Message to the Campus Community—Today's Events

To the Bowdoin campus community,

“A violent act for political purposes.” That’s the Cambridge English Dictionary’s definition of terrorism, and that is exactly what we saw today at the US Capitol, a terrorist act. A huge mob stormed and breached the Capitol to stop an essential act of our democracy enshrined in our Constitution: the formal counting of the Electoral College votes. It was an act incited by the president of the United States and enabled by many others over the last four years, including today. To be sure, there have been voices pushing back on the president and his enablers, but too few.

Over the last four years, and in particular over the last several months, our political institutions have been seriously tested. They have been weakened, but they have held, in spite of the assault. More citizens voted in this presidential election than ever voted before, and the veracity of the election results was affirmed again and again in the courts in the face of relentless assault. And the results were certified in all fifty states by legislatures and governors of both parties.

In addition, Congress has reconvened this evening to finish its work to certify the election of Joe Biden, and in two weeks, on January 20, he will be inaugurated as this nation’s forty-sixth president. We should take heart that our institutions worked; I do.

But today’s events are a stark reminder that we take our freedoms and our democracy for granted at our peril. They require our attention and engagement, and our willingness to hold our elected leaders accountable. While what went on today and the lies and attacks that created the groundwork for today have shaken us all, I do not doubt the viability of our republic. In fact, the optimistic part of me wonders if it is actually a wake-up call that could strengthen it. We shall see if, as a country, we are up to making it so.

I am once again reminded that what we do here at Bowdoin, and what is done at other colleges and universities in our country, is essential to preserving and strengthening our political system. Our education prepares students to engage thoughtfully and with effect in civic life, and for more than two centuries our graduates have, time and again, played critical roles in safeguarding our democracy, including during the last four years. I know that this will continue to be true for the next two centuries and beyond.

Please continue to care for yourselves, your families, and one another here at the College in this very challenging time.

Clayton