This op-ed was originally sent as a letter to Dean of Students Derek Doucet and Assistant Director of Student Activities for Student Leadership and Development Erin Morrison. It has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Dear Dean of Students Derek Doucet and Assistant Director of Student Activities for Student Leadership and Development Erin Morrison,
We are all writing to you as former Orientation Leaders with a great deal of interest in MiddView. We are juniors with fond memories of our own MiddView experiences, and we are passionate about giving new students similarly positive orientation experiences in the future.
MiddView has undergone significant changes over the last two years. The most dramatic change due to Covid-19 resulted in off-campus trips being replaced with excursion-style outings and on-campus orientation meetings and activities.
We imagine that the decision to not immediately transition back to overnight trips was due to this desire to improve MiddView, and to address valid, long-standing criticisms that MiddView trips focused too much on the outdoors, and, in that way, created an unwelcoming orientation environment for some incoming students who did not have background in or an affinity toward these kinds of activities. The orientation team, and college community as a whole, are right to respond to this criticism in order to prioritize accessibility and inclusivity as they work toward reimagining a post-Covid orientation program. However, as some of the students who have both experienced pre-Covid MiddView trips and led post-Covid orientation groups, we are worried that some of the most important features of MiddView are being altered, while other issues with MiddView are going unaddressed.
First and foremost, the college needs to revisit regular compensation for its student leaders. We had a record breaking number of first year students matriculate into the classes of 2025 and 2025.5. In order to foster the close-knit environments of MiddView groups many leaders are so passionate about, the program needs more leaders. A stipend or salary is a fantastic incentive to encourage more leaders to apply to join the MiddView team. Other NESCACs like Colby College pay their orientation leaders and appear to have found success doing so. (And are we really going to be beat out by… COLBY?!). Compensation would also remove significant financial barriers for students who cannot afford the opportunity cost of missing two weeks of summer work to return to school early. As MiddView staff has admirably championed the idea of fostering an equitable and inclusive environment for first-years, we believe it is vital to extend this privilege to the program’s leaders as well. Not only would payment allow those passionate about MiddView an opportunity to assist in the program, but it would also diversify MiddView leadership so that the program can be more representative of the college as a whole, and better equipped to welcome each and every new student to Middlebury. Frankly, without payment for student leaders, any efforts by administration or by MiddView staff to prioritize inclusivity and accessibility in orientation will fall flat.
Further, the job of orientation leaders has changed dramatically over the last three years. In the past, student leaders were only responsible for leading trips over the new student weekend. Leaders are now responsible for helping students with registration, going over aspects of academic life at Middlebury, chaperoning activities in the evenings during orientation week and other duties that have traditionally fallen to ResLife staff (who are compensated for their work). While the administration has promised to look into fairly compensating these “invaluable” volunteer roles, we’ve been disappointed that there has been no follow through on this front. As the position changes, it is only fair for the compensation to change, too.
Second, as the orientation program and the role of orientation leaders is in flux, we believe MiddView would benefit greatly from the formation of a student group to assist in creating MiddView’s itinerary and structure post-Covid. This could take the form of a student organization with payment available for its executive team, a committee within SGA, a larger team of year-round student employment positions within the SAO dedicated to MiddView or something else we may not have considered. Currently, the only explicit student input into the creation of MiddView each year comes from a handful of student interns. But there are many more students who care about first-years’ orientation experiences who have a wealth of insight, energy and creativity to contribute to the process of redesigning MiddView in a post-Covid world.
Current juniors and seniors are the last classes with memories of MiddView trips as they once were. Even if there are elements of the old MiddView model that should be changed, there are also elements that students can help to preserve and adapt for the future. For many of the leaders we've spoken to, the most memorable and formative part of the orientation trips was getting to spend a significant amount of uninterrupted time with their small groups. This is something that simply can’t be replicated by a week-long string of daily meetings or one-off day trips, but we are sure that many past leaders have ideas on how to improve the structure of MiddView in order to preserve important and cherished aspects of trips like this.
Students also have significant insight into the types of activities their peers would be most interested in and the types of training that are most effective. Hopefully this letter has made it clear that there are extremely passionate students who want to help shape the program to be the best it can be.
MiddView has an extremely important role to play in building our community on campus, and in prioritizing accessibility, inclusivity and joy for all students. The program has the opportunity to introduce new students to their new classmates, their new college and to the whole state they will call home for four years in exciting and meaningful ways. We know that first impressions are important, so we hope that MiddView staff and the administration will take this chance — this pause that Covid has imposed upon us all — to acknowledge the important role of MiddView and its leaders, to follow through on past promises and to work with students in the future to build an orientation program that is the best it can be.
Jessica Buxbaum, Calin Laine and Anne Lofgren are members of the class of 2023.