In many ways, this year at Middlebury felt like occupying a community divided. Three different events this weekend com- posed an especially ironic display of Middlebury’s climate: Derby Day, a symposium entitled “Activists, Allies and Accomplices: Responses to Racism Today” and the Distinguished Men of Color (DMC) Block Party. At Derby Day, mainly white students boarded buses to an off-campus party, wearing summer dresses and big hats — paying tribute to a horse race and, de facto, to southern culture. I was one of those students. The symposium, which most students in this community could benefit from attending, addressed the issues of class and race that were exemplified all too well at Saturday’s Derby-themed affair. The Block Party, a spring tradition, included a basket- ball tournament, BBQ and music performances. The racial split between each event was stark. On this day, I reflected on this interesting and ironic way to end my time at Middlebury as we continue to be divided as a community, with our social life more stratified than ever.
This isn’t the only irony that I have con- fronted this year. Another irony that I have grappled with is my own identity as a black woman and my position as the head of an institution deemed racist and classist by many. As Editor-in-Chief, I have spent all year defending The Campus newspaper, our policies and the importance of our role. That was my job. It isn’t my job anymore. Now, I am going to give you my perspective as an individual and not as a representative of this institution, because components of my identity have informed how I have approached the role.
Being a person of color has complicated my role as Editor-in-Chief. Submissions that contained inflammatory, at times offensive content affected me on a deeply personal level, as they did for many other students within this community. As a woman of color, I have been outraged by the suggestions of certain submissions. I think that at times my silence has been perceived as an implicit endorsement of these ideas when that could not be further from the truth. What differentiates me from other students on the campus, including other students of color, is that my role as Editor- in-Chief required that I choose content objectively, without letting my emotions cloud my judgement. This means that I have ap- proved the publication of content that I vehemently disagree with and have had to live with those decisions. These choices were not made indiscriminately. I agonized over them; however, I felt compelled to prioritize my responsibilities as an elected leader over the indignation I felt.
Those decisions defined the perceptions of my editorship. As our community discussed race, identity and privilege, it be- came clear that my role in these conversations would have to be as a representative of the newspaper, not as an independent person. The unique perspective I offer as a POC was not acknowledged, and it never was. Instead, my decisions and policies were attacked. As one student wrote to me, “I continuously expect more from you and am continuously disappointed ... I don’t expect change, but I do expect that a sentiment like this will stick with you and hope- fully make you think twice in the future.” I was painted as someone unsympathetic to
the minority experience on campus, even though I am a minority. My experience and my perspective was invalidated, I believe, for a number of reasons — including my role in the newspaper. I am not telling you this so you will feel sorry for me. I don’t need sympathy. What I do need, however, is the acknowledgement that my experience, while not all that unique, is indicative of a broader issue — a community that has developed very strict standards for what it means to be “black” and what it means to be “white.” And, for another subset, what it means to be a “white ally.” These standards have undoubtedly been imposed by both sides. I have been called “so white” by other students — including friends — numerous times. The problematic implication of this is that whiteness is associated with certain traits and that we have developed a narrow definition of what it means to be “white” or “black.”
The unfortunate and inevitable outcome of these narrow definitions has been the radicalization of conversations surround- ing race. Those who do not fully embrace the stances and objectives of one side have been excluded from the conversation. I, too, have felt this exclusion at times. Responses toward my decisions ranged from pedantic and hard-to-grasp to aggressive and emotional. If we want to be a truly inclusive community, then we need to reassess our constructions of “whiteness” and “blackness” and leave room for more fluid interpretations of identity.
Despite my plea for a community-wide shift, I am also complicit in the construction of the culture we have developed. Even though I stand by the editorial decisions we made, I still struggle to reconcile the expectations of my role with the fact that a student told me that I had personally made them feel unsafe and that my deci- sions have made them not want to leave their room. How do you come to terms with that? The guilt I feel, however, stands alongside the duty to lead this paper, which serves our entire student body and reflects the climate of our campus — as disappointingly narrow-minded as it can sometimes be.
Though I am leaving Middlebury, my hope for this community is that it will continue to embody the progressive spirit so fundamental to its ethos — to push bound- aries and set new standards, but while do- ing so, to recognize the humanity of those around us. Somewhere along the way, our anger and indignation drove us further apart. We imposed one-size-fits-all definitions of identity on one another and forgot that, in the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, “We should seek not a world where the black race and white race live in harmony, but a world in which the terms black and white have no real political meaning.”
Middlebury will continue to grapple with these issues — the insidious nature of privilege at this school, class and racial divides — but my hope is that while we approach these issues, we remember that a great deal of nuance guides our thinking. I hope we continue to have these difficult, but important conversations. With that, I wish the best of luck to Ellie Reinhardt and Christian Jambora as they take the helm of The Campus. To my editors, you know the respect and admiration I have for each of you.