Message to the Campus Community (October 16, 2018)
To the campus community,
It is our practice to notify you when an anonymous act of bias takes place on our campus. Regrettably, such an act has occurred. The Bias Incident Group—established at the College in 1988 to provide a prompt response to anonymous acts of bias and to ensure that they come to the attention of the campus community—met last week to discuss this incident. The group’s message appears below. I hope you will take the time to read it and to consider what each of us can and should do to stand against acts like this that seek to diminish and degrade our community.
Dear members of the Bowdoin community:
The Bias Incident Group was convened by President Rose on Wednesday, October 10, to review an act of bigotry that should concern us all.
On Friday evening, September 28, a student used the Campus and Community Index to report a small Nazi swastika and the phrase “Heil Hitler” etched in pen on the narrow edge of a shelf in an unassigned study carrel on the sixth floor of the Hubbard Hall “stacks.” Both have been removed by Bowdoin security.
This discovery is disturbing for several reasons, not the least of which is because this is the third time in the last twenty months that we have discovered a Nazi swastika on the Bowdoin campus. In January 2017, during Winter Break, a Nazi swastika had been carved into the snow on the Osher Quad, and in August 2017, white boards on the third floor of the VAC were similarly defaced. All three of these cowardly acts were anonymous. We condemned the two last year and we condemn this act now.
Like the first two incidents, the recent instance of prejudice and hatred took place in a space open to the public, so we don’t know if the swastika was placed there by a member of our community or by someone else. Nor do we know how long the swastika had been there. We do know that at least one other person had seen it, since additional graffiti on the carrel indicated that the swastika had been noticed and was found, appropriately, to be offensive. We are grateful to the student who reported the most recent incident, but we are also concerned that others may have seen this vile scrawl and chose to either ignore it or to react simply by adding their own graffiti.
The Nazi swastika has no place at Bowdoin or in civil society. In the context of the twentieth century, this symbol evokes the horror of the Holocaust and one of the darkest periods in all of human history. And, in the context of today, it is a symbol of hate that conjures white supremacy and the racism, bigotry, and violence so vividly on display last year in Charlottesville, Virginia.
None of this is unique to Bowdoin. We live in a time of growing intolerance and a disturbing increase in bigotry and anti-Semitic behavior. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) there were more than 3,000 incidents of extremism or anti-Semitism in the United States in 2016 and 2017, with anti-Semitic incidents surging by 57 percent in 2017 alone. That’s the largest increase in a single year since the ADL began tracking these acts in 1979. Meanwhile, on college and university campuses, incidents of white supremacist propaganda more than tripled last year.
While we will certainly not be able to prevent every instance of malice or hatred, what we can never do is ignore these acts. We can and will shine a light on acts of bias and racism when they occur. It is incumbent upon us all to call them out and denounce them, and to work to ensure that Bowdoin remains a place of humanity and respect. So, if you see or experience something like this—even if you don’t know who did it or when it happened—please report it.
Members of the Bias Incident Group (BIG)
Benje Douglas, Title IX coordinator
Guy Mark Foster, associate professor of English
Tim Foster, dean of student affairs
Bernie Hershberger, director of counseling services and wellness programs
Scott Hood, senior vice president for communications and public affairs
Aine Lawlor ’21
Randy Nichols, director of safety and security
Roy Partridge, senior fellow
Gardenia Pimentel ’19
Michael Reed, senior vice president for inclusion and diversity
Clayton S. Rose, president, BIG chair
Kate Stern, associate dean of students for diversity and inclusion/director of the Center for Sexuality, Women, and Gender
Hilary Thompson, associate professor of English