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Monday, Feb 26, 2024

Changing Middlebury Pack Behavior

Last week we published an op-ed by Esme Valette ’16 illuminating “predatory pack behavior” on campus. She pointed to a “Hunters and Hunted Party” thrown by a group of senior boys in the spring of 2014 as an example of the perpetuation of a social culture on our campus that fosters predatory behavior. Similar behavior at other schools has recently received nationwide attention, such as when the Harvard men’s soccer team released “scouting reports” of the women’s soccer team, making sexual suggestions about players and rating their appearances.

Middlebury students who have not had direct experience with the negative effects of such a predatory environment might view the issue as existing only outside the Middlebury bubble. Yet events like It Happens Here, where students read aloud testimony about sexual violence on campus, remind us that our campus is not immune to the power imbalances implicit in our country’s culture.

In her op-ed, Valette shared an email written by a group of senior men inviting her to the “Hunters and Hunted” party. Lines include asking women attending to “leave their attitudes … and firm feminist ideals” at home, as well as explicit instructions that the women were to be the hunted while the men did the hunting. This gendered power dynamic is most obvious when a bunch of drunk students cram into crowded suites in search of a hookup, the love of their lives or just some great dancing. But it is also replicated in other aspects of campus life: the ways students talk about hooking up, the jokes students make and the judgements students pass on each other.

Valette’s example of Middlebury’s party culture is three years old — has Middlebury since become better at addressing this gendered power imbalance so prevalent in our campus party culture?

The Green Dot Violence Prevention Strategy program against power-based personal violence, which focuses on sexual and dating violence among students, has made some progress in teaching students how to combat predatory behavior. Their trainings, often targeted at athletes — members of teams where a pack mentality is inherent and can easily turn predatory, teach students how to proactively prevent dangerous situations. Many of the tools of Green Dot are simple and designed to have low social costs. One way a bystander can reduce the likelihood of violence is to check-in with someone who looks uncomfortable or too drunk to consent to a hookup, for example.

One challenge of the Green Dot trainings, however, as well as events like It Happens Here, is that attendees are likely to be those who already are aware of the sexism and predation present in the current social life on campus. Such trainings and events will be much more powerful if they can reach students who have been unaware or unthinking in their participation in this harmful culture. We highly recommend students attend a Green Dot training and the It Happens Here event — both groups also have Middlebury websites with informational material or stories you could read today.

The College’s faculty, coaches and administrative leaders can work on creating more systematic exposure to these issues, as they did by making basic Green Dot training mandatory for first-years during orientation two years ago. But the “adults” on campus do not have the power to change the norms of Middlebury’s social scene. Student leaders, especially upperclassmen and especially sports team captains and club leaders, must take that initiative. Some sports teams have organized team Green Dot trainings or have meetings at the beginning of the year about how they can create a healthy social environment within the team. If upperclassmen rejected the predatory norms assumed in party spaces on campus, it would set a powerful precedent for subsequent generations of Middkids. Let’s use the power of the pack to set a new, better standard for social interaction on campus.

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