Perhaps one of the most direct and tangible steps Bowdoin has taken towards increasing the school’s racial diversity was the advent of a visitation weekend for admitted prospective students of color. This event first appears in archival materials in 1980 under the name, “The Weekend for Black Prospective Freshmen,” and has since grown and evolved tremendously. Today, we call this weekend the Bowdoin Experience. The program invites low-income, first-generation, and minority students to attend and get a sense of the culture and environment at Bowdoin. Take a look through the documents included in this gallery to understand the history of the Bowdoin Experience!
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This invitation to a black student admitted to Bowdoin details the highlights of the Black Prospective Freshman Weekend. The Office of Admissions describes the weekend as a chance for students to “choose Bowdoin” and give them “an idea on student life on campus, both academically and socially” while “assessing Bowdoin’s pros and cons.” The weekend entailed, “among other things, visits to classes in session, dinner with faculty members, an informal reception with Black students and faculty, dinner with Black students, visits to fraternities on campus, and a campus at the John B. Russwurm Afro-American Center.” The weekend was designed to give students a full picture of what “student life on campus.” Attendees not only had the opportunity to speak with Bowdoin students and faculty but also to become acquainted with spaces they might spend time in at Bowdoin, from Russwurm to fraternities. The weekend also encouraged students to discuss potential aid packages with financial aid officers. The Afro-American Society and the Office of Admissions collaborated to plan this event, likely helping to create a more holistic picture of what campus life looks like for black students.
The personal information of the invitee has been redacted at her request.
(A02.02.05, Admissions 1979-80) (1980).
In 1980, Sammie T. Robinson, the Assistant Director of Admissions, wrote to invite faculty members to invite them to participate in festivities for the “Weekend for Black Prospective Freshmen.” Robinson notes that the “number of black freshmen at Bowdoin is embarrassingly low (six)” and thus urges faculty to help make the weekend, meant to remedy these dismal demographics, a success. The schedule of events included a reception at the John B. Russwurm Afro-American Center and dinner with professors at their homes. The phrasing of this letter suggests that this may have been the first time they did so.
(A02.02.05, Admissions 1980-81) (1981)
In 1981, a year after the Office of Admissions began its relationship with the Weekend for Black Prospective Students, Sammie T. Robinson writes again to Bowdoin faculty about the event. He refers to the weekend as being “annual.” He encourages faculty members to attend the reception once again, as prospective students had found this opportunity “[impressive].”
(A02.02.05, Admissions 1981-82) (1982)
In another letter to faculty a year later in 1982, Robinson refers to the students invited to the Weekend for Black Prospective Freshmen as “minority high school seniors.” This phrasing, though seemingly minor, may signal a shift in the demographics this program is geared towards. The weekend is named for “black prospective freshmen,” though may be shifting to include students of a variety of racial minorities.
(A02.02.05, Admissions 1982-83) (1983).
In 1983, the “Weekend for Black Prospective Freshmen” was renamed to the “Weekend for Minority Students.” The shift in language shows a shift in targeted demographics. The “Weekend” was not only targeting black prospective students, but minority students of all racial backgrounds.
(A02.02.05, Admissions 1984-85) (1985).
In, 1985, the Admissions Office stated that the “Weekend for Minority Students” was the most influential factor for minority matriculation: “Eighty-one percent of the minority students at Bowdoin attended this event.” Robinson claims the “Weekend” as a success and encourages faculty to volunteer to host students for dinners.
(A02.02.05, Admissions 1987-88) (1990).
In 1990, the “Weekend for Minority Students” was renamed to “The Bowdoin Experience” program. The language in the program name moves away from specific racial terminology, describing the Bowdoin Experience as “the annual program for admitted students of color.”