Dorm damage: Colby’s latest form of classism

Currently, my student account tells me that I owe $155.50 for dorm damage even though I have never commited any damage to Colby property. But last year, I lived in Heights. Of all Colby’s dorms, Heights is invariably regarded as the quintessential “party-and-get-trashed” dorm.  This reputation definitely fosters a dangerous culture of exorbitant drinking; but in terms of dorm-damage, its reputation also gives impetus to utter irrationality and volatility. So, after becoming aware of my new dorm-damage expenses—which came about not because of my own choices, but through the asinine and thoroughgoing selfishness of others—I asked myself why so many students have little regard for the upkeep and preservation of Colby property. I also wondered why students would want to trash fellow students’ living spaces. As I considered all of these questions, I thought about the socioeconomic implications of the dorm-damage in Heights.

I come from a lower-class, Hispanic family who works—labors—for every nickel and dime earned. So as a kid, I almost always cherished and took care of the property given to me—sometimes because I was told to, but oftentimes because I knew that whatever I received was a product of love and labor. As an adult, those values of preservation and cherishment translate into a general respect for property: public and private, man-made and natural. Therefore, I do not engage in dorm-damage. However, others do, and to such a degree that I wonder if some have mental health issues or pent-up sexual frustration in desperate need of addressing. 

In the same way that my upbringing influences my relationship with the environment around me, I believe that the same notion is true for the miscreant students who do engage in destroying Colby space and property. Most of these people always seem to be of a privileged background—mostly upper-middle class and white, based on my many observations. And while I have many friends that fit the privileged profile who do not engage in dorm-damage, all of the under-privileged students I know don’t deign to commit such idiotic debauchery.

In my opinion, the cohort of privileged students at Colby who engage in dorm-damage do so because they have no sense of financial burden; if they were poor, $300 for broken vending machine parts might not seem like so small an issue. As James Baldwin once said: “It’s expensive to be poor.” For the privileged Colby students who love to break stuff, however, it’s cheap to be financially wasteful through vandalism.

In addition, I attribute the lack of care with which dorm damage is done to ignorance and selfishness. As these students commit dorm-damage, they inevitably push the financial burdened onto students who cannot afford to bear such extra costs. In this way, Colby’s campus is experiencing a potent kind of class-conflict; and it’s not being waged by poor students, either.

As Colby’s tuition continues to increase annually, expenses not covered by grants or loans also grow. Under such circumstances, extra expenses for dorm-damage can’t be borne by Colby’s poorer students. However, this fact isn’t considered by the privileged few who do dorm damage, as evidenced by the ongoing nature of the problem in places like Heights, the Alfond Apartments and Dana.

While a redress of the system system (in which all students bear the financial onus of dorm-damage irrespective of one’s Dorm situation) would do its part in lowering costs for students, it doesn’t address the essential issue: an utter lack of respect for the property that many people—older women and men from PPD, in addition to careful students—work hard to clean and preserve, so that our next generation of Colby students might have safe and clean housing.  So in devising methods to stem dorm damage—which includes revamping the system of payment for such damage already in place—we as a community need to make sure we hold individuals responsible and incentivize dorm-damage abstinence. That is paramount.

Nevertheless, as with any problem, we need to begin addressing the underlying issues—even if they are inherently related to issues of class and privilege. We are, as students, asked to engage in this sort of deep investigation and solution finding almost everyday, so I am confident that our community is up to the task.

I also hope that the students who do break things on weekends understand how dangerous their vandalistic activities are—not only for the sake of Colby property, but also for the sake of the students here of lower socioeconomic backgrounds. If I can’t pay for my growing dorm-damage bills, how can I feel safe in attending Colby? How can I trust that the people of my community care about my issues as they relate to the burden of paying for bills I didn’t create? Think about it this weekend.