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Saturday, Dec 9, 2023

Middlebury students need sustained support, not just diversified admissions

The recently reported admission statistics for the class of 2026 and 2026.5 illustrate a significant increase in the prevalence of first-generation students: 21% of these incoming students are the first in their family to attend college, compared to 11% of the class of 2023 and 2023.5. The percentage of domestic students of color is also the highest in the college’s history at 38%.

We as an Editorial Board are excited and grateful for the Admission Office’s dedication to recruiting increasingly diverse classes. But what happens when students get here? Above all else, it is critical that continued increases in first-generation students and students of color on campus is accompanied by a concurrent increase in accessible and equitable support systems for those students. If students have relocated to rural Vermont — a state that is 95.1% white — only to find there is not adequate infrastructure to support them, we as an institution have failed. 

Students facing financial hardship, impostor syndrome or just the general discomfort of a predominantly white institution, should not have to jump through additional hoops. For instance, to receive an opportunity grant — a fund to help cover expenses in order to “gain access to participation in all aspects of a Middlebury education” — students must apply through Handshake. One editor mentioned that in the process of applying for an opportunity grant, she felt as though she had to rehash past trauma in order to receive a new laptop. 

Middlebury can also take steps to rectify the myriad costs that can arise in addition to need-blind aid, as students are often left struggling to find affordable summer storage, textbooks, transportation and health insurance options. At the end of the day, students should not be expected to navigate these additional financial burdens on their own. 

In addition, Middlebury must commit to hiring and retaining faculty and staff of color. This is particularly true for employees in support roles for students, like mental health counselors. Last year, when editorializing on the dire need for better mental health services, we opined that “more than ever, we’re ready to state that these provisions are not optional, and the college should pay as much as is necessary to fully staff mental health resources.” This is just as true now as it was then, and it is critical that Middlebury’s counselors reflect the changing demographics of the student body.

The need to recruit employees of color is also widely applicable when it comes to professors, as many students have long expressed concerns about white faculty members teaching courses that are rooted in Black, Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern studies.

In 2020, the college published a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) action plan, part of which addressed faculty and staff. But it is unclear how far the college has come towards meeting many of the goals they laid out in that document, especially since one of the action plan initiatives, a “dashboard that tracks progress towards institutional DEI goals and anti-oppression and anti-racist initiatives,” has not yet been created.

The same lack of transparency about progress goes for the other sections: Students, Fostering and Restoring Community, Accessibility, and Transparency and Accountability. Though we appreciate the efforts to offer DEI office hours and access to the anti-racist learning hub, neither of these resources provide marginalized students with what they really need: long-term, tenable support systems that extend beyond just orientation week.

In its current state, Middlebury does not have enough services to support the students whose admission statistics they tout. But this does not need to be the case. It’s far past time our institution commits to providing a Middlebury experience that works for everyone.