Professors have different views on Colby bubble

Up on the Hill, it’s said that Colby exists in its own bubble; one that is separate from the rest of the community. Two weeks ago, students gave their input on the concept of the Colby bubble, and how the school and students can become more involved in the surrounding community. In a continuation of this series, professors give their input on the Bubble: what exactly is it and how can the school and community create a stronger relationship?

Though each professor was interviewed separately, there was a general consensus that the Colby bubble does exist; however, each professor had a different view of the bubble. William R. Cotter Distinguished Teaching Professor of Government Ken Rodman said that in his experience, the bubble was a way of thinking. “We all live in this self-contained community where we think that what’s going on here is no different than what’s going on in the rest of the country, the community, the world, and the fact is, it is,” he said.

Associate Professor of Government and Director of the Oak Institute for Human Rights Walter Hatch had a more favorable view of the bubble and the opportunities it creates for campus community members. “We have an opportunity here on Mayflower Hill to create a model community, in some ways, learning how to respect one another, learning how to, in some ways, care for each other without the pressures of the work world, the employment world,” he said.

In general, professors said the bubble was preventing students from interacting with the larger community, the country, and the world. Though Hatch identified the unique opportunities for improvement the bubble provides, he also said that the artificial nature of the closed community has its drawbacks. “We’re too removed from the town of Waterville, we’re too removed from the day-to-day realities of US politics and global politics, and so that artificiality creates its own sets of problems,” he said.

Though the bubble most visibly affects students, it also affects faculty members. Faculty Fellow in East Asian Studies Hui-Ching Lu said that she isn’t very involved in the Waterville community mainly because she hasn’t had many opportunities to be.

Since the bubble does exist, and it is generally agreed that it limits community members’ interactions with the outside world, how can students and faculty members break out of this routine? Rodman, a professor of International Relations, said that one of the best ways to escape the bubble is to study abroad. “I would encourage students to enter programs where they’re immersing themselves in other countries: their culture, their politics, their society rather than those programs that just give students an opportunity for tourism.” Rodman also said that the bubble is not exclusive to the Colby community, and that part of the function of education is to break bubbles like these. “There’s always a tendency people have, not just at Colby but in different communities, to look at the world in terms of what you’re familiar with. Education should try to push people out of what people are familiar with, to encounter people who have different assumptions or go to places that are out of your comfort zone.”

Ziskind Professor of East Asian Studies Kim Besio also pointed to academic programs as ways to get out of the Colby bubble. She said that it would be effective to encourage more service-learning classes, off-campus study, and JanPlans that involve students in the community.

Lu said that the Colby and Waterville communities could work together to plan events that would build a better relationship between the two. This could begin with Colby as the school already hosts many events that are open to both students and the general public. “We are the main place with all the academic or fun events happening, so maybe we can have more events outside of the campus,” said Lu.

For Hatch, the improvements do not necessarily have to come from outside the bubble. He said the Colby community has been constantly working to improve the environment within the bubble, and that he has seen a significant difference in the atmosphere since he began teaching at Colby 14 years ago. “[Students] come and go every four years, but the administration and the faculty are doing a better job of providing an infrastructure, a social, political, and economic infrastructure of mutual respect and caring.” Hatch also said that groups on campus, like the Colby Republicans and Colby Democrats, have done well with “trying to bring the world to Colby and Colby to the world.”

Additionally, new initiatives by the school are promising to expand, if not break, the bubble. With new dorms planned for the downtown area, students will become more integrated into the Waterville community. “I think President Greene is very cognizant of this town-Colby divide, and I think that the effort to place a residence hall downtown is a really smart one, and getting students involved by living in downtown Waterville could be very fruitful,” said Hatch.

Though the bubble around campus may separate Colby students from the Waterville community, the country, and the world, there are many steps the school and the students may take to either expand the reach of the bubble or to break it down.