In order to form a more transparent and accessible relationship with the college, 28 Bowdoin students began a sit-in of the second floor of Hawthorne-Longfellow early Wednesday morning. We read our request out loud, asking for a working group from the College consisting of Board of Trustees members, students, and faculty to consider the prospects of divestment at Bowdoin; we planned to stay until we were heard. It had become apparent over the preceding days of silence from the administration and the Board of Trustees that the issue had to be forced. Constructive dialogue had become dependent on confrontation. We wanted to make ourselves heard.
Over the course of the first sit-in at Bowdoin in decades, we have gathered the support of 105 students and faculty members, who personally came to support us. Not only were members of BCA participating, but also students from different organizations and clubs from across the campus joined. As members of BCA, we were humbled by the new support and inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of other students. It has become apparent that as a result of the sit-in, a new and more constructive form of conversation had begun on Bowdoin’s campus regarding divestment.
On Thursday, over 40 students gathered to speak to President Mills. Although his personal views on the issue were well known, this meeting confirmed a new reality. Not only did President Mills consider the potential for compromise or meaningful dialogue to be impossible, but he also challenged the viewpoint that students have any role to play in the operation of the college and the method by which it holds itself accountable to the values which it espouses. This is a dangerous and deeply cynical view of higher education, and one to which we firmly object. The college’s commitment to the common good is not just a relative and hollow branding mechanism as President Mills implied, it is a firm promise upon which Bowdoin students solidify their own commitment to the college, it is the very basis upon which we are judged as we apply to Bowdoin. The offer of the college is something we as students take seriously. Equally as dangerous is the notion that viewpoints of students, faculty, and alumni have no bearing on the functional identity of the college. We hold that the core of Bowdoin is far more than the Trustees, the administration, or the financial managers with whom we entrust our money. Bowdoin is more than a business.
During our conversation with President Mills, we offered forward multiple avenues towards the middle ground. Divestment is both a tactic and a process, which can come in many forms. For instance, Bowdoin could divest only its direct holdings in fossil fuels or implement a freeze on further investments. Calls for a transparent working group to investigate the financial possibility of divestment, as other colleges have done, were also ignored. As it stands with President Mills leaving this summer, conversation has been stalled by the fact that President Mills has been allowed to act with unilateral conviction and disinterest in the opinions of the students and faculty around him. It has been made clear to us from meetings with other deans and faculty that meaningful action during the remainder of this year is no longer contingent upon anyone other than the president. This, fortunately, will not be the case in the upcoming semester with the arrival of Clayton Rose, whom we plan to engage directly on these issues.
However, constructive dialogue has in fact already begun to occur elsewhere on campus. Conversations with faculty and students have been constructive, valuable, and enlightening for many, including ourselves. The impressive campus support for the sit-in proved to us that campus momentum for divestment is both a possibility and a reality. We arrived with the expectation to be heard, and we achieved that through members of the Bowdoin community. We hope that our honest and respectful handling of the first student sit-in in decades not only sparks meaningful conversation about divestment and our obligation to act proactively on climate change, but that it also gives courage to those on campus to speak for what they believe in. BCA and those who support us will continue to push for divestment and will work tirelessly to increase student engagement with the issue. We look forward to the arrival of a new president and the opportunity that brings for reaffirming the values we hold as a college and as a community dedicated to listening to one another.
Over the course of the past three days we have shown here, and it has been shown to us, that students are unwilling sit at the sidelines while the identity and actions of the college are decided for us. We have demonstrated that the offer of the college is not something to be taken lightly and that the nature of the dialogue between the students, faculty, and administration is paramount to the functionality and quality of the college. But more importantly we have shown that the status quo of this relationship is unacceptable. The students are Bowdoin, and we will continue to advocate for climate justice and the institutional change that is necessary.