Stranger Things: The juxtaposition of the Two Colbys

In the September faculty meeting, Provost Margaret McFadden made a brief reference to the existence of ‘the Two Colbys, a term that faculty at the meeting seemed familiar with. Following interviews with faculty and administrators, the Echo has discovered that this concept, little known among students, has been pervasive in faculty conversations for many years.

Most  students are not familiar with the phrase. Many students the Echo spoke with had differing theories about what it implies. Lily LaMarre ’18 said, “I actually don’t know. To me, that makes me think of being a member of the Colby community as a student, and then again as an alumnus, or something like that.” Kiernan Somers ’17, a recent graduate, also voiced his thoughts, telling the Echo that “from an alumni perspective, the Two Colbys seem like a divide between the opinion of students and the actions of the administration.”

McFadden  defines the Two Colbys as the idea that “students are very diligent and very hardworking on a nine to five basis, but then on some evenings, or on the weekends, that it’s very much a party-hard place. I’ve had students say to me something like ‘the people you meet in your classroom are not the same people we meet at a party on Saturday night.’ There’s this sense that there are two aspects to Colby culture, this very ambitious achievement oriented culture, and then this how we cut loose, if you will.”  The work hard, play hard mentality is almost a given on college campuses, but it seems to have become a point of contention on the Hill in recent years.

Dean of the College Karlene Burrell-McRae ’94 echoed this interpretation of the phrase, saying that this has been her understanding since she became a member of the administration and during her time on the Board of Trustees. She says that some students have two sides to themselves: one the academic and diligent student, another committing dorm damage and engaging in harmful drinking behavior. She does not recall the Two Colbys being a part of the college lexicon during her time as a student, she suggested that this has become a persistent issue in Colby’s recent history.

McFadden mentioned that she was surprised to learn that students were not familiar with the term, as she believes faculty and staff picked it up from the student discourse several years ago.

Assistant Professor of English Aaron Hanlon also spoke with the Echo about his perception of the Two Colbys. “I think there is a desire from everybody for the culture at Colby to be a wider intellectual culture that carries beyond the classroom and one that’s inclusive for people who might want to get together to socialize and talk about ideas, not super intense or academic necessarily, but that are meaningful to them as they develop as human beings.”

Hanlon points out that if Colby’s social culture is rooted in getting drunk, as students have discussed openly with faculty and staff, “the question is what is being done and is that actually cutting into the social space that would help to develop this intellectual culture.“

Hanlon supports the idea that the basis of a liberal arts college is founded in the intellectual, even if people are still drinking and going out, “that it’s also in the spirit of not I want to forget about the stuff that I’m learning, but let’s hang out and talk about stuff, and if there’s alcohol involved, then great.”

Hanlon addressed the lack of attendance at academic events at Colby; acknowledging that it could be because of how overscheduled the student community is, but also argues that campus culture needs to encourage students to seek events and guest speakers out independently.

Hanlon is a member of Colby’s faculty in residence program and lives in Williams dormitory. He believes that the faculty in residence program can contribute to promoting a more robust intellectual culture on campus and fighting the perception of the “Two Colbys”. To this end, he hosts both organized and informal events, such as study breaks, movies and TV shows, and collaborations with the Williams CA on events such as smoothie making. He also points to joining some of his residents on the Waterville March for Racial Justice, which offered the chance to “walk with a few students into town and talk and get to know each other.”

Goldfarb Family Distinguished Professor of American Government Sandy Maisel reiterated this; he lived on campus as a faculty in residence in Mary Low with his two young sons for several years. He and his sons ate in the dining halls, and he highlights that his sons had the run of the campus and viewed it as home. During his first few years on campus, “all apartment style spaces on campus were faculty, and many of them were senior faculty,” referencing a dean of faculty who lived in heights, among others. Maisel believes that faculty are the most effective choices for College housing employees. Ten years ago, staff were placed in on campus housing to mitigate housing costs, and he believes that “that was a mistake.” Maisel highlights the importance of building the faculty-student relationship through shared housing. “My presence there made a difference… faculty make a huge difference.” He points out that Colby will circle back to this policy in the next few years, especially with the introduction of faculty and staff living in the downtown dorms.

Maisel defines the Two Colbys as: “We have these students that are in our classes that we think are wonderful and they are smart and work very hard, and then they go off at night and do crazy things and some are irresponsible.” He continued, saying “there are Colby students who work very hard and who play very hard and irresponsibly.”

Maisel believes that it is a “day-to-night” issue, not one rooted in a divide between students who are active in classes and do not make poor decisions, and students that don’t participate in the classroom and then are the main perpetrators of dorm damage and drinking culture. Maisel points to students he believes are in underground fraternities as an example of this. “Kids that are in the underground fraternities are very much engaged in the classroom and you can’t believe they’re doing this. For me, [it is the fact] that you are being absolutely dishonest to the people right in front of you.” Maisel also discussed the culture of secrecy surrounding drinking culture and dorm damage, saying that students who want to report the perpetrators of dorm damage do not because they fear ostracization and social retribution for coming forward.

“I think faculty being around is part of solving [the problem]. I think frankly, the maturing of the student body is part of solving it.” Maisel also argues that being open and honest about the issue is crucial, especially encouraging faculty to talk in their classes about making healthy choices around events like Doghead and Loudness contributes to this shift on campus.

Hanlon, Maisel, McFadden and Burrell-McRae all agree that encouraging more faculty to live on campus alongside their students is an important step in reducing the division between the Two Colbys. This is seen in more apartments for faculty, faculty apartments downtown, and the introduction of a faculty associate program.

This is reflected in the campus climate survey as well. The CCCAC survey provided significant insight into a multitude of issues that exist at Colby, including the Two Colbys and the divide between academic culture and social culture on the Hill. The survey revealed that faculty engagement, admiration and student-faculty relationships are high, but issues on intellectual engagement and feeling comfortable in Colby’s social scene were revealed. McFadden points out that the survey has translated anecdotal stories into real data. The campus climate survey plays an important role in understanding how the College interprets the Two Colbys and how it manifests itself in the community. Conversation is key to solving this issue, Burrell-McRae said, “what we wanted to do is show a lot of what the community had suggested or recommended the year before I came in the Task Force report,” and that the College is acting on these recommendations.

Burrell-McRae admits that drinking culture and in some cases, drug culture, add to the lack of intellectual culture and negative weekend experiences. McFadden and Burrell-McRae called attention to that idea that many students don’t want to participate in drinking culture or are moderate in their participation, and that there is a narrative among students that because of Colby’s location in central Maine, there is not a lot to do apart from drinking. McFadden refutes this, pointing to several drinking alternatives. For students who do not view this as fun, they struggle with social acceptance and finding and enjoying the programming provided to them. Burrell-McRae has made a concerted effort to add a wider variety of activities for students for weekend nights.

Burrell-McRae commented that since her arrival to Colby, many students have approached her about the underground fraternities and their concerns. Burrell-McRae said it is something that the community needs to talk about, but states that “I don’t know if it is real or myth, but certainly there are many students that feel [underground fraternities] are a driving force” in campus culture. She also adds that she has had encounters with students because “they have a look that others perceive to be a fraternity look”  and are believed to be active in those organizations, despite being vehemently against underground fraternities at Colby.

The Two Colbys is nothing new;  Maisel has worked at Colby for 47 years, and he argues that the Two Colbys have been around since he started. “I think it’s been there for a long time. I’ve seen some very good friends in the seventies who worked hard and they played hard.” Additionally, Two Colbys is not limited to a lack of intellectual culture outside of the classrooms. Based on the differing opinions and experiences of students, faculty, and staff, the phrase Two Colbys has many meanings and speaks to the duplicity that campus culture at Colby can often represent.

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