May 23, 2017

Scholar Voices: Giving Back in Lewiston, Maine

In our latest Scholar Voices piece, we hear from Earl Woods Scholar and Bates College rising sophomore David Garcia. An Orange County, California native, David shares how moving across the country to Maine and attending a private liberal arts college has exposed him to many serious issues—from poverty and drugs to racism—plaguing his new, local community. For David, bearing witness to these problems has not only reinforced his need to give back to the community, but has shown him how vital civic engagement is.

As cliché as it may sound, college truly is an enlightening experience. Never have I grown more as an individual and learned more about the world outside my own than this past year, my first year in college. Being at a rather progressive college with a rich history of egalitarianism, Bates has not only provided me with a top-notch education but also a broader world view. It is in this small liberal arts college, thousands of miles from home, that I discovered the “transformative power of our differences.”

To fully understand the extent to which my college experience has shaped me, it is essential to lay down a foundation for comparison. It would simply be false to say that I was not as civically engaged in the years preceding college as I am now. So what has changed? One thing, my purpose. Before entering college, I possessed a very common mindset among college-bound students. For me, community service was a supplement to an application rather than a pursuit of passion. As a result, many of the positions I took up as a volunteer were rather insipid. Like one would expect, cheering runners on at a 5k race or serving food to people at an event is not something I found particularly interesting or fulfilling. In this point in my life, I valued instant gratification above deep and meaningful experiences.

Civic engagement has always been a passion of mine. Recently, however, there has been a dramatic shift in my reasoning for engaging in the community. Moving across the country to Lewiston, Maine, coupled with a liberal arts education and increased interactions with a diverse array of students and faculty at Bates College and within the local community, has, in this short time, already influenced many facets of my life. Among those most influenced by my college experiences, it is my intensified commitment and devotion to civic engagement that shine through the brightest.

When going to a small private college, isolation from the greater community is somewhat natural. However, when the college is located in a place with as many problems as Lewiston, going against the grain is vital. Contrary to the belief of many, Maine is far from being a Garden of Eden. Lewiston, in particular, faces many challenges among which include a drug epidemic, alarming rates of poverty and intensifying racism against the growing Somali population. Facing these problems can be overwhelming to say the least which explains why many Batesies choose to shut themselves off from the greater world. In such cases, superficial civic engagement or not engaging at all are much easier than tackling problems that are bigger than all of us.

I have spoken of the importance of civic engagement and the transition of my ethos from one of superficiality to one of radial egalitarianism. I have yet to mention, however, how exactly I am doing my part to fulfill my moral obligation as a citizen of this wider world. Quite ironically, the broad liberal arts education has inspired me to zone in on issues I find the most stimulating. Given that Lewiston is, in many ways, a microcosm of the current state of our nation, I find it imperative to voice solidarity through informed civic action. Such action has taken many forms, however, the most fulfilling has definitely been my cross-cultural experiences with the ever-growing Somali refugee population of Lewiston. Whether it be through the fostering of mentoring relationships with Somali children at Tree Street Youth or teaching adult ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Language) learners at the Adult Learning Center, my time in Lewiston has been nothing short of cathartic.

Redefining what it means to be a champion.