BRUNSWICK, Maine — Fourteen members of the Bowdoin College men’s lacrosse team will be disciplined for dressing up as Native Americans at a November party known as “Cracksgiving” held in an off-campus house known as “Crack House” rented by members of the team.
As first reported in The Bowdoin Orient, a student newspaper, and confirmed Wednesday by college spokesman Scott Hood, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster sent a campus-wide email Tuesday evening to inform the college community that Bowdoin will take disciplinary action against the students. However, Hood said no students will be expelled as a result of the incident.
In the email, printed in its entirety by the college newspaper and confirmed by Hood, Foster wrote that just prior to Thanksgiving, some members of the men’s lacrosse team who live in a residence known on campus as “Crack House” on Harpswell Road hosted “Cracksgiving,” and students were encouraged to dress up as pilgrims and Native Americans.
According to Foster, the invitation urged students to attend “wearing your finest Thanksgiving attire.”
Fourteen of the team’s approximately 50 members — some of them residents of the house — dressed as Native Americans, he said, “even after some of the team’s other members actively tried to talk them out of it.”
“Especially disturbing is that the hosts of this event knew — or should have known — that their actions would offend; yet they went ahead with their plans nonetheless,” Foster wrote.
The incident follows a similar party last year that prompted faculty and members of the Native American Students Association to hold events designed to raise awareness of “cultural appropriation,” Foster wrote.
In May, students attended a “teach-in” designed to address the issue, the Orient reported,
Only weeks ago, student leaders held a “Cultural Appropriation Fashion Show” in order to educate students about inappropriate costumes.
Foster wrote that he and Associate Dean of Multicultural Student Programs Leana Amaez met with leaders of the team, “and the team and their coach have discussed this situation together. Members of the team now recognize that these actions were hurtful, and they have decided that the tradition of ‘Cracksgiving’ has run its course.”
Hood said those who dressed up as Native Americans had apologized, although he wasn’t sure exactly to whom they apologized.
“I’ve been told that they have acknowledged they made a mistake and they regret it,” he said. “We’re an educational institution and these are moments where we take an opportunity to educate people.”
“I think it’s safe to say that people have been dressing up for decades in costumes, not only at Bowdoin, but all kinds of places, and in more recent times, people have become aware that it’s not an appropriate thing to do,” he said.
Foster wrote that while productive conversations have begun, and educational efforts will continue — efforts Hood said will likely increase — the college will take disciplinary action against the students “since this is ‘conduct unbecoming of a Bowdoin student.’”
“And we will not tolerate attempts to silence the substantial ongoing student leadership and dialogue on these issues through malicious, personal attacks posted anonymously … posts that cannot be described as anything other than cowardly,” Foster continued. “We are, to put it bluntly, better than that.
“At this moment in America, as tensions run high about race, class and inequality, we must continue to learn from one another, to think before we act, and to take responsibility for our actions and our mistakes.”
Paul Bisulca, former chairman of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, said Wednesday that he was pleased with the college’s response to the incident, and that in light of ongoing local and national racial tension, the matter couldn’t be overlooked.
Bisulca mentioned specifically the National Football League controversy over the team name Washington Redskins; a decision this fall by Wiscasset selectmen t o allow a private road to be named Redskin’s Drive; and continuing protests following decisions by grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City not to indict white police officers who killed unarmed black men.
“Given the state of emotions wrapped around this ‘Redskins’ issue, it was probably not a wise thing to be doing this,” he said. “It’s like what’s happening in Missouri and New York City right now with the police departments. Despite your best efforts, there’s an attitude that’s part of the makeup of the American people that is tough to root out — the way we think of people of a different color, of different religions, different beliefs. It’s ingrained. We’ll never completely get rid of that, I don’t believe.”
But he said actions such as the college’s decision to discipline the athletes and to try to educate students about why they should not dress up as Native Americans at parties were positive steps toward “tolerance and being respectful of others — the attitude that even if you don’t understand why feelings are hurt, you still need to be respectful.”
Jason Archbell, head coach of the men’s lacrosse team, declined to comment for this story, Hood said. Student leaders of the Native American Students Association, who like other students are in the middle of exam week and beginning to leave campus for winter break, did not immediately return emails seeking comment.