Barry Mills: Speak Out Against Bigotry and Hate

In a Sunday afternoon message to students, faculty, and staff, President Barry Mills announced the discovery of swastikas on dining hall dishes and urged members of the Bowdoin community to speak out against intolerance, bigotry, and hate.

To the Bowdoin Community,

Last week, dishwashers discovered swastikas drawn on the bottom of a couple of serving plates in Thorne Hall. This matter was disclosed in the weekly security report and published in The Bowdoin Orient. It has also been listed in the Campus and Community Index created at the start of this academic year.

In a message yesterday evening, a student asked why “The Administration” hasn’t spoken out about all of this. We don’t know who drew the swastikas, why, or when they did it. All we know is that it happened. While we continue to investigate the circumstances, I will state categorically that this act clearly violates what we stand for at Bowdoin.

Symbols are important in our society, and as a modern symbol of Nazism and white supremacy, the swastika is obviously repugnant, offensive, and threatening to many. It has to be enormously frustrating to us all for this kind of behavior to continue to occur on our campus. I speak, write, and send messages about these issues all the time. Each year, in my opening remarks to students, we talk about the characteristics and expectations of our community. Last year’s “I Am Bowdoin” events and the “Beyond the Bowdoin Hello” lectures and discussions held just over a month ago were powerful conversations about our community and our standards. Yet, once again I find myself writing about cowardly and hateful vandalism.

Last week, the public discourse about contraception spiraled completely out of control when a national radio talk-show host viciously attacked a Georgetown University student (I highly recommend President John J. DeGioia’s message to the Georgetown community about all of this). On our own campus, we have recently received several email messages from people angry about an article in the February 17th edition of the Orient that they saw as disrespectful of the Mormon faith. In both instances, this speech is clearly protected by the First Amendment, and in the second case, the Orient can be commended for publishing a different view. I am not attempting to draw a parallel between stating one’s opinion through open discourse and defacing College property covertly with a symbol of bigotry and hate. But I am asking us all to consider the kind of interaction, conversation, and debate that we want to promote at Bowdoin. In my view, intolerance must be confronted whenever it takes place.

I am told often that email messages like this are ineffective. I suspect that may be true, given the number of messages we all send and receive on a daily basis. Candidly, I vacillate between an impulse to say “just another incredibly stupid act” and move on, and the need to raise the issue in a message like this to all of you. We simply cannot and should not respond every time some dumb act occurs. To do so gives the offenders way too much power over us all. But with this message, “The Administration” has spoken out once again. The much more effective response is for you—the members of our community—to speak and to keep speaking.

Bowdoin is a part of the world—we can never make this kind of bigotry disappear entirely. That said, bigotry and racism are wrong, and they have no place at Bowdoin. This is place of intellectual inquiry focused on the pursuit of knowledge. In that spirit, let’s engage, argue, debate and disagree—but let’s do so with courage, intelligence, respect, and civility.


Barry Mills


Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available here or on the Bowdoin website.


  1. Maureen Prohl says:

    I disagree that email messages such as these are ineffective. Such communications engage the larger Bowdoin community, including parents like ourselves. My husband and I are thus informed that our daughter is in a community which upholds the values we have attempted to inculcate in her over the last twenty years.

  2. Patricia Kornreich says:

    As grandparents of a Bowdoin freshman, we are once again pleased and heartened to know he is at an institution that denounces bigotry and racism while once again stressing the important message of tolerance and civil discourse. President Mills, thank you for being the moral leader of Bowdoin College.

  3. David B Kessler,MD FACP '57 says:

    I agree and stand with President Mills. Further, I feel that cowards and bigots have no place at Bowdoin. I would not jump to the conclusion that the culprit (s) are students. In 1953, misguided bigotry was present on the campus palpably in the fraternity system. However, I never faced it in daily life neither from the faculty nor the conservative student body. I always felt at home. 59 years later my classmates are one. I look forward to meeting them for our 55th in May.

  4. Nancy Sanchez says:

    Reading this message by president Barry Mills makes me proud to be an alumna of Bowdoin College.

  5. Dick Burns '58 says:

    I agree with the comments of my friend David Kessler and with the parent and grandparent of Bowdoin students who responded to Barry Mills’ e-mail.

    Informing the larger Bowdoin community, as Barry, most commendably, has done, is the best way to deal with incidents such as has just occurred. However reprehensible, such incidents are not a reflection of the institution that is Bowdoin. The Bowdoin of today, more than ever, is a truely open and diverse community of students, faculty and staff, which as a frequent visitor to the campus, it is nothing short of a delight to behold.

    As a Jewish student at the College in the 50’s, I was never made to feel any less a member of the Bowdoin community and I, like David Kessler, have maintained close contact and frendship with many of my classmates over the now almost 54 years since we gratuated.

Leave a Comment