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Wednesday, Apr 24, 2024

Introduction: The Spirit of the Times

“Would you support the construction of a swirly slide inside the Great Hall of Bicentennial Hall? We're talking a 6-story curling slide that has entry points on all floors and ends on the second floor, open for use after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all weekend, or whatever else we can secure as a compromise.”

This was our favorite suggested question for the Zeitgeist survey — and one of over one hundred questions that were submitted when we solicited feedback from students. While Zeitgeist began as a project aiming to bridge the realms of data analysis and journalism, we also saw it as an opportunity to seek community input to investigate the underlying narratives at Middlebury.

What are cultures that students participate in but do not enjoy? How often do students feel lonely? How many sexual partners does the average Middlebury student have? Are students aware of the mental health resources on campus?

Of course, we also wanted to use this opportunity to explore and potentially dispel prominent stereotypes at Middlebury. Are Economics majors truly “socially liberal” and “fiscally conservative?” Do athletes have different dining hall preferences than non-athletes? Are conservative students less likely to express their views in class?

Above all, we were surprised to find that students wanted to learn more about feelings of belonging at Middlebury. In a campus climate where questions about differences, otherness and acceptance do not easily percolate into discussions, the deluge of feedback, centered around the theme of belonging, reflects a collective will to understand what tethers us to each other and our shared Middlebury identity.

With the concept of belonging at the axis, we asked about feeling deserving, about loneliness and about the concept of “otherness.” Our analysis also seeks to illustrate how these shared sentiments may diverge disproportionately in demographics of race, sexual orientation and political views.  

The definition of Zeitgeist is “the defining spirit of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” This year, we believe that the defining theme of our survey is “belonging.”