Message to the Bowdoin Community—Racial Justice Update (October 23, 2020)
To the Bowdoin community,
Our work is necessary to ensure that Bowdoin is a place where everyone has the opportunity for an equitable experience and an enduring sense of belonging and where we prepare students to both understand and change the beliefs, behaviors, and structures that have sustained racial inequity in nearly every aspect of American society.
This message is an update—which I will provide periodically—on our work.
Update: Programming and Divisional Work
In my message to you on September 2, I described two of the pillars of our work ahead. The first is to create multiyear programming for our community that will allow us to understand better the history, context, and lived experiences of those who are of color in our community and society, beginning with a focus on anti-Black racism. This programming will involve everyone at the College—faculty, students, staff, and trustees—and will educate us, provide the opportunity for informed reflection and dialogue, and give us each a common understanding of the issues that must be addressed and changes that need to be made. We will be guided in this by external consultants. To date, we have reviewed the qualifications of two dozen firms, narrowed the list, and asked members of the faculty to assist in both the final selection and in crafting the specific programming. In addition, groups of staff and students are now being asked to preview the programming and provide feedback. I expect to announce the results of the search and next steps soon.
The second pillar is the work within each of the divisions of the College to identify changes to structures, behaviors, and practices that will lead to equity of opportunity, outcome, and experience. Each division has completed its first round of work, and the senior staff has spent time together discussing the early observations, findings, and ideas. The next step—due this week—is for each division to prioritize the work for this academic year, set dates for completion, and establish measures for success. The goals and metrics will be transparent to our community, as will the progress that is made, and this will be available by the end of the fall semester.
The New Pillar: Our History
The new pillar in our work is a project we will soon begin—understanding Bowdoin’s history with respect to race. There are aspects of our history with respect to race that we can rightly be proud of, and we make these a part of the Bowdoin story, but we also have a history that is much more difficult, and about which we are less transparent. Among the issues and questions that require examination are slave ownership by those tied to the founding of the College, our relationships with indigenous peoples, Jefferson Davis’s honorary degree, ties to ideologies and organizations like eugenics and the Ku Klux Klan, and the historical experiences of our students, faculty, and staff of color.
As you know, a number of other colleges and universities have done work to understand their histories with regard to race, and to learn from them. As Bowdoin undertakes this work, it is important to acknowledge that examining difficult truths about the College that we love will be unsettling for some within our community. It is challenging, but as we better understand our history, as we engage with it and learn from it, we will make Bowdoin stronger. This project will make it possible for Bowdoin to fully live up to our aspiration to be a community where we each belong.
The project will be structured along the following lines, with adjustments to come:
1. A group that includes faculty, staff, students, trustees, and alumni will be called together to oversee the project, which will likely take at least one year to complete.
2. The group will work with special collections and archives, and possibly others in the library, to collect and examine materials that provide insights into the historical relationship between the College and race.
3. These materials will come from our own collection, other archives, those submitted by members of the community, and elsewhere.
4. A report will be prepared by the group.
5. The report will be reviewed with the trustees and shared with the Bowdoin community.
6. Additional work will likely come from the report.
Board of Trustees Meeting
Our work on racial justice and anti-racism was the focus of the board of trustees’ meetings this past weekend, and the board will continue to be actively engaged. In addition to hearing directly from Ford Foundation president Darren Walker H’16 about his own experiences and views on social justice and dismantling racism, trustees reviewed—in board committees and in full session—the work both underway and planned.
Ongoing Work across the College
What follows is a sample of anti-racism work underway in various parts of the College:
In September, the faculty approved a proposal to shift from the current "Exploring Social Differences" (EDS) distribution requirement and to adopt a new distribution requirement titled "Difference, Power, and Inequity" (DPI). The new distribution requirement—to be phased in by the faculty over the next two years—is designed to help students examine societal structures of privilege and inequality and to explore how such structures intersect with their own experiences. Faculty are also assessing how to define inclusive excellence and what this can mean for their work at Bowdoin, including a shift to more actively making teaching practices not just resistant to racism but anti-racist.
The Department of Athletics and all Bowdoin teams have developed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) action plans. Team plans address education and dialogue, creating and maintaining a culture of support for teammates, and community engagement opportunities. The full athletic department action plan is available here. In addition, athletics has established a DEI Committee comprised of administrators, coaches, colleagues from across the campus community, and student-athlete leaders from the Athletes of Color Coalition and the Student Athlete Advisory Committee. The department has also hosted two workshops—one for all student-athletes titled “Real Talk on Race and Athletics: Preparing for the Conversation” and another for coaches and staff with anti-racism in athletics educator Jen Fry titled “Building a Culture of Inclusive Excellence.” As a follow-up to these workshops, all teams are engaging in a student-facilitated dialogue on race and athletics during the fall semester.
Development and Alumni Relations
The development and alumni relations team is adding a new director of multicultural alumni engagement who will report to the head of the division to foster connections between the College and multicultural-identifying alumni; the position is posted on the College’s human resources website. Also, the College recently raised more than $194,000 in matching funds over a seven-day period for a new Alumni Fund DEI designation. Nearly 2,000 gifts came from alumni across the generations, including many young alumni, and from current students at the College. This initiative was made possible by the generosity of an anonymous trustee.
The inclusion and diversity team in student affairs offered a pre-orientation “Black Lives Matter” learning engagement program with the Class of 2024 in August that was then replicated with alumni. “Bowdoin Dialogues” is offering a six-week “Race, Power, and Liberation” workshop for students this semester. The workshop will be offered to student affairs staff in December.
The Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) is now including indigenous history and current issues in all programming, with BOC staff sharing indigenous history and land acknowledgements in program areas with trip participants. In addition, BOC officers have created a number of committees to examine various aspects of the BOC and make recommendations to address racial inequities and barriers to participation.
The fall issue of Bowdoin Magazine, which will be mailed in early November, begins a process of telling stories of race and racial inequity within the Bowdoin community more fully and intentionally. As the College develops programming and policy around anti-racism, the magazine will cover those stories in depth, but it will also regularly feature perspectives and experiences of Black and indigenous people and people of color in our community.
Again, this is a sample of the work underway. I will continue to report to you with the details of our work on each of the three pillars, as well as other related work taking place across the College. Thank you for all you are doing and for what all of us will do together to create and sustain racial justice at Bowdoin.