October 19, 2023

Offering Support

Dear students, faculty, and staff, 

I write to you with a heavy heart, weighed down by the brutal acts of terrorism committed by Hamas, by the tragic loss of innocent life in Israel and Gaza, by the rise of antisemitic and Islamophobic rhetoric and actions, by worry about what is to come, and by the pain that so many of us are feeling and that some of you have shared with me.

I have hesitated to issue an institutional statement. I know that some of you have found this to be frustrating and disappointing, and a few of you have told me that this has added to your pain. I am truly sorry for that. I also believe this is the correct, if imperfect, approach.

My hesitation about statements is not because of inattention, distraction, or indifference. It is because I believe these statements often don’t do what we want them to do. In some cases, they oversimplify issues and divide communities. They can also be parsed for clues to assumptions that are not there and can be read in ways that amplify and harden divisions within our community rather than opening up opportunities to grieve, think, and learn together.

For these and other reasons, I decided upon my arrival at Bowdoin—and shared this decision with several of you—that it would not be my practice to issue statements of this type. I am writing this message not because I have changed my mind, but because I have not yet had a chance to explain my perspective on statements to all of you, and because my overarching priority is to support students and others on our campus in times like these.

I know that the crisis in Israel and Gaza is impacting members of the Bowdoin community, directly and indirectly. I am grateful for the conversations I’ve been able to have with students, faculty, and staff, and I appreciate and admire these individuals' willingness to be vulnerable and open about their pain, anger, and confusion about this crisis, and to have difficult conversations with me and with each other. These conversations are well underway, and there will be more of them in the days and weeks ahead—some will be structured by different campus offices, some will be led by faculty, and some will happen spontaneously in other campus spaces. Details about some upcoming programming will be shared with you later today.

Bowdoin is well positioned for moments like these—to provide the spaces, structures, and support for all of us to have the hard conversations that can bring us together, instead of pushing us apart. I know these conversations will be difficult, and we won’t always get them right. I hope that as we grieve for the victims of violence, worry about the future, and hope for peace, we can find in ourselves the capacity to hear and learn from others, and to support each other in these difficult times.

I understand that not everyone will agree with my approach to this. Please know that my door and inbox are open—I am always willing to talk and listen.