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Thursday, Sep 28, 2023

“The MAC is now the CFA”: Students revive resistance to arts center name change

This past J-Term, stickers and posters reading “The MAC is now the CFA” began appearing around campus, including on the sign outside of the building and on bulletin boards around campus.

For 27 years, The Mahaney Arts Center (MAC) was the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts, which the college community abbreviated to “the CFA.” In 2019, the college decided to change the name to its current title, the Mahaney Arts Center, and encouraged an accompanying change to the building’s abbreviated name, promoting the change with signs and stickers that read “The CFA is now the MAC.”

At the time, the name change sparked controversy among students, with some pointing out that Mahaney had been accused in 2018 of covering up sexual assault, though the plaintiff dropped all charges against him a few months later.

The sticker and poster campaign organized by students this winter is a callback to the materials circulated by the college at the time of the name change in 2019.

According to Birch Banks ’25, the idea for the name change campaign was sparked by the Hunt, an annual creative thinking contest held every J-Term. This year, one of the tasks was to rename a building on campus. Banks and his Hunt team decided to make the “MAC is now the CFA” sticker as the answer. 

While the stickers began to appear around campus as a result of the Hunt, the idea of pushing back against the “MAC” name was already circulating among a group of February graduates in their last semester. Phoebe Brown ’22.5 and Alexis Welch ’22.5 recall their first semester at Middlebury, spring of 2019, when the college began campaigning for the CFA to be renamed the MAC. As Brown and Welch approached graduation, they hoped to revitalize the memory of the college’s name change campaign.

“A lot of people who were around that semester have always called it the CFA, every time people graduate less and less people call it the CFA,” Brown said. “We decided it would be full circle to remind everyone the story so maybe now we can have four more years of people calling it the CFA.”

Brown and Welch said the campaign carried a humorous and satirical undertone that pokes fun at the college’s initial name change movement.

“It makes me giggle because the name Mahaney is already in the building, but it’s just reinforcing what we call it,” Welch said, referring to the college’s efforts to rename the arts center. “It’s a name scramble to emphasize Mahaney, which is silly.”

This year’s name change campaign was intended to encourage reflection on students’ accountability for institutional memory. In 2019, the college’s name change campaign was widely discussed through comical criticism on the Facebook group Middlebury Memes for Crunchy Teens. However, Brown noted that this Facebook group has largely been inactive due to lack of student use. 

As a current sophomore, Banks said he would not have learned that the MAC used to be called the CFA without the recent campaign. He speculated that gaps in recent institutional memory among students could be attributed to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on social life. 

“It feels like there is a large gap that was caused by the disruption of Covid-19, whereas in the past the transition would be a lot smoother between upperclassmen and underclassmen,” Banks said. 

Brown stressed the importance of keeping institutional memory alive.

“It’s important to me that in four years from now, I want students to know how hard people had to fight for divestment before the college agreed to Energy 2028; I want students to know the college invited Charles Murray three times; I want students to know about Ryszard Legutko and how the college squashed protests around it,” she said.

Those who matriculated in the spring of 2019 are the last cohort to be on campus prior to the MAC name change. Isaac Danuloff ’23 believes the campaign is a gift to the college before he graduates.

“I feel like it’s important for us to carry the torch and show younger students and underclassmen that this is something we would like you to continue, continue questioning the school and thinking critically,” Danuloff said. 

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