Mara K. Gandal
Why did you come to Bowdoin College ?
I actually applied to a very wide variety of schools, since I didn't know what I wanted in a college by December of my senior year of high school. The graduating class at my high school was only 80 people, and by April of my senior year I realized I didn't just want to be known as a student ID number at my college, so Bowdoin's size was perfect. Also, I spent a weekend up here in early November and knew that I loved the campus, and all the people I had met were incredibly nice.
Why did you decide on your major ?
I've had an interest in women's rights and women's issues for a long time, and I was exposed to some of these ideas in my middle and high school experience (since I attended an all-girls school), but I came to Bowdoin planning on majoring in math or perhaps one of the sciences. I ended up in Women's Studies 101 with Professor Melinda Plastas my first semeseter and loved it. I then took Women in Religion with Professor Elizabeth Pritchard in my second semester and figured out that I enjoyed the theoretical side of feminism so much that I would have to take more classes.
Women's Studies has turned out to be what I view as the epitome of the liberal arts experience. There are three core classes to the major (101, Feminist Theory, and the Capstone Seminar) but beyond these, you can take courses in just about every department which count towards the major. While each class has had different aspects of women's issues and feminist theory tied into them, as a whole they touch on a wide variety of issues that has given me a greater understanding of the world, as opposed to just viewing it from the viewpoint of one department alone. I've taken courses in the departments of Religion, History, Africana Studies, Dance, Russian, and Film Studies as well as courses within the major dealing with socialism, capitalism, and consumer culture. It's been very rewarding.
What's the best class you've ever taken at Bowdoin ?
I took Race, Gender, and Prisons with Professor Micol Seigel during the second semester of my sophomore year. The class had a very wide variety of students in it, which led to interesting discussions. The major task of the course was designing and creating a social activism project based upon the theory we were reading in class. We were supposed to envision a world without walls, a world without prisons. I worked with two other students who were incredibly passionate about the project and the issues in a guerilla theatre group. Essentially, we created and acted out scenarios over the course of the semester to raise Bowdoin's awareness of the issues surrounding crime, policing, and prisons. As a skit, we arrested people in the Dining Hall (I got mock arrested for possesion at a crowded night at Jack Magee's Pub), had a mock trial in the Union, and built a real-sized prison cell out of 2x4's and chicken wire, complete with a toilet, and put it in the middle of the Union for a week. We had one student sitting in the cell and another on guard for an entire week to really get the message across about what prison does to people, especially how it is dehumanizing rather than rehabilitative. This course opened me up to the world of radical activism which is incredibly exciting to be a part of.
What extracurricular activities do you participate in?
I'm chair of Bowdoin Women's Association (BWA) this year and I've been active in the group since my sophomore year. BWA is a great environment for any student to come and discuss issues about gender, either on campus or anywhere in the world. I've met some of the greatest people I've known at Bowdoin through BWA. We're all interested in taking action to facilitate gender equity and raise awareness. A lot of what we do deals with women's reproductive health and reproductive rights, and I'm looking forward to going to D.C. this Arpil to take part in the March for Freedom of Choice with a group from BWA. We also do tabling in the Union, bring speakers to campus, and lots of our other activites which make being part of BWA a fun, rewarding, and stimulating experience.
One of the other more important parts of my life is my Jewish identity. I've been a member of Bowdoin Hillel (formerly Bowdoin Jewish Organization) since my freshman year. Hillel has been a great way for me to meet other Jewish students on campus with similar interests. Our holiday celebrations are always a blast (especially the Purim parties). The thing I appreciate most about Hillel is the community it provides at holiday time. Since flying home for every holiday is not an option for me, the way Hillel has brought High Holiday services onto campus and organized celebratory meals for anyone who wants to participate has helped me to maintain my Jewish identity while in Maine.
What's your best Bowdoin memory?
Last spring break I went to Spain with a group of my Bowdoin friends. We spent three nights with my roommate's family in Madrid (imagine 7 girls and 2 parents in a 2 bedroom apartment!), and then I traveled to Barcelona with my roommate Karen to meet up with our friend Margaret who had been studying in Scotland. Even all the way in Barcelona, Spain, we ran into tons of Bowdoin people! Seeing all the sights of Barcelona with some of the people I'm closest with was great.
In terms of things at Bowdoin itself, I'd say some of the best times I've had were when I lived out at Mayflower Apartments my sophomore year. Having such a nice apartment is a real luxury (as is most of Bowdoin housing), but living in Mayflower meant we were in a real neighborhood. We had trick or treaters on Halloween, built snow-people in our front yard, and had barbeques in the spring. Bowdoin housing is rediculously good when compared to most colleges and makes having great times with great people even easier.
What's your strangest or funniest experience while at Bowdoin?
I think my first day at Bowdoin was probably the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to me here. I got back from my pre-orientation trip and was disgusted from being in the woods for three days, and we were meeting people all these people and rushing to dinner. It was craziness.
The most vivid memory I have of it, though, is sitting in Pickard Theater with our entire class and there was a panel on stage from the Residential Life Staff. At this point I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the whole experience and wanted to get back to my room to get settled. I think most people were feeling the same way. After the presentation, the panel asked for questions. Only two people in the entire theater raised their hands with questions. These two people were my roommates: Faye and Marie Jo. They had two of the weirdest questions anyone could imagine. One of them wanted to know the bus schedule to Boston and the other wanted to know when the Patagonia sale was because she thought she might need a Gore-tex jacket for the winter. I freaked out! These were the girls I was supposed to live with for the next nine months?!?! I was nervous about the idea of being at college, and here they were asking these questions in front of the whole grade! Needless to say, things worked out fine and living with Faye and Marie Jo helped make me a bit more outgoing myself. Living with them freshman year was an experience that can only be described by the fact that we had a pink microwave that dinged like an egg timer, a tv with an eight inch screen, and Eeyores everywhere!
Have you done any independent study/honors projects?
Right now, I'm working on an honors project that focuses on feminist film theory and youth films from the 1980's. I thought of this project after taking Gender Film and Consumer Culture last spring with Professor Jen Scanlon. I wrote a paper about how masculinity appears in the 1987 film "Can't Buy Me Love" and the idea sprung from there. There's a lot of new research out there about youth studies which I find fascinating. I've spent a lot of time this fall reading feminist film theory from the last thirty years and screening films to decide what I'm going to include. The negative ways women are depicted on screen is something many people can relate to, and I will write about this, but I'm also interested in exploring the image of masculinity on screen. Perhaps the most important aspect of the project is that it is about teenagers-- this is a time when people are still developing their gender identity and sexual identity. It is a time when a lot of exploration and questioning goes on, as well as a time with a lot of outside pressures to conform. I'm thinking about how these pressures are made apparent in film, and if the films themselves are part of this pressure.
Have you studied away during your time at Bowdoin?
I seriously considered spending time abroad, but decided against it. Being here all last year gave me the opportunity to get more involved in the extra-curriculars I'm in, especially Bowdoin Women's Association. It also was really great to get to see (and live with!) all my friends over the course of the year.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I'm really unsure about my plans. I know I'm not going straight to graduate school. I'm hoping to get a job in either Boston or D.C. Recently, I've been thinking about eventually going to law school, perhaps even one of the four-year programs where you can get a joint degree in law and a masters in social work. Things are still very up in the air though, which I'm fine with.
Is there anything else about Bowdoin or your experiences here
that you would want prospective students to know?
People always wonder how I can go to school in a small town in Maine, but I think, when else am I going to get to do this? Graduate schools are in cities, I'll probably live in a city or its immediate surroundings for the rest of my life, so Maine it is!
In any case, Brunswick really isn't all that small either in terms of Maine towns, or even the towns other small, New England colleges are in. I think it's definitely better than other colleges in terms of size, and plus we have both the mountains and the ocean within driving distance of Brunswick. It couldn't be better situated!
Story posted on November 25, 2003
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