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Thursday, Oct 6, 2022

Cultivating change: Working to build a community where everyone feels safe

In the summer of 2020, Middlebury students, alumni and activists rallied together in support of Black Lives Matter and formed a coalition to work towards dismantling oppressive structures on our campus. The students forming this coalition came together from a number of groups including Concerned Students of Middlebury and Middlebury Cops Off Campus. Collaborating with student activists from other campuses such as the University of Vermont and with members of the greater Middlebury and Vermont community, we began an open dialogue with the administration to discuss ways in which we could make our community a space that actively combats racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and religous discrimination. 

As white individuals, we firmly believe that the work of dismantling oppressive structures at Middlebury falls not only onto the shoulders of the BIPOC community. We are passionate about building a community at Middlebury where all students feel safe and have the resources to care for their mental and physical wellbeing. We believe that all students on our campus, especially those that hold privileged identities, must be active participants in creating this safer community. The only way to do that is by gathering student power through the Community Safety Coalition, where we can directly communicate with the Department of Public Safety. 

In a letter to President Patton, written in July 2020 and signed by over 1,000 students, faculty, alumni, family members and staff, Middlebury Cops off Campus provided a vision for what our campus could like if changes were made to address racism and discrimination, writing, “We know we have a long way to go, but we imagine a future wherein Middlebury is a safer, more equitable place for all of us…We imagine a Middlebury where policing is obsolete, where trained community members take care of each other following principles of restorative justice, harm-reduction, consent, de-escalation, and community repair; where we promote each other’s health and well-being instead of investing in racist, punitive systems of control; where our commitment to anti-racism and Black liberation extends beyond performative words and does the work of dismantling the structures of white supremacy on our campus and beyond.”

Middlebury Cops of Campus also compiled testimonials from students about their experiences with Public Safety and expressed the urgent need for change, and the hope for a brighter future for our Middlebury community. Writing about the need to imagine a different future, Lynn Travnikova ’20.5 and former Co-Chair of Community Council, stated, “It is imperative that we make Middlebury somewhere safe and welcoming for people of color both culturally and systemically. Especially for Black people, the presence of a Public Safety body which has a history of discrimination against BIPOC is a major barrier to this. The presence of a body which polices the campus with punitive intentions and the potential to inflict harm cannot be part of Middlebury’s future. Middlebury has the resources to coordinate responses to the needs Public Safety currently addresses in a way which centers justice and provides help over punitive measures. In this change is a cultural shift towards anti-racism, justice, mutual assistance, and personal/interpersonal accountability.”

We began working on this initiative during the summer of 2020 and have continued to engage in dialogue with members of the administration alongside other student organizers to further this work and actualize the goals set forth two years ago. We understood that in order to create a collective cultural shift on our campus towards anti-racism and anti-oppression, especially given our status as a predominantly white institution, we needed structures that supported such a shift. This felt particularly critical as it pertained to the national context of bias and marginalization by law enforcement. While our Department of Public Safety is not a law enforcement agency, this context still influences perceptions of the Department among students and the lived experiences of students on our campus.  

In order to work towards building a campus that unequivocally values the physical and mental wellbeing of all students at Middlebury, particularly those who have been historically targeted by policing agencies, we and a group of students and staff formed the Community Safety Coalition (CSC) in collaboration with the Department of Public Safety. The Coalition, co-chaired by a student representative and the Director of Public Safety, will provide students with a direct avenue to communicate with the administration.

The CSC is a working group dedicated to guiding and supporting the Department of Public Safety in its efforts to foster a safe and welcoming campus for all. Our overarching goal is to break away from a traditional security culture by creating and sustaining a proactive community of collective responsibility. We strive to create and facilitate dialogue around topics like restorative practices, racism, and how to transform the Department of Public Safety into a resource that feels safe and accessible to everyone. Collecting and communicating student feedback on our experiences with the Department and what we need to feel truly safe on our campus is essential to this mission.

This year, in support of our mission, the Coalition will work on the following action items:

  1. Compile an annual student climate safety report. 

  2. Support the transition to the use of restorative practices across campus.

  3. Review issues that affect the safety and wellbeing of the Middlebury College community.

  4. Provide feedback to the Department of Public Safety and other relevant college officials regarding possible improvements to campus safety policies and procedures. 

  5. Assist the Department of Public Safety in developing an effective outreach program designed to educate the community on various safety topics including the Department’s roles and responsibilities and best practices.

We want to create a campus where no one is afraid to call for help. Come join us. go/safetycoalition

We invite students of all identities and backgrounds to join us in fostering stronger community safety practices at Middlebury by going to go/safetycoalition by Friday, September 23rd. If you have any questions, reach out to Ciara Carlson-Healy (ccarlsonhealy@middlebury.edu) or Remi Welbel (rwelbel@middlebury.edu).

Ciara Carlson Healy (she/her) is a member of the class of 22.5 and Remi Welbel (she/they) is a member of the class of 22.5



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