“The Middlebury experience” is often referred to by students, alumni, faculty, parents and tour guides as the all-encompassing vision of student life. These four years are supposed to be a life-changing whirlwind of academic rigor, close friends, athletic victories and personal growth — all while surrounded by the idyllic fall foliage of rural Vermont. But what does this really mean? What truly defines our Middlebury experience?
For some, this year may have been defined by the hoax call about an active shooter in Davis Family Library, the Box Office breach or perhaps the removal of Nutella from dining halls. More likely, you will remember your time at Middlebury for each of the surprising, exciting and frustrating moments, the everyday victories and disappointments that largely determine this school’s spirit and mood: its zeitgeist.
The theme of this year’s Zeitgeist — The Campus’ fifth-annual campus-wide survey — is recalibrating. We asked questions to explore the abundance of Middlebury experiences at this precise moment in time, to learn about how after a year of Covid-19 pandemic-to-endemic transition your attitudes reverted, changed or pivoted entirely.
Zeitgeist 5.0 posed many of the same questions of past Zeitgeist surveys, covering topics ranging from academics to institutional resources to sex and love culture at Middlebury. Have you ever broken the Honor Code? What does your ideal relationship look like? Are you happy?
We also asked new questions in hopes of capturing an honest picture of college life: What is your GPA? If you could choose again, would you still enroll at Middlebury? Do you support affirmative action? We strived to discover the aspects of Middlebury life that do not show up in admissions pamphlets or on campus tours.
Lastly, we asked about your outlook on the college experience: What do you want your impact on Middlebury to be? You told us that you want to build community and make opportunities more accessible. You want to be loved, spread joy and survive your time here. You want to bring back pre-Covid traditions and you want to make new ones. At least one of you wants to “Radicalize Rich Kids and Find Meaning.”
Read this year’s Zeitgeist for a glimpse into the true desires, reflections and resentments of your fellow students. These pages will not give a complete picture of the Middlebury experience, but we hope they will capture a snapshot of life here, if only for a moment.
The 1,112 students who completed The Campus’ fifth annual Zeitgeist survey answered 60 questions across eight different categories, ranging from Academics and the Institution to Sex and Love.
Out of the approximately 2,550 students enrolled at Middlebury this spring, 44% of degree-seeking undergraduates were represented in the survey. This marked a slight increase from the 43% response rate in both the 2021 and 2022 Zeitgeist surveys. Some demographic categories do not match official college statistics, which may be due to factors including over or underrepresentation in the responses to the survey and differences in the reporting methods of the college.
Participants were roughly equally distributed across class years. The class of 2026 registered the highest number of currently enrolled respondents at 213, while the class of 2026.5 was the smallest class at 51 responses.
Notably, 33 respondents said their intended graduating year was 2022.5 or earlier, while the class of 2023 had the largest gap between students who matriculated with the class and those currently still in the class. According to college estimates, only 420 seniors will graduate this spring, compared to the typical class size of more than 600. One explanation for this trend is how the Covid-19 pandemic led many enrolled students to take a gap semester or year. This also helps contextualize the unusually large class of 2023.5, which has more than doubled in size since entering Middlebury, according to both Zeitgeist responses and college projections.
Of the 1,112 students who completed the survey, 81% identified as white, followed by 11% Asian, 8% Hispanic or Latino, 5% Black or African American and 1% Middle Eastern or North African. Less than 1% of respondents identified as Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander and American Indian or Alaskan Native. This question asked students to select all options they identified with, so the percentages total more than 100%.
According to the 2022–2023 Middlebury Enrollment Profile — using data compiled by the college that does not allow students to self-identify in more than one category — 56% of Middlebury students are white, 12% Hispanic/Latino, 7% Asian, 5% Black or African-American and 7% as two or more races. Twelve percent of students are international students, who are counted in one category as “nonresidents.”
For the first time ever, we included the question “Do you identify as a person of color?” to allow students to self-identify and to facilitate easier breakdowns in other sections. Twenty-four percent answered “yes,” a notable difference from the 34% who selected an identity other than white in the previous question.
Fifty-four percent of respondents identified as cisgender female, representing the majority of Zeitgeist participants and a slightly higher proportion than the 53% of students so identified by the college. Thirty-nine percent identified as cisgender male in the survey as compared to the 47% identified by the college. Five percent identified as non-binary.
Thirty-seven percent of respondents agreed with the question “Do you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning?” compared to over 40% who answered similarly in last year’s survey. This year 59% responded “No,” and 4% preferred not to answer.
Forty-four percent of cisgender female respondents identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning, while only 19% of cisgender males identified that way.
Over 90% of those who identified as non-binary, transgender female, transgender male or responded with “These options don’t define me” also identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning.
This year, 14% of students told us that they currently or have previously identified as a student with a disability at Middlebury, in line with the 13% in the 2022 survey.
Forty-one percent of respondents this year answered that they receive financial aid at Middlebury, 10 percentage points less than the college’s reported number of students receiving financial aid. Fifty-eight percent of Zeitgeist respondents said they are not on financial aid, a slight increase from those who answered this way last year.
Three out of every 10 respondents hailed from New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts), once again the most represented region in the survey. Close behind was the Mideast (New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania) with 22% of respondents. The next highest was 15% from the Far West (Washington, Oregon and California), followed by 9% from the Southeast. Every other U.S. region was less than 6% of participants and 9% were from outside the country.
Representing almost half of responses were students from suburban areas, while about one-third designated their hometowns as urban and 19% as rural. This marks a slight shift from last year, where 50% of respondents said they came from suburban areas and only 30% from urban areas.
A slight majority of Zeitgeist respondents reported attending public high schools, while 30% attended private or parochial schools, 11% boarding schools and 6% charter or magnet schools. These numbers are nearly identical to last year’s Zeitgeist, where 52% responded with public school, 31% private, 11% boarding and 5% charter. In both surveys, homeschooled students and those who preferred not to answer made up less than 1% of respondents.
Of Zeitgeist respondents, 12% identified as first-generation students, compared to 10% from last year. Nearly 9% of students have at least one parent that went to Middlebury.
Although the college reports that 27% of students are varsity athletes, only 18% of this year’s participants identified themselves as such. This year marked a slight increase from 2022 and 2021, where 17% and 15% of respondents respectively said they were varsity athletes.
Fewer people of color were varsity athletes than their peers. While 9% of those who identified as a person of color also were varsity athletes, 20% of those who did not identify as a person of color were varsity athletes.
Varsity athletes reported attending public schools (56%) and private day schools (32%) at slightly higher rates than non-athletes, while only 2% went to magnet or charter schools compared to 7% of their peers.
Among Zeitgeist participants, the most common major was environmental studies (all tracks combined) comprising 10.5% of all respondents, followed by economics, neuroscience and computer science comprising 9.8%, 7.6% and 6.8% of respondents, respectively. Roughly 13% of respondents had not yet declared a major. One quarter of respondents reported being double majors.
The Campus asked “What is your GPA?” in this year’s Zeitgeist, marking the first time a question about academic performance was included in the survey.
On average, respondents reported maintaining above an A- average, with an overall mean GPA of 3.77 on a 4.0 scale. This average did not include respondents for the class of 2026.5, as students in this class have not yet received official grades for a full semester.
Among majors with at least 10 respondents, philosophy majors reported the lowest average GPA at 3.54, while environmental policy majors reported the highest at 3.88. For most majors, between 50% and 70% of students reported breaking the Honor Code. Chemistry had the highest reported rate of Honor Code violations at 86%, while biochemistry reported the lowest rate at 45%.
There was minimal variation in average GPA across class years, as all individual class year GPA averages fell within one tenth of a point of the student body average. The class of 2026 had the lowest mean GPA at 3.72, while the class of 2025.5 had the highest at 3.82.
The 2022-2023 academic year has brought with it high levels of academic Honor Code violations, with figures similar to last year’s results.
Over the last five years, there has been an upward trend in the proportion of students reporting having broken the Honor Code with a roughly 28 percentage point increase over this time period. This year, 63% of respondents reported breaking the Honor Code, compared to 64% last year, 59% in 2021, 46% in 2020 and 35% in 2019.
Students in younger classes reported that they break the Honor Code less — 35% of respondents in the class of 2026.5 said “yes” to breaking the Honor Code compared to 74% in the classes of 2023.5 and 2024 reporting that they have broken the Honor Code at least once.
This year, the most common violation was using unauthorized aid — such as translators, SparkNotes and aid from peers — followed by cheating on tests. While the top two types of violations remained similar to last year’s figures, respondents could also select a new category of violation this year — the unauthorized use of A.I. tools like ChatGPT — which was the third most common violation.
About half of respondents were able to get into all of the classes they wanted to take. However, the ability to get into desired classes varied by class year, with younger classes having more difficulty enrolling in desired courses.
Respondents from the classes of 2026 and 2026.5 were less likely to get into the majority of their desired classes than respondents overall. Although less successful in registration than respondents overall, first-year Feb respondents were 11% more likely to get into all of their desired classes than their fall-admit counterparts.
However, only 3% of respondents from the class of 2026 were unable to get into any of their desired classes, compared to 8% of first-year Feb respondents and 6% of all respondents.
Younger classes have historically had more trouble getting into desired classes because students with a higher amount of credits get priority time slots during course registration.
The question “If I could make my choice again, I would still enroll at Middlebury” has not been included in the Zeitgeist survey since 2019. This year, 80% of respondents said they would enroll again. By comparison, in 2019, 88% of respondents indicated that they “somewhat agree,” “agree,” or “strongly agree” with this same statement.
On average, respondents who did not identify as a person of color were 11 percentage points more likely to say they would re-enroll at Middlebury if given the option.
This year, we asked students about various aspects of social life at Middlebury, ranging from substance use to outdoor recreation and student organizations to time management and jobs.
Drugs and alcohol remain a part of most students’ social lives, with 91% of respondents saying they drank alcohol and 70% saying they used marijuana at Middlebury. In addition, 45% of students have vaped or smoked cigarettes, 20% have used psychedelics and 12% have taken adderall without a prescription while in college.
On average, a higher proportion of Febs reported using drugs at Middlebury than respondents in reg classes. In the class of 2023.5 and 2024.5, 26% and 19% of respondents had taken adderall without a prescription, respectively. These rates compared to 15% and 13% for respondents in the classes of 2023 and 2024, respectively. About one third of respondents in the class of 2024.5 have used psychedelics while at Middlebury, compared to 21% in the class of 2024. The results also suggest less drug use among younger classes at Middlebury: Only 54% of respondents in the class of 2026 reported using marijuana, while 77% and 87% of the classes of 2023 and 2023.5, respectively, had used the drug.
Consistent with previous years, 74% of respondents said that outdoor recreation is an important part of their social life at Middlebury. For the first time, we also asked if student organizations (including social houses and club sports) were an important part of respondents’ social lives, to which 68% said “yes.” Only 57% of respondents who identified as a person of color said outdoor recreation was important to their social life, compared to 79% of other respondents.
Also consistent with last year’s findings, 67% of respondents have had family members visit them at Middlebury this academic year. Three-fourths of respondents not receiving financial aid had family members visit them, while only 57% on financial aid had family members visit them this year. Unsurprisingly, students from New England were very likely to have family visit them this year, while only one in every two students from the Rocky Mountain states, the Far West and the Southwest had family visit them.
An overwhelming majority of respondents said academic work prevented them from spending time with friends, followed by extracurricular commitments. Last year, students indicated mental health was the third most common factor, while this year jobs were the third most commonly selected reason, followed by mental health.
Most respondents balance jobs during school, with 68% of respondents having worked a paid job this academic year. Fifty-five percent of varsity athlete respondents have worked a paid job this year, while 71% of non-athletes have worked similar positions. Seventy-eight percent of students on financial aid worked a job this year, while 61% of respondents not on financial aid have done the same.
Love is in the air… but where? This year’s Zeitgeist asked the burning questions about your romantic satisfaction, ideal versus real relationships and where you all find your dates. In 2023 students found anything from a slightly-monogamous thing to a soulmate on a newly pandemic-restriction-free campus, while others have called for more “fake weddings.”
Overall, Middlebury students are happier with the college’s romantic scene than last year. Eleven percent of respondents for this question reported being extremely satisfied, compared to only 9% in last year’s survey. The percent of students somewhat or extremely dissatisfied with the romantic scene has also changed, decreasing to 39% from 44% last year. Nearly three of every 10 respondents said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.
Middlebury students’ romantic lives seem to involve more commitment than last year. Since coming to Middlebury, 52% of survey respondents reported having committed, monogamous relationships, an increase from last year’s 47%. Fewer students indicated having one-night stands and open relationships, with the least common option being a polyamorous relationship.
However, the gap between students’ romantic experiences and their ideal relationships persisted this year. Seventy-two percent of respondents would ideally be in a committed, monogamous relationship, which is 19 percentage points greater than the number of respondents who have actually engaged in such relationships.
The difference between ideal and experienced is the opposite for other types of relationships: 44% of respondents have been in a slightly-monogamous “thing,” but only 26% selected that as their ideal type of relationship.
Students’ reported reasons to pursue romantic encounters may explain the difference between romantic ideals and experiences. Of respondents who answered this question, 76% indicated companionship as their reason for finding romantic partners, making it the top driver for romantic pursuits. Sex, non-sexual intimacy and loneliness were other common reasons students reported for seeking these encounters.
A higher percent of students reported having sex than previous years. In this year’s survey, 83% of respondents indicated engaging in consensual sexual activity, a small increase from last year’s 81%. Consistent with the increase in romantic commitment, students are having fewer sexual partners. More than one-third of respondents have had only one sexual partner in the past 12 months, and fewer respondents reported having more than five sexual partners than last year.
Similar to the previous year, over half of the respondents have met romantic or sexual partners at a party or an in-person gathering. Since the onset of the pandemic, more students have had romantic encounters through classes, which 28% of respondents selected.
Overall, 21% of respondents describe their sexuality differently now than when they first came to Middlebury, lower than the 26% in last year’s survey. This year’s numbers are much higher for respondents currently identified as LGBQ+, however — over 40% of whom have changed how they described their sexuality, compared to only 7% of non-LGBQ+ students. Notably, the breakout question asks whether students identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning, while there is a different question for students to report their gender identity.
Content Warning: This section mentions mental health and sexual assault.
Last year, we asked “Are you happy?” for the first time and found out that just under one-quarter of respondents said they were not. This year, 83% of respondents reported feeling happy, an increase from last year’s 75%.
Additionally, the percentage of respondents who reported being happy was generally the same across class years, with the highest percentage being 88% of Senior Feb respondents and the lowest percentage being 78% of current first-year respondents.
In terms of demographics, similar to the results from last year, 85% of white-identifying respondents reported being happy, higher than any other racial or ethnic identity. Students who identified as Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) said “no” to the “Are you happy?” question more than any other racial or ethnic group, with only 57% answering “yes,” though this is still a significant increase from last year’s 41%. (The Zeitgeist 4.0 survey went live just after the Muslim Student Association prayer space was desecrated last year, potentially influencing last year’s results for students identifying as MENA since Islam is the predominant religion in the region.)
Answers to the question “How often do you cry?” also offered insights into respondents’ experiences on campus. Sixty percent of respondents reported crying at least once a month, and only 5% of respondents reported never crying.
Sixty-one percent of respondents said that they have never used counseling services at Middlebury. This year, the college welcomed a new director of counseling after the position had been vacant for over three months. In addition to traditional counseling services, the college also has several other options for students such as the Let’s Talk program, a resource through which students can access informal and confidential 25-minute consultations with a counselor and the new therapy dog, Stella, in the counseling center.
When asked “Do you find yourself using alcohol or drugs to cope with stress?,” 36% of respondents reported using them either “frequently” or “occasionally.” Overall, 36% of respondents said they have never used alcohol or drugs to cope with stress.
In October 2022, FLORA Cannabis opened in the town of Middlebury following Vermont’s legalization of retail cannabis sales, although marijuana remains illegal on college property because the college receives federal funding. Recently, students have also explored the possibility of an on-campus bar as an addition to the crowded nightlife scene in town. The effects of the increased accessibility of alcohol and drugs to students remains unclear.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents said that they have struggled with their relationship to food or exercise during their time at Middlebury, a slight decrease from last year’s 71%. Breaking down the results by gender identity, fewer cisgender male respondents reported struggling with food and exercise than students who indicated other gender identities, while an overwhelming majority of cisgender female, transgender male, transgender female and non-binary respondents reported struggling with food and exercise at Middlebury. Fifty-nine percent of respondents who reported “yes” to struggling with food or exercise said that the culture around food or exercise at Middlebury has exacerbated this struggle.
Eating at Middlebury after the dining halls close for the night has been increasingly difficult as a result of recent understaffing crises at The Grille, Crossroads and MiddXpress. Middlebury remains one of two colleges in the NESCAC without an in-residence, licensed nutritionist or dietitian — despite a previous proposal to hire a nutritionist at the Parton Health Center.
Additionally, many more cisgender male respondents said they felt comfortable using athletic center facilities than did respondents of other gender identities. This year, organizations such as Uplift have called for a more inclusive workout culture on campus. Some of Middlebury’s athletic facilities have special hours dedicated to women or non-binary people, such as the climbing wall.
On average, students ranked their mental health as the best in spring 2023. They ranked their mental health as the worst in spring 2020, when Covid-19 led to many schools adopting an entirely online or asynchronous mode. Mental health of respondents has been increasing on average each semester since spring 2021. By spring 2022, the average mental health of respondents had increased to a similar level to that of pre-pandemic semesters.
Respondents in both years’ surveys offered similar assessments of their mental health across different semesters. Regardless of their stages in life or physical locations, students felt the impact of Covid-19 on their social and academic experiences.
Nearly 200 respondents — 18% — reported being survivors of sexual assault, a decrease by six percentage points from 2022. When asked if this occurred on Middlebury’s campus or at a college program, 51% of question respondents who said they were survivors of sexual assault said “yes.” Among them, only 18% chose to report the incident and 56% of those who submitted reports were unsatisfied with how their complaints were handled.
Those that did not report their experiences of assault attributed this decision to various factors, including being unsure if their experience was worthy of reporting, not wanting to hurt someone’s reputation, and the mental and bureaucratic difficulty of the reporting process. Over two-thirds of Zeitgeist respondents in the Resources section reported that the Title IX Office did not apply to them, and for those who rated the office, 22% were somewhat or very dissatisfied with its help.
Students have worked to organize events that raise awareness about sexual assault and create spaces for survivors to share their stories. “It Happens Here 2023” was held on campus on April 27 to raise awareness to the frequency and severity of sexual violence on college campuses.
We also asked whether students have had sexual experiences that left them feeling uncomfortable. Forty percent of respondents to the question have had a sexual experience that made them feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, 53% of respondents said that they avoid people on campus due to personal sexual experiences or the experiences of friends.
The college no longer requires Covid-19 testing or publishes data on case numbers on campus, although dining halls continue to offer self-test toolkits for students. Seventy-five percent of respondents said that they had tested positive for Covid-19 at some point, with most having tested positive only once.
When asked about resources in this year’s Zeitgeist, more respondents were satisfied with the majority of resources on campus compared to last year.
Among resources, the Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, the Anderson Freeman Resource Center (AFC) and the Disability Resource Center (DRC) received the most positive feedback from students who were familiar with those offices. For the second year in a row, the AFC received the highest percentage of satisfaction among respondents familiar with the resource, with over two-thirds of respondents either very or somewhat satisfied by its assistance.
However, students are still not satisfied overall with the support systems Middlebury offers. Only a third of the listed resources received a majority of positive ratings from respondents who knew what they were or said they were applicable to their lives.
In general, resources that are used by more students received worse ratings than those used by fewer students.
The resources that had the highest percentages of satisfied respondents are some of those that do not apply to the most amount of students. Some little-used resources broke this trend, however, including the Civil Rights and Title IX Office, which has only been used by 28% of respondents but received largely neutral or dissatisfied ratings. On the other hand, only three resources that have been used by the majority of answering students received overall positive ratings — Parton Center for Health and Wellness, the CTLR and the CCI.
ResLife, followed by MCAB, the CCI and Parton were the most widely-used resources. The resource least familiar to respondents was the Compass Mentor program, with 32% of respondents not knowing what it is. Compass is a first-year advising program that began in fall 2021.
Forty-one percent of respondents reported being on financial aid, with over half of these students also responding that they felt satisfied with their financial aid package. This is a slight decrease from last year, when 43% of respondents said they received need-based aid. In both years the college reported 51% of the student body receiving financial aid.
Only 14% of respondents for whom this question applies answered that they felt “very dissatisfied” with their financial aid package. The satisfaction with financial aid, however, does not extend to Student Financial Services, with just over half of respondents familiar with the resource giving that resource a neutral or negative rating.
Approximately one in two respondents had a car on campus, a number that increased two percentage points from last year.
Thirty-nine percent of students receiving financial aid had a car at Middlebury, while 57% of those not receiving financial aid had a car.
The number of respondents who feel safe interacting with PubSafe has increased from 61% last year to 67% this year. Twenty-three percent of students this year felt unsure about interacting with PubSafe, a higher percentage than the 10% who did not feel safe in these interactions.
Students identifying as a person of color less frequently reported feeling safe around Public Safety than those who did not identify as a person of color by a difference of 18 percentage points.
There was a significant difference in how respondents with different financial aid statuses felt interacting with Public Safety. Twelve percent of respondents receiving financial aid said “no” to the questions about feeling safe while only 8% of students not receiving financial aid responded similarly, a comparable proportion to last year. Seven out of 10 respondents not receiving financial aid reported feeling safe in these situations, while about six out of 10 students on financial aid also said they felt safe.
Middlebury students overwhelmingly care about politics, with 78% of respondents saying “I care a lot about a wide range of issues” or “I care a lot about a few specific issues.” Only 2% of respondents said “I don’t care at all” and another 2% answered “I actively avoid thinking/talking about politics.” This year’s Zeitgeist generally matched the results of 2022, when 76% reported caring a lot about a wide range or a few specific issues. The past two years were lower than the over 80% of students who identified as caring a lot about politics in 2021.
Middlebury also leans very liberal, according to respondents’ self-assessments. Almost 1,000 of the 1,061 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. Like last year, most students placed themselves somewhere from zero to three, making the 92 moderate but left-leaning students who placed themselves at a four seem conservative relative to the rest of campus. Only 7% of respondents identified as leaning conservative.
So what does Middlebury’s politically active, predominantly liberal student body care the most about? For the fourth year in a row, Middlebury students ranked climate change as the most pressing issue today. More than 400 students responded with “climate change,” followed by “gun violence/gun control” with 113 responses and “mental health” with 23 responses.
Many respondents listed capitalism as a pressing issue, especially noting its connections to race, immigration, sexuality and the environment. One respondent focused directly on the “oppression of the poor” and “wealth inequality” as related to capitalist practices. Another respondent even said destroying capitalism would save the world from implosion.
In addition to capitalism, political polarization was another common answer. Tribalism, the “hard lines and animosity between political parties” and misinformation were other responses that reflected the growing political partisanship within American politics. One respondent said that polarization “obstructs our ability to address pressing issues.” Similar to last year, some students cited “rising right-wing ideology” and “leftist media dominance” as pressing issues.
Other responses included the Russian invasion of Ukraine and “democratic backsliding” in the United States and abroad. International relations, security and threats from China and Russia were also concerns students mentioned.
Unlike last year, there were no responses related to Covid-19, mask policies or the impact of the pandemic. Though no one expressed worries about illness, many students did share other personal concerns such as apathy, superiority complexes, staying happy, acceptance and a lack of pride in their work. Multiple responses specified the lack of a middle ground between people of different backgrounds. Some respondents also cited homework, sleep, taxes and who to hang out with as their biggest issue. One person said they were most concerned by “the long lunch lines at Ross.”
Other issues that appeared in the responses included fake news and misinformation, xenophobia, queer oppression, the rapid growth of artificial intelligence, white supremacy, parental rights, moral ambiguity and procrastination.
A majority of respondents, or 68%, support affirmative action, specified in the question as race- and identity-conscious college admissions. Nine percent of respondents indicated they do not support affirmative action, while the remaining 23% of respondents said they were unsure. Notably, students of color more frequently indicated support for affirmative action than respondents who did not identify as people of color. Given the Supreme Court’s upcoming decisions in affirmative action cases against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, institutions of higher education have been anticipating the implications of a change to their admissions practices. Middlebury joined 32 liberal arts colleges in signing an amicus curiae brief in support of the legality of an admissions process that considers race as one among many factors.
Alexander Hamilton sings in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s beloved musical “Hamilton,” “Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”
To wrap up this year’s Zeitgeist survey, after covering topics from GPA by major to alcohol/drug use and mental health, we had students answer an open-ended question — what do you want your impact on Middlebury to be?
Students responded with a wide range of answers, from “I want to be remembered as a kind face” to “leave Midd better than it was when I came” and “get through here and move on.”
Of the 683 students who responded to the final question, 30%, or 202 responses, related to building community and fostering positive relationships with others. A number of students expressed a desire to make connections among people and contribute to a sense of community at Middlebury — “to bring people together and create a positive, engaged, vibrant community,” one student wrote.
Others discussed wanting to make people around them feel safe, loved and supported. Ten students discussed leaving an impact on professors and/or becoming well-respected alumni of the college. “I’d like to be a part of this community for years to come,” someone wrote.
Another large group of 167 students, or 24% of respondents, referenced pushing for reform to the Middlebury community in their responses. Fourteen students cited making Middlebury a more sustainable, environmentally conscious place.
A number of other students spoke of shaping the school to be more inclusive, specifically referencing inclusivity for students of color, low-income students, transgender students and students with disabilities. “Make it a safer and more welcoming community and space,” one student wrote.
Additional students whose responses focused on advocacy at Middlebury referenced rebuilding outdoor recreation programs, encouraging students to interact with local Vermonters and pushing the school to consider student needs first.
Answers referencing kindness as students’ impact on Middlebury made up another 17% of the total responses. Students wrote of spreading joy, brightening peoples’ days, making others laugh and reducing stress.
“I just want to be known as a friendly presence who made Midd a warmer place for others,” one student wrote. Others spoke of being known as a kind face around campus and leaving Middlebury in a better place than when they started.
“I’d like to leave it better than I found it, but honestly considering I arrived during Covid that’s not saying much,” a response said.
While many students took a serious approach to the question, others wrote more comical responses. These ranged from “4 year Zeitgeist participator” to “make it more steezy” and being “a hot and funny presence.”
A smaller percentage of students, 6%, made reference to leaving a legacy on the sports or extracurricular groups with which they are involved. “I want to be remembered in a small capacity for improving an organization for students to come,” one wrote.
Others wrote of getting more funding for the club sports program, making student theater more accessible and creating a vibrant music scene on campus.
Another small cohort of students wrote responses about having an impact on the academic scene at Middlebury. These responses referenced making departments such as economics and math more inclusive for women, creating more opportunities for engineering at Middlebury and increasing the accessibility of creating your own major.
“I want to have played a part in meaningful academic findings and facilitate positive experiences for fellow students,” one respondent said.
Among these largely positive responses about one’s impact on Middlebury, a sizable group of 141 students, or 21% of respondents, had negative responses to the question.
Some of these students wrote that impact was a significant topic, and one they had not thought about much. “AH that’s a huge question,” one said.
Others wrote that they just wanted to survive while keeping their mental health intact, or graduate as soon as possible. “It feels like just staying afloat in the sea of social/academic stressors is enough of a goal!” someone responded.
Forty-six students responded with something along the lines of “I’m not sure” or “indifferent.”
An additional number of students said they hope Middlebury has an impact on them, rather than them leaving a major legacy on the college.
“I want to be remembered. However, I want Middlebury to have more of an impact on me than I [on] it,” one student wrote.
From chemistry to sociology, club tennis to SGA, Middlebury students leave deep and varied imprints on our college community. Students are the foundation of tradition, community and campus culture. This year’s Zeitgeist results indicate that many students are focused on fostering positive relationships, spreading kindness and making Middlebury more sustainable.
Perhaps Lin-Manuel Miranda in “Hamilton” is right about one thing: Despite the four years students spend here, we will never fully witness our collective legacy on the Middlebury community.
Zeitgeist 5.0 was drafted, distributed and analyzed by a team of The Campus’ editors and writers. The process from survey design to publication lasted six weeks.
The project began by reviewing the questions asked on past Zeitgeists, dating back to 2019, and brainstorming what else we hoped to ask students. With feedback from The Campus’ staff as well as responses to a form on social media, the finalized survey comprised 60 questions in total. We chose the theme of Zeitgeist 5.0 to be recalibrating, a term we believe encapsulates many students’ continued self-exploration in the first academic year on campus without Covid-19 restrictions since 2018–19.
We kept many previous Zeitgeist questions, both out of continued interest and to facilitate comparisons across years. We notably added the question “Do you identify as a person of color?” to the Demographics section to avoid making assumptions based on a person’s racial and ethnic group(s) or double-counting people who identified as biracial. The questions in the Demographics section were the only required questions asked on the Zeitgeist (other than “What is your major?,” which was moved to the Academics section), and they all included the option “I prefer not to answer.”
We built the Zeitgeist on Qualtrics, a survey collection and analysis platform available for free to Middlebury students. The Zeitgeist included eight sections: Demographics, Academics, Social Life, Sex and Love, Safety and Wellness, Resources, Politics and Wrap-Up. The Wrap-Up section asked one open-ended question, relating to the theme of recalibrating: “What do you want your impact on Middlebury to be?”
We opened the Zeitgeist on the morning of Tuesday, April 11, with an email from The Campus to the whole student body. We also used The Campus’ Instagram and Twitter accounts to advertise the survey, as well as posters around campus and word-of-mouth. We sent two subsequent emails from The Campus’ account, on Monday, April 17 and Saturday, April 22, asking students to complete the survey. We incentivized its completion with the chance to win up to $500 in prizes in an independent raffle conducted by our Business Manager, David Nicholson. The Zeitgeist survey closed at midnight on April 22, after 11 days and collecting a total of 1,112 responses.
On Sunday, April 23, a team of Campus editors and fellows as well as other interested students met to discuss and divide the work of data visualization. The responses to the Qualtrics survey were shared only with this team of eight people. After working with the data in Qualtrics, Excel and R, the data team made graphs and charts using Data Wrapper, a website that makes visualizing journalistic data accessible.
Editors and writers from The Campus summarized the results and described the visualizations for each Zeitgeist section, which were published on May 4.
The Zeitgeist aimed to capture the feelings and mood of the Middlebury campus, but it did not do so scientifically. Our methodology prioritized increasing response rate rather than randomness or independence; we personally campaigned our friends and classmates to fill out the survey. Because of this, we cannot generalize the findings from the Zeitgeist to the entire campus population.
For the past six weeks, a dedicated team of editors and other Middlebury students volunteered over one hundred hours of writing, editing and visualizing to create the final product published today. Without their efforts, Zeitgeist would not have reached its fifth year of publication.
Thank you to Evan Weiss ’25, who led this project with me in every single question asked, email sent, poster hung and word printed. The Campus’ leaders Abigail Chang ’23, Tony Sjodin ’23 and Rain Ji ’23 guided the process from start to finish and passed on their knowledge so that this project may continue into the future. A special thank you to Tony, who ran the Zeitgeist last year and whose experience was pivotal at every stage.
The Campus’ staff were invaluable in brainstorming new questions, testing the survey before publication and editing the work you read in these pages. We are especially grateful to our Communications team led by Estelle Martin ’23, who were essential to advertising this project, as well as Arthur Furniss ’23, who designed the graphic for our survey promotion campaign.
Sam Roubin ’23.5, Sheila Lam ’26, Prateek Wadhavkar ’23 and Claire Yang ’25 helped create excellent visualizations of this year’s responses. All of the editors and journalism fellows who wrote sections this year produced compelling, insightful narratives about life at Middlebury.
To the thousands of students who took the time to answer our questions — whether you are a proud four-year Zeitgeist participant or took it for the first time this year — thank you. I can only hope the questions we posed and answers you provided may spark thoughtful reflection about personal goals, spirited debates about campus culture or just casual conversations in Proctor. Regardless of the impact you aimed to have, this project is now a part of your legacy at Middlebury.