Story Time: a Colby tradition becomes propaganda

After a difficult freshman year, I was on my way back to Colby in August.  I was excited to be a COOT leader and share my love for the outdoors, but I was not so convinced I could make any freshman love Colby. Between my frustration and anxiety, I couldn’t think of a single thing I could call my favorite thing about Colby. Somewhere along the car ride, I realized that it was Story Time.

For me, Story Time is a pause from many of the things that make me feel uncomfortable at Colby. Story Time is a place where hundreds of people come willingly, just to listen to a narrative by someone they don’t know.  It’s a place of genuine respect and of compassionate engagement, something that is hard to find between the Yaks and dorm damage bills that make up a part of our Colby experience. This moment of respect and compassion is something that I want to highlight about my experience at Colby. 

It comes as no surprise to me when I saw dozens of prospective students at a Story Time one evening. If there is one thing I would want to show them, it is Story Time. Bringing prospective students to Story Time has been a consistent tradition ever since the event started, but I’ve noticed this semester that each Story Time has been focuses around a big admissions event. Walking back to my dorm after listening to Jumana speak, I started to feel like Story Time was an event Colby put on for prospective students, and not so much like an event meant to bring together the community to appreciate a story. I began to wonder if the purpose of bringing prospective students to Story Time was to include them in our community, or if it was an exhibition of diversity. To me, there’s a big difference; the difference is whether Story Times exist exclusively for prospective students, or whether prospective students are being invited to an event that continues to exist regardless of their presence. This semester, Story Times have not happened independently of admissions events. 

The genuine respect that comes with Story Time fits nicely with the new Colby Affirmation. The Colby affirmation says, “Genuine inclusivity requires active, honest, and compassionate engagement with one another.” Story Time undoubtedly achieves that; but what’s more is accountability. If Story Time has indeed become an exhibition designed for prospective students, rather than compassionate engagement, then Colby as an institution is not acting accountably. Displaying an event as a compassionate community event when it is actually a contrived performance of compassion and respect is not accountable. 

Colby cannot hope to attract accountable students if the institution itself cannot be accountable for accurately representing compassion and respect in our community.  It would not be considered accountable if a high school student did things purely to be able to write about it in an essay for Colby, or to speak about it during an interview with the College. While there is still value in the student’s engagement, it is not an accurate representation of their character. In order to attract accountable students to Colby, the College itself must be accountable in its own representation to prospective students. 

The genuine respect and compassion that occurs when the community comes together during Story Time is not lost.  I urge Colby Admissions and Colby SGA to consider the implications of holding Story Times exclusively during admissions events.  In order for Story Time to be the unique example of a compassionate community that it is, we need a few Story Times where we can come together and compassionately engage as a Colby community alone before we are able to exhibit this event to others.

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