Bowdoin College, Brunswick leaders meet about ‘uptick’ in racial slurs

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BRUNSWICK — Incidents in which racial slurs were allegedly shouted at Bowdoin College students and faculty near the school’s campus spurred the college’s president to warn college community and prompted a meeting among college, town and law enforcement officials.

“Over the last few months several members of our community – students, student guests, staff and faculty – all persons of color – have been subjected to racial invectives of the worst kind,” Bowdoin President Clayton Rose wrote in a Sept. 8 email to Bowdoin students, faculty and staff following the meeting. “These incidents have generally involved the ‘n’ word being hurled by people in cars passing near campus and in town. These are cowardly and inexcusable acts.”

The meeting, held on Aug. 27, was attended by Brunswick Town Manager John Eldridge, Town Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman, council Vice Chairman Steve Walker, Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski, Police Chief Richard Rizzo, police commanders Mark Waltz and Marc Hagan, Cumberland County Assistant District Attorney Michael Madigan, and Debora King of the Brunswick Downtown Association, as well as Rose, Bowdoin College Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Katy Longley, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster and Randy Nichols, the college’s security director.

The town did not post any public notice about the meeting. It was not mentioned at a council meeting and, according to Brayman, no public discussion or action by the Town Council is planned.

Waltz said Monday that town leaders were asked “to let Bowdoin deal with it themselves first. They wanted the students to hear it from them.”

The meeting was prompted by “an uptick” in reported racial incidents, Brayman said by phone Monday.

College officials “wanted to be clear that the college and the town are united in condemning that type of activity and to discuss the issue generally (and see), is there something that can be done,” Eldridge said. “That’s why we had law enforcement people there and the ADA was there, to talk about what might be done legally.”

College senior Jeffrey Chung, a leader in Bowdoin’s Asian Student Association, said Monday that within his first week back at college this year, racist slurs were shouted at him and an African American friend on two separate occasions while they walked on Maine Street. He said he did not report the incidents and assumes “it must be happening to more people.”

“Racial aggression is always shocking,” said Chung, who grew up in Queens, New York. “Coming from such diversity, and as an Asian male, I don’t see as much direct racism, but in Maine, in a less diverse environment like this, perhaps you’re more prone to experience it.”

Chung was an underclassman in 2013 when college and town officials met following an incident in which racial slurs and language were written on whiteboards in a student housing complex. Bowdoin Student Government subsequently organized No Hate November in 2013 and 2014, with the goal of working toward eliminating bias and increasing mindfulness on campus, The Bowdoin Orient reported.

“They keep track of these things and there had been an uptick several years ago, and we’re seeing it again,” Brayman said. “Obviously we are on heightened alert about this happening and the police are aware this has been going on. Strategies were discussed, including potentially getting the community on board, and having people aware that this is happening so you have more ears out and people can look for license plate numbers. Certainly council leadership was deeply concerned about these issues and now is aware of what happened and open to various approaches, and will work with the college.”

In his letter to the Bowdoin community, Rose wrote that those who attended his meeting in August “asked me to share with you their unequivocal and united condemnation of these acts, a view they know our many wonderful neighbors in Brunswick wholeheartedly support. We agreed that we will work together to shine a light on this behavior, to raise awareness about its effects, and whenever possible, to hold accountable those responsible.”

Waltz said Monday that while no such incidents had been reported to the police department this year, Bowdoin security personnel at the Aug. 27 meeting handed him “a multiple-page printout” of purported acts of racial slurs directed at Bowdoin students and staff. None of them included information that would allow Brunswick police to further investigate, he said.

“Some of this may just be free speech,” he said. “We can’t necessarily stop someone’s car just because they hollered something.”

Bowdoin College provided a copy of Rose’s letter to the Bangor Daily News, but Rose and other college officials declined to comment further on the situation. Chung said Rose met early this school year with leaders of various multicultural groups on campus to introduce himself and discuss needs “and what he could do to help us.”

“President Rose’s academic background in racial relations has shown a shift toward being eager to confront these issues,” Chung said. “I do believe he is personally interested in learning more about how to fix issues of racism. It’s very encouraging.”

While the Town Council has taken no action in response to the concerns raised during the Aug. 27 meeting, “many organizations in town have done outreach,” Brayman said. She suggested “a communitywide response to this. Yes, there’s a role for town government in all this, but I think it should be communitywide.”

“This is something I want to be proactive about,” Brayman continued. “We want all people to be welcome in Brunswick. Brunswick is a welcoming town and we’re aware of and will monitor the situation.”

Students sit on the quad in front of Hubbard Hall at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

  • Chew H Bird

    Yelling racial slurs at anyone is repulsive and I understand people being upset, however I wish Bowdoin would put the same effort into instructing their students not to ride bikes across crosswalks, especially at night, directly in front of oncoming traffic. Same goes for pedestrian students who walk in front of moving cars, without pressing the lit up signs, while talking on their cell phones and ignoring the imminent danger.

    • EABeem

      Not a problem for me. I just plan to stop at each of the half dozen college crosswalks. And are you really sure you wan t to conflate racism and jaywalking?

      • Chew H Bird

        It just seems if we are going to take the time to write about racist slurs being thrown around regarding “townies” and “students” we may as well actually save a few lives (and maybe reduce the name calling) if more manners were displayed by all concerned. I drive by the college at least twice daily and it isn’t just the cross walks… Pedestrians and bike riders in dark clothing at dusk or night shooting out from the grass in front of cars… I slow down and look around but sometimes the antics are so extreme I end up slamming on the brakes no matter how carefully I drive. Maybe someone from Bowdoin will read this and at least make a suggestion that students at least look both ways before crossing the street on a bicycle while texting from their cell phone.

        • EABeem

          Or how about establishing a 15 MPH school zone around the campus 24 hours a day? That might also make it easier to apprehend the racist rednecks.

          • Chew H Bird

            The I have no doubt there are ample “rednecks” with poor choice in language who will contribute to verbal pollution free of charge multiple times per day. There have been a few times I have been grateful I am older and more mellow than I was in my youth while driving around Brunswick, but the reality is someone is going to be hurt from darting out in front of a vehicle, whether it be driven by a redneck or one of my 90+ year old neighbors.

            Also, I think many bicycle riders scooting across the street are exceeding 15 mph and the Brunswick PD ignores bicycle infractions.

          • InThrall

            Apprehend them for what? Although reprehensible, name calling is not a crime.

  • Guest

    Bowdoin College Senior Jeffrey Chung is correct in his assumption – he states not reporting incidents of racial slurs “…and assumes ‘it must be happening to more people.'” Hate crimes and racial slurs do, indeed, occur and have been occurring to others in Brunswick, even if some like Councilor Brayman believe the town is welcoming. With incidents of hate crimes going uncharged as Cumberland County DA Stephanie Anderson and ADA Michael Madigan along with Brunswick Police Chief Rizzo, Capt. Mark Waltz and others are, in fact, fully aware it’s not surprising to read that these “cowardly and inexcusable acts” have now “…included students, student guests, staff and faculty – all persons of color – (being) subjected to racial invectives of the worst kind, Bowdoin President Clayton Rose.” A Ripoff Report” Incident#1196847 “Complaint Review: Brunswick Maine Police Chief Rizzo” and a general comment in response is informative and sheds light on disturbing actions, including hate crimes in Brunswick. If these incidents are not reported, investigated, and perpetrators charged, then any prospective student of Bowdoin College will likewise not see a true reflection of racial incidents in reports such as the national FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR).

    • Chew H Bird

      While it is wrong to racially demean or otherwise shout insults at people, regardless of color or whatever identifier is utilized, assuming an “uptick” is not accurate as the rate of any incidence is only as valid as the reliability of the reporting.

      Determining an increase or decrease in any act (reported to the Police) requires historical and quantified consistency in those making such a report. Noting an increase in (generally) “crime”, for example, requires a historical basis and (even at best) only reflects crime that has been reported.

      While there is no shortage of people in any community who break laws or commit unpleasant acts, the only potential (meaningful) measurement we have are those acts that are documented (reported).

      The number of people who roll through stop signs is probably significantly higher today than it was 40 years ago because I see it “all the time”. However I suspect the percentage of people rolling through stop signs is probably down as I have not seen or heard of anyone being ticketed for it in decades. This is an assumption on my part and and not necessarily accurate as it is ancedotal.

      • Constant

        There is an uptick if there has been no change in the reporting requirements, and yet more incidents are being reported. That is what has happened here. Why you are trying to deny this is another matter.

        • Chew H Bird

          Any “uptick” is in the number of reported incidents, not the actual number of incidents. Perhaps there are significantly more incidents of racial profanity but only a handful are being reported? Perhaps there are actually less incidents but a higher percentage of people reporting them?

          There will always be people who try and demean others and I would be interested to know if there are actually more incidents or if people are simply more willing to file a complaint.

          • Constant

            Why you are trying to downplay however many incidents there are by disputing whether or not there is an uptick? Let’s try this: there are too many, or do you want to dispute that. Let’s try another: deflecting the rather horrible experience of being publicly and loudly demeaned by a stranger with a nasty racial slur by whining about college pedestrians is defensive and completely insensitive. How about the idea that any times is too many? And then let’s hazard this guess: you are a white guy, who hasn’t thought much about what it’s like not to be a white guy. This is a chance to gain a little perspective.

          • Chew H Bird

            I am a white guy. I grew up in Maine (a white state). I worked in the boonies where I was called a flat lander and was informed there are ways to “make me disappear” because I was an “outsider”. What is the difference? People are rude and discriminate against others for a whole host of unthinkable reasons and human nature, regardless of our wishes, is not going to change.

            The color of a person’s skin makes no difference to me. How we treat other people other people is what is important. We all have different life experiences. Some of those experiences are because we are short, tall, white, brown, yellow, talk funny, limp, or whatever other property you choose to identify someone. Some of those experiences are hurtful, unkind, and unfair. Some of those experiences are going to be wonderful.

            My perspective is that no matter how ugly, freedom of speech goes in every direction. My perspective is that confidence in ourselves and happiness are things we can control regardless of the thoughtless actions of those around us. My perspective is actions speak far louder than words. You have a right to your opinion and I am simply voicing my perspective.