BRUNSWICK, Maine — Less than a year after members of Bowdoin College’s lacrosse team were disciplined by the college for dressing as Native Americans at a “Cracksgiving” party, members of the college’s sailing team held a “gangster-themed” party on Oct. 22.
When several sailing team members arrived in the dining commons after the party wearing baggy clothing, gold chains and cornrows, other students confronted them about what they perceived to be the team’s demeaning depiction of black culture.
In an opinion piece published Tuesday in the Bowdoin Orient, Adira Polite, a member of the Bowdoin College class of 2018 and of the college’s African American Society, wrote of her anger and disappointment that her classmates would turn negative stereotypes of the black race into costumes — including “one of the most dangerous black stereotypes … that of the ‘thug.’”
Instead of a “furious rant,” Poite wrote that she hoped to educate students about cultural appropriation. As an example, she wrote, if she, as an African American, were to wear a Native American headdress, “I would be taking part of Native American culture and turning it into a trendy, meaningless costume.”
Her choice of Native American culture was not random: Last December, 14 members of the Bowdoin College men’s lacrosse team were disciplined for dressing up as Native Americans at a November party known as “Cracksgiving” in an off-campus house known as “Crack House” rented by members of the team.
Polite, who is from Tennessee, told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday that she never expected to encounter a situation like this at Bowdoin.
“In my view, I’m going to the North where everything’s fine,” she said. “But racism is everywhere, prejudice is everywhere, ignorance is everywhere.”
Polite said she spoke to one of the sailing team captains, who was not at the party and “she was very apologetic. She said she was really sorry this happened and that it was mortifying.”
But Polite said the response of the some in the Bowdoin community has been disheartening, with anonymous comments posted on the app Yik Yak ranging from criticism of “all this political correctness crap” to praising Polite for “calling out cultural appropriation [which] has been trivialized for too long.”
In an email sent Wednesday afternoon to employees and students of the college, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster wrote that, in response to the incident, the college would facilitate “direct, honest and constructive conversations” among “students who dressed as they did, those who were stereotyped and the larger student community.”
“Let me be clear: racial and ethnic stereotyping is not acceptable at Bowdoin,” Foster wrote. “The fact that participants at this party were insensitive about their impact on others is, to say the least, disappointing and disheartening.”
Foster wrote that the discussions are planned “recognizing that, for some of our students of color, having to engage in this discussion — to explain and represent their race — carries an additional burden and poses a regrettable additional cost of this incident.”
Bowdoin spokesman Doug Cook said Wednesday that the discussions have not yet been scheduled.
Following the 2014 incident in which lacrosse players dressed as Native Americans, Foster said that 14 lacrosse players would be disciplined. Cook said Wednesday that the college does not discuss “disciplinary consequences,” either those in 2014 or any potential consequences of the more recent incident.
Captains of the sailing team did not respond to emails seeking comment on Wednesday.
At least one other New England college addressed cultural appropriation and stereotyping in advance of Halloween. Earlier this week, the University of Vermont Student Government Association sent a notice encouraging students to be wary of costumes that “can reinforce stereotypes, ignore the deep cultural significance of certain articles of clothing, and disregard the history of marginalized groups of people.”