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Friday, Jan 28, 2022

J-term, play-it-safe term

A sleepy-eyed student wakes up at 5 a.m. to start class from their home in China. The next day, another on the West Coast rises at 4:30 a.m. for class registration. This certainly isn’t the “J-term, play term” that was so often quipped by tour guides. 

This year, we’re strewn across the country and the world in a relentless pandemic that continues to get the best of us. Yet many students are still finding a piece of that “play term” while others are stuck at home unable to feel the joy and community that J-term is supposed to bring.

A remote J-Term is exposing the disparities of access and of behavior when students are left to their own devices. We left a campus of shared responsibility and constant testing, entering into thousands of different communities with varying levels of both — not to mention the winter months causing Covid-19 rates to skyrocket.

With three months between our departure from campus this fall and our arrival in the spring, time and temptation have been abundant. Many students sought to spend the winter with friends, and as we hit J-Term, that temptation grew stronger.  Those who wanted to replicate a normal J-Term  — and had the means to do so — often did just that.

One of the hallmarks of J-Term is experiential living and learning. Our commitment to one class, often dedicated to out-of-the-box topics and new methods of teaching, is an incredible academic gift.  When that’s done in a shared environment on the Middlebury campus, the experience becomes even more unique and collaborative. With only one class, free time abounds, bringing our living situations all the more to the front of mind.

This year, the disparities of location, means and behavior are quite evident — and often intertwined. Not only have the actual academic opportunities become more difficult, but those navigating living and learning at home have to see some friend groups enjoying living and learning together.  Many students are showing — visibly on social media —  their ability to move to warm climates or ski with friends in Vermont, Colorado or Utah. Privilege abounds and, without a shared, grounding on-campus experience, allows for some to exploit their remote J-Term while others struggle just to stay engaged. 

Our remote J-Term comes down to this: responsibility. Covid-19 dealt us all a pretty terrible hand: to first years entering this fall, to seniors trying to enjoy their last year, and to everyone in between. The normal Middlebury experience is all the more desirable now that we can no longer take it for granted.  


But just because we’re not at Middlebury this J-Term doesn’t mean we don’t have the same responsibility wherever we are to be extra vigilant. It is on each and every one of us to do everything we can to take care of the community we are returning to. As we prepare for another school semester, we must also prepare for a return to campus policies necessary for keeping one another safe.

As we head into the final week of our remote J-Term, we ask the student body to be cognizant of how their behavior could impact hundreds of other students and those living in the town of Middlebury. Wearing a mask, socially distancing and committing to the two-week pre-arrival quarantine are absolute musts if we want to have another successful in-person semester.

The disparities on display are representative of the pre-existing realities of Middlebury’s student body. As the start of our two-week pre-arrival quarantine is only days away, we must each hold ourselves responsible for the group accountability we need to cultivate again this spring. No matter where we are during J-Term, it’s on each of us to play our part in establishing a safe campus so that we can build on our success from the fall. With vaccines slowly but surely making their way through the country, there is an end in sight. Let’s not let our behavior set us back now.

This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.