Published November 05, 2020 by Rebecca Goldfine

Pamela Zabala ’17 Discusses Her Impactful Research on Racial Bias at Bowdoin

Pamela Zabala ’17 recently Zoomed in from Duke University, where she is a sociology PhD student, to discuss her Bowdoin honors project, which explored racial bias incidents in the College's history.

Bowdoin Library’s George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives invited Zabala to speak as part of its lecture series, "Beyond the Reading Room: Archives in the World." The program features artists and scholars who have used materials found in Bowdoin's archives to buttress and expand their research.

Special Collections Education and Outreach Librarian Marieke Van Der Steenhoven introduced Zabala's October 22 talk, "Cooperate with Others for Common Ends?: Students as Gatekeepers of Culture and Tradition on College Campuses," and described the lasting impact of Zabala's research. Her thesis has been downloaded over five hundred times from Bowdoin's digital repository. 

"We regularly direct students, faculty, and other patrons to it as an important and relevant source in understanding the complexity of race on this campus," Van Der Steenhoven said.

For her honors project, Zabala scoured documents, from issues of The Bowdoin Orient dating back to 1890 to accounts of Bowdoin's diversifaction efforts and the College's responses to events and debates going on around the country. "Being able to contextualize the attitudes of both students and staff within a broader historical trajectory was invaluable for me to understand the growing pains Bowdoin was going through," she said, "and helped me understand and contextualize better the three incidents [of racial bias at Bowdoin] I was writing about that were going on in my time." These included parties in which students dressed up as "gangsters" and another where party-goers wore tiny sombreros.

At Duke University, Zabala is concentrating on race stratification and organizational sociology. Her research addresses race and diversity issues on college campuses; race and migration in and from Latin America; and issues of race, identity, and belonging. A Mellon Mays fellow, Zabala earned a major in sociology with honors and a minor in Africana studies from Bowdoin in 2017.

Beyond the Reading Room poster.

Beyond the Reading Room

"Beyond the Reading Room: Archives in the World" is a virtual lecture series featuring artists, scholars, and Bowdoin alumni who rely on archival research for their work. Each speaker has a connection to Bowdoin Library’s George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, either having consulted our collections or having their own work represented therein. Join in to learn more about the role of archives in scholarship and creative practices.

Upcoming events:

You can watch archived events in this series here.