Walking into the Town Hall Theater for the opening night of “Next to Normal,” the sixteenth J-Term musical that ran from Jan. 25–28, everything seemed normal. In the lobby, a virtual tour of the theater’s forthcoming renovations drew curiosity. The crowd gathered and chatted before the performance began. They looked on curiously at the softly-lit stage, trying to make sense of what appeared to be just another family living room.
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After a week of incredible events celebrating our campus’ cultural diversity, the International Students’ Organization (ISO) hosted “Radiance,” its annual variety show, a long-standing tradition for passionate and talented international students to entertain the eager crowd with a magical evening of dance, poetry and art.
Arthur Martins (2022.5) Brasilia, Brazil How have you been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak? Solitude has many faces — this is the main lesson I have learned from this quarantine. At first, solitude was staring at my phone in front of McCullough in disbelief that the life I had built this year would vanish. I only had enough strength to cancel a meeting and sink into a sea of unknown: would I be kicked out from campus, would I have time to say goodbyes, when would I even be back? Solitude from not knowing. On the eve of returning to Brazil, solitude was the fear of being stranded as major airlines — including mine — cancelled all flights home, and then it was flying empty planes away from where I felt the happiest. Solitude from leaving. Now, at home for nearly two months, I still find a different solitude each day. It is overhearing my mom complain I spend more time speaking English in my room than interacting with the family — a mixture of shame and “but that’s where my life is.” It is never having talked so much with my friends and still be made victim to the solitude of missing them dearly. Sometimes solitude is fright, anxiety, remembering I am not insured outside Midd; sometimes solitude is peace, self-love, remembering the moments and people that make this solitude worth it. The outbreak has shown me many faces of solitude — and the more I see, the less lonely I feel. What has been your greatest worry or day-to-day concern as coronavirus has spread? I’ve worried a lot about my peers whose current conditions are challenging and burdensome. Lately, I worry about Brazil and what I’ll do if the US shuts down its borders for us due to our worsening outbreak. What has made you happy over the past few weeks? I had the pleasure of seeing the Midd community stand up for each other and fight for fairer grading — it amazes me how we continue to create and strengthen bonds despite our distance. It’s been humbling and brought me a warm sense of belonging to see it all unfold. Also, making homemade Brazilian brigadeiro fudge and my cats. Where do you feel local? Brasília, Brazil; Freiburg, Germany; Middlebury, VT
Good representatives should not have to wait to have problems pointed out to them. They should be at the forefront of finding and addressing student needs. This is the type of leadership for which I advocate. I had no idea last month that, in fewer than three weeks, the petition my friend and I wrote to raise awareness of the inequity of our grading system would become FairGradesMidd, a student movement aimed at promoting change in our community. During that process, I had the chance to speak with hundreds of students to understand why they cared about changing the model. Beyond discussions on policy, I was able to learn about their stories and about how changes in the college’s grading policy would affect them. When I advocate with FairGradesMidd for the over 1,300 students who support our movement, I do it because I care and because I see us having a unique opportunity to act for our community. It is in this spirit that I am running for president of the Student Government Association (SGA). I am running because I envision an SGA that engages us, hears us, cares for us and stays at the forefront of advocating for us. In my activism through FairGradesMidd, I have shown how good representation stems from listening to people and inspiring them to participate. It was important to frame our movement as a conversation because that made students comfortable with engaging and talking across differences. On the third day of our petition, a group of seniors started to protest us because they felt we did not address their concerns. I listened and we worked together to find a solution. Similarly, when other students started their own petitions for different alternatives, I invited them to our team and together we put forth a “dual A” alternative that could represent more students. From these conversations, our movement continued to grow and inspire more students to participate. For me, FairGradesMidd has inspired us because it addresses the issue of grading through a human perspective — it is not just a conversation about specific policies, but also a platform for us to imagine a fairer community. Over the past year, President Varsha Vijayakumar and her leadership have said that they want to address student issues through an “analytical and pragmatic lens.” I worry that that kind of government — one that is adamant on maintaining distance — loses sight of the diverse range of student perspectives and ignores how we are not the same. It focuses on sending out surveys and basing their decisions on numbers alone. In striving for “impartiality,” this leadership forgets to take into account why students care and how that might influence the decisions being made. How can the SGA equitably represent us if our voices are reduced to data points? I asked the senate to include a write-in question on the SGA survey because I was humbled reading the over 400 testimonials I got from students sharing how they were being affected by the grading policy. Even though this option was included, the discussions about whether the SGA should endorse a change focused exclusively on the numbers. It is hard to imagine these representatives advocating for us when they are so disconnected from our voices. I believe it is impossible to represent and advocate for students without understanding and caring about their issues. I urged the administration to allow international students to remain on campus at the time of the evacuation because I feared for myself and for my peers. I advocated to create an International House because I saw how international students were underrepresented and did not have a space where they felt celebrated. As a student leader, I see myself in a position of pushing for change because I care — I believe that representation demands connection. I am running because I believe in an SGA that cares about students and that does not shy away from taking action. One that is founded on transparency and that includes students actual voices in the decision making. This is our opportunity to reimagine what our student government can do for us—and we can build it together. Arthur Martins is a member of the class of 2022.5. He is also the co-president of the International Students’ Organization (ISO) and the co-founder of FairGradesMidd.
#NoFailMidd started as a conversation within the Middlebury community about how the current opt-in Pass/D/Fail grading policy disproportionately affects the students who are struggling the most during this unprecedented pandemic. A group of us set out to find a new model that would account for students’ needs and prevent them from being penalized for circumstances out of their control. Advocating for a universal pass/fail model provided a concrete starting point for our conversation. After engaging with over 1,100 students and faculty, both through our online petition and in conversations, we transitioned into #FairGradesMidd, which aims to replace the current opt-in Pass/D/Fail model while providing students with information on the two most equitable models available: “universal pass/fail” and “Dual A.” The current optional model unfairly impacts students for whom Middlebury can usually provide key resources on campus: students without internet access, stable housing, or food security, as well as students who depend on accommodations and additional academic support. We believe that these students are more likely to opt into Pass/D/Fail because of these circumstances. While some of their peers may set out to chase A’s from more comfortable environments, others may feel pressured to pursue letter grades at the expense of their own physical and emotional wellbeing. A model that incentivizes division among our community and encourages students to put the prospect of a letter grade over their wellbeing is neither fair nor sustainable. Illnesses, limitations to broadband access and external stressors will make completing the semester difficult for all of us — and even more so for students in our community who are most in need of support. We fear that employers and graduate programs would interpret opting for Pass/D/Fail as a cop-out and indicative as a lack of academic drive, that our peers would make similar inferences, and that we would feel failed for not performing as we normally would. We are also concerned that our academic and professional futures may be negatively impacted by not having letter grades in our transcripts. For us, the most important outcome from our movement is changing our current grading model into one that comprehensively supports students who are struggling — whatever model that might be. Our cause has always been about equity, and not exclusively about the merits and details of each grading model. It is in this spirit that we have reframed our movement as #FairGradesMidd, joining efforts with other students to also present a Dual A policy as an alternative to the current system. In our Dual A model, each student is awarded either an A or an A- for each class. We are inspired by how students have come together to discuss their ideas and demonstrate engagement for a better Middlebury. Even from a distance, we have created something much more meaningful out of these conversations: community. We are deeply appreciative of students who are not adversely affected by this situation and we hear your concerns about GPAs and employment — it would be naïve not to recognize that this is how the world works. Still, we urge you to consider how our current model is negatively impacting our peers right now. If you do not agree with a universal pass/fail model, we urge you to look at our Dual A proposal and explore how it maintains letter grading while ensuring no students are penalized for situations out of their control. We cannot choose the circumstances we live in, but we still have a choice about the kind community we want to create. The fight for a more equitable grading model starts with us standing together and making our voices heard. We urge you to email the SGA President and your senators to voice why this change matters to you. We urge you to contact faculty and staff and ask them to advocate for you to the administration. We urge you to take a stand for equity and solidarity. #FairGradesMidd is an essential step in that direction. Arthur Martins ’22.5, Daleelah Saleh ’23, and Jackson Tham ’22 are three of the student organizers of #FairGradesMidd. Other organizers include Luka Bowen ’22, Hira Zeeshan ’22, Tre Stephens ’21, Chloe Fleischer ’21.5 and Paul Flores-Clavel ’22. At the time of publication, the petition has amassed 1103 signatories, 20 of whom are faculty members. To view the petition, please visit go.middlebury.edu/FairGradesMidd/.
The following letter was sent via email to members of the Senior Leadership Group (SLG) on Wednesday, March 11. A list of SLG members is available here. The list was also shared with the college’s commons deans, heads and coordinators, whose names can be found here, as well as the Student Activities Office and the Office of International Student and Scholar Services. Parts of this letter have been lightly edited to comply with The Campus’ style guidelines. Dear President Patton, Dean Taylor, Provost Cason, members of the SLG, and commons deans, We are afraid. As the International Students’ Organization Executive Board, we are distressed about the impact the administration’s decision to evacuate campus will have on the international student population. Although we come from over 74 countries and territories and distinct cultural backgrounds, the recent developments have united the international student community through the fear that we will be disproportionately affected if requested to leave Middlebury. First, we want to assure you that we take your requests to find alternatives to staying on campus seriously. We acknowledge the reasons motivating the college’s decision, and we are doing everything in our personal capacities to come up with reasonable plans. However, the decision to evacuate Middlebury poses an inequitable and disproportionate burden on us. While the college has been supportive in offering financial assistance to traveling, there are other serious concerns about our living conditions beyond Middlebury. For many of us, Middlebury is a sanctuary and the most reliable provider of housing, dining and resources that ensures our wellbeing. In addition to our support networks being hundreds to thousands of miles away, they are not all able to accomodate us at this point. Some of us do not have homes to go back to, and many others depend on their incomes from Middlebury to support their families. Sending us to other students’ homes instead of our own does not address the core of the problem. Instead, it transfers the college’s responsibility to look after us to third parties. It is unfair to shift your commitment to house, feed, and support us onto the families of our friends and other members of the community. It is unreasonable for the college to impose on them the financial burden of indefinitely — or even temporarily — supporting and sustaining us. If financial support is being made available for traveling, the question remains whether international students will be awarded a living allowance for the periods during which they are asked to be removed from campus. We urge you to consider how the college has brought many of us here on scholarships precisely because of our considerable needs and disadvantages. Our situation requires special consideration. While we acknowledge that much of what is happening is beyond the college’s control, we urge you to consider how domestic students are generally not similarly affected by being sent home as we are. We feel wary of making decisions on returning home or committing to stay in the United States when little is known on how travel restrictions will evolve over the coming weeks. We look to the administration for assurances that there are plans in place to assist the relocation of international students from their domestic hosts should the school decide not to continue the semester, and to support their decision to return from abroad when invited back. Additionally, whereas the CDC has not issued domestic travel restrictions, travelling internationally poses a higher risk to our own health and to the health of those around us. In requiring that we leave campus and financing our travels abroad, the college exposes us to contagion. Beyond our personal health, there are concerns that, due to being potentially exposed to the virus during high-risk travel, international students would not be as easily reintegrated to the college community. Again, we urge you to consider that the decision to evacuate us has severe implications that may not be present for other people requesting to stay. We request that you situate your reviews on stay approvals around the pressing needs of international students. We are not residents of this country, we do not have far-reaching access to support networks here and we do not have assurances of being able to come back should things deteriorate. This is an unprecedented situation and we call on you to consider our cases in a caring and understanding manner. Some of us have already been denied stay on campus and many of us are frightened by the prospect of having to scramble for alternatives as the college turns us away. We urge you to be lenient and considerate as you review our applications and work thoroughly with us before requesting our departure. We call Middlebury home, and we are confident you will not overlook our plight in these trying times. We call on you to: Compensate for the financial burden of leaving campus by covering not only travel expenses, but considering living allowances for the duration of leave, particularly for students who have exceptional financial needs; Accommodate students who are not able to return to their home countries and those who would not be able to reenter the United States due to travel bans or visa status concerns; Acknowledge the unfairness of transferring the college’s responsibility to provide housing, dining and resources to international students onto other students’ friends, families, and communities; Seriously evaluate the health and contagion risks posed by requesting international students travel through long distances and major transportation hubs to and from home; Recognize that a lack and distance of communication — though not the intention — breeds an environment of anxiety and fear where students are panicking because they feel unsupported and lost; Understand that Middlebury College is a sanctuary for many international students who cannot return to unstable or hostile conditions in their home communities. Signed, The ISO Executive Board Arthur Martins '22.5, Masud Tyree Lewis '22, Kelly Zhou '22, Claire Moy '22, Monique Santoso '21, Husam AlZubaidy '23 and Ariana Popa ’22
We are often told that college is a seminal period of our lives; that it is the time in which we grow the most because we leave our home communities, live on our own, and are able to fail and thrive in a liberal academic environment. We hold as self-evident that excelling in classes, assignments, and extracurricular activities will contribute to our personal growth and prepare us to face the challenges of the “real world.” Yet, when the real world presented itself to me in the form of major depression in the fall of my first year at Middlebury, there was little from what I learned in class that equipped me with the tools to recognize, engage and deal constructively with the emotional challenges I was facing. In 2017, I withdrew from college to take care of myself. I couldn’t help but feel I was a failure for not living up to my peers’ and the college’s expectations. Not only did I think I was not worthy of returning, I was certain that this struggle was mine alone. While struggles like mine can appear individual and inconsequential, they are deeply rooted in our collective ideas of what constitutes a normal college experience. High stress, sleep deprivation, as well as alcohol and substance abuse are perceived not only as inevitable, but as necessary to ensure we mature. Paradoxically, comprehensive conversations about their impacts on our mental wellbeing are repeatedly neglected and dismissed. With our struggles left unsaid, in fear that we are the only ones going through them and that no one else can understand us, we find ourselves burdened with figuring out how to make sense of our experiences alone. It is an impossible feeling. The scale of struggling with mental health in college is often lost on us. According to the American College Health Association, three out of five students will experience mental health issues at one point of their college career, most often in the form of depression or anxiety. For two out of five students, these issues will be so severe as to significantly impair their ability to function socially and academically. Despite the severity of these conditions, the study reports that only a small percentage of students will seek help at their college’s counseling centers. Worryingly, at Middlebury, when students do attempt to ask for institutional help, they risk being met with overworked or unavailable resources. This is too important an issue not be comprehensively and urgently addressed in all institutional levels at our school, because neglecting our emotional wellbeing has dire consequences. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age students, and over 75% of lifetime mental health conditions will develop by age 24 with lifelong implications if not diagnosed and treated early. While it is imperative to strengthen and better fund Parton Health Center, it is equally necessary to find other ways to increase our institutional support network. Providing comprehensive access to a quality standard of institutional care should not come at the expense of overworking our counsellors or residential staff, nor the student body itself. We must stop approaching mental health from a crisis-intervention perspective, instead finding ways to incorporate policies that can promote long-term emotional resilience. It is not enough to assume that academic excellence by virtue of itself will allow us to deal with rejection, sadness, happiness, frustration and the many other emotions that are inherent in all our life experiences. Conversations that shift the paradigm of mental healthcare as an individual problem are in order for all of us; after all, this is an issue in which everyone in our community has the power to make a change. However, it is the college as an institution that has the most ability and the greatest responsibility of leading change by example. These efforts are by no means utopian. Thoughtful, proactive and effective policies towards emotional resilience have been adopted successfully elsewhere. We do not need to look further than Main Street to find great examples: The Counseling Services of Addison County (CSAC) offers annually a “Mental Health First Aid Training” open to the community. In addition, they recently launched the “OK. You’ve Got This” Project, working with high schools in Middlebury to promote emotional resilience and teach positive coping strategies to students as a way to proactively address mental health and substance abuse. We do so much good in our community already. But it’s time we take it a step further as an institution. As for those who may be struggling now, I urge you to hear my message. Asking for help is hard, but you and your concerns are valid. They will always be. Do not be afraid to reach out to your advisor, your dean, your peer. It made a difference for me; I came back after a year-and-a-half medical leave to realize I was a part of this community all along, even when I did not feel well. It is our collective duty to be there for each other. Remember, you are not alone. Arthur Martins is in the class of 2022.5.