Message to the Bowdoin Community (May 29, 2020)

To the Bowdoin community,

I have been sitting here at my desk staring at the blank page on my screen for quite a while. I am thinking about George Floyd. This is a moment for eloquent prose that helps to explain, heal, and create solidarity within our community at yet another instance of pain, anger, and confusion.

Frequently, at times like this, someone will ask me to write to the community, and I have, but my thought (and response) most often is “why now?” Consider how many people of color have died in police custody, how many incidents we’ve seen of identity-based hate, and how many mass killings have taken place in the five years I have been at Bowdoin. The numbers are overwhelming. Is there really anything I can say that is up to the task of responding to these tragedies and injustices?

So why am I writing at this particular time? I don’t have a great answer for that, but in part it is because of the number of very recent deaths of men and women of color—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. And, in part, it is because of the tragic similarity between Mr. Floyd’s death and that of Eric Garner on Staten Island in 2014. This moment is a stark reminder that something remains terribly wrong.

We mourn those who have died, we grieve for their families, and we join together with those who protest peacefully, who seek answers, and who want change. We thank the many police officers who strive every day to do the right thing and keep us safe, and we require accountability for the small handful who abuse their power and stain the work of their colleagues. And we condemn the violence in the name of those who died.

At a moment when despair is an easy place to go, I do take strength and solace from our Bowdoin community. I have been witness over and over to how we care for one another, and to our commitment to make the world a better and more just place. In particular, my hope is affirmed by our students’ dedication to use this powerful education and experience to make the world better—to solve the profound problems that are yet unsolved. Even in the most difficult moments I am lifted by the knowledge that you seek to serve the common good.

"It ought always to be remembered, that literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education.  

It is not that they may be enabled to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society." –Joseph McKeen, 1802

Clayton