August 30, 2019 | Office of the President

Message to the Campus Community (August 30, 2019)

To students, faculty, and staff,

Many of you are already back, and others will be returning to campus over the weekend, so let me be among the first to welcome you back and to express my wish for a great academic year, our 218th. 

The newest members of our community—499 first-year students in the Class of 2023 and three transfer students—arrived in Brunswick on Tuesday and will return from their orientation trips tomorrow. Additionally, two exchange students will be attending Bowdoin this academic year.  It’s an impressive group. Our first-year students were selected from the largest applicant pool (9,332) in the history of the College. Nearly two-thirds of them hail from outside New England. Sixteen percent are the first in their families to attend college, and students of color account for 35 percent of the class. And, thanks to the strength of our need-blind, no-loan financial aid program, we are able to support half of the class with need-based aid. These students will add much to our community—as every class does—and I know you join me in welcoming them to Bowdoin. 

With Convocation on Tuesday and the start of classes on Wednesday, I’d like to update you on some developments over the summer.

Bias Incidents

I’ll start with a difficult subject: the disposition of four bias incidents that took place last spring. These incidents were reported in my message to the campus community on May 2, with the promise that we would investigate the incidents and report back to the community. With excellent and painstaking work by Bowdoin security, student affairs, and local and state law enforcement, we have been able, in each of the four cases, to identify those responsible. 

Two of these incidents occurred when students of Asian ethnicity had their identities insulted by two other students in separate situations. The two students responsible for this behavior were identified and held responsible for their conduct. They also each participated in a  restorative mediation to better understand the harm they created.

In another incident, a Muslim student was subjected to threats and Islamophobic language from an anonymous caller who had blocked caller ID. With assistance from local and state law enforcement and the Cumberland County District Attorney, a subpoena was issued to the cellular telephone carrier and the caller was identified. The threatening phone call was made by a minor known to our student from their hometown.

The fourth incident involved racial epithets directed at one of our students by a passenger in a passing pickup truck on College Street—a public street that traverses campus. The student was able to note the truck license plate, and with help from Brunswick police, we were able to identify both the driver and the passenger. Brunswick police met with both of the individuals and they were issued trespass warnings barring them from all College property. 

Additional details about these incidents have been posted to the Campus and Community Index, which is accessible to members of the Bowdoin community.

In my May 2 message, I wrote that we would examine the work, resources, and programming dedicated to our effort to build a more inclusive campus. To assist in this review, I asked members of our community to share firsthand experiences and ideas to inform this work and to further our commitment to these efforts. We received only a handful of responses, suggesting that our programs are on the right track, but we have nevertheless used these experiences to make some adjustments to Orientation for new students. The work to build an ever more inclusive community continues, and we welcome your thoughts on how we can improve. Please share them by using this form

Summer Activities

On a happier note, these last three months saw nearly 300 students living and working on campus, many assisting faculty with research and all enjoying the exquisite beauty of a Maine summer. The Bowdoin College Museum of Art opened its summer exhibition, “Art Purposes,” on June 29, and it has enjoyed great attendance and strong critical reviews (the exhibition is on view through November 10).

I visited the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island, led by Professor Patty Jones, and experienced the unique living, learning, and research taking place there by our faculty and students. I was able to partner with Meredith McCarroll, director of writing and rhetoric and director of the First-Year Seminar Program, in working with a great group of first-year students in the summer THRIVE program.

I visited with middle and high school faculty taking part in a two-week seminar here on teaching the Holocaust through visual culture taught by Professor Page Herrlinger and Adjunct Lecturer Natasha Goldman. I also had a chance to again visit with dozens of students on campus as part of “Bowdoin Bound,” a program now in its seventeenth year and led by Dan Spears ’81 that, through summer programming, seeks to expand educational access opportunities for high achieving, low-income middle school and high school students from Baltimore.

In June, Julianne and I joined more than eighty Bowdoin students, faculty, staff, and alumni at the Portland Pride Parade. In July, we hosted several hundred students on the Cleaveland House lawn for our traditional summer cookout, and, in August, we held the second annual Maine Alumni gathering with a great crowd in Smith Union (it was one of the few weather-challenged days of the summer). And, there were also all sorts of conversations and meals with faculty, students, staff, and alumni over the summer. 

Asylum Seekers

As many of you know from press reports, this summer saw a humanitarian crisis in Portland with the arrival there of more than 400 asylum seekers, largely from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mostly families with young children—some of whom were born here shortly after their parents’ arrival—these immigrants were housed for most of the summer on cots in the Portland Expo but have now been moved to other shelters or have been taken in by families in Portland, Bath, Brunswick, Lewiston, and other communities. Early in this crisis, the College reached out to Portland city officials to see if we could assist with temporary housing on campus or with other services, and while they ultimately declined our offer, the McKeen Center continues to stay connected—particularly with regard to the asylum seekers now living in Brunswick—and has plans to bring together those at the College willing to help and to facilitate language and other services moving forward.

Campus Projects

Also this summer, as will be evident when you return, the folks in Bowdoin facilities did what they always do—they worked hard to update, repair, restore, and otherwise care for our buildings and grounds, and they made exciting progress on our newest projects. Among these are the new upperclass student apartments on Park Row that open this weekend—incredibly efficient and attractive “Passive House” residences built at a cost that is roughly 75 percent of what peer schools have spent recently on similar projects. Additionally, Boody-Johnson House has been fully renovated and converted into our newest College House. Work is also well underway on three 44-bed upperclass student apartment buildings on the site of the former Harpswell Apartments and also on the transformative expansion of our facilities at the Schiller Coastal Studies Center—both of which will open a year from now.  

Alumni Support

A record number of alumni made it back to Brunswick for Reunion Weekend in June, and their devotion and support for Bowdoin helped us raise a record $9.6 million for the Alumni Fund this year. Gifts to the Parents Fund also reached a record amount, and Bowdoin remains one of only a handful of colleges and universities that enjoy the support of more than half of their alumni. These results, which included a huge donor turnout in May and June, are critical to our ability to fund College priorities, including need-based financial aid, and they are a testament to the outstanding loyalty of our alumni and their continued involvement in the life of the College. 


In November, we will welcome alumni back to campus to recognize and celebrate a significant milestone at the College. Fifty years ago, Afro-American Studies, the Afro-American Society, and the Afro-American Center were established at Bowdoin. Today, these are known respectively as Africana Studies, the Black Student Union, and the John Brown Russwurm African American Center. “AF/AM/50,” as we are calling the planned three days of lectures, symposia, art exhibitions, live music, parties, and conversation, will bring to campus Geoffrey Canada ’74, H’07, Ken Chenault ’73, H’96, Princeton historian Nell Irvin Painter, and many other guests from across the five decades. This will be an important and memorable event for the College, and I hope to see you there.

So, as you can tell, it has been an eventful summer. Many thanks to our colleagues in dining, facilities, safety and security, and everyone else who cared for us and our campus this summer and who have us ready to go. For those traveling back to campus this weekend, I wish you a safe and easy journey. Julianne and I are excited for the start of another year at Bowdoin and look forward to seeing you soon.

All the best,