Ah, today is St. Patrick’s Day. In college towns across America, students are probably skipping class to drink and attend parties while dressed in every green piece of clothing they own.
Shamrock glasses and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” tee shirts are usually the norm for St. Patrick’s Day party goers. But, as holidays come and go, traditional shirts and accessories could be another opportunity for college administrators and perpetually offended student protesters alike to bypass free expression rights as part of a misguided effort to prevent offense and hurt feelings.
Case in point, a tequila-themed birthday party at Bowdoin College caused quite the uproar a few weeks ago due to guests wearing…tiny sombreros.
When photos appeared on social media of the party and its guests, the entire campus took action.
Bowdoin administrators sent multiple school wide emails notifying the students about an “investigation” into a possible “act of ethnic stereotyping.”
A few days later, the Bowdoin Student Government unanimously adopted a “statement of solidarity” to “[stand] by all students who were injured and affected by the incident,” and recommend that administrators “create a space for those students who have been or feel specifically targeted.” The statement deemed the party an act of “cultural appropriation,” one that “creates an environment where students of color, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, students feel unsafe.”
A week later, BSG introduced articles of impeachment against two student representatives that attended the party. However, impeachment proceedings were postponed until further notice by the BSG President, Danny Mejia-Cruz, and then later rescinded.
As for the rest of the others? According to The Bowdoin Orient:
“They will participate in an educational program facilitated by a faculty member, attend Active Bystander training and write a letter or paper on these experiences—other aspects of their punishment seem arbitrary. They were forced to move out of their room in Stowe Hall and relocate to doubles in Chamberlain Hall and they are banned from Ivies and Spring Gala.”
However, on the very same night of the “tequila party,” Bowdoin held its annual, administration-sanctioned “Cold War” party. Students wore fur hats and coats to represent Soviet culture and one referred to herself as “Stalin,” making light of a particularly painful era in Slavic history.
What makes one party deserving of school sponsorship while participation in the other will get you kicked out of your dorm room? The mixed messages are even more troubling considering an event last year in which the university provided students and alumni with sombreros and other hats and props for a photo booth. Those photos are still available on the school’s public Facebook page.
It is concerning that Bowdoin can argue that these “tequila party” attendees should have known better than to treat sombreros as silly props if the administration itself didn’t either.