February 19, 2004
To Members of the Campus Community:
Last week, Dean Bradley wrote to students about a series of events involving intolerance and disrespect that are contrary to the values of Bowdoin College. These events took place in Jack Magee's pub last Thursday night during a Black History Month poetry celebration that had been scheduled for the space in advance. Later that evening, other students arrived at the pub to socialize, unaware of the planned event. Tensions escalated and the actions of a few deeply offended many of those present. In response, a few offended students placed posters around campus the next morning with messages that were provocative, though ambiguous. I write to state unambiguously that this community does not accept, nor does it tolerate, hostility or uncivil behavior among its members.
We at Bowdoin are committed to building a community that embraces difference. Differences in background, in experiences, and in beliefs are natural, valuable and entirely appropriate because they force us to look beyond ourselves and they challenge us to learn. Of course, differences may cause tension, but tension should be resolved through listening and discourse, not through uncivil confrontation or by ignoring the views of others.
It is a regrettable fact that racism, bigotry, and discrimination based on all sorts of factors exist in America and in the world. Bowdoin College is not immune to this fact. Those who believe we can achieve a perfect environment free of these tensions are, in my view, unrealistic. I sense there is a real desire on the part of students, faculty and staff to engage in dialogue about our differences, yet there is also a fear of inadvertently offending or of being misunderstood. This fear inhibits our capacity to learn from one another. What we can and must do is deal with these issues together in an open, respectful, and direct way, free of political correctness and characterized by respect.
In this instance, people were not listening to one another, and certain voices were suppressed or ignored. I am aware that there are ongoing conversations about the events of last week. It is my hope and expectation that those involved are open to learning from this experience and that future disagreements or misunderstandings on this campus will be resolved with respect, civility, and an appreciation for difference.