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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Hidden struggles at Middlebury

Many students of color at Middlebury are already aware of many people in the college are a lot less than enthusiastic about their presence. From long stares for doing anything that slightly indicates our culture — and not in a cultural appreciation way but more in the way of being watched like an animal at the zoo — to the subtle change of tone when spoken to, as if speaking to something inferior, this is nothing new or surprising. These daily incidents range from outward racial slurs, white supremacist stickers on the student center sign, and even concerns of over-policing PALANA events by public safety — which is an intimate, safe social house for students of color — compared to next door, predominantly white social houses. Along with a systematically disadvantaged education system for minorities all of their lives, students had to go more than an extra mile to end up at prestigious, private institutions like Middlebury that are known for their support system. But the school flyers will never mention the micro- and macro-aggressive mistreatment that is involved for us. Middlebury is supposed to provide a system in place to protect their minority students from bigotry, and not implement more discriminatory systems to further disadvantage minorities like putting them on the Bread Loaf campus.

Loafers are provided with a shuttle system to campus every day. Theoretically, the system should work, but the only thing consistent about the shuttle is its inconsistency. Many students have been stranded on campus after the last bus of the day never arrived. Living on a bus schedule is only plausible if you’re a commuter for college living at home and not dorming.

The most troublesome aspect of the shuttle is not even its inconsistency, but the lack of freedom it provides low income students with their schedule. Many of them hold campus jobs as a necessity so balancing work, classes, meals, gym, office hours and homework leaves no room to relax. The commute is 30 minutes; this forces students to stay on campus until they’re done with their day, and minority students especially feel they need to have every hour planned with accuracy by minutes, to make sure they can fit everything in. Who has access to personal vehicles, and who is forced to take the shuttle and deal with all these extra inconveniences when college life is already hard enough? Shuttle riders are those low income students that do not have access to the luxury of affording cars. These answers expose an education system still heavily entrenched in segregation. 

Bread Loafers often catch a morning bus and come home practically at midnight with no energy left to unwind aside from sleeping. Self care becomes a luxury for weekends while trying to stock up on food to get through the weekend. The severe lack of weekend dining on Bread Loaf campus forces students to commute to campus every day without having a single full rest day.

Middlebury attempted to bribe Loafers with numerous unnecessary perks that ultimately do not serve their purpose of making life any more convenient. The only on-demand laundry available at Bread Loaf is a long walk away from dorms and will be shut down in a few weeks due to the pipes freezing. The same hindrance will also be closing down the only library and large work space available for the Loaf campus. There’s also no workout space available either, so students are forced to use the gym on campus, which presumes unnecessary inconveniences like spending the rest of your day being dirty or taking a shower at a friend’s place every time. Even the faculty pass parking given to Loafers has many restrictions that were never communicated, resulting in unnecessary parking tickets students have to deal with. We were provided with the president’s dining room as a leisure/work space as part of the “perks” as if the main campus doesn’t already have enough free space. We need basic necessities to be less arduous, and not bribes so we shut up about our problems.

Low income students, many of whom are people of color, already have a harder time connecting to campus life due to financial burdens and different backgrounds. Many students on campus come from private schools, so attending a private, elite, historically white college as a low income student is a culture shock. This plays a role in segregating people of color on campus, so adding the burden of living far from campus and commuting from a town with nothing to offer other than a gas station is further segregation.

The shuttle system isn’t just as simple as an inconvenience for us. The initial deal was just the 30-minute commute, which makes up for the housing discount, but the other hidden struggles are never made up. Middlebury needs to make sure Loafers have easy access to the same college experience as the rest, as promised.  

Middlebury needs to be especially accommodating of minorities living at Bread Loaf and recognize their disadvantages along with the college's role in adding onto that burden, intentional or not, by not living up to their promises. Minority students at Bread Loaf face challenges unique to all Bread Loaf students, and as such, need greater focus of resources to level up the same experience. 

Mubasshira Ahmed is a member of the class of 2023.5.