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Tuesday, Aug 9, 2022

The View From Here

Here we are, a year in. A lot has changed in the past year and it seems like we’ve almost achieved a certain milestone. For us, it’s been a time to reflect. It’s been a time to make sense of the chaos, turmoil and loss that we’ve experienced in the past 365 days and to look ahead. Our staff has been tossing around these thoughts in editorial meetings for months, never quite fitting them together. We’ve written about the difficulty of being a first-year in a Covid-19 world, about students struggling to follow Covid-19 protocols, about busyness culture, and about a remote J-term; clearly it’s been on our minds. In trying to make sense of this turbulent year, we’ve had to consider all that has been gained and all that has been lost. 

It’s been a full year since Middlebury students received the email telling us that we’d all be sent home, away from the college and away from each other. We have experienced loss. Personal loss of our friends and our family passing away. Social loss of our ability to see and be around one another. Many of us have lost our attachment to the college’s campus, unable to take part in the “living learning” environment that the college prides itself on. Back in February 2020, before the pandemic had reached Vermont, a Chinese international student was barred from entering Middlebury as a Feb because missing the first two weeks of the semester on campus was too great a detriment to the “living learning” education the college offers. Now, more than a year after publishing the story, we find ourselves facing a reality that was unfathomable then. 

The identity of our college has changed. We fear the loss of so much of what makes Middlebury ours. We fear the loss of the random, the spontaneity that our small campus offered: striking up conversations with professors on the walk to and from class, random encounters with friends in Atwater dining hall, midnight breakfasts and weekend trips to Burlington. We fear that students won’t fly paper airplanes through BiHall or pile into Proctor for midnight churros during finals week, that no impromptu performances will take place in the Gamut room and no spring concerts will blare in Kenyon, that first years won’t bond over scrappy meals on hectic MiddView trips. We fear the loss of our identity in a year of so much change.

It has been a year of change, and while Middlebury is anticipating an eventual return to normal, do we want it to be just that — a return? It would be foolhardy to act as if this year didn’t happen; to forgo all the changes that have happened and return to the status quo. We have become a more empathetic, understanding Middlebury, one where professors, students and administrators have become more conscious of one another. Flexibility is no longer a rarity, but has become an essential part of our new normal. The administration has made mental health services less taboo by creating better access to counseling, and students are, in turn, placing greater emphasis on their own mental well-being. We have cared for each other through the Mutual Aid forms, and the college has prioritized staff wage continuity. We have strengthened our community even in our fractalized state. 

In this year of reflection and introspection, where students have had an abundance of time to themselves, much of the way we view the college has shifted. Maybe it’s for the better. Students are no longer moving forward on the “should be” conveyor belt but are instead taking a more individualized approach to Middlebury. We can envision a Middlebury where students prioritize their wants and needs over what is perceived to be “right.” We have become more deliberate in our friendships and in our gatherings, taking time to consider who we interact with and how it impacts our life. We have decentralized Middlebury’s party scene, making smaller, more intentional gatherings. Middlebury has become a place of flux, where social and academic life is molded and shaped to support the students who make it up.

As our first year of Covid-19 college nears an end, we should take the time to consider what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained. Consider whether the changes to our college’s culture have been for the better. Consider how certain members of our community have historically been excluded. Consider whether the togetherness we felt over a year ago was actually as together as we remember, or whether we may have been farther apart than we thought

We should not forget the empathy this year has taught us nor should we forget to care for ourselves just as we care for others. We should continue to strip the taboo from mental health, from taking a semester off, from needing flexibility. We should continue to be a more mindful and intentional Middlebury. But while we welcome these changes that this year has brought us, we should also remember all that we have lost and all that we wish to bring back. 

We welcome a return Middlebury’s spontaneity, and we hope to arrive back soon to a campus where we can walk into Proctor dining hall alone and find a group of friends to sit with, where we can bump into a professor on a walk and strike up a chat, where we can once again feel like a close knit community. But let us not forget the lessons of this year as we make our way through the next one. 

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