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Opinion Bowdoin update: On Facebook, school flaunted photos of alumni, students in school-provided sombreros

Well, here’s an interesting development.

A Bowdoin alumna read my column today about Bowdoin undergraduates who’ve been disciplined for wearing sombreros, and she decided to email me about last year’s on-campus reunions. She said that the school provided a photo booth replete various hats, mustaches and other props conducive to taking silly celebratory photos.

Guess what was among those items: sombreros!

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Not only did Bowdoin provide sombreros, but the school actually posted, on Facebook, pictures of people donning them for the photo booth. Here are a few embedded photos from Bowdoin’s public Facebook page. At least one of them appears to show undergraduates working at a reunion event and wearing the same school-provided sombreros.

From Instagram user @kathrynjordan00: Take me back! #bowdoinreunion @katiecush1 @alliegunther @cmsheps @kauriballard

Posted by Bowdoin College on Tuesday, June 2, 2015

And here is a photo from the Bowdoin Reunion’s Instagram account of the props for the photo booth — sombrero visible on the rear table, on the right side — with the caption “Put on a silly hat and come to the Smith Union for the #bowdoinreunion photo booth!”

So let’s get this straight. If students wear their own sombreros during a whimsical celebration, that’s an act of cultural appropriation so odious that they must be ousted from their dorm, campus social events and student government. But if alumni and students wear sombreros provided by the school during a whimsical celebration, that’s all in good fun, and the images ought to be flaunted on the school’s own Facebook page. Talk about mixed messages.

Again, I’m not taking a position on whether wearing sombreros is “culturally appropriative”/racist or not. As far as I can tell, the social norms on wearing sombreros are pretty ambiguous. But I don’t see how the school 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.