Campus ‘tequila’ party draws national attention

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BRUNSWICK — What started as a party at a Bowdoin College apartment one night in February was, by early March, being discussed on the opinion pages of a national newspaper.

College students’ and officials’ responses to a “tequila”- themed party have struck a deep nerve, igniting a debate over cultural appropriation and how an academic institution should respond to alleged offenders.

At issue is a party that took place Saturday night, Feb. 20, at Stowe Hall, a college-owned residence named in honor of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

According to an email invitation obtained by the college newspaper, the Orient, hosts sent out a message saying the party was “tequila”- themed, and that “we’re not saying it’s a fiesta, but we’re also not not saying that 🙂 (we’re not saying that).”

Afterwards, pictures surfaced on Facebook showing some party-goers wearing tiny sombreros.

At a Wednesday, Feb. 24 meeting of the Bowdoin Student Government, several students, some of Mexican or Mexican-American descent, expressed “exhaustion and frustration,” saying that the “tequila party” was part of a string of incidents of ethnic stereotyping on campus, the Orient reported.

Last October, a “gangster” themed party thrown by the sailing team prompted widespread discussion and protest on the campus. In fall 2014, the lacrosse team’s “Cracksgiving” party at a house off campus resulted in disciplinary actions against individual students after some wore Native American attire.

“What happened last weekend completely distorted what I stand for, what I embody and what I fight for. That was wrong, especially in light of what happened last semester,” said Bill De La Rosa, a senior, at the Feb. 24 meeting.

The student government passed a statement condemning the party, and recommended the administration address incidents of bias more quickly and develop a standardized process for punishing students involved. It also recommended that the college’s academic affairs office play a role in punishment by mandating academic work in certain subject areas for offending students, according to the Orient.

At the next week’s BSG meeting on March 2, three student government members introduced articles of impeachment against two other members who reportedly attended the tequila party.

The two members, both sophomores, allegedly violated the spirit of a “statement of solidarity,” which was unanimously passed by the BSG after the gangster party in October, by attending February’s “tequila” party.

They also allegedly violated the BSG’s nondiscrimination policy, and committed “injurious actions” towards other members of the student government, according to the impeachment articles.

The Orient also reported that one of the party’s hosts has been placed on “social probation” for a year, and cannot attend two annual social events this spring. She also must participate in an “educational program” and “active bystander training,” the unnamed host told the paper. Finally, she must move from her current residence in Stowe Hall to a different campus dorm.

A different unnamed sophomore who attended the party, and was photographed wearing a sombrero, told the Orient that he had been placed on social probation until next fall without ever meeting with a dean.

On March 3, Catherine Rampell, an opinion writer for the Washington Post, penned a column titled “Political correctness devours yet another college, fighting over mini-sombreros.”

Referencing the impending impeachment proceedings, she called the school’s reaction to the party “arbitrary.”

She argued it was especially arbitrary “when you learn that — on the very same night of the ‘tequila party’ … Bowdoin held its annual, administration-sanctioned ‘Cold War’ party. Students arrived dressed in fur hats and coats to represent Soviet culture; one referred to herself as ‘Stalin,’ making light of a particularly painful era in Slavic history,” she wrote.

“What principle makes one theme deserving of school sponsorship and another of dorm expulsion,” she added.

Bowdoin President Clayton Rose sent an email the next day to college students and alumni addressing the “commentary in the press and social media about a tequila party on campus and the reactions of students and the administration.”

In it, he stressed that “context matters,” writing that “over the last year or two we have had several incidents where students have engaged in racial and ethnic stereotyping.”

He did not comment on specific punishments or the impeachment proceedings. But, he wrote, “in the context of the serious campus discourse about race, ethnicity, and identity that has been ongoing this year, actions in … social settings that caricature groups, that simplify a culture to some coarse or crude sense of its reality … can have a profound effect on those in our community who identify as part of these groups.”

On the same day, the Orient reported that the impeachment proceedings, initially scheduled for Saturday, March 5, would be postponed until the impeachment process could be fully defined.

Also on March 4, Washington Post columnist Rampell published another piece, writing that at Bowdoin’s alumni reunion last summer, students and alumni took pictures in a photo booth wearing school-provided sombreros.

Bowdoin posted one of those photos to its official Facebook page.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.
  • Chew H Bird

    Apparently the administration at Bowdoin is so out of touch with the realities of being a college student they are planning to boycott green clothing on St Patrick’s Day so they don’t offend the Irish… Seriously, can an administration be this out of touch and still perform their duties?

  • truther

    Amazing how the same people who are so quick to label Trump some modern-day Hitler don’t think this incident is basically a modern-day Cultural Revolution. Being forced to move dorms? A year’s social probation?!? Simply for doing what the school itself officially sanctioned just one year previously?

    • funfundvierzig

      The thorny Rose is running a dangerous and destructive school of threats and fear. Mandating GROUP THINK, repressing freedom of expression, persecuting students or independently-thinking members of the Bowdoin Community, are the birthing grounds for communism and fascism!

      Now it appears the President of the College and his Red Guards, er, dutiful Deans, have opted for complete silence for PR damage control, receding to their offices and locking the doors, refusing further comment to the community or the media. That is “leadership” at a pretend-liberal college?


  • Jimmy_John67

    In his first 6 months on the job President Rose has turned Bowdoin into a national laughing stock. I am guessing the Board of Trustees is regretting that hiring decision as both he and Dean Tim Foster have time and time again exhibited ignorance, inconsistency and a complete lack of judgment when dealing with these campus matters. As a result Bowdoin is a mess on campus and a punchline off campus. Looking forward to seeing what the second half of the year brings for President Rose but here’s hoping it’s a pink slip.

  • Jane Gildart

    I’ve known for years that Bowdoin is no longer the college it was when I was a student there.
    What Bowdoin students need is a healthy dose of Milo Yiannopoulos.
    Forced reprogramming of individuals through mandated academic programs as punishment for their alleged insensitivity? I would fight that, on principle.
    This is a reunion year for me. There are many long-time friends whom I wish to see, so I will be attending, wearing a sombrero. I may even drink a margarita or two. But I won’t be getting out my checkbook.

    • EABeem

      Actually, Jane, Bowdoin has never been better than it is today. Students are far better prepared, qualified, diverse and interesting. The quality took a great leap in the 1970s when women were admitted and has made steady progress. Lighten up a little. Good colleges do tend to be a little more sensitive to minority issues than the mainstream and may even err on the side of political correctness. The GOP could do with a little PC, given the racist chauvinist pig it seems determined to nominate.

      • Jimmy_John67

        I think what angers people here is not that they err on the side of political correctness it is that the political correctness is being arbitrarily applied. Drink tequila and wear a sombrero = bad. Drink vodka, wear a Russian hat and dress as Stalin the exact same night = fine. Students wearing a sombrero and taking funny pictures = bad. Bowdoin providing sombreros for alumni to take funny pictures = fine. If you are going to have a policy around cultural appropriation then make it consistent. Otherwise you can’t publicly call out and punish students as Dean Tim Foster has done if they don’t know when or how the rules will apply.

        • EABeem

          I didn’t say the college didn’t overreact. I’m just responding to a conservative alumnae who suggested Bowdoin isn’t as good as it used to be. Three years ago when a bogus bunch of pseudo-scholars made the same charge, I responded to that conservative attack by asking Chris Potholm ’62, who has taught at Bowdoin for decades, what his opinion was.

          “I have been associated with Bowdoin College for over 50 years as student, alumnus and professor,” Potholm replied. “At no time during that period has Bowdoin ever been more vibrant, more interesting, or provided a more holistic and finer education.”

          • Jane Gildart

            I said Bowdoin isn’t the college it was for me, back when I was as liberal as you still are today. My class was the 10th to graduate women. You argue that it’s better than ever now. That may be true, depending on the criteria used, of course. But it’s not the college it was for me.
            I won’t apologize for a school that mandates reprogramming for a student who wore a sombrero to a birthday party. That’s creepy and way too authoritarian.
            When we served together on the Yarmouth School Committee, you were quick to denounce authoritarian discipline coming from the school department. Now you’re an apologist for authoritarians as long as they believe what you believe. Eh?
            BTW, I’ve said it before, my politics are soft libertarian rather than rigid conservative. I’m no authoritarian.

          • EABeem

            And as I replied above, I am not saying anything about the sombrero incident. I was just responding to your M.D. Harmon-like “Bowdoin is no longer the college it was…” statement, which I may have misunderstood to suggest it was not as good. Different, yes. Worse, no. Are you telling me that Bowdoin did not still have a male chauvinist hangover when you were there?

          • funfundvierzig

            “…set the standard on sensitivity”?

          • Jimmy_John67

            Wow I didn’t get that from Ms. Gildart’s post at all but it sounds like you have an axe to grind with her from a previous relationship so most likely you were just attempting to troll her.

            As a Bowdoin alum, long time resident of Brunswick and someone who has observed and worked often with Bowdoin grads in a professional setting I would say that intellectually the students are definitely superior to my generation at the school however I also feel like the school is doing a far worse job preparing the students for the realities of post college life. Situations like these illustrate why. Instead of encouraging students to work out issues amongst themselves, the administration steps in and lays down punishment for perceived slights without even speaking to all parties in some cases. As a result the campus is probably more divided then it has been in recent memory. While the quality of classroom based education may be better the quality of life or experience based education is clearly worse and this is the direct fault of the Bowdoin administration.

          • EABeem

            No axes to grind with Jane. She and I worked together to increase Yarmouth school budgets every year and to pass a $20 million school facilities bond. Our kids went to school together and played on the same teams together. But I must admit that I am sometimes surprised at her political stances these days.

  • James Kaywell

    It is with great interest that I and the nation’s press have been following the Tequila Party Mini-Sombrero political correctness imbroglio. . I understand that there has been prior cultural insensitivity at Bowdoin College, but this latest instance of what, to me, is political correctness run amok, has ruined the lives of innocent students who bore no animus. They obviously had no statement to make other than to have fun at a Tequila themed birthday party.

    To put things in perspective, I believe the well-intentioned letter from Bowdoin College Professor and Director of Latin Studies Gustavo Faverón-Patriau to the students at large, in support of cleansing Bowdoin College of racism and bigotry, can also be said to address the contrary viewpoint extraordinarily well by the substitution of just two words in its last two sentences, viz:

    “… [R]acial and ethnic bigotry does not need a real, bone-and-flesh enemy in order to exist. Racism in all its versions is a negative impulse in search of a victim; it is devoid of rationality, able to invent its victims when there are none and it becomes dangerous when it finds them. Stereotypes want to present themselves as rooted in reality, but they are always a distorted addition to the real world. The drive towards
    [political correctness] is previous to the [denounced] object; it is a rejection of reason which replaces reason with idiocy and a mediocre pseudo-rationality. It is an aberration of rational thought and of humanism in its wider sense and, because of that, it contradicts all that is to be cultivated in an institution like Bowdoin College.”

    In punishing the innocent party goers, it seems obvious that, the Bowdoin College “politically correct” administration and its adherents personify those “devoid of rationality”, who “invent its victims when there are none”, and, in order to punish innocent student party-goers who wore mini-sombreros at a Tequila themed party, “replaces reason with idiocy and a mediocre pseudo-rationality.”

  • funfundvierzig

    By Proclamation from the Office of President, Bowdoin College, March 9, 2016:

    * The Maine State Theater is banned from Packard Theater on the campus because the content of some of their musical comedies has given offence to culturally hyper-sensitive students, who now need counseling.

    * The Bowdoin dining hall will no longer serve:

    Rice, pasta, bananas, tacos, watermellon, Fritos and salsa, fried chicken, and Irish stew.

    * The Bowdoin College Art Museum will be closed indefinitely pending review of certain paintings and sculptures, which may traumatise certain students and members of the Bowdoin Community.

    Parodically posted…funfun..

    • funfundvierzig

      Incidentally, fellow Forecaster readers, the above mild humour after being posted as a comment in the readers’ internet forum of the Bowdoin Orient was redacted, CENSORED, by the editors of said college newspaper.

      Looks like these student journalists and editors are operating Beijing-style, enforcing GROUP THINK, and unalloyed intolerance for any perspective differing from ironclad POLITICAL CORRECTNESS. These remarkably brainwashed students in Brunswick sure are getting a superior education in totalitarianism! …funfun..

      • EABeem

        Maybe they were just editing, as you seem unable to spell and punctuate.

        • funfundvierzig

          Would you like to enlighten readers as to what is misspelled? Your silly and petty ad hominem remark adds nothing to the discussion here. …funfun..

          • EABeem

            Watermelon (one L), traumatize (Z not S), humor (not humour, unless you’re British, and it’s Pickard Theater, not Packard. So you can make fun of Bowdoin, but I can’t make fun of your spelling?

          • funfundvierzig

            As many well educated, intelligent readers know, the rich english language has many words with more than one proper spelling, such as humour and traumatise. As for the Pickard Theatre, yes, we did indeed and in fact make a typo! GASP!

            Bowdoin College is touted as an international institution with students and faculty gathered from around the world. The proponents and protectors of the College and its Administration should not be so xenophobic and provincial when it comes to spelling.


          • EABeem

            It is because Bowdoin is one of the few international colleges in a lily white state that it has to set the standard for sensitivity. I may agree that the college went too far in the sombrero case, but I understand their motivations. Bowdoin is ranked #490 in the country for diversity, Colby # 771, Bates #920 and, for comparison, University of Maine #1,477.

          • funfundvierzig

            “…set the standard on sensitivity”? “Motivation”? LIke prosecuting and purging the country of suspected communists in 1954?

            McCarthyism is alive and well in the Office of President, Bowdoin College. Senator, er, President Clayton Rose and his Roy Cohn-like Deans have efficiently effected the investigation, blacklisting, and punishment of targeted innocent students on trumped up charges of violating Political Correctness and harbouring independent thoughts.

            For quivering students and timorous teachers, the atmosphere on the grounds of Bowdoin in Brunswick is chilling and fearful.

            “Have you no decency,” Mr. Rose?


          • truther

            “I may agree that the college went too far in the sombrero case, but I understand their motivations.”

            Yeah but come on, that’s not good enough. I also understand their motivations. But from my perspective, Bowdoin saw a single daffodil in the middle of its lawn and responded by napalming the entire neighborhood.

            This episode has backfired spectacularly. It’s ruined the college experience for the students who were punished; made the school a laughingstock; confirmed the base opinions of those who view sensitivity and inclusiveness efforts skeptically; and chilled the general atmosphere. Any college that aspires to be respected you’d think would be able to handle a teachable moment with slightly more skill than was displayed in this case.

  • jack bauer

    Do students really want to attend Bowdoin…a mirthless pit of self-imposed guilt and endless political correctness?

    • EABeem

      And one of the best small liberal arts colleges in the country with a billion dollar endowment, Yes, sir, they sure do.

      • Jimmy_John67

        As a Bowdoin alum it pains me to say this but I think Colby is the better school at this point from both an academic and social standpoint. Better, more modern facilities and recent major focus on the sciences at Colby. No ridiculous PC drama there either. Bowdoin has seemed to be focusing on the arts recently and the obvious repetitive PC drama of the past year. If I had a kid who was smart enough to get into both schools and just wanted a normal, fun college experience I would definitely suggest Colby at this point over Bowdoin.

  • funfundvierzig

    As evidence of the waxing scale of this now nationally spotlighted scandal at Bowdoin, numerous news web-sites have been flooded with commentaries and opinions, overwhelmingly negative. Even in the relatively quiet Portland Press Herald, 367 comments have hit the paper’s web-site in response to a recent article.

    While College President Clayton Rose and his dutiful Deans who look through Rose-coloured glasses may have sequestered themselves refusing any further explanation or comment to the media and the country and community, certain perfervid promoters of Bowdoin and reputation agents have gone on PR damage control and on P.C defence, often with distracting ad hominem insults against independently-speaking citizens and alumni and alumnae. The current culture of mind control on campus is right out of the Peoples Republic. …funfun..

    • Jimmy_John67

      I have never seen such a majority of Internet commenters all come to the same conclusion before. I would say between the comments on the PPH, BDN, Wash Post and even The Bowdoin Orient itself (at least before they stopped allowing comments on many articles on this topic) that 99.5% of people think the “sombrero incident” is ridiculous and the Bowdoin Administration are a bunch of fools. It truly is an Internet miracle to get that many people to agree but somehow the Bowdoin Administration has achieved that with their stupidity.

  • funfundvierzig

    What is next on the agenda for Bowdoin’s P.C.-obsessed President and his coddled and counseled ultra-delicate students?

    Why, it may be a huge bonfire on the Quad burning books! After all, within the confines of the College Library, some of these culturally hyper-sensitive students if they spend any time there, may find thousands of books, whose contents scream “cultural insensitivity”. Incinerating these tomes of terror will help abate trauma and make the campus “a safe place”. …funfun..