The College and the greater Waterville community have long been intertwined, largely due to the Waterville community’s funding of the school’s move to Mayflower Hill. Although this may seem to be a symbiotic relationship from the outside, it is seemingly hard for an “elite” institution like the College to properly address many of the concerns of the community due to disparities in socioeconomic status. Our class, “Social Class and Schooling,” is currently hosting Social Class Awareness Week. As a part of this week, our group hosted a panel conversation on Social Class and its impact on the relationship between the College and Waterville. Panelists for the event included members of Waterville’s City Government and members of the College Community. We hoped to rectify this by hosting an event where Waterville residents and the College’s students could come together and speak honestly about social class issues that often go ignored at the College but remain a prominent issue for local Waterville residents.
It was a priority for our group to invite a well-represented group of panelists to make sure all individuals feel seen and heard. For example, we invited the College staff, including the Office of Civic Engagement and Vice President of Planning, and important leaders in Waterville, including the mayor and city councilors. One of the biggest challenges in this relationship is the College’s ability to disregard local concerns because of its placement in a community with a much lower average socioeconomic status. By providing guiding questions on topics like parking, local businesses, rent costs, and future development projects in the community and how they tie into social class, we hoped to foster a healthy and informative space to promote conversations that have been often neglected by Colby College.
We learned a lot in the process of organizing our event. By simply interacting with mechanisms of local government and community, we were able to directly see some of the distinctions between the College — with its beaming campus on the hill — and the city it looks upon. This can be seen in simple contrasts as the level of resources poured into the College’s website compared to the towns. On a larger level, one can look at the College’s development efforts in downtown Waterville and their massive impacts on this community. From the Alfond Main Street Commons to Greene Block + Studios, the College has reshaped downtown Waterville. However, this is not often discussed explicitly, especially in terms of social class.
Additionally, we learned about Waterville as a community and the individuals who make it up. As is often the case between groups with high proximity but low personal contact, the perceptions of Waterville’s residents towards the College’s students — and vice versa — are often dominated by stereotypes and overgeneralization. However, through conversations and shared learning, we can combat this. We hoped our event would generate more nuanced and informed perspectives; the planning process alone deepened our understanding vastly.
~ Jake Cheffo `23, Laszlo Bernstein `25, Sam McKeown `24, Sayed Saleem `25, and Tim Xu `26