: Activists must listen and empathize to have more effective conversations
The tone of activism on campus has made it stop working.
The constant repetition of the same few arguments about privilege has resulted in a climate where we feel it is only acceptable to share one type of narrative about injustice. As such, I believe it is vitally important for me to question that narrative and to offer an alternative.Consider the Meeting in the Union the Friday before last. Two-hundred students gathered to listen to speeches about inequality. One speech, billed as dealing with sexual assault, recounted a female student’s experience of trying to turn down a man at a party by dancing with her female friend, only to have him follow her and ask, “So you girls like dancing together?”
After this and a series of other stories, the assembled students marched to President Barry Mills’ office to deliver a nine-page letter of demands for institutional reform. Among other things, the letter called for harsher condemnation of students who participate in events like Cracksgiving, a public statement of solidarity with students of color, a declaration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as an official College holiday, and more conversations on race in every aspect of Bowdoin life.
Before I explicitly criticize anything about this rally, I want to make an important distinction: I am not trying to discredit the legitimacy of any of these stories or complaints. I am not suggesting that anyone shouldn’t be upset or doesn’t the have right to be angry at the man in MacMillan House who pursued her after she said no. Those feelings are real and valid.
But this story was presented at a rally for 200 people and followed by a list of institutional demands; there is more at stake than simply whether the story is legitimate.What matters is if that story, when publicized, will effectively combat injustice, if it will motivate people of different backgrounds—students or faculty—to overcome the fear of difference and better understand one another.
What is the purpose of writing a letter demanding a public statement on the national racial climate when Mills already sent out an email encouraging empathy with students feeling affected by the Ferguson, Mo. non-indictment?
Why demand that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day be recognized as an official College holiday when Mills already publicly announced that he is trying to achieve that very goal by 2020?Why damn the administration for failing to show solidarity following Cracksgiving, when Tim Foster, Dean of Student Affairs sent out a page long email condemning the actions of the men who participated in that act?
What do we achieve by pointing out problems that the administration has already acknowledged exist and are already trying to solve? All it seems to prove is that inequality still exists.
But I have never heard a Bowdoin student articulate a belief that racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, or transphobia don’t exist. The only disagreement on our campus is to what extent they exist and how to best eradicate them.
It is no longer productive to simply point out that racism exists. We need to take the next step. We need to stop entrenching ourselves in our identities and start reaching out. We need to start asking how we can overcome the barriers we face and find a sense of belonging together.
That man in Mac House is not hopeless. That story didn’t end with sexual assault, just with a man needing to be told “no” a few times before it sank in. I am not excusing this, but to me he sounds more misguided than malicious. He probably didn’t realize how he made that woman feel, and she probably didn’t realize that he didn’t know.
He could be taught to understand if we attempted to empathize with him, to patiently educate him, and—following Martin Luther King’s approach to battling injustice—to love him.You may argue that it is not the responsibility of a marginalized group of people to teach its oppressor to be better. That is true. You, as a woman, have no responsibility to teach a man not to harass you.
But choosing to be an activist is committing yourself to a cause that transcends just your identity. An activist must strive to take action that continually moves the community forward, even if that action involves educating those you’d rather shame. An activist has a responsibility to remove blame, recognize that we all want the same thing, and strive for understanding.
This fall, while working on a US Senate campaign, I learned that by far the most effective way to persuade someone is to listen to them and truly try to put yourself in their shoes—to show that you understand why they view the world the way they do.
No one will listen to you if you don’t listen to them first.
The two most important questions we as activists can ask ourselves are: “What does it feel like to be that man in Mac?” and, “How do I show him that I understand, so that he might try to understand me?”
On thorny issues, we need to be wrong to get it right
I am an intolerant, ignorant, sexist, classist, racist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, heteronormative, elitist bigot, and so are you.
In high school I used gay slurs as punchlines. My first semester here, I thought feminists were dumb. Last week, a girl in my improv group pointed out that my attempt at a tactful joke about race was at the expense of black people—a shock to me after the amount of time I’ve spent thinking about race these last few months.
Every day I commit microagressions, reinforce the patriarchy and flaunt my privilege, and I don’t even realize it. I just don’t really understand this stuff. Despite the countless hours I’ve spent reading, studying and conversing, I’m not even close.
I still catch myself making assumptions about gay people, Asian people, religious people. It freaks me out and I have to reject the impulse to pretend it didn’t happen or to convince myself it was OK.
I’m writing this column because I think most of you feel the way I do. The only way we can move forward is if we confront ourselves as we are. We need to accept our shortcomings by recognizing that we all have them. We must ask others to tell us when we make mistakes and find community in bettering ourselves.
I expect to get things wrong here, and I want you to tell me when you think I do. I want to be excited to hear why I’m wrong. I want you to write a letter to the editor and be excited for the next week’s Orient when someone tells you why they think you’re wrong. I want us all to enter an endless cycle of wrongness until everyone is so wrong all the time that we stop being afraid of it.
This column is not a veiled commentary on a specific issue. It is about why I believe conversation at Bowdoin is breaking down—why we have become awkward, indirect, strained and tired when we talk about injustice. We can only change that if we admit that we don’t know the right answer.
What if having an opinion about race was exciting?
What if I didn’t look at my plate to hide my facial expression when someone brought up Palestine? What if I wasn’t afraid of being labeled a racist bigot or a social justice warrior?I’m tired of us looking at each other in silence, of letting the conviction that nobody could understand my opinions grow into resentment and fear. I’m tired of pretending that hiding our feelings is progress.
I want Bowdoin to be a haven. I want everyone to feel safe here. I want to know that even if intolerance and hatred will always be with us, they can be rendered powerless. Maybe it’s impossible, but I believe our little 1,800 student Brunswick bubble is one of the only places that even has a chance.
And if that’s true, together we have to try.
James Jelin is a member of the Class of 2016.