Bowdoin College

Simmel: The Stranger

  • “The stranger is a person who comes today and stays tomorrow (Simmel 126).”
  • “The stranger is both integrally apart of society and in some fashion appended into it (Simmel 126).”
  • “He is fixed within a certain spatial circle— or within a group whose boundaries are analogous {comparable} to spatial boundaries— but his position within it is fundamentally affected by the fact that he does not belong in it initially and that he brings qualities into it that are not, and cannot be indigenous to it (Simmel 126).”
  • “The distance within this relation indicates that one who is close by is remote and that one who is remote is near…. It is a specific form of interaction (Simmel 126).”

In reading Simmel and preparing, for my presentation of DuBois, all I could think about was the fact that I felt like Simmel was discussing race when he discussed this so-called “stranger.” I also could not help but thinking about this concept of the stranger within relation to my own life and how the term stranger would best describe my own personal place within the Bowdoin College community. If a stranger is someone who is defined, as “coming today and staying tomorrow” well then I already have met that requirement; I came to Bowdoin and I am still here. If the stranger is someone who is, “both integrally apart of society and in some fashion appended into it (Simmel 126),” I once again fit that description. With the “diversity” campaign amongst the new generation of Bowdoin, there is this idea that if there is enough recruitment of black students, eventually the college will come to reflect the idea of Bowdoin as a diverse unity at its core, despite the fact that the college came to existence as an all-white male institution. At Bowdoin, I am, “fixed within a certain spatial circle–or within a group whose boundaries are analogous to spatial boundaries (Simmel 126),” as everyone on this campus, despite their racial background has been accepted to this institution of higher learning. However, my “position within it is fundamentally affected by the fact that (126)” I do not “belong in it initially (126)” and that I “bring qualities into it that are not, and cannot be indigenous to it (Simmel 126).” As a black student, most people would not define me as the image they first think of in connection to Bowdoin, but my very “blackness” itself adds this dimension of racial awareness and unique experiences that would never be found within the confines of Bowdoin College or the surrounding communities if there was not this “push for diversity” within the admissions office, as Maine is a 97% white state.

This leads me to the blog quote, which focuses on the idea of closeness and remoteness. Simmel writes, “The distance within this relation indicates that one who is close by is remote and that one who is remote is near…. It is a specific form of interaction (Simmel 126).” Lets look at this in relation to the dining halls on campus. As a black student sitting in Thorne for lunch, I sit amongst plenty of white students in “close” proximity, and yet, these students and I are miles away from each other {remote} in terms of commonalities of life experiences, school experiences, everything. In flipping that example, as a stranger, I am the “remote” one; the person I have heard numerous times is only here because of affirmative action and that my people {black people like me} are coming to Bowdoin College strictly because of this affirmative action and causing the most diversity the school has seen in years. [All I hear as I read Simmel is, “the remote is near!!!!!!!” on replay in my head, with those students who have had negative comments about the “diversity campaign” with signs and posters running away from “us” {blacks} as we move around campus; pretty scary actually]. According to Simmel “the state of being a stranger is of course a completely positive relation; it is a specific form of interaction (Simmel 126),” and as far as Bowdoin goes, I can see how my black presence is positive in the idea that my racial identity is needed to bring different experiences to a pretty homogeneous place, but at the same time, being at Bowdoin is a truly “specific form of interaction”. I would best describe it as a social experiment for me, as I came here in hopes of broadening my horizons. However, I have spent the last three years or so, as a means to broaden the minds of people who have never experienced half of what I go through on a daily basis, but only for a specific amount of time, within a specific place {college}. After this experience {college}, everyone moves on to different places around the world, where we can go from being the “strangers” of  a given society or the heart of a society; the remote or the near, and that gives me hope that I will not always have to feel like a stranger.

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