Campus News

Students Told, "Do Bowdoin a Favor and Be Yourself"

Story posted March 03, 2000

Louisa Slowiaczek, professor of psychology, came to Bowdoin less than two years ago expecting to find a tight-knit community on this small college campus. What she found was a place with all the basic ingredients and little of the final product.

"Why are we working so hard to create community when we already have the raw materials?" she asked at her March 3 Common Hour lecture, titled "The Personal Virtue and Communal Value of Individuality."

"There are so many unifying traits among students," she said. "They are all very bright and very motivated. But too many students are reluctant to argue, to stand out."

As a professor of psychology, she was compelled to figure out why. She offered the following theory:

Maybe the students at Bowdoin know that college is the time when they are supposed to be discovering who they are and shaping who they want to be, but at the same time are so frightened by that notion that they slip into the safety of sameness.

At a time when their individuality could be blossoming, it is becoming repressed by the need to fit in. Students assign themselves myopic labels -- Iím an "athlete," a "Deke," a "gay man" an "Asian woman," nothing more, nothing less -- and let that define them.

While that thinking corrals students into little groups that they consider their "community," it actually detracts from the creation of a greater "Bowdoin Community."

"The solution is to exercise your individuality," Slowiaczek said.

Slowiaczek describes herself as a "Polish/Italian working-class girl from Brooklyn." If she had limited herself to all the stereotypes that go with that moniker, she wouldnít be a PhD-holding chair of Bowdoinís psychology department.

"This is the kind of thing thatís possible if you donít take labels to heart," she said. "If you arenít being yourself, you havenít got a chance, and youíll be no of use to anybody else."

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