On the 50th anniversary of MLK’s visit to campus, let's acknowledge what we still need to achieve
Op-ed by Zohran Kwame Mamdani '14
Fifty years ago next week, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Bowdoin College. The Political Forum, a nonpartisan student organization led by Frederick J. Stoddard, Jr. ’64, Berle M. Schiller ‘65, and Christos J. Gianopoulos ‘64, invited him alongside civil rights leader Bayard Rustin.
King spoke at a College that was home to predominantly white males. I write from a different one. One that is home to more than one gender, is statistically “diverse,” and has an established Africana Studies department. There is a lot that those three intrepid students who brought King to campus would be proud of. And yet.
When he spoke to a crowd of over 1,000 people at Brunswick’s First Parish Church, King reflected on the journey of African Americans.
“Tracing the Negro’s struggle for freedom and full citizenship from the day he was brought to North America against his will, it is a fact we have come a long, long way,” he said. “But we still have a long, long way to go.”
His words were true then, and they still are today. They are true for the world outside this bubble as well as for the one inside. For all the progress we acknowledge, there are equally powerful reminders of the distance to be travelled. To understand the contradictions that surround race today however, one must return to the original contradictions within the College’s early history.
The College is named after James Bowdoin II, a man who unsuccessfully drafted legislation that would “discourage the further importation of slaves into Massachusetts,” according to historians Frank and Fritzie P. Manuel. Yet, the Manuels also make clear that despite his public pronouncements, Bowdoin took advantage of the current laws in his home life. He owned a number of enslaved people himself and did business with known slavers. When he died in 1790, his son, James Bowdoin III, offered a substantial donation to the yet-to-be named College under the condition that the institution be named after his father, and by extension, gain a legacy of race inconsistencies.
Thirty years after its 1794 chartering, the College admitted John Brown Russwurm. We know Russwurm’s story quite well. Graduating in 1826, he was Bowdoin’s first and the nation’s third black college graduate, now commemorated by the John B. Russwurm house on campus. Less discussed is that Phebe Ann Jacobs, an enslaved woman owned by Maria Malleville Wheelock (the wife of William Allen, then president of the College) who stayed in Brunswick during Russwurm’s stay. Wheelock brought Jacobs with her to the College when the family moved in 1820. While there is a scholarly debate as to what Jacobs’ status—domestic servant or slave—was during her time in Brunswick, Craig Steven Wilder’s recent “Ebony & Ivy,” asserts that she was a slave until Wheelock’s death in 1828.
Whatever strides the College made forward, there were always constant reminders of the limitations of this progress. As an institution committed to the Common Good since its early days, Bowdoin hosted minstrel shows until at least the 1910s. These inconsistencies are not restricted to Bowdoin’s past either; they still strangle our community’s engagement with race today.
Barry Mills became president of the College in 2001 and has transformed the diversity of the student body. According to the College’s common data set for the 2001-2002 academic year, less than 14 percent of the College’s student body at the time was non-white. In the 13 years since, that statistic has increased to 31.5 percent. While statistical diversity has more than doubled, race has gone from being considered “very important” in admissions—on par with high school records—to “considered” on the same level as one’s state residency or their interview. The change indicates a satisfaction with the level of diversity that Bowdoin currently enjoys, and implies that the goal has been reached. Yet a similar statistic makes clear just how distant the goal still is. In the 2001-2002 academic year only 11 percent of the College’s faculty were members of minority groups. Thirteen years later, that number has grown by less than four percentage points.
I have been forced to personally grapple with these inconsistencies during my time here. I sit in class not knowing whether to correct everyone’s mispronunciation of an Indian woman’s name. I usually do, but today I’m tired. I’m tired of being one of a few non-white students in a classroom, if not the only one. I bring up race in discussions only to see the thought flicker in my peers eyes and on their tongues. They sigh without a sound. I’ve brought up race again. I’ve sidetracked the discussion. I’ve chosen to make an issue out of it.
I grow a beard only to be called a terrorist. I pronounce the “h” in my name only to hear muffled laughs. Clothing becomes exotic once it clads my body. Cotton shirts are called dashikis and sandals ethnic. While I am now comfortable in my own skin, I can remember wishing for whiteness my first year when I thought certain types of girls were impossible to talk to due to my skin being more kiwi than peach. Months later, I remember thinking that attraction might only be possible when a girl had “a thing for brown guys.”
Since then, I’ve found organizing. I’ve found solidarity, allies, and inspirations. There are many lights here—many who have taught me how to engage with the realities of race on this campus and beyond—and many who will lead the charge in changing our campus realities. Still, too few people acknowledge that race is an issue on our campus, or that it has ever been one. But if people say they are color blind, do they even see me?
Zohran Kwame Mamdani is a member of the Class of 2014.
Mills' rejection of ASA boycott misunderstands the movement
The American Studies Association, a group of scholars on American culture and history, recently decided to honor the call of Palestinian civil society to boycott Israeli institutions. This academic and cultural boycott aims to bring under scrutiny the actions of the Israeli government and to put pressure on Israeli institutions to end the oppressive occupation and racist policies within both Israel and occupied Palestine.
For those who understand that the struggle for rights is global, this is an important academic boycott—which is why Bowdoin should join it.
To date, Israeli academic institutions have been notoriously silent with regards to the daily oppression of their Palestinian counterparts. No Israeli university has actively or publicly opposed the occupation. Israeli universities give priority admission to soldiers, discriminate against Palestinian students, and have developed remote-controlled bulldozers for the Israeli Army's home demolitions. Israeli universities conduct research for the Israeli military, and several of them operate out of illegal settlements built on Palestinian land occupied since 1967.
Participate in Movember to help raise awareness for prostate cancer
This week, you have probably seen some glorious mustaches and some laughable baby faces. Why, you ask? MOVEMBER. What is Movember, you ask? Well, my inquisitive friend, let me lead you on a magical mustache ride full of facts, figures and fuzz.
Movember is an annual month-long festival dedicated to changing the face of men’s health, sponsored internationally by the Movember Fund and at Bowdoin by your 2014 Class Council, Bowdoin Men Against Sexual Violence (BMASV) and Peer Health.
The goal is simple: throughout the month formerly known as November, honorable men and women will pledge to raise awareness and funds for men’s health. Specifically, Movember aims to raise awareness for prostate and testicular cancer, as well as mental health issues.
White privilege and homogeneity in the opinion section: a response to Van Kuiken
Ah yes, white privilege. It’s characterized by many things, primarily its lack of acknowledgement. Yet every so often it makes an appearance, and for Bowdoin that appearance came around a month ago. On September 20, the Orient published an editorial outlining how the writings of white males from the ages of 18 to 22 were dominating the Opinion section. In response, the editors called for a greater range of voices, so as to make the section a better reflection of “the diversity of perspectives, activities and personalities we see on campus.” Three weeks later, Drew Van Kuiken ’17 wrote a column in response. And so the world saw privilege.
While admitting to the homogeneity of the Opinion pages, Van Kuiken asks, “Why did the Orient feel desperate enough to ask for literally any writer not fitting my exact description to come write? As a white man aged 18 to 22, do I feel a cultural obligation to share my opinions with you? My dad certainly never told me that a white male’s duty includes shoving my opinion in everyone else’s face.”
If it were fathers who exclusively bestowed this duty upon their sons, Van Kuiken would have a point. The problem is that we exist both within and without our homes. White fathers need not tell their white sons of their particular obligation to discuss the issues because there is no need to. Society already makes sure that every white male implicitly understands this obligation. How? White males are privileged in their near-to-exclusive featuring as figures of authority in print, on television and around us in our daily realities. We, the consumers of these media, internalize this and so believe in the innate authority of a white male’s argument and the need for its publication. So, white privilege is both a structural and an individual phenomenon, the former propelling the latter. Therefore, even when the individual is silent, the structures continue to exist and frame our society through their existence.
Talk of the Quad: Bearded in Cairo
I arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, June 19, eleven days before the onset of nationwide protests that were to depose President Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. I moved into an apartment on 15 Bostan Street, a couple minutes walk from Tahrir Square. In true foreigner fashion, I found myself paying double-price for the taxi, dragging my suitcases into the lobby. Most apartment buildings in Cairo have a doorman—a bawab—and I spent our first conversation trying to explain that I was claustrophobic and was going to walk up eight flights of stairs to my apartment. He smiled and grabbed my suitcases as he stepped into the elevator. I started climbing.
The summer before, I had studied at Middlebury’s Arabic program with a friend who then recommended a language institute in Cairo. I took his advice, and this summer, I signed up for six weeks of an intensive language course and gave myself a week at the end to travel around the country.
In Egypt, like in every other Arabic-speaking country, people speak a local dialect of Arabic known as aamiyya. Aamiyya and fusha are like two languages that, while obviously related, are still noticeably different. I, like every other foreign language student, learned the latter—it is taught in schools, spoken in official capacities and used for all written Arabic. However, I soon learned that no one spoke it outside of a presidential address—ever. As I explored the streets near my apartment, I tried to pick up conversations with whoever was willing. Midway through one, the man I was speaking to paused, saying, “I can’t believe I’m speaking fusha right now”—obviously saying most of it in aamiyya. I was a Shakespearean character walking around twenty-first century London; all I was missing was the medieval outfit.
The dangers of assumptions and expectations on and off the dance floor
As last semester wound down, one of my professors asked the class why such a large percentage of students would want to take depressants every weekend. It took me a second to register that he meant alcohol. A couple answers were offered: peer pressure, cultural norms, liquid courage. All were correct, but the last stuck with me.
While alcohol doesn’t quite take us to the level of Ron Weasley on Felix Felicis, it can make even the most awkward of us just that little bit smoother. Our understanding of parties as places without consequence adds to our confidence.
Not only is this idea dangerous in and of itself, but it blurs the boundaries of acceptability. The confidence that alcohol provides can translate into sexual aggression, and in many cases consent is not sought out but assumed. As a guy, I can prowl College House basements, and think that it’s normal if I forgo questions and choose actions. I can just dance up onto a girl. If the girl keeps dancing, sweet. If she walks away, ah well, I guess she wasn’t feeling it. Her loss. And so it goes, with the aggressiveness translating into attempts to make out or to do whatever else can be done.
Talk of the Quad: The reality of Arabic at Bowdoin
I keep telling myself, "walk backward, but speak forward." I'm just about to run into one of those damn poles when a kind parent on my tour alerts me.
Wild weekend brings Bowdoin title
For the first time in its quarter of a century history, the women's volleyball team has won the NESCAC championship title. In an almost unheard of 3-0 NESCAC final victory, the team handily defeated defending champion Middlebury last Sunday with set scores of 25-21, 25-22 and 25-17.
Mired in mediocrity or on the brink of success?
In the buildup to tomorrow's game against Williams, there are signs that the matchup will not only herald the beginning of a new season for the Polar Bears, but possibly a new era.
Talk of the Quad: Idiots steal table
"I'm telling you man, there're no cameras in West, we'll be fine." First mistake. My accomplice, who has asked to remain anonymous (name rhymes with Villain Lammer), was a bit unsure about the whole thing, so I told him a few things that I thought were true. They weren't.
45 Maine St. owner faces criminal charges over April fire
Close to four months after the April 17 fire at 45 Maine Street, the building's owner Orville Ranger has been issued with both a civil and a criminal summons. He is expected to stand trial in the coming months, and will appear at a dispositional conference scheduled for November 17.
Department prizes vary for each
Scholarly excellence can be rewarded in a variety of ways. If you are a chemistry major, your possible prizes range from a certificate to a Merck Index. On the other hand, if you are majoring in government and legal studies, you can apply for the Philo Sherman Bennett Prize Fund and, if successful, could walk away with close to $200. "There is no 'one size fits all' for departmental prizes," said Senior Vice President for Administration and Treasurer Katy Longley. "First, the terms of the prize may vary; one fund may designate the size of the prize, and another may leave the size of the prize to the discretion of the department. Second, some prizes, such as certain book awards, carry no monetary value."
BPD to open investigation on fire at 45 Maine Street
In the aftermath of the April 17 fire at 45 Maine Street, the Brunswick Police Department (BPD) has decided to commission a criminal investigation after the Brunswick Fire Department (BFD) discovered several violations of the building's fire code.
Early morning fire strikes 45 Maine Street
A fire at 45 Maine Street on Sunday caused significant damage to the three-story commercial and residential building. The damage was deemed to be too significant to repair and led authorities to raze the building to the ground. The official cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Internet woes to be addessed with upgrades
Tour guides often say that a good wireless Internet connection is available everywhere on campus, even in the Bowdoin Pines. Yet over the past few weeks, students have been forced to endure faulty connections, long loading times and inaccessible websites, no matter the location.
Kwame's Kolumnalu: Discovering women’s lax
So it's been a while since the last Kolumnalu, and a lot of stuff has gone down. Spring played a cruel joke on us for a few weeks, we got to go home for a bit, and most important, I learned the cruel lesson that, contrary to popular belief, eating and sleeping for two weeks will not lead to incredible gains in muscle mass.
‘I Am Bowdoin’ promotes diversity awareness
In the aftermath of the March 6 Daggett Lounge discussion regarding acts of racial and sexual intolerance and the March 9 "I Am Bowdoin" community protest, members of the student body and the administration are taking steps toward ensuring that there is no repeat of the March 1 bias incident that occurred in Coles Tower. In particular, "I Am Bowdoin" recently transitioned from being a protest group to an organization of around 40 students geared toward spreading diversity awareness.
Bias incident strikes 15th floor of Tower
At some point between Tuesday night and the early hours of Wednesday morning, a message on the white board of a dorm room on the 15th floor of Coles Tower was vandalized. The initial message of "I Love Meatless Mondays" was maliciously edited to instead read, "I Love Meatful Mondays! Meatless Mondays Suck!!! F*g N***er."
Kwame's Kolumnalu: First years on men’s basketball need to play
So in the last Kolumnalu, I left Grant White '14, who we'll call the Pride of Vermont (PoV), his forced love of riding pine and our men's basketball team so I could make a little comment on the relationship between NARPs and athletes, but I just can't seem to stay away from covering the court for too long.
Bowdoin Brief: Security recovers television stolen from MacMillan House
The Office of Safety and Security recently recovered a television stolen from MacMillan House on May 29 of last year, according to Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols.
Kwame's Kolumnalu: Reconsidering the division between athletes and NARPs
Coming to Bowdoin this past fall, I hadn't really thought too much about the relationship between athletes and non-athletes. I mean, why would I have?
Bowdoin Brief: Tower hit with another theft as investigations remain open
At some point last Friday, a room on the 13th floor of Coles Tower was broken into. "There was a small amount of cash taken from a bedroom," said Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols. He confirmed that there was no sign of forced entry, and when asked about possible suspects, he said, "We've been investigating this series of thefts all this week...we're making some progress."
Several thefts strike Tower, prescription drugs targeted
For residents of Coles Tower, another week has brought another break-in. On either Monday or Tuesday, an apartment was broken into and prescription medication was stolen. The break-in is the third to have occurred on campus in the last six weeks, and the fourth in Coles Tower since September 1, 2010. "Some prescription medication was taken out of a bedroom in the Tower, and [while] not all of the pills were taken out of the bottle, several were taken," said Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols.
Tower rooms burglarized, investigation remains open
On Tuesday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., the seventh floor of Coles Tower was broken into and belongings of tower residents were stolen or left disfigured. The incident marked the second break-in to have occurred on campus in a little over a month.
Kwame's Kolumnalu: Reserving our right to talk smack on our turf
So your first question is probably, "What's up with the title?" My middle name is Kwame, that's what's up. Now thinking of Bowdoin's greatest sporting rivalries, Maine Maritime doesn't exactly spring to mind.
Mac residents missing few possessions after break-in
Residents of MacMillan House who returned to campus last weekend after break were generally relieved to discover the majority of their personal property undisturbed following a break-in that occurred over the long winter vacation. The Office of Safety and Security reported that the break-in most likely occurred at about 4 a.m. on December 28, while most students were away for Winter Break.
Second phase of solar hot water project begins at Thorne
Every year as the weather gets colder in Brunswick, the College manages to keep its students warm through the Central Heating Plant and other individual heating systems. This year, the College will bring its heating system one step further with the addition of the environmentally friendly solar hot water project to Thorne Dining Hall.
E-Board survey begins Ivies preparation
It may only be December, but excitement for the annual Ivies Concert is already catching on. The anticipation has only grown over the past week as the Entertainment Board (E-Board) sent out a survey regarding the concert to the student body. As of Thursday night, 814 students had responded to the survey.
Presentation demystifies liquor laws
On Tuesday night, former law and liquor enforcement officer Frank Lyons held an information session about Maine liquor laws at MacMillan House. The event was organized in a collaborative effort by the Brunswick Police Department (BPD), Higher Education Alcohol Prevention Partnership (HEAPP), Communities Against Substance Abuse (CASA), and the Office of Residential Life. The session was geared toward educating students about alcohol laws applicable to hosting a party on a college campus.
Seven weeks into the semester, BCNews still off the air
So far this year, Bowdoin Cable Network (BCN) News has not aired a single episode. While there are plans in place to air the first one early next week, the program will not continue to run weekly segments on the network as it has in past years due mainly to a lack of student interest.
New printing refund policy prompts student discontent
For Susannah Burrage '11, the printers at Bowdoin are like the vending machine that takes one's money, but gives nothing in return. On September 26, Burrage printed a document from a library computer, and after swiping and confirming her print order, she waited. Five minutes later, no documents had come, but in terms of her $60 allocation for printing, it was as if they had.
Maine Street Station consolidates transportation options, looks to 2012
If you build it, they will come. At least that's what Onsite Project Manager of Maine Street Station (MSS) Mike Lyne said he is hoping. Along with being Amtrak's port of entry into Brunswick—a train service is scheduled to begin in early 2012—the station currently offers access to the Maine Eastern train and the Brunswick Explorer, and has recently merged all of Concord Coach's previous Brunswick-area stops into one location.