December 21, 2020 | Office of the President

Update on Racial Justice and DEI Work (December 21, 2020)

To the campus community,

As this historic semester draws to a close, we are writing—as promised—with an update on our work on racial justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We are in the next chapter of this work, which we will sustain and grow over a long period. We all share the responsibility for creating true equity in the opportunity for profound, positive, and life-changing experiences at Bowdoin, and for the powerful sense of belonging that we desire for everyone here. This work will be focused on racial justice, with specific attention to issues and challenges facing the Black members of our community and our society, motivated by inequality that has been allowed to continue unremedied for generations. This focus does not, of course, allow us to set aside other critical issues, and it will inform and enhance work we will do on diversity, equity, and inclusion more broadly.

It has taken considerable effort over the last several months to bring us to this point, work done by many, as we have contended simultaneously with the substantial burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. We could not be more grateful to so many of you for the time and commitment devoted to this effort at this very challenging moment.

As Clayton described in previous messages on September 2 and October 23, there are three pillars to our work:

  1. Sustained programming and education to better understand the issues, challenges, and work ahead in diversity, equity, and inclusion, with a particular focus on racial justice;
  2. Changes in practices throughout the College designed to build anti-racism skills and structures and to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the work of the College; and
  3. A project to understand our institutional history with respect to race (in particular, our relationship to Black members of our community and to Maine’s indigenous peoples), to explore the possible implications of this history, and to create a foundation for further work.

Programming and Education

As Michael described in his message of November 18, our first college-wide educational effort will be with DiversityEdu for the purpose of grounding all of us in the important understanding of engaging with diversity at Bowdoin and the issues surrounding equity and inclusion. We know that campus constituents have differing levels of expertise, and this foundational work will allow those with less knowledge of this topic to expand their proficiency. At the same time, it will assure that those with more experience in the subject matter are receiving the same information, so that all members of our campus community can share a common starting point and language for discussion. We believe this educational path will enable all of us to have more skillful conversations as we move through a multiyear process of learning and working with each other. Later in the spring semester, we will be working with an external partner to provide workshops that address issues of racial inequity and injustice.

Changes in Practices

Each senior officer has spent several months working to identify opportunities for change that we believe will enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is work that has involved many people within each area of the College. For the coming calendar year, the key work that will be done, along with metrics that we will use to measure progress, can be found on this page on the website for the Office of Inclusion and Diversity. We will have an interim review of our progress at the end of the academic year, make any changes that are necessary, and report back to you at that time.

Some examples of the changes include:

  • Hiring and onboarding practices: Each area of the College will examine and improve its recruitment practices to consistently create diverse candidate pools. Once a position is filled, attention will be focused on improving the career development and retention of all employees, especially employees of color.
  • Faculty work on Inclusive Excellence (IE): Fall faculty meeting breakout groups have explored definitions of, apprehensions about, and ideas for concrete contributions to IE; the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs is in the process of embedding expectations and support for IE in policies and practices.
  • Curriculum: Following two years of work, faculty designed and voted in a new “Difference, Power, and Inequity” distribution requirement, and a faculty/staff group is offering course development workshops to explore course design ideas and pedagogical approaches, including anti-racist pedagogies.
  • Development and Alumni Relations: A position has been newly created for a director of multicultural alumni engagement. Also, anti-racism education is underway through the Aspen Leadership Group with peer colleges to educate development and alumni relations staff;
  • Student Affairs: The inclusion and diversity team in student affairs will continue to grow Bowdoin Dialogues’ anti-racism work, using partnerships across the division to create opportunities for deeper engagement and more student participation.
  • Athletics: Staff is engaging in a twenty-one-day Allyship Challenge initiative designed by Women 2.0 and emPact Strategies, participating in a series of anti-racism educational programs with Jen Fry Talks, and working with the Athlete of Color Coalition on educational programming within our community.

History Project

The project to examine Bowdoin’s institutional history with respect to race—specifically anti-Black racism and our relationships with Maine’s indigenous peoples—will have three distinct parts overseen by Senior Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs Jen Scanlon. The first will be gathering and organizing the documents and data and developing a chronological narrative that will be web-based and annotated. The faculty lead for this work will be Tess Chakkalakal, the Peter M. Small Associate Professor of Africana Studies and English and the director of the Africana Studies Program. The project manager will be Kat Stefko, director of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives. This work will take place over the course of 2021. The second phase, to begin in late 2021 or early 2022, will bring together a group of faculty, staff, students, trustees, and alumni, who will examine this history and make any recommendations for actions they deem appropriate to the president and the board of trustees. Dean Scanlon will also lead this group. The final phase will include the community, with the report and resources made available to students to build on it, providing a continuing means by which the College will explore and learn from its history.

As we noted earlier, this is the beginning of the next chapter in this work. We seek your ideas and feedback on this work, which you can submit here.

Thank you for your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, to racial justice, and to making Bowdoin better.


Clayton and Michael

Clayton Rose

Michael Reed
Senior Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity