As Allen Delong, associate dean of student affairs, wraps up the final days of his 12-year Bowdoin career, he reflects with pride as well as nostalgia on the many strides the College has made. During his tenure Delong played a critical role in launching student spaces on campus that promote diversity and inclusivity.
Delong will head to Bates in November to continue his illustrious career as a builder and educator.
Delong arrived at Bowdoin in 2005, having previously worked at Ohio State University in various academic and administrative positions, which at the time had the largest undergraduate enrollment in the country with over 48,000 students. He recalls Bowdoin’s intense interview process, during which the search committee repeatedly questioned his adaptability coming from an environment so different from Bowdoin’s.
“I had been answering this question for essentially 18 hours, ‘How will you make the transition, how will you make the transition,’” to which Delong responded, “I am a first generation college student who grew up on a potato farm. I have a Ph.D. and I have lived in downtown Washington, D.C. I can do transitions.”
Delong was instantly impressed by Bowdoin students’ commitment to academics and the scope of their intellectual caliber. His anxieties about returning to this home state after living in cities and finding people with similar experiences quickly dissipated.
Delong noted that in 2005, gay marriage had been the center of contentious debate, resulting in multiple failed state-wide referenda on civil unions. Delong and others established the first LGBT faculty-staff group on campus within his first three months. The group issued a letter supporting civil unions, signed by President Barry Mills, and collected signatures from members of the College. Delong was particularly moved by the response from Joanne Adams, the head baker at the College.
“I was like I’m gonna be okay [here], when the head baker is the first person to write back, it’s a great place and I can be here. This can be my place,” said Delong.
Continuing his efforts to create support systems on campus, Delong spearheaded the launch of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and the Student Center for Multicultural Life. He described these initiatives as riding the wave of change and responding to growing needs for awareness of intersectionality.
“Historically, in American higher education, we have asked students to have discrete identities. So there’s a LGBT center, there’s a black cultural center, an Asian students center, a women’s center,” said Delong. “Students in the early 2000s were coming to campus saying ‘I’m all those things at once.’ So we built what would become the cultural center … so that students didn’t ever have to choose.”
Delong’s vision was to create spaces that could tend to students’ varying needs, with staff members communicating and working together to address their identities holistically. He highlighted Kate Stern’s work with out athletes at Bowdoin.
“Twelve years ago, the thought of being an out athlete, ‘forget it,’” he said. “And now students, I don’t know if it’s all students, but some students can be out on any athletic team at the College, that’s remarkable. Really, really remarkable … Wow, this place is changed because that can happen here.”
Reflecting on the rapidly shifting nature of the student demographic, Delong explained that a huge component of his job is staying current with how students are living their lives.
“I was younger when I got here but I wasn’t 18. So I didn’t have that experience of a student who came out to their parents when they were 13. That was really new to me. It’s been exciting to work with the student life team to stay current with how students [grow] as they move through campus,” Delong said.
Delong is looking forward to another new beginning at Bates, where he will serve as senior associate dean for purposeful work and career development.
“For me it’s an opportunity to have a position that no one’s ever been in. It’s a newly created position, and I am a builder, I like to tweak things, grow things, alter things, hopefully in a good way.”