2007-2008 Discussion Guide

Through Study Circles we will:

·Bring people together in a supportive environment.

·Enable people to openly discuss perspectives and personal experiences with identity.

·Consider the positive and negative ways identity manifests itself at Bowdoin.

·Develop concrete responses to problems your group identifies.

Session 1: Introductions(90 min)

Purpose: To discuss expectations and create discussion guidelines.During this session we will begin to share our personal identities.


– Dialogue overview handouts

– Markers

– Big paper

– Sample ground rules sheet

– Role of a facilitator sheet

– Envelopes

– Scrap paper and writing utensils

Introductions (10 min)

  1. Say your name, year, what you study, and where your from
  1. Share one thing about yourself that no one in the group knows
  1. Introduce the role of the facilitator

Hot Potato Introductions (15 min)

Find an object to use as the “hot potato.” Participants and facilitators will pass around a hot potato within the circle for 15 minutes. People can keep the potato for as long as they want, but they must talk about themselves the whole time they hold it.They can say anything about themselves that they wish (their families, their favorite ______, their past experiences, pet peeves, or anything else), and they must call the person they pass it to by name.

Overview the Process (5 min)

Look at the overview handout

The Bowdoin Experience (5 min)

How do you experience Bowdoin differently then others?

Have participants write this down on paper and seal it in an envelope.Let participants know these statements are confidential.Collect envelopes and save for the last session.

Share Hopes and Concerns (10 min)

What are our hopes and concerns? (Go around in a circle or share with partners)

Write all hopes and concerns on big paper to use for the next activity.

Set Discussion Guidelines (10 min)

Considering our Hopes and Concerns, let’s set guidelines for how we are going to talk.

Write discussion guidelines on big paper and bring to the rest of the meetings. If the group seems stuck offer some suggestions on your own or from the sample ground rule sheet

Questioning Identity (25 min)

  1. What is identity? What purpose does it serve?

Write the answers down on paper to save for later.

  1. How would the world be without identity markers?
  1. What identity markers do you embrace? Why?
  1. What markers don’t you embrace? Why?
  1. What identity markers do others notice most about you?
  1. Are there certain times when identity markers are useful and others when they are not?

Closing (10 min)

  1. How did it feel to take part in this conversation?
  1. How did the dialogue circle go?Is there anything we should change for next time?

Note: remind participants of the next meeting time and place.If you are willing, offer your email address to participants if they have any private concerns about the discussion.

Session 2: Experiencing identity (90 min)

Purpose: We will share our diverse experiences with identity and discuss the experiences of others.


– Markers

– Big paper

– Group ground rules

– Case study handouts

– Identity big paper from last session

– Evaluation forms for each participant

Identity Growth Activity (20 min)

  1. Revisit the group’s definition of identity and its purpose from last session.Create a working definition of identity
  1. Has your identity changed from high school to college? How so?
  1. Why do you think your identity has or has not changed?

Case Study Activity (35 min)

Read case studies about identity conflict and misunderstanding that could happen or did happen at Bowdoin.

Case 1: An athlete tells his professor that he is sick on the day of the game.He feels the professor would think less of him if she knew he was on a sports team.

Cast 2: A gay student who was out in high school hears his roommate tell others that he is so glad he doesn’t have a gay roommate.The gay student doesn’t come out for another 2 years.

Case 3: A student of color goes to a house party.Everyone is white so he decides not to stay.

Case 4: One student passionately voices her opinion against illegal immigrants in the United States.Her roommate’s parents are illegal immigrants.

Case 5: A student of Indian decent goes to a social house party and goes to get a drink.He is told by the person serving alcohol that they “don’t serve brown people”.

Case 6:During orientation a student lies and pretends that she partied a lot in high school, while in reality she has never had more than a sip of alcohol.

Case 7:A guy brags to his friends about how easy a girl is.He claims he can have her whenever he wants.

Case 8: A freshman tells her hall mates that she is Morman.Her hall mates quit inviting her to parties because they don’t want to offend her by having alcohol around.

Case 9: A white student comes to Bowdoin angry he didn’t get into Harvard, blaming their strong affirmative action program.

Case 10: A group of students eating dinner start talking about travel, one student who has never been on a plane excuses herself saying she has a meeting to get to.

Case 11: A black student and a white student are chemistry partners.The black student uses the goggles and then hands them to her partner.The white lab partner washes them thoroughly before putting them on. The student thinks this is happening because of her race.

Case 12: A female and male work at the IT desk together.When people come in with questions they almost always approach the male.

Case 13: A student signs up for an outing club trip.After getting the gear list, he backs out because he doesn’t have many of the items.

Answer the following questions about the case studies with a partner:

  1. Which case studies stand out to you?
  1. Why do you think the people acted the way they did in the cases that stood out to you?
  1. How do you think the experience affected the people in these cases?

Answer the following questions with the group:

  1. Have you had or heard about similar situations at Bowdoin?
  1. Why do you think the people acted the way they did in those situations?
  1. How did the experience affect you? Or how do you think the experience affected the person in your anecdote?
  1. If we have identity (identify/associate ourselves and others with particular labels) will we always have conflict?

Rules of Bowdoin (20 min)

The purpose of this activity is to unearth unspoken norms and rules at Bowdoin, such as don’t sit with a stranger in the dinning hall or don’t befriend your neighbors after freshman year.  By bringing these rules forward we can later question them and consider how they affect people of different identities.

Split the participants into smaller groups for brainstorming. Put paper on the wall to match the number of groups and split up different categories on the paper (rules of dating, friendships, parties, dinning hall academics, clubs, jobs etc.).Have the groups rotate through the pieces of paper.Consider overall trends as a group.

Closing (10 min)

Have participants fill out the evaluation form.

Session 3: Perceiving Identity (90 min)

Purpose: We will choose one or two identities that we wants to continue talking about, consider how we perceive others of differing identities, and create a report card that will be used next session to examine the current state of the chosen identity category at Bowdoin.


– Markers

– Big paper

– Group ground rules

– Identity working definition

– Scrap paper and writing utensils for each participant

– Example report cards

Identity categories we want to talk about (15 min)

List all identities at Bowdoin.

Use the working definition of identity created in session 2.Write the list of identities on a big piece of paper.

In order to have a more useful, productive discussion we are going to focus our dialogue, assessment, goals, and action ideas on one or two identity categories.

How we perceive different others (35 min)

Answer the following questions in terms of the chosen identity category or categories your group has decided to focus on.

  1. How are things here at Bowdoin different from where you grew up? Is the mix of people the same or different?
  1. How does the way you grew up affect the way you perceive others?

Give participants scrap paper and a few minutes to write an answer to the above question.

  1. Do your parents’ or those who raised you perceptions of others differ from your own? If yes, how?

Create Report Card (20 min)

We will use the report card to assess both the positive and negative ways that the identity category we have chosen today plays out at Bowdoin.This session we are creating the report card; next session we will fill it out.The report card will be useful when deciding what areas we most want to see change.

You can use the example report card to get things going.

Closing (10 min)

Turn to your neighbor. Discuss the following.

  1. What has been the most difficult about this dialogue process thus far?
  1. What have you heard that inspires you? What have you heard that concerns you?

Session 4: Crafting a Vision (90 min)

Purpose: We will assess how our chosen identity category/categories play out at Bowdoin now and consider would you like to see Bowdoin in the future.


– Markers

– Big paper

– Group ground rules

– Report card

– Action example handouts

– Scrap paper and writing utensils for each participant

Report Card (20 min)

  1. Fill out the report card
  1. What areas are we doing well?What areas do we need to work on?
  1. What are the most pressing problems at Bowdoin?Think general and specific.

Write down on big paper for next session

Creating a Vision (30 min)

To get people thinking: Imagine Bowdoin College ten years from now. How do you hope people will interact?What do you hope might be different from the way things are today? What of today’s Bowdoin do you hope is still the same?

OR, On a piece of paper, please write down words that will complete this sentence: “Ten years from now, I hope my college will be _______________.”Share with the group the word you selected that describes your hope for the future of your community.

1.Create a group vision of how you want to see Bowdoin in the future.

Write this on a big paper for next session.

2.What barriers might affect our ability to achieve this vision?

3.How might we overcome those barriers?

Action Examples (30 min)

University of Virginia example: At the University of Virginia, some students who had started an informal dialogue group to address identity issues at the school shared stories. One student recalled:

“I remember first year when they had the party for all the new students.  I walked inside, and immediately I noticed that all the white students were in the front of the room, and all the black kids were in the back.  It was like right then and there I had to choose which was going to by MY UVA.”

The group decided to address these sorts of divisive issues in the first-year class. They wanted to give the next first years an option that had not existed for them: the option not to have to choose which side of a party to stand in, and the option not to choose their friends based on race or ethnicity during the first week of school. They wanted to allow the next first years not be boxed in by the choices they made during the first weeks of college for the rest of their college careers.

The group of UVA students decided to start a first-year only dialogue group as a pilot program.  They decided the thing that would best serve their school would be to provide a space that didn’t exist anywhere else where first years could go through their experience as first years together—not because they came from the same background or were having identical experiences, but because they didn’t and they weren’t.

The group believes that the program has changed the way students interact, and has had positive effect on the student climate at the school.

College example: Students on a college campus used dialogue circles to address issues related to diversity on campus. After much deliberation and philosophizing, the group established a common belief about the role of diversity on campus. Their statement highlighted the importance of diversity in the social and academic spheres on their campus, and it urged students to make meaningful connections with students of different backgrounds. The statement was approved by the president and board of trustees and mounted on plaque in the student union.

Student example: A student realizes that all of her friends identify as heterosexuals.She joins BQSA.

Answer the following two questions with partners or in small groups:

  1. What problems was this action trying to address?
  1. Do you think the action was effective and why? Don’t be afraid to be critical.

What makes an action affective?

Write this on a big piece of paper for next session.

Closing (10 min)

Turn to your neighbor. Discuss the following.

  1. How can we reach our vision?

Session 5: Designing a Plan of Action (90 min)

Purpose: We will generate action strategies that will move us toward our vision.


– Markers

– Big paper

– Group ground rules

– Report card

– Affective action big paper

– Vision big paper

– Pressing problems big paper

– Evaluation forms

Revisiting our Concern and our Vision (10 min)

Reread the pressing issues and vision big papers as a group

Would anybody like to change anything about the vision? Are we satisfied?

About Action

To help carry out our vision we are going to split actions into categories. The first is personal which refers to how you can change the way you live and interact with others. The second is collective which refers to changes that a group of students can make together (for example a college club or athletic team).The third is institutional which refers to structural changes the college can make.

When thinking of action ideas you can refer back to the group’s statement on affective action, the vision, and the previously identified pressing problems.

Personal, Collective, and Institutional Scenarios (20 min)

Homogeneous club: The staff of the Orient is usually almost exclusively white students—many of whom worked on the newspaper staff at a prep school. During interviews to fill staff positions, this type of students is again the most qualified and experienced. Should the Orient hire the most experienced journalists who apply, even though they all come from similar backgrounds? Knowing that a diverse staff would likely improve news coverage, what else could the Orient do?

First-year roommates: Adrian, Evan, and Travis are first-year roommates. During the first semester, Adrian’s girlfriend comes to visit for a weekend from another college. Evan also brings a girl to the room a few times. When Travis realizes that his roommates are comfortable inviting romantic interests back to the room, he brings a guy home with him one night to spend the night.

Neither Adrian nor Evan had known before that Travis was gay. Adrian says he feels uncomfortable with Travis bringing guys back to the room, and he sets up an appointment with Kim Pacelli from ResLife.

During his meeting with Kim Pacelli, Adrian says that he has no problem with homosexuality, but he feels uncomfortable living with somebody who is openly gay and brings other guys to the room. He says he needs to move out immediately.What would you say/do if you were Kim Pacelli.

Athlete: A first-year, who is a star on an athletic team, has always attended religious services on Sundays at home. When the student arrives to campus, she wants to continue attending the services, but the first away game of the season is on a Sunday.The student speaks with you, the team captain about needing to miss the game because of religious services. What do you do/say?

Personal, Collective, and Institutional Action Ideas (25 Min)

Have three pieces of paper on the wall with personal, collective, and institutional written on them.Split participants up into three groups and assign each group to a piece of paper.Have groups switch when you deem appropriate so that the groups rotates through the three types of action.

What type of personal, collective, and institutional actions can we take to help us fulfill our vision and address our pressing problems?

Have each group briefly present their ideas

Narrowing down our Action Plan (15 min)

Our action ideas will be presented at a school wide action forum and given to the president and trustees. In order for the proposals to be manageable, we will choose our top idea for each action category (individual, collective, and institutional).

If your group is having too much trouble narrowing ideas down, you can choose two if necessary.

Consider the group’s qualifications of affective action from last session

Closing (15 min)

  1. Has this dialogue changed the answer to the question: “How do you experience Bowdoin differently than others?”

Have participants reopen their envelopes from the first week.

  1. What have you learned from being part of this dialogue?
  1. How has this dialogue affected the way you will interact with others in the future?
  1. How has this dialogue changed the way you will talk about tough issues?

Note: please write down the top action ideas, the group vision, and the identified pressing problems and email them to [email protected].This information will be compiled to present at the action forum and to present to the President and the trustees.