Bowdoin Community Rallies in Support of Detained Journalist Evan Gershkovich ’14
As The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich ’14 remains in Russian custody, support for the jailed correspondent remains strong among the Bowdoin community, many of whom remember him as a gifted and diligent student.
Gershkovich was arrested March 30 while on assignment in the city of Yekaterinburg, about a thousand miles east of Moscow. Russian authorities have accused him of spying for the US, charges that have been vigorously denied by both the White House and The Wall Street Journal.
“We are deeply concerned about Evan's safety, and our thoughts are with him and his family,” said Bowdoin President Clayton S. Rose in an email to the campus community after Gershkovich’s arrest was announced.
“A free press is essential to a free society and is embedded in the core values of our college,” he continued. “Evan, along with so many other Bowdoin graduates, has dedicated himself to advancing this principle and making it real.”
Gershkovich majored in philosophy at Bowdoin, where he wrote for The Bowdoin Orient and also helped edit what is now The Bowdoin Review (then The Bowdoin Globalist).
After working as a news assistant at The New York Times for two years, he moved to Moscow in 2017, having secured a job at The Moscow Times, an independent English-language news website.
Gershkovich, who grew up in a Russian-speaking household in New Jersey, went on to join The Wall Street Journal in January 2022.
Speaking in a 2020 Bowdoin interview, Gershkovich said the lion’s share of his job “entails reporting news features, meaning I have to follow trends and read between the headlines to tell in-depth, relevant stories to help a foreign audience understand Russia.”
While many Russians, particularly officials, may be reluctant to talk to journalists, Gershkovich added, “if you go looking for the right people, many more want to tell their stories than we are led to believe.
Of course, some will want their comments to be from an unnamed source, which means, as a reporter, you have to make sure you speak to them over encrypted channels and protect their identities.”
A Diligent, Curious, and Engaged Student
Nine years after Gershkovich graduated, many Bowdoin faculty members recall a hardworking, curious, diligent, and personable young man keen to immerse himself in a liberal arts education.
"As a freshman, Evan was a student in my class Racial and Ethnic Conflict in US Cities. It was a big class,” said Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History Brian Purnell.
“He stood out for his excellent writing and research skills, even then. I checked my files and see he wrote a paper on the racial violence that broke out in East St. Louis in 1917. His research was thorough, even then. He collected dozens of newspaper articles from close to ten periodicals.”
“I had Evan in four philosophy classes, and he was an excellent student and a very good writer. I was very happy to see his journalism career develop,” said Joseph E. Merrill Professor of Philosophy Scott Sehon.
“After he graduated, he and I exchanged a few emails, (one of them commiserating over the Mets’ loss of the 2015 World Series).”
Professor of Philosophy Emerita Sarah Conly taught Gershkovich in a seminar on the philosophy of sex and gender.
“He was outgoing and engaged, and willing to speak up when other students were holding back. For that reason he was great to have in class..”
Gershkovich was also a student in A. Leroy Greason Professor of English Brock Clarke’s creative writing classes.
“My advanced fiction workshop in spring 2014 was one of my favorite classes ever, and Evan was a big of part of why,” said Clarke.
“In that class he showed himself to be a funny, self-deprecating, curious writer and person—always looking to learn something he didn't know, always looking for ways to get better as a writer and a reader.”
Government professor Laura Henry, who specializes in Russian politics, said she got to know Gershkovich as a generous and helpful alum.
“He participated in alumni panels for our students and met with Bowdoin students who were studying abroad in Moscow, even helping with an internship at The Moscow Times. I have long admired his intrepid reporting on a range of issues in Russia, but in particular his careful attention to the voices of average Russian citizens. I also corresponded with him when his reporting from Russia overlapped with my own research interests in Russian civic activism.”
A number of those who knew him as a undergraduate shared their thoughts and memories of Gershkovich in a Bowdoin Orient article.
These include writer Erica Berry ’14.
“He was one of those freakishly curious and talented writers that could write about political things [and] arts,” she said.
“He carved this path for himself.”
Amid the fond memories, there is, of course, shock, outrage, and concern among the entire Bowdoin community regarding Gershkovich’s current situation and a desperate hope he will shortly be released.
“He is a good human being,” said Purnell.
“I hope he gets home soon, and when he returns that he keeps researching and writing the truth, just like he sought to do in class and just like we taught him to do as one of our graduates.”
Gershkovich’s arrest and detention have understandably sparked widespread media attention. Here’s a roundup of some of the coverage, plus links to the articles (some of which are behind a paywall). Updated May 23, 2023.
A Russian court has extended the pretrial detention of Gershkovich by a further three months, reports The Wall Street Journal and other media on May 23. “In a hearing before a judge at Lefortovo District Court in Moscow, investigators from the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, asked for Gershkovich to remain behind bars awaiting trial,” says the paper, citing the Russian state news agency TASS. This promptly led to further calls from the White House for Gershkovich’s immediate release, reports The Guardian, citing CNN.
(Follow The Wall Street Journal’s latest updates on the Gershkovich story.)
According to Reuters, White House officials have called the Kremlin to request the release of detained Americans Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan. A report on May 17 cited Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who told a Moscow TV station that US officials "‘sometimes call’ Yury Ushakov, a presidential aide specializing in foreign affairs, and send ‘one and the same signal’ demanding the release of the two men. He did not say how Ushakov responded.”
The Republican-led US House of Representatives is considering a motion to call on Russia to release Gershkovich, reported The Wall Street Journal on May 10. The bipartisan effort, we are told, is being led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX). “A strong vote in support of the measure could strengthen the Biden administration’s efforts to get Mr. Gershkovich returned to the US,” said the article.
The Russian Foreign Ministry is accusing the US government of using “pressure and threats” in its efforts to negotiate the freedom of Gershkovich, reported Reuters on May 9, citing state-owned Russian media. The accusation was made by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who said Moscow would ignore such tactics. He did not say what form the alleged pressure had taken.
Representatives from hundreds of Jewish communities across the US and Canada have rallied around Gershkovich, adding their voice to calls for his release, said The Wall Street Journal. In an online meeting on May 8, leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America appealed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “use all available resources to secure the release of... Gershkovich.”
President Joe Biden has praised the “absolute courage” of Evan Gershkovich and reiterated calls for the immediate release of the journalist, who remains detained in Moscow, reports The Guardian and other media outlets on April 30, 2023.
NBC News spoke to two friends and classmates of Gershkovich from Bowdoin— Sam Silverman and Jeremy Berke—about Gershkovich’s detainment and how he might be reacting to it. The piece was published on April 28.
For details on how to join the campaign to call for Evan's immediate release, check out the "Free Evan Gershkovich" website.