Boy, what a ride it’s been. When we first got to campus as doe-eyed teens, I don’t think any of us knew we’d be signing up for a rollercoaster ride. Within our first three months, Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States. Shortly thereafter, anti-Muslim hate speech was found on a classmate’s whiteboard and a swastika on the door of a Jewish congregation in town. Our second semester was marked by Charles Murray’s infamous visit and all the protests, multiple racial profiling cases and ensuing sanctions. It was a jarring start to our college careers, to say the least. Sometimes I think back to when the letters of the word “RACIST” were spray painted across the pillars of Mead Chapel back in late 2017. Honestly, I think that image perfectly encapsulates Middlebury. That graffiti was a stark reminder of the not-so-pretty side of our school, that we have a long way to go; at the same time, Mead Chapel is also an edifice of hope and opportunity and celebration. Late one night after I learned that the college would close early because of the pandemic, I found myself sitting at the steps of that very building. I stared out at our dimly lit campus and suddenly began crying uncontrollably — not because of all the sh*t we’ve gone through, but because of how we’ve persevered and even found some beauty along the way. I’m thinking about the excitement of Preview Days, or the first time we experienced the Winter Carnival bonfire and fireworks in all their glory. I’m thinking about how we didn’t always have to swipe in to get into the dining halls, and how the lines would be out the door just for black pepper tofu or Midnight Breakfast. How every weekend the Grille would be packed after Cafe con Leche, and how at least one person most definitely lost their jacket or student ID along the way. Free & For Sale, anyone? And then there was the snow. Do you remember that one tree on Mead Chapel hill that was always decorated like a Christmas tree around the holidays? Random snowmen and the occasional igloo would pop up all around, new playthings for our feisty campus squirrels. MiddKids are generally really smart, but for some reason we would always try to cut across Battell beach even though walking around would probably be much faster. With the chilly winter of our third semester, though, came The List. Our campus plunged into conversations about just how widespread sexual violence is at Middlebury. But it also inspired our community to gather more intentionally around It Happens Here, a storytelling event that centers on the voices of survivors of sexual violence. There were only about 20 of us in Wilson Hall the year before. After The List, I couldn’t even get in. We protested the Muslim ban and spearheaded divestment. We cheered on our peers at dance and cultural performances, a cappella concerts and comedy shows. We learned to tell when it’s spring because everyone would start walking around in shorts, even though it was still 50 degrees outside. And soon enough, students would pull out their hammocks as Facilities set up the outdoor dining tables. Even Sean Kingston was excited about warmer weather at Middlesbury. But we weren’t so excited about a chemistry test question referencing Nazi gas chambers, or a slave trade joke in a geology class. And before we could catch our breath, the invitation of Ryszard Legutko threw us in for another loop. Just like that, our junior spring, too, was marked by controversy. In moments like that one, I would dream of eating too much at the all-school barbecue, of milling around campus late at night during Nocturne, of throwing paper airplanes in BiHall, and of seeing President Patton’s adorable dogs. Sometimes I even missed the carillon chiming away for what sometimes feels like hours. But back to reality. We learned of Charles Murray 2.0 (technically 3.0) near the end of this past J-Term, and it suddenly felt like we were time-travelling back to our first year. But we were ready this time. Many of our peers had worked alongside the administration to revise the protest policy. We saw the creation of the Black Studies major and got to talk about the 1619 project with Nikole Hannah-Jones. We mobilized in a way that recognized the past and looked to the future. And of course, just when we thought we could handle everything that came our way, Covid-19 forced us to abruptly leave behind everything we knew and held dear. There’s no denying that we’ve been dealt a pretty sh*tty hand. Yet somehow, despite it all, we’ve made the most of our time at Midd —our response to the pandemic is proof. In just a few days, we developed an abridged Senior Week, cheekily hung up crush lists and took a good look at that beautiful Middlebury sunrise one last time. These are the things that shape who we are, seniors, and I don’t want you to forget it. I want you to remember just how excited you were when you first got here, and I want you to take a deep breath and celebrate the fact that you’re almost done. Maybe we don’t get to walk down the stage in a cap and gown come May, but our accomplishment is so much bigger than that because we’re true Midd Kids: quirky and resilient, no matter what life throws at us. And when it comes down to it, that is what we will be remembered for. I love you so much, class of 2019.75. Maybe we’ll be reunited someday. Varsha Vijayakumar is a member of the class of 2020 and this year’s SGA president.
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I remember exactly what I was wearing: a white, spaghetti-strapped, shirred crop top and my favorite high-waisted blue jeans. Gold hoop earrings. Worn-in Stan Smiths. It was the evening of graduation. I was exhausted from having been the commencement marshal during the ceremony earlier that morning, from having packed my entire dorm room away in less than two hours. The dining halls were closed, so I made my way to Shafer’s to get a sandwich to go. As I walked out of the store, I noticed two men sitting across from each other at one of the picnic tables outside. I didn’t know them personally, but I recognized them as Midd Kids. One of them was looking directly at me and didn’t take his eyes off of me. As I turned onto the sidewalk, I heard him ask his friend if he knew who I was. The friend looked at me and then proceeded to tell him that I was the new SGA president. Immediately, the guy slammed his hands on the table, swerved his head in my direction to take a look at me again and exclaimed dramatically, “That piece is the SGA president?!” I kept walking. I consider myself to be an outspoken person, someone who doesn’t take anyone else’s sh*t. But I kept walking, quietly. As if I hadn’t heard them. At parties, some men feel entitled to approach me simply because they “know” who I am. I’ve overheard someone say, “Imagine if I f*cked the SGA president,” and another guy dare his friend to “take the president home.” Just the other day, I walked by two men after parking my car in the Ridgeline lot. As soon as they passed me, they began to giggle and one commented, “Did you check out the SGA prez?” I’ve only really been in this role for three months, but already these interactions have become the norm. It’s terrible already that I have to overhear others sexualizing me. What’s worse is that my title itself — SGA President — seems to play a central role in their sexual fantasies. Let me be frank. I have worked my ass off to earn my peers’ respect and assume this role. I prioritize SGA every single g*ddamn day, often at the expense of my academics, sleep, social life and senior year in general. I work constantly to try to make Middlebury a better place for all students. I did not do all this just to be degraded, to be reduced to nothing more than a powerful woman some guys would get a kick out of “conquering.” I did not do all this just to cry in countless counseling sessions about this same exact issue. To be reminded nearly every day that no matter how much I accomplish, I am still primarily perceived as a sex object. That’s not part of the job description. I refrained from writing about this for the longest time, but it has gotten to a point where I feel unable to confidently do my job. I find myself wondering if some men do what I ask because they agree with me, or because they find me attractive. If my looks on any given day are a more important tool of persuasion than my intellect ever will be. I doubt myself and my abilities on a daily basis even though I know I am more than qualified. I also know that unfortunately, none of this is unique to me. It feels like women have to work extra hard just to get a chance at assuming a position of power. But I’ve come to realize that getting into the room isn’t the hard part — staying in that role with legitimacy and respect is. It’s a pattern we need to break. Varsha Vijayakumar ’20 is president of the Student Government Association.
Whenever I meet someone new in Chile, I am inevitably asked the question: Where are you from? I usually explain that I was born and raised in the United States, but my parents are from India and that’s why I look the way I do. Most people, unable to accept that I can be both, will question me until I give up the American aspect of my identity. They reason that I don’t seem like the stereotypical gringa (a term that in most Latin American countries is a condescending way to refer to people from the United States) and therefore can’t possibly qualify as a true American. I used to push back, but after these past two weeks, I don’t mind that Chileans can’t see my hyphen-Americanness. Right now, I don’t want to see it, either. I am studying on a human rights track at Universidad Alberto Hurtado, a private institution nestled in Chile’s capital city, Santiago. The program consists of two courses at the university, an internship and an independent project. Now nearly halfway through my semester abroad, I can confidently say that I feel truly immersed in and aware of the social justice issues around me. But sometimes, I can’t help but feel like a hypocrite. As the days go by, I find it increasingly ironic that I flew to a whole other continent to study human rights when there are so many violations happening back home in the States, in my own backyard. Living abroad has its benefits. I can choose to be actively invested in American political affairs or shut them out completely. On days when I am emotionally overwhelmed with Chilean issues — like the fact that there are still hundreds of untraceable desaparecidos (missing persons) from Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship, or the ways in which Haitian-Chilean immigrants quietly stomach daily acts of racism — I go for the latter, shutting out the news entirely. Ignoring news from home is definitely easier said than done, so I compromise with an artificial time cap: twenty minutes to catch up on the latest in U.S. news, not a second more. But ever since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward to publicly accuse now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her, that compromise went right out the window. For two weeks, my eyes were glued to my phone screen, obsessively refreshing news outlets for the latest on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. I read about Deborah Ramirez and then of Julie Swetnick, by which point I could not focus on much else. It was terrible timing — I was in the middle of an exam period, and had to submit three papers by the end of the week. My host mother could tell something was off about me, so she timidly broached the topic one night as we were tomando once, or having the Chilean version of tea time. I tried my hardest to explain, but I found myself fumbling for words. I hadn’t been taught the words for sexual assault in my Spanish classes. On Thursday, Sept. 23, the day of the Senate hearings, two of my close friends and I decided to camp out in a cafe, determined to finish our papers for a history class we shared. Instead, we completely broke the language pledge and started ranting to each other about everything that was going on, finally letting out days of pent-up emotions. It is hard enough to be abroad and immersed in a completely different culture — to be around people completely unaware of something that means the world to you is crippling. After a while of impassioned discussion, we tried to go back to writing, but ended up livestreaming the entirety of the Senate hearings. No papers were written that night. The next day as I was taking the metro back home from university, I came across the video of Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher confronting Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator. Hearing them speak was immensely validating and exactly what I needed to hear, especially as someone that has also survived sexual violence. Against my best wishes, I began to cry uncontrollably in the train, drawing confused stares from the Chileans around me. An elderly woman tenderly tapped my shoulder on her way out of the train. Todo estará bien, she said. Everything will be alright. She has a point. Yes, Brett Kavanaugh was officially confirmed to the Supreme Court this past Saturday. And yes, this is one more reason for me to be ashamed of the United States. But these past two weeks have also proven to us the overwhelming solidarity that exists among our communities. There is power in our voices — and boy, are we screaming.