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Saturday, Dec 10, 2022

Zeitgeist 4.0

Results of The Campus' fourth-annual student-body survey

Introduction: The spirit of the times, in transition

The Middlebury we know today is not the same as the one we surveyed during the first Zeitgeist student body survey in 2019. We may have expected the college to change over these four years, and it did  — entire classes matriculated and graduated, presidents were elected and impeached, social trends rose and fell, boats got stuck and unstuck in canals — but few could have foreseen the transformation that our community and our world would experience in that time. 

The theme of this year’s Zeitgeist survey is transition, a word we felt encompassed this moment in Middlebury’s history and the lives of its students. As the college moved towards “endemic” management of Covid-19 this spring — lifting mask mandates and ending routine surveillance testing — social life at Middlebury largely returned to crowded dining halls and weekend parties. In a microcosm of the nation, students, staff and faculty have confronted the strange in-between of pandemic life and post-pandemic aspirations in classrooms, dining halls and residential buildings. 

At the same time, most students are experiencing this not as a return of the old staples of campus life, but rather as their first “normal” semesters of college. Half of our respondents this year started at Middlebury in fall 2020 or later; they have never known a pre-pandemic college experience. This semester, members of the class of 2023 — even as rising seniors — celebrated their first spring break of college or jetted off to fill schools abroad for the first time in years. And the class of 2022 will graduate this spring as the last grade to have seen a full pre-pandemic year at Middlebury. 

As a new generation of Middlebury students inherits a college fundamentally reshaped by the pandemic, we asked them to reflect on what changed and what stayed the same. Did the Covid-19 pandemic change students’ post-grad priorities? How often do they cry? What’s the most pressing issue of our day? What’s one thing students are looking forward to in the next year? And of course, are Middlebury students — truly — happy?

Demographics

A total of 1,134 students took the fourth annual Zeitgeist survey, answering questions that ranged from “Do you have a car at Middlebury?” to “How often do you cry?”

With a total spring enrollment of 2,634 according to the Spring 2022 Enrollment profile, these students represent 43% of the college’s degree-seeking undergraduates.

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Participants were roughly equally distributed across all class years, with the class of 2024 registering the highest number of responses at 242. The class of 2022 had the fewest responses among reg classes.

Many respondents, however, matriculated in a different year than they are now part of. Nearly 20% more participants said they initially intended to graduate with the class of 2022 than said they will actually do so this spring. All four years showed a significant uptick in the number of students now graduating with the Feb class than originally anticipated, with respondents now in the class of 2023.5 more than doubling.

Hundreds of students took one or more semesters off during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to nearly 300 more students enrolled on campus than typical in fall 2021. The college housed students at the Bread Loaf satellite campus, the Marriott hotel and the Inn on the Green to accommodate the overenrolled student body but was able to discontinue use of Bread Loaf in the spring as the class of 2021.5 graduated and more students were able to study abroad. 

For the first time this year, we removed the option to select “Multiracial/Biracial” from our survey and instead offered respondents the option to check all boxes that applied. Students who identified themselves in more than one demographic were counted in both for breakout visualizations. Of the 1,134 students who responded, 80% identified themselves as white, 15% as Asian, 8.5% as Hispanic or Latino, 5% as Black or African American, 1.5% as Middle Eastern or North African, and less than 1% as American Indian or Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. 

According to the Spring 2022 Enrollment profile — which does not allow students to identify themselves in more than one category — 58.6% of the student body identifies as white, 7.5% as Asian American, 4.7% as Black/African American, 10.8% as Hispanic/Latino, and 5.9% as two or more races. The college’s enrollment data also reports international students as one racial demographic category, representing 11.6% of the student body.

Cisgender female students were by far the largest group of respondents, representing 58% of Zeitgeist responses compared to 53% of students according to the enrollment profile. Cisgender male students represented 35% of respondents, compared to 47% at the college. The Campus has historically excluded demographic categories with less than five respondents to preserve privacy, making the 2022 Zeitgeist the first to include transgender male and transgender female students in reported results. 

There was also a notable increase in the number of respondents who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning. Compared to approximately one third of last year’s respondents, 41% of participants identified in this group.

Cisgender female students were far more likely to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning than cisgender male students. Since cisgender female students also represented a higher proportion of Zeitgeist participants than the student body, this discrepancy likely skewed overall responses to whether students identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning.

Of Zeitgeist participants, 43% said they were receiving need-based financial aid. According to the Student Financial Services webpage, 51% of students at the college receive aid. 

Just over 10% of students said they were first generation college students, whereas 8.8% of students said one or both of their parents attended Middlebury.

This year, 17% of respondents said they were varsity athletes, a slightly higher percentage than the 15% who took the survey in 2021. The college reports that 27% of students are varsity athletes. 

Varsity athletes were also far more likely to respond that they were white and that they were not on financial aid than the general student population. Of the students that said they are white, 20% said that they participated in a varsity sport, while only 8% of students in all other race and ethnicity demographics combined said they did. Varsity athletes were fifteen percentage points less likely to be on financial aid than respondents in the rest of the student population.

More than half of respondents said they were from New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) or the Mideast region (New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania) of the United States, followed by respondents from the Far West (Washington, Oregon and California). Approximately 9% of respondents said they were from outside of the United States.

Slightly more than half of respondents said their hometown is suburban, while 30% said their hometown is urban and 18% said their hometown is rural. 

Of Zeitgeist participants, 13% said they identify or had at some point identified as a student with a disability while at the college. Just over 16% said they identify as neurodivergent, an umbrella term for people whose brains function differently than what is considered “typical” and can include autism, ADHD, dyslexia and more.

The majors with the highest number of respondents were Environmental Studies (all tracks combined) at 11%, Economics at 10%, Computer Science at 7.8%, Political Science at 6.2%, Neuroscience at 6% and English and American Literatures at 5.3%. Exactly one in seven students said they had not yet declared a major.

In Transition: Students reflect on what's changed and what's next

This year, our Zeitgeist survey was released to students just weeks after the end of a two-year mask mandate at Middlebury. This change marked, in many ways, a monumental moment of transition in the Covid-19 pandemic. For somewhere around half the students at the college, it was the first time at Middlebury that they had experienced the school without masks

Beyond that, college is its own period of immense growth and transition for so many. As we navigate this period of transition at Middlebury and in life as a whole, we wanted to know two things from students: What's one thing that has changed about you in the past year? And what's one thing you are looking forward to in the next year?

In the past year, students appear to have undergone a lot of change. Some have been negative and some have been positive; they range from “I have become much more cynical in my friendships, as I have been frequently disappointed and let down” to “my overall self confidence and happiness have increased significantly.”

Respondents referenced eating disorder relapses, sexual assault and recovering from a period of drug-induced psychosis.

Other respondents alerted us to small life changes. One person wrote “I like cucumbers now” while another said that their hairstyle had changed many times over.

Others went through big romantic life changes. More than 40 participants cited getting into or getting out of a relationship as a change in the last year. At least twelve students cited breakups in the past year. 

“I broke up with my partner of three years who I had thought I'd be with forever, and started dating someone so kind and respectful and feel much happier,” one student said. Many mentioned the end of three- or four-year relationships, or long-distance relationships. 

On the other hand, many students entered new relationships. Three different respondents said “I have a girlfriend now.” 

Others cited evolving views on being in relationships. One respondent wrote that in the last year, they had “become less concerned with having a romantic relationship,” and another mentioned a change in their, “understanding of my romantic interests and needs.”

More than 45 students said that they have gained a new sense of their sexuality, come out, or become more open and confident in their sexuality in the past year. A couple of students mentioned recognizing their asexuality, while others “went from identifying as heterosexual to queer.” Many came to terms with their sexuality and queerness, or developed a new awareness of their sexuality. “[I] came out and finally felt like myself on this campus,” one respondent said.

Many students also cited a change in their understanding of gender in the past year. Several students came out as transgender, or realized that they were trans or non-binary. Others mentioned an overall change in their perception of or awareness of gender identity. “I have come to terms with my sexual orientation and gender identity,” one student wrote. 

Nearly 100 responses address changes to mental health in the past year, both negative and positive. More than a dozen students mentioned developing depression, or experiencing worse depression, in the last year. “I have become more depressed, lonely and insecure,” one student wrote. Many others talked about heightening anxiety. One person wrote “Middlebury destroyed my mental health,” and another said that they had, “never experienced mental health issues until Midd.”

Others had improved mental health during the last year. “My mental health has vastly improved, I now feel happy and grateful any average day,” one student wrote. “A year ago, I was very depressed.”

“I have become more emotionally aware and stronger/more resilient as a person and my anxiety has gotten much better in the past few months,” one respondent wrote. “I have a lot more confidence in myself and my future.” Another said, “my mental health has dramatically improved.”

Friendship and happiness also stood out as common themes in responses. Students wrote that they had found good groups of friends and strengthened their friendships in the last year. Many spoke about increasing happiness in the past year. Many students addressed a changing relationship to their academics — with a dominant theme being less of a prioritization of academic success. 

“I value traditional metrics of success a lot less now, and have grown to prioritize my happiness and connections with people around me,” one student wrote. Another said, “my attitude towards schoolwork (I have stopped caring).”

One respondent wrote that one thing that had changed for them in the past year was, “learning to step back and putting taking care of myself as my number one priority. Being understanding and listening to myself when it comes to missing class/assignments and taking time off.”

Lots of respondents spoke to an evolving sense of personhood, an improving ability to handle failure, a newfound ability to draw and maintain boundaries, a decrease in FOMO and an increase in comfortable independence. 

When we asked students what they’re looking forward to in the next year, they told us about travel plans, growing friendships and post-grad life. 

In one of the most common responses, 140 students reported looking forward to going abroad, to places like Argentina, Uganda, Spain, Chile and France, while others mentioned excitement about returning from abroad themselves or seeing friends or partners who will come back from abroad soon. Seventy-one students said they were looking forward to graduating — among them students excited to move to a new city, make new friends post-grad, start a job, start a graduate degree or just start a life after college. Others mentioned the approaching summer, opportunities to travel and new academic and research experiences. 

Others mentioned the benefits of a world with fewer Covid-19 restrictions, with one person saying they’re looking forward to how, “the in-person shows that got delayed are finally happening.”

While some admitted that there isn’t much they’re looking forward to, other students talked about future opportunities for personal growth and the expansion of friendships, relationships and communities.

“To continue to grow as an individual and friend, and to explore new horizons intellectually, artistically, socially, and personally,” one student wrote. 

Academics

The 2021–22 school year has brought students and professors back into classrooms, but academic work happens online far more than before the pandemic. This year’s survey also showed another uptick in honor code violations, up from last year’s jump.

This year, 64% of respondents reported breaking the honor code, compared to 58% last year and 45% in 2020. As in 2021, the most common violation was using unauthorized aid — like translators, Sparknotes and aid from peers — followed by cheating on tests. 

About half of respondents reported being able to get into all of the classes they wanted this spring, but first years were less often successful in registration. 

Only one third of the class of 2025 and 2025.5 were able to get into all of their desired classes for spring 2022 registration, compared to half of all respondents. For first years, 43% were unable to get into half or more of their classes. This may be a result of increased enrollment, which caused stress among students vying for classes and housing. 

The pandemic has altered life at Middlebury and beyond, with about 64% of students reporting that Covid-19 has changed their academic and postgraduate priorities. The top priority of students was stability, followed closely by career success, fun and social impact. Prestige, notably, was ranked eighth far more often than any other selection.

Social Life

The section of this year’s Zeitgeist focused on social life asked questions on four topics:  substance use, visitors to campus, time with friends and the use of the outdoors. An analysis of the data finds that substance use has increased across almost all categories compared to past years, and that participating in certain aspects of campus life — such as visits from family and the outdoors — appears to be correlated with demographic factors, including race and financial aid. 

An overwhelming majority of respondents —  1,023 — have consumed alcohol at Middlebury, while only a slightly smaller number of students have used marijuana (807 respondents). The responses “vaped/Juuled/smoked cigarettes,” “used psychedelics,” and “taken adderall without a prescription” were selected by 486, 207 and 141 respondents respectively. 

As compared to last year’s survey, slightly more respondents this year had consumed alcohol, with usage going up by around one percentage point. Marijuana use also increased — while only 66% of respondents said they had used marijuana in 2021, 71% of respondents said they had used the substance in this year’s survey. In a similar trend, reported psychedelic use rose slightly from last year to this year, by around three percentage points. 

While alcohol consumption stayed roughly the same between this year and last year, 82% of respondents said they had partied where alcohol and/or drugs were present in 2021, while 86% of respondents had partied where drugs and alcohol were present this year. 

Respondents most frequently answered that academics, with 1,034 reponses, prevented them from spending time with friends. Extracurriculars followed with 636 responses. Notably, mental health, with 488 responses, was selected third-most frequently, while less than 50% of respondents chose “jobs” (361), “a lack of a car on campus” (287) or “financial cost of trips or outings” (247).

 

For the question “Do you feel that outdoor recreation is an important part of your social life at Middlebury?”, a majority of responses — 70% — said “yes.” Of those respondents, 75% of those who answered “yes” also said they were white, compared to only 71% of overall respondents.

In contrast, only 5.8% of respondents who answered “yes” were of Hispanic or Latino origin, despite making up 7.5% of all respondents. Only 11.5% of respondents saying “yes” identified as Asian, despite making up around 13% of overall respondents.

 

Around 66% of respondents have had family members visit them at Middlebury this semester. When broken down by race, this question yields a similar trend to that found in the previous question regarding the outdoors — 80% of respondents whose family members had visited Middlebury were white, even though only 71% of overall respondents to the survey were white.

Respondents whose family visited them were also less likely to be receiving financial aid.  Of the respondents who did have family members visit, the majority (63%) did not receive financial aid. Of the respondents who did not have family members visit, the majority (55%) did receive some form of financial aid.

Sex and Love

“Look to your left, look to your right: Two out of three of you will marry a Middlebury graduate," alumni recall former college President Olin Robison saying each commencement during his 15-year tenure. His dramatic proclamations were a gross exaggeration — only 17% of alumni married other Middlebury graduates between 1915 and 1991. Still, the rumor of love floating through the air on campus persists.

Similar to previous years, The Campus asked Middlebury students about their love lives in this year’s Zeitgeist survey. Survey questions compared students’ romantic experiences to those they wish they had, asked what drives them to seek intimacy and cataloged changes in sexuality. 

Overall, Middlebury students desire more monogamy — and more commitment — than they have had the opportunity to experience here thus far. 

Since coming to Middlebury, 47% of respondents indicated they have been in a committed, monogamous relationship at some point. Meanwhile, 70% said they would ideally have a committed, monogamous relationship right now. 

But relationships at Middlebury can be hard to define and often don’t fit the typical committed mold. Forty-two percent of respondents have been in a “slightly-monogamous thing,” but far fewer selected that as their ideal type of relationship — only 27%. 

An even further divide exists between one-night stands; 52% of respondents reported having had a one-night stand while only 11% reported that one would be ideal. 

Students who are extremely satisfied with the college’s romantic scene made up only 8.5% of respondents. A little over a quarter of respondents reported being neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, and 13% of respondents said they were extremely dissatisfied. 

Students reported having more sex this year. While 81% of question respondents reported having consensual sex with at least one partner this year, only 73% did last year — more than a nine-percentage-point difference. Students are also having sex with more people. About one in six question respondents had more than five sexual partners this year versus one in 14 last year

However, relationships do not seem to be all about sex for Middlebury students. 

The leading reason students reported pursuing romantic and sexual encounters at Middlebury was companionship, which made up 80% of responses. Sex came in as a close second with 66% of question respondents reporting it as a reason for pursuing these encounters. Other important motivations include non-sexual intimacy, loneliness, exploration and external validation. 

Things are far from constant. About a quarter of respondents — 26% — described their sexuality differently than when they first came to Middlebury, and 11% said they are not sure. 

While The Campus cannot tell you how to find romance and sex at Middlebury, we can tell you how other students report finding sexual and romantic partners. 

Just over half of students who responded to the survey met romantic or sexual partners at parties or gatherings, compared to only 44% last year. Twenty-three percent of respondents met a partner through a dating app this year, an uptick from 21% in 2021.

Health and Wellness

“Are you happy?” As we considered adding the question to this year’s Zeitgeist and eventually asked it of our peers, some students — including a few members of our staff — were not so happy with the question itself.

Fortunately, a vast majority of question respondents (75%) answered “yes,” while just under  one-quarter of question respondents said “no.” The rate at which participants selected “yes” decreased, however, for respondents who said they are queer, indicated they receive financial aid, or selected a race or ethnicity category besides “white.”

Nearly four-fifths (78%) of white-identifying respondents who answered this question reported being happy, a rate higher than any other racial or ethnic identity. Respondents who selected identities other than “white”  answered “yes” at a rate of at least 10 percentage points below students who selected “white.” Question respondents who identified as Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) reported being unhappy more than any other racial or ethnic group, with only 41% answering “yes.” Notably, the Zeitgeist survey was live during the weeks after the Muslim Student Association’s prayer space was desecrated, This event could partially explain some of the responses from those who identified as MENA, since Islam is the dominant religion in the region. 

Over three-fourths (78%) of cisgender female respondents who answered this question responded “yes”, the highest of any gender identity. In stark contrast, just over a quarter (27%) of transgender male respondents who answered this question said they were happy. Transgender male respondents were also the only gender identity to say “no” more often than “yes”. 

Of the respondents, 732 students — 65% — said they had tested positive for Covid-19 at some point. Reported Covid-19 cases early in the spring semester showed hundreds of students testing positive, with peaks reaching over 200 active cases at a time.

Overall, students ranked their mental health as best in fall 2019 and worst in fall 2020. Mental health on average reportedly improved in spring 2021 and continued to increase in subsequent semesters. However, mental health improved only marginally from spring 2021 to fall 2021; that fall was a semester marked by student crises on campus and increased rates of Covid-19. Mental health continued to improve this semester, with fewer students responding with a rating of “1 – Worst” than in previous semesters.

More than four in 10 (42%) respondents to this question reported using counseling services at Middlebury. Nearly half (48%) of respondents who receive financial aid and answered this question have used counseling services at Middlebury, a difference of 10 percentage points over students who do not receive financial aid.

Just under one quarter (24%) of respondents reported having survived sexual assault, an increase of 4 percentage points from 2021. When asked if this occurred while they were on Middlebury’s campus or on a Middlebury program, 39% of those who said they were survivors of sexual assault and chose to answer this question said “yes.”

Sixty-five percent of question respondents have reported using alcohol or drugs to cope with stress. Fifteen percent of question respondents in the class of 2023.5 reported using alcohol or drugs frequently to cope with stress, the highest of any other class year, while question respondents in the class of 2025 reportedly use them the least, with 50% responding “never.”

A majority of respondents to this question, 71%, said they have struggled with their relationship to food or exercise during their time at Middlebury, although a smaller percentage of respondents said so than in 2021. In this year’s Zeitgeist, we removed the option of selecting “at times” for this question because it asks whether students have ever struggled with food or exercise; respondents were only able to select “yes” or “no.” When forced to choose between the two, more respondents selected “yes” than “no” across all gender identities.

This year, just over half (54%) of cisgender male-identifying respondents who answered this question said they struggled with food and exercise while at Middlebury. Even so, cisgender male respondents struggled with food and exercise at lower rates than any other demographic analyzed. Of cisgender female-identifying respondents who answered this question, 80% said “yes.” Four out of five (80%) transgender female-identifying respondents who answered this question struggled with food and exercise, and 92% of transgender male-identifying respondents who answered this question reported the same. 

Out of all survey respondents, around 60% reported crying at least once a month, and 50% reported crying a couple times a month or more frequently.

Breaking out the data by gender shows differences in reported rates of crying. Twenty-eight percent of cisgender male students who answered this question reported crying at least once a month, a frequency much lower than reported by respondents of other genders. Respondents who selected “These options don’t define me” who answered this question reported crying more frequently than students who selected other gender identities, with 86% of these individuals reporting crying at least once a month.

Resources

Middlebury prides itself on offering a plethora of resources to students, but fewer than 30% of Zeitgeist respondents said they are “very satisfied” with any given on-campus resource. 

MiddSafe, a student-run sexual assault hotline that is the only listed resource not actually staffed by the college, had one of the highest overall approval ratings, with only 2.0% of respondents to this question saying they were either “somewhat dissatisifed” or “very dissatisfied.” The Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life also had high approval ratings, with few question respondents saying they were “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied”: 1.4%. 

The Anderson Freeman Resource Center (AFC) had the lowest combined percentage of students answering “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” at 0.63%, indicating a high rate of approval. Around 65% of respondents to this question answered that “Does not apply to me/have not used this” for the AFC. On the other hand, Midd Telehealth and Counseling Services garnered the highest disapproval ratings, showcasing respondents’ frustration with mental health services offered at Middlebury.

Students could also select that a particular resource “Does not apply to me/Have not used this” or that they “Do not know what this is.” Students were — by a wide margin — most unfamiliar with Compass Mentors, a new first-year mentoring program that partners students and non-academic staff at the college. Other resources that students were less familiar with included the Anderson Freeman Resource Center, International Student and Scholar Services, and MiddSafe

 

Instead of addressing whether students were satisfied with the college Department of Public Safety (PubSafe), we asked a slightly different question: “Do you feel safe interacting with PubSafe?”

Sixty-one percent of respondents reported that they feel safe interacting with Public Safety. A total of 12% of respondents reported that they feel unsafe in their interactions with Public Safety officers, while 27% of respondents reported feeling “unsure.”

Within that breakdown, there appear to be correlations between a student's race and whether they reported feeling safe interacting with PubSafe. Sixty-six percent of question respondents who indicated they are white report feeling safe interacting with PubSafe, compared to 46% of those who indicated they are Black and 44% of students who selected Hispanic or Latino. 

In addition to college-provided resources, The Campus asked about some of the resources that students themselves have come to campus with. The data shows that 47% of respondents to the question have a car on campus. 

Within that statistic, 55% of question respondents who do not receive financial aid have a car on campus, while 38% of question respondents who receive financial aid have a car.

Politics and Values

Middlebury students overwhelmingly care about politics. When asked how much they care about politics, only 1.4% of respondents said “I don’t care at all” and 3.0% answered “I actively avoid thinking/talking about politics.” The remainder of respondents said they care a little bit (19%), a lot about a few specific issues (33%) or a lot about a wide range of issues (43%).

Middlebury also leans very liberal, according to students’ self-assessments. More than 1,000 of the 1,126 students who responded to this question described their political views as at five or below on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being the most liberal and 10 being the most conservative. Most students placed themselves somewhere from zero to three, making the moderate but left-leaning students who placed themselves at a four seem conservative relative to the rest of campus.

So, what does Middlebury’s politically active, liberal student body care most about? When we asked “What do you define as the most pressing issue of our day?” in the 2020 Zeitgeist, climate change was the runaway winner. Climate change, again, dominated the 2021 survey responses, followed by racism and inequality. In 2022, climate change, the climate crisis, unsustainable growth, global warming and ecological destruction remain the most common concerns of the present in students’ eyes. Some respondents tied their answer of climate change to related issues like racial justice and capitalist exploitation of people and resources.

The word cloud above shows the most frequently used words in bolder and larger text. Climate change, inequality and capitalism were a few of the most common responses. “Rac” shows the compilation of words starting with “rac,” such as racial, racism, race, etc. 

Responses including capitalism were also linked to racial capitalism, poverty and economic inequality. One respondent focused directly on the people at the top of the economic scale, writing “the 1%.” Another person noted “the disproportionate influence of the rich in our politics” as the most pressing issue.

In addition to capitalism, racism and white supremacy were common answers. Incarceration rates, police brutality and advancing the mission of Black Lives Matter were other responses that reaffirmed the importance of racial equality to the student body.

Given the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, many students responded either war generally or the violence in Ukraine specifically and the resulting humanitarian crises. Other examples of international politics that came up included the liberation of Palestine and authoritarianism in China and Russia.

A frequent complaint on this year’s survey was political polarization and the unwillingness of people to listen to opposing ideas. This polarization was exemplified among the other answers, with one person responding “Right-Wing Nutjobs” and another writing “far left extremists taking over colleges.” A number of respondents lamented cancel culture, political correctness, “unchecked wokeness” and people being “overly dramatic / sensitive.”

Despite the ongoing threat of Covid-19, the illness was mentioned fewer times than many of the other issues. Some expressed worry about healthcare and getting sick, while others mentioned Covid-19 to complain about continued mask mandates.

Other responses were more personal and Middlebury-specific, with a couple respondents citing “homework” or “classwork” as their biggest problem at the moment. Another asked, “Does Atwater have sea salt caramel ice cream?” and someone else wondered why the college’s staff is underpaid.   

However, these lighter answers were dispersed between recurring mentions of mental health struggles, both as a general problem and in specific examples like “loneliness,” “body image” and “happiness.” One student felt that “caring for other people” is something that is missing from our current society, with another echoing that sentiment with a response reading “how we connect with each other.”

Other issues that appeared in the responses included education, reproductive rights, xenophobia, fake news and misinformation, unemployment, LGBTQ+ rights, gun control, internet privacy, voting rights, immigration reform and refugee crises, ableism and the patriarchy.

Methodology

To create this year’s Zeitgeist survey, a team of editors for The Campus reviewed questions from the surveys distributed in 2019, 2020, and 2021 and solicited suggestions for questions from other members of The Campus’ staff. The questions were compiled by the Zeitgeist team and reviewed to create a list of 61 questions, including 18 demographic questions, to distribute to the student body at large. 

The survey was sent to students via email on Wednesday, April 13 and was open for twelve days, closing Sunday, April 24 at 11:59 p.m. The survey was also promoted on The Campus’s social media platforms, and students were periodically sent reminders via email or social media to take the survey. Students followed an anonymous link to the survey hosted on the online platform Qualtrics, which ensured no students’ responses could not be identified via their location or other data. Students were also given the opportunity to enter into a raffle for prizes via a separate Google Form linked at the end of the survey, which isolated their identifying information from their responses in Qualtrics. 

This year’s survey had eight categories: Demographics, Academics and the Institution, Social Life, Sex and Love, Health and Wellness, Resources, Politics and Values, and Wrap-Up questions. The demographic questions were the only mandatory questions, but each demographic question also had the option to select “I prefer not to answer.”

The survey data was stored on Qualtrics and shared with a small group of editors who worked on visualizations. Summary statistics for each question and data visualizations were shared with the editors writing for Zeitgeist, but the raw Qualtrics data was not shared. Data was not shared with anyone outside of The Campus Zeitgeist team. 

Editors working on data visualizations did not isolate specific entries or look at any individual respondent’s complete response set, but rather analyzed data in aggregate. In keeping with past years, The Campus chose not to include data from breakdowns of demographic groups with fewer than five respondents to protect students’ privacy. To make accurate comparisons across this year’s data and past Zeitgeist results, some percentages from previous years were recalculated to ensure consistency in whether percentages were out of the total number of respondents to the survey versus the total number of respondents to the specific question. A total of 1,134 students took the 2022 Zeitgeist survey, out of Middlebury’s 2,634 currently enrolled undergraduate, degree-seeking students, resulting in a response rate of 43.05%. 

The results were compiled for publication in the May 5 issue of The Campus, with a full version published online and an abbreviated version in print. In total, 14 students were closely involved with creating this year’s Zeitgeist.

Acknowledgements

Over a hundred hours went into creating Zeitgeist this year, and it would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of editors past and present. 

Thoughtful direction from The Campus’ leadership team of Riley Board ’22, Lucy Townend ’22 and Abigail Chang ’23 brought this project from its initial brainstorming stages to its final publication in print and online. Daleelah Saleh ’23 and Eliza King Freedman ’23 provided invaluable input on the design of the survey, Emmanuel Tamrat ’22 contributed excellent visualizations and Sophia McDermott-Hughes ’23.5 volunteered hours of critical editing.

Editors from the news team and beyond helped transform our data into meaningful stories through writing and revising, and the entire Campus staff made crucial contributions to the shaping of this year’s Zeitgeist by testing, tabling, postering and pestering their friends to take the survey.

Our first Zeitgeist in 2019 was also the last time we published survey results in print. Over the last year, the online team has provided The Campus and college community with an invaluable service and helped realize this and last years’ surveys in detailed reports on our website. This year, it is thanks to the layout team and The Campus leadership’s tireless efforts that Zeitgeist is once again on the front page of print newspapers around campus.

Thank you also to those who have led this massive project in years past — Bochu Ding ’21, Benjy Renton ’21 and Hannah Benson ’21. Their vision and mentorship during previous years’ Zeitgeists laid the groundwork for 2022 and beyond. We want to extend our gratitude as well to the staff across the college whose input in designing earlier versions of the survey shaped the questions that carried into this survey.

Lastly, we want to express our gratitude to the thousands of Middlebury students who took the Zeitgeist survey this year and in previous years. This project is not possible without your participation, and it is ultimately for your reading pleasure.

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