40 Years of Women of Color at Bowdoin
Story posted February 16, 2012
This year marks the 40th anniversary of women students at Bowdoin, an achievement that’s being celebrated in a number of ways on campus. In the spirit of this celebration, Leana Amaez, associate dean of multicultural student programs, moderated a panel of three speakers Saturday — all of them successful women of color representing different generations of graduates. The event was a collaborative effort between Amaez's office and Alumni Relations.
“We would be remiss not to celebrate 40 years of women of color and miss the opportunity for students to meet the women who’ve paved the way for you to be here and your ability to thrive here,” Amaez said to the student audience before introducing Iris W. Davis ’78, Karen Hinds ’93 and Sue Kim-Ichel '05.
Davis works with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection; Hinds runs her own company, Workplace Success Group, and is the author of five books; and Kim-Ichel is a Washington D.C-based consultant in the public sector.
Davis admitted that when she was a student in the ’70s she encountered more sexism than racism. “You’d walk down the middle of campus and hear, ‘Get the co-eds off campus!’” she said, adding later, “It was more about men trying to get used to women, than whites, blacks and Asians trying to get used to each other.”
In contrast, Hinds said there was more conflict around race during her years at Bowdoin in the ’90s. She recounted the time when she and other students protested the lack of diversity among faculty by forming a ring around an administration building to prevent people from getting inside. “The administration wasn’t listening to us,” she said. “We wanted more Latino, black and Asian professors.”
Kim-Ichel said now that she’s several years out of school, she and her alumni friends bemoan their lack of political or social activism while they were at Bowdoin. “My friends regret not getting more passionate about things, and not focusing beyond getting good grades, going to a party or finding the next hook-up.” She urged students to not lose the chance to do more while they’re here together.
Hinds’s stories about her struggles trying to find herself at Bowdoin seemed to resonate with the audience. As a black student from the Caribbean who found herself in Brunswick, Maine, she confessed, “I had a hodgepodge of identity crises.” She continued, “My focus was trying to find out who I was. When you come into this environment, it challenges who you are: Do I change? Am I less than? … But who you are is already intact and Bowdoin is here just to make you a better person.”
The women also offered wise counsel for the students on using the Bowdoin alumni network — including the three of them — to help them after they graduate. Davis added that the friends that students make at Bowdoin are likely to be some of the best for their lives. Kim-Ichel said, too, that even now she’s making friends with Bowdoin peers she didn’t know while a student.
Hinds also told the students that Bowdoin is like a training ground for the real world. “By the time I finished this experience, going into a board room that was predominantly white didn’t faze me,” she said. “When I do speeches in front of people who are older than I am, who are mostly white, it doesn’t faze me.”
While the three women described quite different experiences as students during different eras, at least one thing does not seem to have changed at Bowdoin in all 40 years. “There was nowhere to get your hair done, not even in Portland,” Hinds lamented. A student spoke up, “Not even now!” eliciting a big round of laughter from the audience and panelists.
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