In a couple of weeks, the last class who has experienced a full year of pre-pandemic Middlebury will graduate. This has left some of us wondering about the potential loss of institutional memories and traditions that flourished before the onset of social distancing and Zoom links.
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Around the midway point of the 2022 Zeitgeist survey, our 1,134 respondents encountered a rather blunt question: “Are you happy?”, with only “yes” or “no” answer options. While we acknowledge how this binary greatly oversimplifies this inquiry, we were curious as to how Middlebury students would opt to characterize their happiness when confronted with only two choices.
On April 13, fellow NESCAC institution Williams College announced its commitment to move to a fully-grant based financial aid system, effectively eliminating loans and work study packages. This shift is said to benefit the 53% of students who are on financial aid, at a cost of 6.75 million dollars per year.
The Editorial Board of The Campus is proud and excited to endorse Raymond Diaz ’23 for Student Government Association (SGA) president for the 2022–23 academic year. Diaz, who plans to appoint Evelyn Magdaleno ’24 as his vice president, boasts an impressive background of campus leadership positions in organizations including JusTalks, ResLife and Distinguished Men of Color (DMC).
With the end of Middlebury’s indoor mask mandate came a return to pervasive individualism — in most places if you want to wear a mask, you do, and if you don’t, you don’t. The college administration is no longer the primary regulator of Covid-19 guidelines. Beyond required masking in classrooms and a few other designated spaces, the onus falls entirely on students' own discretion. Now, it’s a matter of choice, one defined by personal risk tolerance and individual logic. Nevertheless, as members of a small community, our actions are still fraught with the potential to affect others.
Last week, Middlebury announced a 4.5% tuition increase for the 2022–23 school year, bringing the total price tag to $79,800. This is a significant increase compared to last year’s 2.5% increase and increases in previous years that hovered around 3%.
Two weeks ago, in our second staff issue, we editorialized on the apparent disconnect between staff and students, calling upon the latter to use their status as patrons of this institution to rally on behalf of those making barely livable wages. On Thursday, our community woke up to multiple instances of vandalism; both on the side of the McCullough tent and on the east-facing side of Coffrin Hall.
For the last week, students of Visiting Professor of History Lana Povitz have been calling on the college to grant her a tenure-track position via partner hire, which has historically been granted to partners and spouses of faculty members. Povitz’s partner is Arabic professor and CV Starr Fellow in International Studies Dima Ayoub.
Before the pandemic, students would frequently interact in person with the custodial staff assigned to their housing spaces. FYCs and RAs would make a point of mentioning them by name to their residents and introducing them as members of the residential community. Last fall, when facilities staff were mandated to work in the early hours of the morning to reduce contact with students, these connections — along with other commonplace interactions — became uncommon.
As a board, we have a somewhat informal tradition of kicking off the semester by welcoming the newest students to campus — whether through offering advice during a Covid-19 semester, for example, or making recommendations for bridging the Feb-reg divide. This year, however, we recognize that first-year Febs have arrived at Middlebury at a critical transition point amid the pandemic. Thus, this welcome warrants more nuance and clarity than those that came before it.
As we start to enter our third year of the pandemic, we’ve all encountered a new level of burnout. Though it perhaps once seemed like grab-and-go dining and class Zoom links would become a thing of the past after the vaccine rollout — here we are. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Covid-19 is not going to disappear. We’ve heard again and again that it’s time to start “living” with Covid-19, now that eradication seems to be eluding us. But we still don’t really know exactly what this means.
At this point in the semester, we had every intention to be finished with our regular coverage — including editorials — until J-Term. And yet somehow we have found ourselves here, wondering how to explain to our parents why we were sent home from a campus with 70 cases without mandated exit testing. Without mandated testing after Thanksgiving break. Without mandated testing for all students for the entirety of the semester.
Content Warning: This article contains mentions of student deaths.
After many of us struggled through a year in which connection was, understandably, limited by strict Covid-19 guidelines, this semester’s return to (near) normalcy has in many ways been a relief. We missed sitting in Proc for hours, attending in-person classes and watching our peers compete in home athletic competitions. We’re grateful for these opportunities to connect. But as we strive to create a new normal and redefine what it means to exist in community together this year, it has sometimes felt like we’re ignoring the elephant in the room.
This year, we’ve editorialized on the urgent need for mental health services and staff wage increases, highlighting vast funding gaps in areas that should be the college’s top priorities. Meanwhile, Middlebury is touting the unprecedented growth of its $1.5 billion dollar endowment, and the college has announced plans to draw only $55 million from the endowment this year. At 3.67% of the total endowment, this draw is $6 million less than the withdrawal last fiscal year.
As the days get shorter and colder, many of us have found ourselves cranking up our heaters and switching our lights on earlier in the evenings. These are actions we don’t think about; they are subconscious and hold no moral standing. After all, we attend an institution renowned for its sustainability efforts, which are encapsulated in the rollout of Energy2028. So we as students, in theory, shouldn't have to consider our energy consumption to have any moral implications.
Among students, it is common knowledge that Middlebury’s mental health resources fall short in a myriad of ways. The counseling office has long remained understaffed and overbooked, leading students and even professors to suggest that students would be better off searching in Burlington for services or not bothering at all. Members of the board who have also served as orientation leaders noted that they err on the side of honesty with their new students, expressing that mental health support on campus is inadequate at best and devastatingly lacking at worst.
Content Warning: This article contains mention of suicide.
After a year and a half of quarantining, distancing and Zooming, Middlebury is beginning to again resemble what it once was, and the desire to return to a pre-pandemic campus life — pre-dispersion of friends and classmates taking semesters off or learning remotely, pre-seeing close contacts only, pre-off-campus travel restrictions — is palpable. There seems to be a shared sentiment that we all need to make up for the time and freedom we lost to Covid-19. Super senior Febs, seniors and senior Febs are simultaneously daunted by their impending graduation date, another reminder to fill every single possible moment before running out of time. Juniors and junior febs who only had three-quarters of a year or less want to recapture the brief, “normal” college experiences they had before packing up to go home. And sophomores, who have only ever known Middlebury during the pandemic, have the same excitement, sense of wonder and pressure to have a great start to their college experience that first years have. After so much time spent alone, it can feel like a disservice to oneself to not take advantage of every opportunity for social interaction. Plus, a desire to live life to the fullest in the wake of a huge, life-altering event (especially one that caused massive casualties) is a natural human response. Not to mention that concerns that Covid-19 could once again spike and send us back into isolation leave students wanting to make sure they aren’t regretting turning down a social event when they had the chance. These internal and external pressures to take advantage of the “return to normal” only add to preexisting societal forces that claim college needs to be the best four years of your life and to a pervasive Middlebury busyness culture. Accordingly, for the past three-and-a-half weeks, many students have been going non-stop. This incessant “going” can manifest as sitting in the dining hall for five hours “doing work” (but really chatting), or as partying as often and as hard as possible. It can manifest as making travel plans for Fall Break despite being exhausted, or as falling victim to FOMO so hard that you attend a Flo Milli concert you know you will not enjoy — but no matter what, existing this way can only last so long before our social batteries, emotional stabilities and physical well-beings utterly deteriorate. This editorial is meant to be a reminder that college is a lot, and that sometimes, even in this pandemic-recovery era, it is okay to just get by. Everyone needs a break at some point, and we can tell many people desperately need one right now by the amount of coughing happening in Davis. To assuage our collective anxiety, we think it would first be helpful to confront what we have lost. As a board, we are of the opinion that it is not exactly “time” that perished; certainly, social events, academic and professional opportunities, athletic competitions and study abroad programs disappeared, but we still experienced more than a year of life. We struggled, and we also learned, grew and often made connections and memories that we may not have otherwise. Most importantly, we experienced a collective grief that cannot be swept under the rug in a quick return to pre-pandemic life. We ask the college faculty and administration to support students in accepting the past so we can move forward more calmly. Many professors have already completely eliminated the forgiving late policies they enacted at the start of the pandemic and have overall lessened their flexibility, but we are still in a pandemic. We are still readjusting. And we are certainly still learning how to cope with our grief. The administration should encourage continued understanding in addition to creating spaces and times for students to face and accept the stress, sadness and anxiety the pandemic produced in us. It can be extremely difficult to remember to self-reflect and reevaluate what is really meaningful to you — but amid all the horrors of the pandemic, perhaps increased intentionality can be a silver lining. We hope students will stop thinking of the pandemic in terms of “time lost” — which can lead to a temptation to run ourselves into the ground — and try instead to conceptualize the pandemic as “joy lost,” which might aid us in spending our time more intentionally as we work to reevaluate what brings us that joy. So, instead of focusing on what mainstream Middlebury culture or other influences tell you the college experience “should” be, transitioning back to pre-pandemic freedom can be an opportunity to redefine what your individual, ideal college experience looks like. For some, the dream may well be sticky Atwater parties and off-campus darties; for others, making the most of Middlebury might come in the form of chill movie nights with just a couple friends or exploring the vastness of Vermont through hikes, apple picking, swimming and brewery visits. To each their own, and that is what makes college great. As we continue through this year, we can acknowledge the pain that comes from losing parts of the regular college experience (an experience that is, though not the last joyful part of life as lore holds, still a special and short time in our lives) in a way that does not encourage overloading ourselves. Remember to take a breath, be kind to yourself and try to rediscover balance.
Two weeks ago, we editorialized on the importance of testing as a means to mitigate community spread. Now, Middlebury is offering opt-in asymptomatic testing on Mondays. However, many questions and contradictions remain regarding Covid-19 risk and safety protocols on campus. As a board, we are again asking for more transparent channels of communication and clearly stated guidelines. Our semester depends on it. We, as students, feel as if we’re being kept in the dark. We’re being asked to navigate a situation in which we know that risk is present, but we don’t know where or how much. It doesn’t seem as if the administration wants us to know how prevalent Covid-19 is on campus, even if this awareness would lead us to make more risk-averse decisions. Though the college does have some sense of the prevalence of Covid-19 on campus through sporadic testing, students aren’t being notified of cases on campus until days later. The Covid-19 reporting dashboard is only updated on Mondays, even though individual students are notified about their test results several days prior. This seems like an arbitrary, and ultimately unsafe, decision to withhold information about positive cases in our community — especially given that the current timeline for releasing information means students may go into the weekend without an accurate case count. Even if we disregard how delays in updating the dashboard may make the case count outdated, the number of active cases right now — idling around four — is only representative of the cases found in the distinct fraction of the student body who have been tested, meaning that many cases may go unidentified in students that aren’t being tested. An email sent out by the SGA quoting CDC guidelines notes that testing is recommended for high-exposure activities such as “attending large social or mass gatherings, or spending time in crowded or poorly-ventilated indoor settings.” Spoiler alert: if you’ve eaten lunch in a dining hall, this includes you. And we are not only unsure of the number of cases on campus — we also don’t know what the college’s plans to do if there is an outbreak. In addition, this week was the first time many of us had heard of contact tracing efforts being undertaken this semester, and it remains unclear to what constitutes an exposure, or what students are expected to do if notified. Should they still go to the dining halls? Attend in-person classes? Some official contact tracing alerts also seemed to occur days after students were already aware of a proximate case, leading them to seek testing in town far before they were required to do so on campus. One of our editors noted that she was contact-traced via one of her classes, but her professor was not notified. Though CDC guidelines state that vaccinated individuals do not have to isolate, we also must acknowledge that those guidelines are not necessarily targeted toward a residential campus. (And if any CDC official were to step foot in Atwater on a Saturday night, they would likely rethink their regulations.) In essence, we want to be safe. But again, we’re not sure how to do that — what constitutes concern is still incredibly unclear. We’re told to cautiously travel off campus though we know hoards of parents from all over — whose vaccine status is currently assessed based on the honor system — will arrive on campus next weekend. And as fall break looms, students are unsure if they should just stay put over the four-day weekend to limit potential exposure; however, without transparency regarding Covid-19 testing, students don’t even know how safe it is to be on campus at the moment. We’re unsure if we’re supposed to skip class and quarantine if we have a dull headache or the sniffles, and if we do decide to isolate, there’s no guarantee that professors will accommodate our absences. The cases identified on campus thus far demonstrate that vaccines cannot be our only safeguard. Keeping each other safe means knowing what safety levels actually look like on campus day to day. Middlebury students are ready to hold up our end of the bargain — but we can only do so if we know the costs.