Anyone who has wandered the maze hallways of the cozy Harward center on Wood street can recognize the gentle hum of voices and sound of aggressive typing occupying the building. Colorful photographs of smiling past and present Bates students engaging in the wider Lewiston community don the hallways.

The Harward center serves as a physical manifestation of Bates’ commitment to the Lewiston community; the old white building on Wood street serves as concrete evidence of the outstanding history of community engagement at this institution, and offers students and faculty alike golden tickets into the plethora of opportunity in the wider Lewiston community. The Harward center is a hallmark of the academic program at Bates, with close to half of all students taking a community-engaged learning course each year and many students undertaking community-engaged research projects and theses.

In our interview, Darby Ray, Director of the Harward center, smiles as she describes the growth of community engagement in recent years. “Students are becoming increasingly involved with the Harward center,” Darby relays as she cites the growth of the community-liaison program as the most recent example. This program, intended to engage students of all kinds in the Lewiston community, first piloted last year, has had great success. Essentially the community-liaison program works to ensure that every sports team, club, and organization on campus has a community-liaison whose responsibility is to get its members involved. Not only do these programs work as excellent team and club bonding, but also work to strengthen ties between the Bates and Lewiston community. This fall break, the soccer and field hockey teams plan on organizing clinics for Lewiston Middle School students. Every Monday night, the men and women golf teams bring local youth from Auburn mini-golfing and out for ice cream. Additionally, something that has helped ensure that every Bates students has a point of entry into the Lewiston community is the Junior Advisor community-engagement requirement, verifying that first-years be exposed to the community during their first few months on campus.

Darby was also excited to share of the Harward Center’s current participation in a National Research project exploring whether civic engagement experience is correlated with student well-being – the hypothesis being, of course, that there is a positive relationship between the two. A couple hundred Bates students took a survey in the beginning of this semester and will take another survey at the end of the year.

Lastly, Darby and I talked about the role of the Harward center in the coming election, a topic unavoidable in a building whose mission is to literally help Bates students develop the intellectual, ethical, and personal skills needed for lifelong civic responsibility and purposeful work. Darby and others at the Harward center are particularly concerned about student attitude in this election: “I am working hard to encourage students not to be silenced by apathy, anger or disgust in this election and to get out there and vote,” Darby explains. She maintains, “in the coming weeks we will be setting up tables in commons where students can easily register to vote and I encourage everyone to pick up non-partisan voter guides and other materials that help educate what state’s students should vote in.” Darby also shared with me troubling demographic statistics of Bates students from the 2012 election. Only 42% of Bates students, overall, voted. 70% of students were registered. This average, which is regrettably less than half of the student body, is below national average for college and universities. As Darby accurately declares: “this is an appalling figure for a school whose mission and outlook is grounded in human action.” Our mission statement literally has the words “informed civic action” in its nexus. Let us, as Bates students, please do better this year. Look out for tabling in commons where you can engage in our democratic society that only works when everyone votes.

Interested in becoming more involved in the Lewiston community?

Did you miss the activities fair?

Do YOU want to be the community-liason for your club?

Email Darby at dray3@bates.edu or swing by the Wood Street location yourself and enjoy a selection of delicious tea and meet kind, engaging and passionate people.