May 02, 2019 | Office of the President

Message to the Campus Community (May 2, 2019)

To the campus community,

Over the course of the last week, and as recently as Tuesday night, there have been several incidents of racial or religious bias on and around our campus. This is a very distressing time for our students who were targeted and a difficult moment for our College, and I am deeply troubled by what has occurred. I am sorry to have to write a message like this as we approach the end of the academic year. But I am committed to transparency around these issues, and you need to know that these things have happened. You also need to know that we will do all we can to hold those responsible accountable, and that we will never tolerate acts that debase, degrade, or threaten members of our College.

Two of these incidents occurred when students of Asian ethnicity had their identities mocked in separate situations by two other students. We know the identity of the student who engaged a student of Asian identity in one incident, and we are working to identify the student who separately did the same thing to a second student. Any students involved in these acts will face disciplinary action. 

Last weekend a Muslim student was subjected to threats and Islamophobic language from an anonymous caller who had blocked caller ID. And Tuesday, the “N-word” and other racial epithets were hurled at a student of color by someone in a passing vehicle just before midnight. We also learned last week that, earlier in April, there was a threat of violence made against two students—a man and a woman, one black and one white—by someone in a passing truck. While no specific racial language was used, this is also a disturbing incident.

We are bringing every resource we can to bear in investigating the “drive-by” incidents and telephone threats, including working with local law enforcement, the FBI, and the Maine attorney general’s office to identify those responsible. Yesterday morning, we received word that the owner of the vehicle from Tuesday night has been identified and that the Brunswick Police Department is now seeking to identify and locate the passenger who shouted the racial epithets at our student.

We are withholding the specific details of each incident for the moment to allow the investigations to proceed, but as each investigation is completed and action taken, full details will be posted to The Campus and Community Index. We are also convening The Bias Incident Group to review the details of each incident.

These terrible acts have a profound impact on the victims, damage our sense of community, and can threaten our safety. Reporting incidents like these can be very difficult for students and can exact a significant emotional toll beyond what was experienced through the incidents themselves. Because of this, it is likely that other incidents like these have gone unreported this year and in the past. I am grateful to the students who have stepped forward to report these recent incidents; their willingness to do so requires us to acknowledge that more effort and change is required. We have made real strides in improving the diversity at Bowdoin and have begun the challenging but essential work of becoming a more inclusive community. But these incidents set us back. We devote considerable time, money, and effort to this work on campus. In the coming weeks, over the summer, and well into the fall, we will step back and examine the work, resources, and programming dedicated to this effort and consider what we should change. Michael Reed, our senior vice president for inclusion and diversity, will lead this review, and it will include partnering with the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) and the Advisory Committee for an Inclusive Community (ACIC), both in generating ideas and in the work that will follow. The full Bowdoin community—faculty, students, and staff—will be asked to participate. 

If you have firsthand experiences that will inform the work ahead or ideas that will further this commitment, I would strongly encourage you to share them (anonymously if you wish) by using this form​. We will take the summer to compile the experiences and ideas and will share them with the community in the fall. They will also inform our Orientation programming. 

Finally, some of these incidents took place during Ivies, and alcohol may have played a role. To be clear, this is absolutely not an excuse, and it will not be a mitigating factor in any disciplinary proceedings. But the abuse of alcohol during Ivies—something raised independently by faculty at their monthly meeting on Monday—is a growing concern, and we will collaborate with Bowdoin Student Government in the fall to consider whether a change to the current model for Ivies Weekend is in order. 

Right now, before the work begins, I encourage you to discuss these matters with others with whom you are close, and to keep in mind that there are many campus resources available to you. This is a time to support one another, to reflect on what has happened, to consider what we should do to move ahead and get better, and to share your thoughts and concerns with me, Michael Reed, incoming Dean for Student Affairs Janet Lohmann, and others on the College staff as we organize what comes next.