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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

Towards a More Just Opinions Section

As Middlebury’s Homecoming weekend approaches, one can feel a burgeoning sense of school pride. A number of factors might form that feeling – excitement about seeing graduated classmates, a sense of spirit from cheering on the football team as a crowd, or perhaps just the fervor around ubiquitous free cider donuts – but the sense of a “Middlebury” identity becomes palpable during Homecoming. The sentimentality surrounding this weekend therefore causes us to stop and ask ourselves – what is “Middlebury” and how can Middlebury best come together?

Over the past year, the College has participated in the national dialogue surrounding inclusivity and diversity. At times, this dialogue has driven wedges between members of our community. Some students have felt victimized and excluded from the College because of their identities, and shame has been cast on insensitive majority groups who perpetuate this dynamic. At the Campus, we will not try to propose a fix-all solution to this problem because the issue is too multi-faceted and out of our purview. However, our editorial board would like to make a difference in those ways that we can. With Homecoming in the background, we think one way we can make a difference is by endorsing unification at Middlebury and inclusivity in the College’s traditions.

To unify Middlebury, we must identify what makes it so great. Despite the emphasis on Middlebury’s Homecoming football game, it seems evident that our College is not a big sports school and is instead built upon a more substantial foundation. While our bleachers are by no means empty at sports games, the College seems to breed fans for more than just its athletics.

Many pride the school on its academics, which challenge students and simultaneously encourage a liberal arts exploration of subjects. Students appreciate Middlebury’s location in between the Adirondack Mountains and the Green Mountains, and the chance to get outdoors that such a location offers. Some point to Middlebury’s larger network with the Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Language Schools and the Bread Loaf School of English as being emblematic of Middlebury’s greatness. There are many aspects of Middlebury that make it stand out, but we as an editorial board want to make sure that traditions surrounding the College’s identity are not leaving anyone out.

The recent conversations about inclusivity and diversity are extremely relevant to our College. Middlebury has a history of exclusivity, dating back to the days when classrooms sat only white, male students. Those original “Middkids” set the tone for traditions to come. We still find ourselves partaking in quintessential privileged New England culture, perhaps best showcased by our excitement around events like the Homecoming men’s football game and the ski races at Winter Carnival. While we do not wish to condemn these traditions, as they compose part of Middlebury’s historical identity, we would like to challenge ourselves to expand Middlebury’s current and future identity.

It is time to give representation in the form of traditions to a larger diversity of students. Currently, our school’s privileged New England culture proves the point that many on campus are trying to make: that Middlebury does not always include every student. How can a female international student relate to men’s football, a sport that does not exist for women in her country? How can a student whose family did not choose to pay for expensive ski vacations to Vail or Aspen jump into the culture around skiing? Without eliminating these New England traditions, Middlebury must introduce new, more inclusive traditions.

[As a school with so much to offer – strong academics, beautiful natural surroundings, a larger institutional network and more – we should have no trouble fostering new traditions at Middlebury. Already, there are efforts in place to create more accessible events. The Anderson Freeman Resource Center has worked to introduce historically marginalized students to activities that are integral to Middlebury’s identity, but which were previously associated with a more privileged elite. The Center has sponsored partnerships with organizations like the Middlebury Mountain Club, introducing students with no prior exposure to activities like canoeing, hiking and skiing to such a lifestyle.] *this paragraph needs refinement...

Last Friday, President Patton hosted an all-school barbeque on Battell Beach. It allowed the student body to come together outside on our beautiful campus and get to know fellow students, faculty and staff we otherwise would not have known. It was a great example of the kind of tradition the Campus would like to see moving forward. It included all students and revolved around today’s student body, not the student body of a Middlebury past. All students, no matter where they came from, what economic background they were raised in or what they were interested in could coalesce around a picnic on the lawn. This sort of tradition – one that sets everyone on an equal playing field – is a start for new traditions.

Having contemporary, representative traditions is therefore one of the best ways to bring Middlebury together and move Middlebury forward. It is a start to addressing larger grievances by members of our community and can begin as soon as this weekend. So let us enjoy Homecoming, but let us also keep in mind that, as great as Middlebury is, there is still room for improvement and increased unification.

The editorial represents the official opinion of the editorial board of The Middlebury Campus.