Embrace social class awareness week

Social Class Awareness Week is a week that Colby has held for the past 10 years. This year, the focus is on the downtown revitalization project being led by President Greene. This project branches out into three focused areas. One aspect of the revitalization project that ED322 focused on is the dormitory that is being built downtown, another being the economic impact in Waterville, with the final aspect being on food accessibility for both Waterville residents and future Colby students living downtown. On campus, there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the revitalization project and we wanted to sort out some of the details. 

Social class is a rarely talked about issue; however, the downtown revitalization project has brought up a number of social class issues. Specifically, part of the revitalization would include bringing in new, more upscale stores to downtown Waterville. These stores would take business away from existing, less upscale stores, such as Chapter 11, which many Waterville residents rely on for affordable food. So, bringing in upscale, more expensive stores could edge out existing stores that are essential for downtown residents. In addition, rent prices will likely increase when 150 Colby students are living in a dorm on Main Street; however, most business owners have lease agreements for five or more years and will be unaffected for a time.

After speaking with many food-related business owners on Main Street, we have gathered that most businesses are really excited about these efforts. They believe that they will get a lot more business from the students, so they will probably not mind the increased rent when their leases expire. Business owners we spoke to were not thinking five to ten years down the road, but it is likely some shops will not be able to remain in business and new shops may take their place to fill the demand of the new customers on the street. In addition, the placement of the dorm is in the parking lot that holds the weekly farmers market. This is a concern for the Waterville citizens who use the farmer’s market to buy affordable fresh food. While some Waterville residents drive, many cannot afford a car, and the movement of the farmer’s market may result in inaccessibility. Additionally, the creation of a downtown dorm as part of the revitalization project also brings up social class issues for students at Colby. For example, when surveyed about the downtown dorms, many students were worried about transportation to and from campus. Therefore, students who do not have cars on campus might feel discouraged from living in these off campus dorms.

President Greene stated that “the prosperity of Waterville and Colby have been linked for more than 200 years. We have a terrific opportunity to further our shared interests through strategic investments in Waterville’s historic center, long a regional hub for commercial activity and the arts.” These projects have the opportunity to unveil the underlying social class issues at stake in this move downtown. Please join us all week to learn more about social class and the Colby Revitalization project. Below is a schedule of events happening during Social Class Awareness week meant to engage the Colby community in discussions about social class.