April 12, 2004

To Members of the Bowdoin Community,

Over the past several years, the College has been intentionally expanding the diversity of its student body in a variety of ways in an effort to better reflect society as a whole. Bowdoin is changing, and there is a greater awareness of this transformation today than ever before. Recent campus events have sparked an immediate interest in how greater diversity impacts our lives. Rather than permitting questions to linger or points of view to be misunderstood, we now have an opportunity to come together and to respond to the challenges before us in a meaningful way.

My conversations with faculty, students, and staff have revealed that there is great interest in talking about diversity at many levels, and yet there is also a "culture of caution" that inhibits these conversations. While the classroom may, in appropriate circumstances, be a venue for discussion and debate, there is no reason to confine deeper, intellectual exchanges to classroom space. It is clear that students want these conversations to extend beyond the classroom, but unfortunately, without the "permission" for open exchange implicit in class, and without clarity about the language for discussion, the dialogue becomes less frequent and less rich. The residential college experience is defined by the opportunity to live together and to learn from one another. If the dialogue of learning is constrained, then so is one's education and ability to grow.

With a desire to enrich the intellectual life of the institution and with a focus on the changing face of Bowdoin, I would like to invite all faculty, students, and staff to join in a series of collective debates and associated activities on the organizing questions:

"How do you imagine diversity at Bowdoin in five years? Would you like our sense of difference to change, expand or narrow in any way? Do you envision more people like yourself — or truly different from yourself — at Bowdoin in the coming years?"

Three collective debates have been planned to address different aspects of individual belonging, cultural exchange, and diversity at Bowdoin. Faculty and students will facilitate each debate, and the topics will dovetail into the broader question on the third night. As students, faculty, and staff, and as members of the Bowdoin community, we will attempt to answer the following questions:

  1. "Belonging" — Do you belong at Bowdoin? What sort of person does belong? Why does that kind of person come to mind? What other ways of belonging at Bowdoin might be equally important or interesting? (Tuesday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m., in Thorne Hall)
  2. "Learning From Others" — The College places great emphasis on the educational value of diversity. How much have you learned from people (students, faculty and staff) significantly unlike yourself? When and where did this learning happen, if at all? How large a part has this kind of experience played in your life at the College? (Monday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m., in Thorne Hall)
  3. "The Future" — How do you imagine diversity at Bowdoin in five years? Would you like our sense of difference to change, expand or narrow in any way? Do you envision more people like yourself — or truly different from yourself — at Bowdoin in the coming years? (Monday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Thorne Hall)

Prior to each collective debate, The Bowdoin Orient will pose the relevant question to the community and solicit and publish the responses. A "graffiti" sheet with that week's question will be hung in the Smith Union, and we will have the opportunity to include our responses. Table tents with that week's question will appear in the dining halls as a means of provoking lively discussion in anticipation of our collective debate.

The month of April is a busy time at the College, but this is an extraordinary opportunity for the Bowdoin community to come together around its diversity.

Warm regards,

Barry Mills