Luckily for the equestrian team, riding a horse is a socially distant activity. The ceramics club, too, can stay a panther apart at the pottery wheel. Yet during a pandemic fall semester at Middlebury, others — like Middlebury Model UN, the Quidditch team and many others — have had to think creatively to stay involved. The International Students’ Organization (ISO) hit the ground running this fall, hosting an online trivia event alongside Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) the week students moved back onto campus. Since then, they have hosted virtual Monthly Monday Tea events to discuss global issues. For ISO, online forums have provided an important tool for connecting with members. “Being the International Students’ Organization, our membership — probably more so than any other group’s membership — is really scattered around the globe,” said Masud Lewis ’22, co-president and managing director. ISO is working to develop the Remote Student Experience Program, which will help students keep in touch despite geographical distance. “[We are] trying to figure out how we can really engage with our international students who are studying outside of the US this semester,” Lewis said. Like the ISO, Middlebury Model United Nations (MiddMUN) has been pleased with the online tools available for communication. “We’ve definitely been able to transition a lot of our activities to being online, including our meetings,” said Suria Vanrajah ’22, MiddMUN’s director of off-campus affairs. Many Model UN conferences have been moved online, and 10 MiddMUN members will compete in an upcoming remote conference hosted by Seton Hall University. The club is looking forward to another online conference hosted by Georgetown in January. Vanrajah is also the President of Middlebury College Democrats, which has been putting together election year programming via Zoom despite encountering several roadblocks. Principal challenges have included college restrictions on political endorsements and fundraising, as well as difficulty getting approval from the Student Activities Office for in-person meetings. Other organizations, such as the Ceramics Club, rely more heavily on in-person connections. “Pottery […] is very hands on, so at this time it is very tricky,” Lexie Massa ’21, the ceramics club co-president, said. The ceramics studio is now able to offer certain reduced hours every week, with some modifications to their typical format. Students are required to sign up ahead of time to ensure physical distancing and only one ceramics monitor is present at a time to help new artists get started. Despite the restrictions, Massa is satisfied with the new system. “I’m just happy to get people back into the studio in whichever way possible,” she said. Club sports have prioritized meeting in person in order to continue practices. The Middlebury College Equestrian Team had to cancel their show season but still meets as a team. “In our practices, we remain socially distant and have our masks, although you pretty much keep more than six feet apart anyway because the horses stay spaced out in the ring,” equestrian team co-chair Tom Sacco ’20.5 said. The Middlebury College Quidditch Team is also practicing in person. The team has amended its techniques to avoid physical contact and canceled the annual Middlebury College Classic Tournament, but members are happy to continue finding community in their team. “Given everything that is happening right now, we are incredibly pleased with how the semester is going,” agreed Peter Lawrence ’21 and Mary Scott, ’21, the team’s co-captains. “Multiple players have come up to us after practice expressing gratitude at an opportunity to connect with others and get a break from the often overwhelming world,” Lawrence said. Some clubs experienced a surge of student interest this semester, especially from first-years. While Vanrajah expected that MUN would not receive much attention during a pandemic year, she was surprised to find that around 20 first-years were eager to join. “[This] is more than I think we’ve ever had,” Vanrajah said. Organizations have also spent this semester restructuring and reflecting. “We took this as an opportunity to really reevaluate our tutoring program, and I think what we’ve come up with is going to be more accessible,” said Alex Dobin ’22, a program coordinator for the English Language Lessons branch of Juntos, Middlebury’s Student-Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Group. In a typical semester, Juntos runs weekly in-person English lessons for a group of approximately five Spanish-speaking migrant farmworkers. This year, they are embracing online learning platforms as a way to build one-on-one relationships between tutors and students. Dobin hopes that Juntos will continue using these online communication methods even after the pandemic is over as a way to maintain more consistent contact with farmworkers. “Hopefully we’re building up a strong foundation, so that in the future we can get started with this more quickly,” Dobin said. For many student organizations, this semester has gotten off to a slow start. “We’re giving ourselves permission as student leaders to understand that this is a tough time. And we can have all these plans, we can be ambitious, but at some point we’ve got to be kind to ourselves,” Lewis said.
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Vermont Department of Corrections reduces prison population in response to Covid-19 outbreak; first inmate tests positive
As prisons around the country struggle to respond to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) is working to reduce the prison population in order to facilitate social distancing. The number of inmates in the state decreased by more than 225 between Feb.24 and April 3, down from 1,671 to 1,445. “We’re trying to do this using our system in place so that it’s fair and balanced. We go through the process, [and] we’ve sped the process up,” Department of Corrections Commissioner James Baker told The Campus. “What we can’t do is have someone call us up and advocate for an individual to be released.” The DOC has been in contact with advocacy groups in the area to develop their response to the pandemic. The Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recommended that the DOC release individuals who are being detained pre-trial, those at particular risk for the virus due to age or health conditions and those who have already served the minimum portions of their sentences. James Lyall, the Execute Director of the Vermont ACLU, urged the DOC to continue to take the Covid-19 crisis seriously. Acknowledging that the DOC has taken important steps to reduce the number of incarcerated Vermonters and address facility conditions, Lyall believes that there is still more to be done. “There are still elderly, infirm, and particularly vulnerable people who remain incarcerated,” he wrote in an email to The Campus. “Social distancing is fundamentally not possible in correctional settings.” Lydall urged that the DOC could be more transparent about the ways it plans to safeguard public health within its facilities. The Vermont ACLU released a letter to Governor Phil Scott on March 18, urging his administration to take significant action to protect Vermont’s prison population. As of April 5, the ACLU confirmed that the Scott administration had not responded to the letter. In addition to reducing the prison population, the DOC has implemented various measures to protect staff and inmates. “We’re chasing supplies like everyone else,” Baker said. “We’ve secured as many supplies as we can, and are cleaning the facilities as often as we can.” The DOC has also shut down all in-person visitation, though it is offering one free video-visitation per week to each inmate. “Our strategy is to mitigate the entrance of the virus by limiting as much inbound and outbound traffic,” Baker said. Any new inmate to enter the system is quarantined for 14 days, according to the DOC. At the time of The Campus’s interview with Baker, no inmates in Vermont had tested positive for Covid-19. Since then, however, an inmate at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton tested positive for the virus, the DOC announced Wednesday morning. The DOC said it would test all inmates and staff members within 24 hours. On March 23, the DOC announced that a staff member at Northern Correctional Facility in Newport, Vermont had tested positive for coronavirus. The DOC announced a second positive test result on April 1 for a staff member at the facility in Swanton. Since that time, two more staff members at the Northwest Facility have tested positive. The DOC announced on April 6 that the Northwest State Correctional Facility would remain on modified lockdown to monitor possible coronavirus exposure. Vermont, like many other parts of the country, must move forward despite a relative lack of testing capacity. “In an ideal world, we’d be testing all the time,” said Commissioner Baker. “But the fact of the matter is, we’re following all the guidelines from the Vermont Department of Health. We test when someone exhibits symptoms of the virus.” Upon release, prisoners are entering a very uncertain environment. Social organizations in the area such as Dismas of Vermont, an organization that provides housing and support to newly released prisoners, continue to play a vital role in reintroducing prisoners to society throughout the pandemic. These prisoners face distinct challenges in the age of coronavirus, according to Jan-Roberta Tarjan, the executive director of Dismas of Vermont. “People who are coming out of prison are coming out of a very restricted environment: a cell, the confines of a prison,” Tarjan said. “They’re anticipating great physical freedom and more freedom of relationships ... to be with their families, of course, and to have employment. And they cannot do most of these things now.” Tarjan noted that many residents in Dismas houses are not quarantined at home, but rather work in jobs that are considered essential, such as food retailing and manufacturing. They have continued to contribute to the community despite difficult circumstances. “Each of our houses can accept from nine to 11 residents, and those beds are filled,” Tarjan said. Yet despite the difficulty of re-entry during Covid-19, she remains optimistic about the situation. “There’s a good aspect of this, and that is we are releasing people from prison more rapidly than we have been,” Tarjan said. “It accelerates a path we were already on for bringing people out and reducing the [prison] population. And while this is a difficult way to do it, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”
“Any kayaker who looks at the falls in Middlebury sees a perfect 15-foot waterfall, just begging to be run,” said Reed Hutton ’19.5. Like many advanced and passionate kayakers, Hutton sees Middlebury Falls as a rewarding challenge. The waterfall is known as an excellent and consistent spot for paddling, attracting regional daredevils in every season. Middlebury Falls is a well-known but short feature, so paddlers often stop there on their way somewhere else. Although it’s not always worth gearing up and loading a boat onto the water for such a short run, the falls are an excellent spot for paddling. “You can run it at a super wide range of flows,” Hutton said. “When [the water] is super high, it’s gnarlier, scarier and a little more technical. When it’s low, it’s really friendly and not too bad.” Having dedicated his childhood summers to kayaking in his home state of Idaho, Hutton is no stranger to paddling waterfalls. He’s been out on the water regularly since he was 10 and now works as a coach and executive director at Jackson Hole Kayak Club, a youth summer program in that Wyoming town. Running the Middlebury Falls can be a particularly rewarding experience. “Technically it’s not that difficult of a waterfall, but mentally it’s huge,” said Hutton, acknowledging that going over a 15-foot drop is a pretty big feat. “It’s a good mental exercise to get your heart rate up and test yourself.” Because of the falls’ central location in the town of Middlebury, kayaking there has also been a great way for Hutton to start conversations and joke with passersby. “People will be like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a waterfall!’ and I’m like, ‘What? Where? I don’t know, I didn’t see one!’ and people will freak out on the bridge,” Hutton described. “A lot of people will end up watching, and it’s fun to talk with them afterwards ’cause they’ll ask me questions.” Although Middlebury has a relatively small kayaking community, Middlebury Falls often sees visitors who travel down from Montreal in search of white water. Nearby universities such as UVM and Dartmouth, which have relatively large boating groups, also regularly send outings to Middlebury Falls. “Northeastern white water is unique because it only really runs when it rains,” said Cortland Fischer, a junior at UVM and president of the UVM Kayak Club. When the water’s good, people take advantage of it. Within a period of two weeks last month, the UVM Kayak Club sent between four and give outings to Middlebury Falls, and Fischer personally got in 10–15 laps. When the conditions are bad elsewhere, such as in the summer when it hasn’t rained enough, or in the winter when most rivers have frozen over, the falls tend to be a fairly reliable place for boating. Cameron Weiner ’20, an active kayaker at Middlebury College, has run the falls several times. “It’s a very forgiving falls,” she said. “Someone’s dad who went here years ago was telling me a story — they used to do trips down there every Friday or something, and send random people who had never kayaked before down the falls.” As far as legality of the sport, Otter Creek is an open waterway. “There is nothing to prohibit folks from [kayaking] Middlebury Falls,” said Middlebury Chief of Police Thomas Hanley, adding that “it is a little bit risky.” In very low water, Weiner warned against “penciling in,” or going in at the wrong angle, hitting the bottom, and potentially cracking the boat or getting injured. “[Most] Kayakers know what they’re doing, are fully prepared, fully clothed and have modern kayaks [that] really reduce that risk,” Hanley said. “We just ask anybody doing it to please follow safety rules.” He also cited that although Middlebury Police has not had any accidents at Middlebury Falls, there have been fatalities in other waterways in town due to white water kayaking accidents in the springtime. For novice kayakers, Hutton urged them to lean on their mentors and coaches. “[Kayaking] has an unbelievably long and frustrating learning curve. Learning how to roll in the pool is not the same as learning how to kayak, and there are so many nuances and skills you need until you can learn how to do the falls competently.” As in any sport, safety and effective training are a major priority. “Do it at your own pace,” Hutton advised. “For me, it’s a sport that has become intuitive, but it’s taken a lot of time.” For kayakers who put in the time and the effort to run it safely, however, Middlebury Falls has a lot to offer.