LEWISTON — Civic engagement was the topic shared in a discussion Tuesday morning between a group of Bates College students and representatives of L-A government, education, business and nonprofit endeavors.

It was a two-way exchange of ideas on career and civic commitment relationships, and its goal was to identify ways in which students might change Bates in coming years.

Ideas flowed in rapid-fire succession from the panelists.

Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said he believes the L-A communities would be better-served if attempts were made to “bust up the Bates bubble.” It was his term for the separation between Twin Cities life and the college campus.

“I call it a moat,” he said, and he challenged the college and community to think about what constitutes the campus.

“Is the campus the land owned by the college, or is it all of L-A?” he asked.

LaBonte suggested that Bates “deploy” students into the total L-A environment more effectively. Students might find they would prefer to live off campus, he said, adding that “it would fundamentally change the Bates students.”

Those thoughts were a springboard for the other panelists.

“You have to challenge the trash talk about L-A,” said Julia Sleeper, director of Tree Street Youth in Lewiston and a Bates graduate. She gave examples of the issues encountered routinely by her organization, emphasizing the need to attack root problems.

Sleeper said civic engagement should be taught early to children. “As a young person, you have an extreme amount of power.”

Bill Webster, superintendent of the Lewiston Public Schools, concurred. 

“Our challenges are in our face every day,” he said. He told the students that one-fifth of Lewiston’s school population is chronically absent. Webster said a liberal arts education, such as Bates College offers, has important rewards for its graduates.

Luke Livingston, founder and owner of Baxter Brewing in Lewiston, shared his experiences as an entrepreneur. He noted that it’s important for him to be in the community in which he grew up.

Darby Ray, director of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships at Bates College, was the facilitator for the panel discussion.

Ray suggested that students might sometimes “need an invitation to make this their community.”

“The inverse is also true,” LaBonte replied. “L-A people don’t really know Bates.”

Most of the dozen members of the class Tuesday morning were juniors and seniors. Jill Reich is professor of the class, which is presented by the college’s psychology department. The meeting was held in the college’s commons.

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