PBK Speech Contest: How do the liberal arts contribute to our communities

Colby Echo (by Natalie Oakes)

Courtesy of Colby College

One of the best views of Colby, in my opinion, is the one that can be seen from the parking lot of Walmart.

I noticed this during some of my first weeks in Waterville, wandering around one of the most popular chain stores in America, one that looked different from the stores at home. As I recounted this fact to my parents, I remember feeling as though there was some sort of significance to this view. I was not quite able to understand what it was yet.

That view is something I have thought about a lot over these past four years.

This contest poses the extremely important question: “How do the liberal arts contribute to our communities?”

A question like this begs another important question back: “What communities are you referring to, anyways?”

Last January, The New York Times published an article provocatively titled, “Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours.” This article highlighted the socioeconomic breakdown between many of the private and public universities and colleges in the United States.

Almost every single college on the list of schools with “more students from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent” is a liberal arts institution. Colby ranks at number four on this list. Honestly, I wish I had been more surprised by this.

Don’t get me wrong, I have truly cherished my time here at Colby. I value my liberal arts education, as I really do feel as though it has prepared me for the world I will enter after I graduate from here.

That’s just it though. This liberal arts education is preparing me for the world that I will enter after I graduate from here. The world that Colby prepares me for is a much different world than the one that surrounds our own campus at Colby.

The skills and values that I have learned here will serve me well in the government job that I am pursuing for next year. They would also benefit me equally well in the fields of finance, real estate, sales, healthcare, and consulting, among others, that my peers are pursuing for next year.

My Colby education and the background that I come from allow me to access these fields in ways that other people who have not had such opportunities cannot. This process of molding and shaping is not unique to Colby either.

It seems to me that there is a tendency by liberal arts colleges to strongly promote the communication, the analytical, and the learning skills that compose this type of education and to create an identity centered around this alone.

I agree that these principles are extremely valuable and their power in shaping young adults is undeniable.

But I think we need to be honest with ourselves about the realities that surround liberal arts institutions like Colby and other NESCAC schools. The privilege inherent in this type of education is often ignored because of the great wealth and social prestige it has the potential to bestow.

Geography can often symbolize the physical manifestation of this privilege and social difference. This idea is exemplified by entirety of the NESCAC schools.

Trinity, situated in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood of Hartford but not well integrated, immediately comes to mind as an example of isolation and privilege.

Colby has been contained on top of Mayflower Hill after leaving the downtown area with the financial support of the town of Waterville. The College is just now expanding back into the downtown area.

It would be interesting to see how the town officials that enabled this original move feel about the socioeconomic results of the geographical isolation of Colby from the actual town of Waterville.

Despite some of the more problematic elements of the Dare Northward campaign, I do believe that this kind of effort is a positive step forward in grounding a liberal arts education in the community that surrounds it.

The best view of Colby should be the one where the community and the College come together to better one another.

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