June 28, 2021 | Office of the President

Update on Racial Justice and DEI Work (June 28, 2021)

To the campus community,

As this academic year draws to a close, we are writing—as promised—with an update on the work done across the College during the first six months of this calendar year to better understand the issues of racial justice and to change policies, practices, and operations in order to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion at the College.

George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020 was a catalyst in organizations around the country for self-examination and acknowledgement that race remains a central line of division in our society. Clayton wrote to our community about this on June 11, 2020.

In that message, Clayton laid out a broad set of goals and promised the community that we would share our plans as the fall semester began. The senior staff and many others began the work on these goals while also undertaking all the preparation necessary to run the College in the year of COVID-19. As the academic year began, Clayton updated the community.

On December 21, we sent a message that laid out specific priorities for the upcoming calendar year along with milestones we would use to measure progress, and we committed to you that we would report back on this work after the first six months. This update is available here on the Bowdoin website.

This work engaged every area of the College and many of you, and it is deeply gratifying that your efforts and commitment resulted in real progress in a year when we were consumed by managing the pandemic. That said, we have only just begun, and any real success in this work will require sustained effort over a long period, and engagement by every one of us.

In addition to providing you with a detailed update on the specific work underway, it is also an opportune time to remind ourselves why this work is essential for Bowdoin. 

Why do we seek to be a diverse and inclusive community, and one with a genuine and effective commitment to racial justice?
  • We desire to be a community filled with students, faculty, staff, and alumni who are smart, engaged, curious, kind, collaborative, and generous in spirit and who embody our essential ethos of serving the common good.
  • We desire to be a community where everyone has the opportunity to belong and to know that they belong, rather than feeling like guests where they have been invited to live and work.
  • We desire to be a community where there is equity in the opportunity to pursue the same successes, outcomes, and lived experiences.
  • Satisfying our mission requires us to prepare our students to lead in a world where the demographics are changing rapidly and where individual identities are simultaneously being understood and celebrated—and contested and denigrated. These changes and issues have profound political, social, economic, cultural, and scientific implications. Our students need the skills and tools to understand, navigate, and discuss race and racism and their implications in a knowledgeable, authentic, and respectful way.
We acknowledge and take pride in the work of Bowdoin alumni, students, faculty, and staff throughout the history of the College to advance diversity, inclusion, and racial justice. Clayton talked about this in his 2015 Convocation address, one of his first speeches at the College. One powerful example of this commitment is our financial aid program, made possible only by the generosity of our alumni and parents over a long period of time. It has provided opportunity in a way that is matched by only a few other colleges and universities.

That said, we are far from realizing the goals described above. History is clear that, in the absence of deliberate work around DEI and racial justice, progress will be slow, if it is made at all. This work is too often performative or inadequate— “one-and-done” diversity training, changes in numbers without changes in practices, policies, and behaviors, and the burden for the work placed on the marginalized groups. Resistance also needs to be named—there are those who dismiss the problems, who attribute the issues to deficiencies within the marginalized groups themselves, or who focus on personal animus rather than structural barriers. Finally, there are more than a few of us who are uncertain about how we can make a difference. We all need to acknowledge these challenges and accept the responsibility to help one another to learn, practice, make mistakes, and grow.

Our DEI work involves engaging with challenges and barriers across an array of identities and differences, including gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and ability, among others. But, as the events of the last year have reminded us, the issue of race remains a uniquely powerful barrier to opportunity and belonging in our country and at Bowdoin, and it requires specific attention.

As you review this work and consider what lies ahead, we would ask two things of you. First, please let us know what questions, suggestions, or concerns you have about any of it. Success will require your ideas. Second, please make sure that you ask yourself, “What should I be doing?” It is more than appropriate to hold the administration accountable, but we will not have any real measure of success without each of us being invested and engaged in this essential work.

We are encouraged by the progress thus far and thank each of you for your efforts. We will next update you when the fall semester is underway.

Have a restful summer. We look forward to your safe return in August.


Clayton and Michael

Clayton Rose

Michael Reed
Senior Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity