Across campus, students are packing up their belongings and preparing to head home to complete the remainder of this uniquely difficult semester remotely. We’re sure that many of you — like us — were apprehensive or even downright dubious about making it to November and departing Middlebury as scheduled this weekend. These three months, while unfamiliar and frustrating, also left room for navigating unconventional means of fulfillment and connection. So, as we squeeze boxes into cars and check in for cross-country flights, we want to recognize that although this semester was not easy, we made it this far nonetheless. We maintained an extremely low prevalence of positive cases on campus and found new ways to create a sense of community and togetherness. Unlike most other colleges across the nation, we had access to some in-person classes and activities, and were granted the opportunity to engage with and support the town. There are a myriad of thank yous to be doled out — to the town for welcoming and trusting us, to professors who gracefully overcame the dreaded Zoom silences, to the facilities and services staff that keep us fed and safe, and to student organization leaders who fought tirelessly to put on events regardless of the circumstances. In appreciating these silver linings, it is also imperative that we do not sugarcoat or repress the frustrating and disheartening realities of this semester. We have all felt the anxiety, isolation and exhaustion — already inherent in college — become increasingly magnified under the shadow of Covid-19. Making it through the fall safely was an impressive feat, but the toll taken on the mental health of students, staff and faculty cannot be discounted. From first-years who are largely limited to their cramped doubles to super senior Febs who are departing Midd sans graduation ceremony, our entire community has experienced our own unique and shared feelings of loss. While we may have survived this semester, the sustainability of this new normal has yet to be seen. We’ve likely all heard the murmurs (or exclamations) of friends and peers who are not planning to return in the spring — and perhaps ruminated on this decision ourselves. While this semester may have been doable, these feelings of relief or completion do not necessarily equate to that of a long-term, feasible ability to continue the way we have been. We hope that in the spring, we as a community can strike a balance between the preservation of both our physical and mental health, and we urge the administration to seek comprehensive student feedback in this regard. From the availability of communal study spaces and heated outdoor dining to the necessity of breaks and more consistency between permitted extracurricular activities, there is still lots for students and administration to communicate and collaborate on together. Even after the three month break, many students remain skeptical about their potential ability to endure another semester like this one. This is not just your average case of end-of-semester burnout — it’s indisputable that we are going to need increased support, resources and creativity in order to do this all again. We are grateful for the opportunities granted this semester, even if they transpired behind masks and at a distance. Now, it’s time to think critically about sustaining, not just surviving. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
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This year, we’ve all made sacrifices necessary for a safe return to Middlebury. Faculty have spent their summers — typically reserved for research and downtime — reworking their syllabi, and students have committed to taking classes from their dorm rooms. These adjustments are commendable. However, the administrative rhetoric — that creative planning and a summer of preparation would result in online classes that would be academically and pedagogically up to par — has proven to be as untrue as many students anticipated. For many of us, especially those who are taking multiple online classes, learning has felt more difficult. Attending classes over Zoom means that our bedrooms and classrooms have merged into one place, blurring the line between leisure and academic spaces and making it harder to focus in class. Those living in double rooms face additional challenges, as some students might have overlapping Zoom classes with their roommates. Restrictions around access to academic buildings and a lack of adequate study spaces only exacerbate these difficulties. It’s also impossible to replicate the organic flow of traditional conversations in class discussions, as participants are forced to wait their turn to be called on to unmute themselves and make a point. Long silences and stilted discussions characterize many of our class meetings, and maintaining focus and active engagement through a screen often feels futile. Gone are the days of lingering behind after class to chat with professors or to make lunch plans with classmates, engaging in witty rapport and sharing knowing glances — or even pencils — with people next to you. It’s these small gestures that we took for granted before that helped us facilitate bonds with our peers and professors, which has felt much harder to do this semester. For many of us, our “Zoommates” don’t exist beyond the boxes on our screen, and we are left yearning for more authentic social interactions — or any in-person interactions at all. But it hasn’t been all bad. Many professors have implemented in-person components such as in-person office hours or assignments that involve going outside or interacting with people. Many have also made themselves more readily available for support, whether that be through additional office hours or staying behind to answer questions for a few minutes after Zoom class. We want to express gratitude for the extensive work that professors put into creating online classes almost entirely from scratch and learning new technologies in order to do so. For many, holding in-person classes posed health and safety risks or became impossible in light of new Covid-19 restrictions or childcare responsibilities. Thus, teaching classes online — whether in an (a)synchronous, hyper-flexible, or blended mode — wasn’t a choice so much as a necessity. Looking forward to the spring, we acknowledge that the realities of this ongoing pandemic will likely force many professors to continue to teach online. Despite these obstacles, more professors will be teaching in person, with double the amount of fully in-person classes, which we are grateful for. However, more than half of the classes offered in the spring will still be taught fully online, and a significant majority will include online components — only 26% of classes will be fully in-person. Knowing what we know about the spring courses, we ask that professors who will be teaching online provide and expand upon the in-person components of their classes to the best of their capacity. For professors, this may be a small blip in a long academic career, a year of online classes amid decades of teaching. But for undergraduate students who get just four years of instruction, two semesters spent taking many (or all) online classes can feel like a major detriment to learning and the academic experience as a whole. Small things make a difference, and we hope professors keep this in mind as we head toward another unconventional semester. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
Right now, across the country, Americans are standing for hours in lengthy queues at their voting sites and mailing in their ballots to participate in this year’s election. More than 69.5 million voters have already cast their votes, an early voting turnout unrivaled in American electoral history. Students have made it clear that democratic participation is a priority: several student groups, including MiddVote and Middlebury Does Democracy, have led the way in motivating Middlebury students to engage in local politics and in national elections. The college, too, can play its part in removing barriers to participation by making Election Day a holiday for its students, faculty and staff. Vermont has taken nearly every step possible to make sure voting is accessible. Residents enjoy same-day registration, lack of photo ID requirements, full suffrage for felons and, this year, automatic distribution of mail-in ballots. Now it’s time for Middlebury to show the same commitment. While many students have already mailed in their out-of-state ballots, declaring a college holiday would help ensure that every member of the community can cast a vote. Given the short timeframe, it may be implausible to make Nov. 3 a holiday for Middlebury this year. However, faculty members who hold some power in this matter can elect to cancel class on Tuesday to encourage students to vote. Anyone with scheduling power has the responsibility to afford those beholden to them the opportunity to vote on Election Day. Staff who have full-day shifts on Election Day are not afforded the opportunity to exercise their right to vote in person. Although unintentional, typical busy Tuesday work schedules present a barrier to democratic participation. Even if supervisors are able to rearrange the schedule for their staff — allowing some to vote on Election Day — having to request time off from work may be discouraging to some potential voters. The college should actively encourage staff to vote and intentionally introduce flexibility in work schedules on the day of the election. In future cycles, as the challenges of the pandemic wane and many of us are required to return the polls, having the day off will be more important than ever. As voter suppression runs rampant across the United States, the college must use its influence to not only underscore the importance of voting but also to empower all members of the Middlebury community to participate in the election. Middlebury’s goal should be to increase voter turnout with every election cycle. This year’s elections — from the top of the ballot to the bottom — feel like they matter more than those in years past. They matter to the students mailing their ballot back to their home state, to the students who cannot vote in this country and to all who will be taking time to visit their local polling place. Voting is a right, and barriers to exercising that right should be removed in any form they take. If you have not already voted, you can vote in person on Nov. 3 at the Middlebury Recreation Center at 154 Creek Rd. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. We will be taking a hiatus from publishing next week to give our members who intend to vote additional scheduling flexibility and to alleviate pressure during a particularly stressful time. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
We are lucky to be here — and it’s all thanks to our faculty and staff, who have been working nonstop to ensure that we have a safe and productive on-campus experience with at least some semblance of normalcy. We see and appreciate everything being done on our behalf. And not just the work — it’s the kindness, empathy and compassion faculty and staff have extended to us. We have no doubt that this semester has been overwhelming for them, too, yet their consistent efforts to make our campus welcoming and safe have helped students stay sane. The smiles from staff at Atwater breakfast, the sympathetic revisions to syllabi midway through midterms, and the care conveyed in emails and greetings — these gestures don’t go unnoticed. Professors spent their spring and summer months readjusting their curricula and learning how to navigate new technologies. Many of them are currently working from home, balancing childcare with teaching. To accommodate for the unusually large incoming class, new first year seminars were added to the course catalog, and professors who had not previously taught this type of course stepped up to the challenge. Others are navigating teaching entire courses asynchronously: staring at bright computers giving lectures, posting discussion prompts on Canvas threads and sending out mass emails, all in hopes that their meticulous efforts reach at least some students. And as many professors work to foster connections through longer, more accessible office hours and unconventionally rapid responses to emails, they are also battling their own isolation away from their campus and students. Staff have come face to face with an increased workload and a riskier work environment this fall. Dining hall staff are working overtime, taking on new responsibilities with fewer hands to go around. In light of Covid-19 restrictions, coaches are overseeing more practices to ensure that all athletes can participate and receive feedback. Custodial staff have had their hours shifted, now working late at night and in the early hours of the morning, at the expense of their usual banter and interactions with students. Despite these challenging conditions, staff are going the extra mile to make students feel as welcome and supported this semester as always. Overworked and overwhelmed, dining staff still put in the extra work to give students small joys — in the form of Halloween decorations — during a stressful exam period. Although unable to interact face to face with students, custodians leave behind kind notes on whiteboards outside of cleaned bathrooms. Staff in supporting roles — those who work in the CCI, the libraries, the CTLR and Mahaney, to name a few — are giving us the same quality of support despite often having no centralized location or offices to work from. While this semester has been challenging for all of us, it’s important to note that the majority of students did have the privilege of choosing to return to on-campus living this fall. In contrast, many staff had no choice but to return to work on campus, despite the health risks, stresses, and emotional tolls that come with working this semester. We recognize that this semester’s success would have been impossible without the efforts of staff and faculty. As this in-person term comes to a close in less than a month, we should remember that we have the capacity to not only benefit from support but also provide it. Small acts of gratitude — such as expressing gratitude for the food staff prepare or the sanitary safety they provide — go a long way in building a Middlebury community that makes people want to return, even in a pandemic. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
We’ve felt it too. The pressure, late nights and stress of this semester are more intense and taxing than usual. Of course, some of this can be chalked up to the global and national conditions of our present moment. Attending college during a pandemic and a moment of national unrest was always going to be difficult. Yet one Middlebury-made stresser adds yet another layer: our busyness culture. During any given semester, college students all around the country pressure themselves to fill their time — to be perpetually busy — in order to get the most out of their undergraduate experience. But at Middlebury, this practice has elevated into an artform. Braggadocio of late-night studying, volume-shooting internship applications and long lists of clubs joined serve as battle scars of a productive semester. Somehow, the pandemic has elevated these self-inflicted pressures. Now, without social outlets like weekend parties, days off or even just going to a friend’s room to break up the grind of the semester, many students are throwing themselves into work just to fill the time. The institutional and cultural pressure of internships and jobs are yet another stressor to deal with, adding more work to students’ already burdened plates. Without open access to public study spaces, students are confined to their rooms, further blending the boundaries between study and relaxation. To make matters worse, while most professors are leading with grace and flexibility, some seem far too eager to burden students with large courseloads and unforgiving deadlines in an attempt to preserve the rigor of a Middlebury education. The sum of these parts is an overworked and under-rested student body. At Middlebury, the grind doesn’t stop; it just adapts. The nightmarish question of “was your pandemic productive?” looms over all students, even those taking the semester off. These pressures were compounded last week with the college’s announcement of a remote J-Term and late start to the second semester. Faced with an empty three months to fill on short notice, many students are struggling to imagine how — or where — they’ll spend their winter. Only three weeks away from the decision deadline, many are scrambling to make plans. For many students, the busyness stresses of the current semester are relatively “normal”: classes, internships and academic work. For some, leaving campus for an extended period of time means that these stresses will be replaced with the far more terrifying reality of the pandemic and the material health risks it brings. Students with proximity to frontline workers — or are frontline workers themselves — or to those with vulnerabilities must deal with much more serious questions than whether or not their professor will round up an 89. Conversely, others will retreat to comfort, far away from the most devastating realities of the pandemic, and be free to fret over the snowfall on the ski slopes. Without the equalizing force of campus, Middlebury students are headed for vastly different experiences, further heightening the student body’s class divisions. But the common thread that connects us all is busyness, in all of its forms. Everyone wants to make their time away from campus worthwhile, but that word has a different meaning for each student. There is a pressure from both Middlebury the institution and Middlebury the culture to perform — and to perform well. Yet we, the students, create that culture that we consume. There is an exit from this, and it begins with all of us appreciating the circumstances under which we find ourselves. Kindness to ourselves and others — however cliché — must be a motivating force for all of us as we finish out the term and navigate the winter. The grind of internship applications and busywork will not be what gets us through this pandemic. Thoughtful reconsideration of our own goals this semester is needed in order to create an environment that works for all. This should also be a moment of self-reflection. Each of us should focus on prioritizing our own mental health and filling our days with what we value — not what others tell us is valuable. Moving away from busyness culture as a community requires figuring out what’s right for each of us and supporting that in one another. [pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]It’s okay to be busy, but not for the sake of being busy.[/pullquote] What makes Middlebury, and an on-campus experience, special is the people. Peers, staff and professors are why students came back to campus. Let’s not lose sight of that in the deluge of work that currently lays in front of us. Our social outlets may look different, but we should make time to maintain and cultivate connections and take care of ourselves. The community displayed during this past Spring’s evacuation was a fleeting glimpse of a better Middlebury — we have to make it permanent. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
Three months ago, we editorialized on the importance of working and thinking beyond the Instagram stories and Twitter trends revolving around performative anti-racist advocacy in the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many more. “As protests and racial justice begin to leave the national discourse — our actions from this point onward are key in implementing concrete changes and forwarding genuine change,” the Editorial Board wrote in July. Implementing these concrete changes at Middlebury — that dismantle structures of institutional racism and engender cultural shifts that decenter whiteness and white comfort — are more imperative and urgent than ever before. On Friday, Sept. 25, just hours after more than 500 hundred students marched on College Park protesting the Breonna Taylor verdict, Rodney Adams ’21 and Jameel Uddin ’22 were accosted by two white students who referred to them using a racial slur. Then, on Thursday, the Political Science department in conjuction with the widely contentious Alexander Hamilton Forum sponsored a debate titled “1619 or 1776: Was America Founded on Slavery?” It has been made painstakingly clear that Middlebury must come to reckon with our complicity in the occurrence of overt hate speech — but also grapple with how institutional recognition of certain events leads BIPOC students to question their place on this campus. We must also recognize for whom the consequences of such events have just been made clear, and who has always known such stark injustices to be apparent and normalized. While many white students expressed shock and dismay in response to these incidents, entrenched racism on campus has always been a demoralizing reality for BIPOC students. For them, the use of explicit racial slurs, an academic climate that treats the lived experiences of BIPOC students as topical academic theories and the morally deficient outcomes of police brutality verdicts aren’t just unsurprising — they’re expected. Students, in their own right, have a vital obligation to reach far beyond their aesthetic Instagram infographics to bridge this disconnect. And while holding our peers accountable day in and day out is critical, we cannot let the administration off the hook for the role they play in abetting racism on campus. This summer, our inboxes were peppered with promises we have yet to see reach fruition, from the half-a-million dollars to support nebulous “anti-racist programming” to obscure plans for a new task force, a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) action plan and supposed initiatives at the board and trustee level. Students remain in the dark about these initiatives, and we urge the administration to double down on a much-needed sense of urgency that has appeared absent thus far. [pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]We cannot wait for an amorphous five-year plan to tackle racism on campus. We must see material steps being taken as soon as possible — not just ambiguous lip service directed towards students who require both answers and healing. [/pullquote] These steps in question are not a mystery. The letter to President Patton published last week in The Campus by Adams and Kaila Thomas ’21, the organizer of the Breonna Taylor protest, outlined a myriad of definitive demands ranging from Black faculty and staff recruitment efforts and a comprehensive Black Studies program to a compensated body of Black students responsible for creating distinct anti-racist initiatives alongside the Senior Leadership Group. It is becoming increasingly evident that Middlebury does not have a concrete framework for addressing the racism that is embedded in the fabric of our institution. The administration has not only lacked adequate clarity and urgency — they are also unprepared. This dilemma draws a parallel with another serious aspect of Middlebury life that we have been considerably prepared for. When it comes to Covid-19, we have extensive infrastructure in place to tackle the general campus culture surrounding everyday actions. Conversations regarding Covid-19 safety and responsibility aren’t just encouraged, they’re unavoidable. From classrooms to residence halls to required trainings, Middlebury has ensured that this discourse has become a natural part of our daily lives. But why is it can we not have the same all-encompassing focus on campus toward anti-racist work? Why have dialogues surrounding race and race-based advocacy been confined to a specific few while many — predominantly white — members of our community get to skate by? Why is it that some professors can choose to go the entire semester without once having to confront inequities in their own classrooms? It is long past time that we as a community stop placing these conversations and actions on the back burner. We students have a lot of work to do, but we expect that the powers that be will meet us halfway. We can no longer afford to be surprised by manifestations of both structural and interpersonal racism at Middlebury, and we can no longer be complicit in enabling the circumstances that allow such manifestations to be perpetuated. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
We’re four weeks into the semester, and the stakes for violating Covid-19 regulations are high: 44 students have been disciplined and 27 were sent home. As we’ve transitioned into Phase Two, boundaries that previously felt very clear-cut have become ambiguous. Many of us that remain on campus are apprehensive, wondering which lines we’ve crossed, if any, and whether or not these infractions are dire enough to get us sent home. #closecontact has made an appearance in many recent Instagram captions, as the threat of “go/snitch” remains ever-present and people feel the need to “prove their innocence.” In the face of these uncertainties, one thing is clear: while the college had a strong plan for putting regulations in place to bring us back in a healthy and safe manner, the regulations currently in place are inconsistent and unsustainable. Despite frequent emails from administrators with policy updates, many ambiguities and discrepancies in the Covid-19 regulations remain unaddressed. For example, the Student Health Pledge we all signed this summer stated that students in suites or small houses would be allowed to take off their masks while in their place of residence after receiving two negative Covid-19 tests; however, when new Phase Two guidelines were sent out two weeks ago, they dictated that masks must be worn at all times — even in those same shared spaces. Guidance regarding room capacity also gives pause: four singles in a random hallway be allowed one additional person each, totalling eight, so why is the maximum occupancy of a four-person suite only five? Students are also left wondering how on- and off-campus policies align. For example, the new solitary, awkward dining hall seating only allows one person per table, and massive picnic tables outside are limited to two occupants. Yet, when students eat inside of restaurants in town, it’s not clear if they are subject to the same standards. A lack of clarity makes student compliance difficult, and watching 27 of our peers get sent home only ramps up those anxieties. Compliance with Covid-19 regulations will also be rendered unsustainable once the temperature drops. Most of our current social interactions revolve around being outdoors: picnicking with friends, walking the TAM, outdoor club meetings, going on hikes and enjoying the fall foliage. These options will no longer be viable in a few weeks. As winter draws nearer and days get shorter, loneliness often increases and social interaction becomes invaluable for mental wellness. Given the college’s current lack of Covid-19-safe in-person activities, students will be left to their own devices, increasing the likelihood of breaking guidelines for the sake of seeing friends, as the only alternative to being left alone in their rooms. This poses a serious threat to our collective socio-emotional wellbeing, especially as we continue to navigate a worldwide pandemic and widespread social inequity. Those impending winter months coupled with ongoing indoor space access restrictions will also limit students’ ability to work productively or have any escape from their rooms. Providing all students with access to study spaces such as BiHall and increasing the capacity of study rooms in Davis could help mitigate these anxieties. It also ensures that students will not fall into the trap of going days on end doing work with no human contact — a reasonable risk given that so many of us take our classes online from our rooms. We ask that the college help set students up for success by accommodating our social and emotional needs. While we recognize that loosening restrictions comes with certain risks, we believe that it could ultimately prevent larger-risk activities from occurring down the road. One such example would be decreasing the amount of time it takes for student orgs to get approved to host in-person events, which would make a big difference in ensuring that students are provided with safe options to socialize with others. We also suggest that the college send out a student survey in order to gauge the types of accommodations students prioritize in order to help guide these decisions. We hope the college employs the same focus that they used to bring us back to campus to keep us here. Middlebury must prioritize the health of its community — yes, we must do everything to prevent an outbreak of the virus on campus — but we must also do everything we can to make life here as livable as possible. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
For the last month, the unease and anxiety that settled over campus have been matched with restlessness and anticipation as students awaited Phase Two. Starting September 17, students were granted regulated access to indoor athletic facilities, some closer contacts and, most notably, the opportunity to leave campus. We’re now permitted to travel within Addison County, so long as we continue to adhere to strict face covering and distancing guidelines — but this doesn’t mean we’re permitted to be any less careful. The transition into Phase Two has been characterized by both fervor and apprehension as students depart campus — where we have zero active cases — to spend time in town and elsewhere. As we take this exciting step in this strange and unfamiliar semester, it is more imperative than ever that we remain vigilant of both our actions and our optics. The relationship between the college and the town of Middlebury has often been complicated. The college is the biggest employer in the county, but it is still often perceived as a separate, exclusive entity that is closed off and disconnected from the rest of the region. For instance, staff members rely financially on the college to stay open, but having students on campus undoubtedly puts them at risk of exposure. Likewise, small businesses in town depend on student dollars, but watching us meander through town isn’t necessarily a comfort either. There is also an added layer of tension present as visitors are still, hypocritically, barred from campus despite the fact that students can enter the town. Some townspeople have been beyond grateful to see us return, as students report being enthusiastically welcomed at BevCo and other retail establishments. A sign advertising the Stone Mill downtown read “Thank you Midd students [...] you crushed it! Keep up the great work!” in brightly colored chalk. On the other hand, students have also noted worried or scornful looks from passersby and have also experienced more contentious interactions with community members. Such fears are far from unfounded. Concerns regarding 2,000 students showing up to your home during a pandemic are, well, more than justifiable. In March, students did not depart Middlebury on a positive note when they ransacked both the campus and town on their way out. So while the relationship between the town and students is mutually beneficial in theory, the tension inherent in these unparalleled circumstances requires students to be more conscientious, intentional and gracious than ever. Leaving campus may mean fewer eyes on your mask wearing or social distancing, but just because there’s no one to publicly shame you — or better yet, go/snitch a picture of you and all your friends — does not mean that anything should change as we step off College Street. [pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]Encountering individuals in town or on hiking trails, unmasked or in large groups, should not be an invitation to let down our guard.[/pullquote] Although it may be tempting to evade regulations when not under the watchful eyes of our peers and PubSafe, we urge students to hold each other accountable no matter where they may be. Our motivations should come from a place of community care and safety, not from a place of avoiding discipline or judgement. Across the nation, there have been countless incidents of college students risking both the safety of their peers and health of their surrounding communities, and we must do everything we can to ensure we do not follow suit. After all, we are temporary residents here. When we leave — whether it be after four years or unexpectedly due to a Covid-related evacuation — our impact here (in whatever form that takes) remains in Middlebury. There is an unusual duality present in the fact that despite the homes we forge here, at the end of the day, we are still guests. Even after the physical damage and emotional stress our departure and subsequent return has inflicted, for the most part, we have still been welcomed with open arms. This in itself says more than enough about the goodwill of the people we pass in the aisles of the Co-op, in the line at Otter Creek and on the streets of downtown. There is no better time than now for us to return the favor. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
In May, we editorialized on Middlebury’s need to reaffirm its values by protecting its communities in the face of deep financial uncertainty. Four months later and back on campus again, we are making the same plea. For many in our community, it is hard to imagine how the gaping $18.5million hole of an operating deficit will affect Middlebury. For others, it is all too clear. Employees of the college are grappling with both a wage-freeze and a hiring-freeze — policies enacted to stop the bleeding from an anticipated $10 million in Covid-19 related losses in 2021. For many operational staff members, these compounding policies along with new Covid-19 workloads have resulted in an uncomfortable overextension: doing more work for the same — historically measly — pay. Middlebury’s endowment is currently valued at about $1.15 billion. Many see this large accumulation of wealth as hoarding; especially indefensible as current austerity measures grind aspects of campus life to a halt. However, the reality of the endowment is more complex. $946 million is tied up in earmarked donations, and can’t be touched without the consent of their respective donors, and $180 million is controlled by the Board of Trustees. These two funds comprise about 97% of the endowment and can be used for a litany of things around campus, but — perhaps most importantly — about 30% is devoted to need-based scholarships for students. There is only so much money we can draw each year without endangering the financial health of Middlebury and its future students. Endowments are designed to fund programs forever by keeping the originally donated amounts intact and only spending returns on those investments. Dipping into the endowment eliminates the ability for those donations to fund programs in perpetuity, meaning that major one-time expenditures now could permanently deplete funding for future students. And so we find ourselves in a predicament. If we draw more from the endowment, we may defund the scholarships that afford so many students the opportunity to achieve a Middlebury education and the programs that enrich our — and future students’ — experiences. Yet if we don’t, we continue to neglect the staff members that are the backbone of our institution — who have historically worked for low wages — and jeopardize their jobs in the event that students are sent home. Let’s look at how we got to this point. Through no fault of the current administration, the deficit is a direct result of years of gross financial mismanagement: nearly a decade of poor operating budgeting has left us where we are today. Bowdoin’s endowment was smaller than Middlebury’s in 2010; it is now over $600 million larger. Resultantly, Bowdoin is not increasing tuition this year and, like Middlebury, is also committed to keeping its workforce fully intact. Through their discretionary funds in the endowment, the vast majority of the college’s wealth lies in the hands of about 1,800 donors and 30 trustees, which, may we add, could one day include you. Those financial decisions, made by a group of individuals smaller than the number of undergrads currently on campus, reflect the values of Middlebury College. Now is the perfect opportunity for them to reaffirm the college’s lofty stated goals of inclusivity and “ethical citizenship.” These goals have not been met so far — staff have yet to be offered the security and peace of mind should students be evacuated from campus, nor the compensation associated with increased demands. Preparation for the next “unprecedented” event must begin now. The most vulnerable are increasingly visible during uncertain and challenging times. Internalize this awareness, and if you one day find yourself in the position of those 1,800 donors with the ability to influence the college’s allocations of wealth, remember that your donations can make an outsized difference to the most vulnerable. The endowment has always been a reflection of what Middlebury prioritizes; this is why Divest Middlebury was ultimately so meaningful. Decisions to invest in — or out — of certain areas display who the college and its donors view as valuable. We implore these donors, board members and alumni: do not continue to forget about who keeps the campuses of Middlebury humming, about those who enable such a great education to take place. Middlebury’s strength is in its people: its hardworking staff, brilliant faculty and diverse student body. Middlebury can only survive if it works — and spends — for all. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
To our new first years, we at The Campus want to welcome you with open arms. Six feet apart of course. As we begin this new semester, we won’t pretend that any of the circumstances we currently find ourselves in are normal — nor should we. We know you’re all trying to find your place and understand how you belong in this community. This “new abnormal” is challenging and unfamiliar for all of us. While we certainly don’t have all the answers, we want to acknowledge how we all got here, validate what you may be feeling and give you some things to look forward to. First, we want to acknowledge what you all went through before finding yourself here. After the interruptions to your senior years and virtual graduations, we know how eager you all are to be here. Even so, despite the constant “go/snitch” references and the masks and social distancing, it can be easy to feel like this little bubble of Middlebury College is far removed from the grim realities of the current pandemic. While it’s true that a portion of Middlebury’s population was privileged enough to come out of the past five months relatively unscathed, it is undeniable that we have collectively been through grief and trauma. We witnessed death tolls rise — sometimes within our own circles — social and racial inequities exacerbate and members of our communities and their family members be at risk on the frontlines. Although we might not be as directly impacted by these issues now that we are at Middlebury, that doesn’t erase what we went through — nor the fact that many of our loved ones back home continue to struggle. While we were still reeling from the sharp adjustment to quarantine, that grief was compounded after the murder of George Floyd reminded us of the dire consequences of the systemic racism entrenched in the U.S. This had ripple effects in our own institution this summer, through moments such as the “Farewell From an Unwelcome Hire” email and its subsequent deletion, Black at Midd’s petition, the micro and macro-aggressions highlighted on the Dear Midd Instagram account and more. While the prevalence of racism on our very own campus was not news for any of the BIPOC members of our community, it forced us to pull back the curtains that previously allowed white students to turn a blind eye to the realities of the systemic oppression perpetuated at Middlebury, and we can’t go back. These events were difficult for many of us, but as already-established members of the community, we can only imagine what it must’ve been like to process this as someone transitioning into an unknown environment. We understand that for those of you from marginalized backgrounds, these events might’ve compounded whatever fears you already had about attending this predominantly white institution. Being a first year is difficult and disorienting no matter what the circumstances are, and you and your classmates are entering Middlebury on uneven footing. Many of you may be transitioning into living on your own for the first time while also adjusting to a more rigorous course load than you might've previously been required to juggle. Meeting new people and making friends is incredibly nerve-wracking, and even more so when Covid-19 guidelines prevent organic social interactions. We know it must feel pretty isolating as you’re masked and distanced from your new classmates and unable to visit family or friends outside of campus. But, we can assure you, it’s hard for the rest of us too. All of this can be made especially challenging if you are a BIPOC, low-income or first-generation student, or all of the above. While it’s likely inevitable that some of you will feel unwelcome, feel a sense of imposter syndrome or just take more time than others to find your own communities, know that you have every right to exist here and take up space as your authentic self. As cliché as it sounds, you were chosen to come to Middlebury for a reason. We can’t guarantee that you’re going to find your place and that things will be okay, because the truth is that none of us know that right now. We are all living with constant uncertainty, but that shouldn’t stop us from taking full advantage of Middlebury and all it has to offer while we’re here. There are so many resources and support systems available for you if you need it, whether it be academic, emotional, identity-based or beyond. One of the best parts of Middlebury can be the people you meet and the community you build during your time here. Finding and creating those communities can more often than not take time, and, while meeting new people may feel inauthentic over Zoom calls, there will still be opportunities to make friends. If you don’t immediately find your people, it’s okay. Further, although the traditional party scene is missing this fall, we all might be better off for it in the long run, as we find ourselves scattered on picnic blankets across the grass, having sober conversations and creating more genuine relationships. All of this is still so new, and we encourage you to look out for yourselves and one another. Prioritize your mental health, and while vulnerability is terrifying, it can also be really rewarding. Communicate with your friends, upperclassmen, FYCs, Dean and/or professors if you are struggling (depending on the situation), and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Regardless of how you’re feeling, know that someone else here has been through it or feels a similar way and can support you through it. Look out for your classmates. Mutual aid and support is how we maintain a healthy and strong-knit community. First years, we’re excited to live and learn with you all in this unconventional semester. You’re each a crucial piece of the Middlebury puzzle, and soon you’ll find where you fit. Welcome home. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
In the past few weeks, social media has seen an outpouring of #BlackLivesMatter hashtags and posts, petitions and resources, as well as fundraisers for bail funds and other organizations addressing systemic racism. Now, coverage of protests is gradually leaving the news cycle and our social media feeds are beginning to “return to normal.” But this moment is a critical juncture in the fight against systemic racism. We cannot lose traction: refusing responsibility will only serve to perpetuate systemic racism. The structural racism woven into the fabric of our social, political and economic systems cannot be overhauled in one stroke. Rather, they require a persistent, intentional commitment to anti-racism. This means that — as protests and racial justice begin to leave the national discourse — our actions from this point onward are key in implementing concrete changes and forwarding genuine change. And while many Middlebury students are inclined to consider themselves social justice-oriented, we have a long way to go when it comes to translating our online activism into offline actions that dismantle systems of oppression in our personal lives. Don’t get us wrong: using your platform to stand against white supremacy and to spread awareness is crucial. However, ceasing to be allies when we put our phones down isn’t productive. Activism is not monolithic, and we at The Campus won’t pretend to have all the answers. But we’re hoping to point out some of the areas we can improve as a community. Commitment only goes as far as knowledge allows it. To be anti-racist, it is crucial to learn the history and evolution of white supremacy in this country. The learning process can be uncomfortable. It means that we have to look within ourselves to acknowledge that the systems that educated us are inherently racist and have nurtured our implicit biases and prejudices. This growth does not have an inherent finish line; it is a constant process of learning as well as unlearning. In the past few weeks, various institutions across Middlebury have shared a variety of resources through email. These resources are a great entry point to an anti-racist education. Let’s use them together. Communication is an integral component of anti-racist work. Asking a family member or close friend how they feel about what is happening can create a smooth transition into honest and open conversations. The topic of racism and white supremacy cannot possibly be exhausted in a single conversation — it requires a consistent and expansive commitment to have open dialogues with each other. It might be uncomfortable or even difficult at times, but it will certainly become easier as we normalize these conversations in our lives. While systemic issues require systemic changes, our political rights can help mitigate some issues and lead to more significant advancements. Voting, signing petitions and protesting are among the most effective forms of political expression. We have an obligation to each other to ensure that we use these tools whenever possible to exert pressure on those in power, whether they sit in government or private institutions. It is no secret that many Middlebury students have immense wealth and resources. Donations are important, but it is equally important to be informed about to whom we are donating. We encourage donors to research which organizations hold themselves and their leadership accountable and to seek proof of their impact and work. We also suggest looking locally and finding organizations doing important work in your own communities. If long-term contributions are possible, setting up a monthly donation is an effective and easy way to support important causes. Finally, we should keep others accountable. Call out the racist joke made by your family member or friend. Report and follow-up with administration and faculty when they are insensitive. Have conversations about why something isn’t acceptable and courses of action to correct what was done. Accountability should also extend to the institutions and communities that made us who we are today. Contact your former schools and call for an implementation of curriculum on institutional and systemic racism to begin these conversations earlier. We must rely on ourselves because, ultimately, our own accountability for others is accountability for ourselves. As the summer carries on, it’s inevitable that the news cycles will change. But this is not a passing moment. It is and should be a turning point. To look away now would be to perpetuate centuries of systemic violence, to further marginalize our nation’s most vulnerable. It is a messy, emerging journey that acknowledges that the most important learning and action lies beyond the borders of discomfort and uncertainty. Maintaining good intentions is no longer going to cut it. Being a member of any community, whether at Middlebury or otherwise, requires collective effort. It is up to all of us whether we each choose to commit to the work that is ours to do. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board. You can learn more about our own institutional response to police brutality and systemic racism here.
As widespread financial downturn and economic instability pepper front-page headlines and punctuate the inner workings of our day to day lives, institutions of higher education also find themselves facing their own fiscal obstacles. From offering partial tuition refunds to investing in online learning tools and canceling a variety of programs, budgetary shortfalls are threatening the livelihoods of countless colleges and universities. Even with an endowment that hovers around $1 billion, Middlebury is currently confronting a projected $30 million deficit for the 2021 fiscal year. This is a reality that cannot be easily circumvented or sidestepped. The truth is that we’re going to be in a financially tight spot for the time being, and the way that Middlebury chooses to wield its budget is even more critical in a world of financial uncertainty and anxiety. In this crisis, we expect Middlebury’s most intrinsic and consequential values will be decisively highlighted. We hope that these values, in turn, are ones that seek to help and support the most vulnerable members of our community. The discussion over staff wages was paramount even before Covid-19 led to the evacuation of the campus. Extensive under-compensation and pay compression have continued to affect staff members all across campus for a while now. Student protests that took place in December in response to the disconcerting state of staff wages succeeded in raising pay for entry-level staff positions. And while we oppose the fact that it took student intervention to catalyze that achievement, we appreciate and commend the administration’s current commitment in prioritizing staff wages during these unprecedented times. It has been affirmed that these supports will continue “as long as possible” and will be evaluated monthly, and senior leadership executives have taken pay cuts as well. Especially when compared to some of our peer institutions, we are thankful for Middlebury's actions and for the transparency that has accompanied them, as college staff undoubtedly serve as the backbone of our institution. But we as a board also feel that it is imperative to call attention to the long-term consequences of this budget deficit — both in regards to staff and other essential aspects of the Middlebury community. The protections of on-campus resources such as the Anderson Freeman Center and mental health services are vital. Newer academic offerings like the Black Studies and Education Studies departments must also be similarly treated as indispensable. In response to their own financial troubles, Ohio University is cutting professorship positions in Women’s and Gender Studies and African-American Studies. We sorely hope the administration continues to support academic inquiry in underrepresented fields — to abandon such subjects would be severely antithetical to Middlebury’s mission. Furthermore, as students' own finances continue to be affected, the college must commit to providing consistent and comprehensive support networks for the student body. Middlebury’s financial responsibilities and our commitment to a robust community do not have to be mutually exclusive. We hope that the administration will use this crisis as an opportunity to chart a new path, particularly when it comes to supporting our staff. Now more than ever, staff deserve to be adequately compensated for their time and labor. The longstanding disregard of staff issues at Middlebury has been well-documented — and as the largest employer in Addison County, the college has an outstanding obligation to support staff and their families. We demand that the administration prioritize staff not just during these difficult months, but always and without reserve. Our institution would fail to run without them. Of course, such responsibilities cannot weigh solely on the shoulders of the administration. In anticipating our eventual return to campus, we as students must act more conscientiously than we have in the past. Our antics should have never escalated to the point where damage fees had to be accrued — but as Middlebury heads toward an inevitable tightening of the fiscal belt, we cannot afford this level of recklessness and disrespect toward the place we call home. Whether it be urinating in Atwater elevators, committing widespread vandalism, or yes, assaulting a tree, these events burden facilities team members and accumulate avoidable fees. Let’s be cognizant of how irresponsible and self-centered actions can exacerbate already troublesome issues that amass additional costs. Moving forward, the Middlebury community will need to step up and act more considerately. This year is asking a lot from all of us and will continue to do so. We will only be able to weather the storm together if we — administration, faculty, and students — are committed to protecting and supporting each and every member of our community, whether that be financially or otherwise. This moment, albeit terrible and terrifying, is an opportunity for us to build towards the Middlebury that we truly want to see. We will only get there if we all buy in. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
College is often characterized as “the best four years of your life.” In many ways, the undergraduate experience represents an extended attempt to make that dream a reality: choosing who to be friends with, what extracurriculars to join and which subject to major in are all informed by the ideal image of “Middlebury College” we have in our heads. Of course, that narrative is not only far too reductive, but often interferes with our ability to enjoy the college experience. Now, far away from campus during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to take a step back — an opportunity previously only available to alumni — and reflect on how we spend our time at Middlebury. In reality, college is much different than the dreamed-up utopias propagated by popular culture. Our current situation has only introduced more distance between that dream and reality: Physically separated from Middlebury and its consequent FOMO culture, we find ourselves focusing on the things we might have taken for granted while we were still on campus. We miss walking out of Axinn after what should have been a 20-minute check-in with a professor, but which turned into an hour-long conversation on maple creemees. We miss our study buddies, Proc crushes and hallmates. We miss the feeling of a 12-person seminar and the relationships that are built in such a small setting. The further we get from College Street, the more these experiences seem to take on a new significance. At the same time, some of the things we agonized about at the time don’t seem so important. We’d be willing to bet, for instance, you aren’t yearning for sweaty nights in Atwater. The stresses of figuring out who to sit with at Ross, what to wear to that ’80’s-themed party, and whether the question you ask in class might make you seem unintelligent have all fallen by the wayside. What remains are fond memories of spontaneous conversations in Wilson cafe, impromptu movie nights with friends and cooking extravaganzas (read: disasters) in the Battell kitchen. We wish we had more fully embraced the experiences actually offered by Middlebury, rather than spent so much time pursuing the ideal visions we previously helpd of what we were supposed to do. If nothing else, lockdown has shown us is that no one really has it all figured out. When we return to campus, rather than worry whether or not our time at Middlebury is what is “should” be, we should appreciate our undergrad for what it is. As cliché as that sounds, it’s easy to stress over whether or not we are doing college “right.” (Will I be invited to that off-campus party? Am I taking the classes I should be? Should I go to KDR or Tav tonight? Am I finding my people?). Yet, as the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us, even the best laid plans can be disrupted — and so maybe weren’t worth stressing so much about in the first place. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
Here we are — miles and miles away from each other, wondering how to stay connected and hopeful amid these unbelievably uncertain times. Easier said than done, right? We get it; we also miss the soft buzz of students in Davis and the laughs over lunch in Atwater. Still, while we wish this editorial was printed on a paper copy that you picked up in Proctor’s foyer, we hope our Love Issue offers a break from the bombardment of Covid-19-related coverage. Don’t get us wrong: Those stories are incredibly important, and worth reading. We've covered the chaotic process surrounding grading, changes around housing and conditions for staff, the effect of the pandemic on the local Middlebury community. We are also publishing the poignant experiences of the members of our college — and broader Middlebury — community in the Off-Campus Project (to which we hope you’ll submit!). But this week’s stories, which focus on love, are important in a different way. Okay, maybe you’re thinking: “We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and you’re editorializing on love?” Simply — yes. Chances are, we’re all in need of a little love right now. Many of its various forms are no longer available to us: smiles exchanged on an icy sidewalk, say, or rambunctious meals with far too many people crammed around one table. Although the lack of physical proximity might introduce complications, gestures of appreciation and affection are still possible. So, without further ado, here are the Campus’s fun, flirty and (hopefully) fulfilling approaches to love while in lockdown. The Classics Oldie-but-a-goodie ways to remind someone you care. Write a letter. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again. Rummage through your house for that stamp you swear you saw the other day. Sit down, take a breath and frame those feelings in pen and ink. It’ll be worth it, we promise; nothing trumps good old-fashioned snail mail. (Bonus idea: a letter chain within your friend group.) Dole out recipes. We bet you’ve been dying to brag about that sourdough starter, right? It’s not quite the same as splitting the last slice of cake in Proc, but you can still share something yummy from afar. Start a book club. These days, you might be just bored enough to sift through the old stacks of books that are collecting dust in your childhood bedroom. Maybe you’ll start that one you’ve been claiming to have read for months, or maybe you’ll reread the Harry Potter series for nostalgia’s sake. Either way, sharing your thoughts with fellow bookworms can only make things more meaningful. (Check out some of our book recommendations here and here.) Make a playlist. A tradition tracing back to sending mixtapes to love interests, this is undeniably one of the sweetest acts of love out there. It works for friends, family and significant others; really, just about anyone you want to make smile. Digital Devotions How to make good use of that unprecedentedly high screen-time report. Revisit bygone ways of digital communication. Remember when we used to poke each other on Facebook? When we hopped on Houseparty only to find the most random people on the app? Just admit it: iMessage is overused, and sliding into people’s DMs (Slack is our preferred medium, hbu?) doesn’t get enough love. Procrastinate together. Don’t want to write that paper just yet? Use the Netflix Party extension to binge-watch with your friends, or complete the New Yorker crossword in partner mode. Put your relationships to the test by playing Codenames or Settlers of Catan online. Hopefully, that one friend (we all have one), will be less competitive if you’re not in person ... but you never know. Zoom party. Self-explanatory. Self-Love Do what you can for yourself, too. Take a social media break. We’ve all been there, endlessly scrolling until we’ve lost track of time. Now, more than ever, it’s too easy to get sucked into the flurry of likes and tweets. Try setting aside a screen-less chunk of your day — your brain and body will thank you. Go outdoors. If you can, spend some socially-distanced time outside. Maybe you’ve been craving some fresh air, or simply need an escape from your siblings’ incessant bickering. Read a book, walk and listen to a podcast, or try to get some schoolwork done in the sun (or, for those of us who aren’t sheltering in California, at least under the clouds). Have a dance party. Or at least make a TikTok. And don’t say you haven’t downloaded the app. If @middleburycollege has an account, you should, too. Sleep, please. Let us guess: your careful term-time sleep schedule has collapsed over the last few weeks. You’re not alone. But just because you no longer have to drag yourself across campus to your 8 a.m. doesn’t mean self-care should get thrown out the window. At-Home Affections How to show those with whom you’re stuck at home that you’re not that tired of them...yet. Make a meal. Cook with or for someone. Or, if your sibling has been talking up their banana bread a little too much, have a bake-off. Hold a game night. You might not be spending your Saturday nights in an Atwater suite, but that doesn’t mean there needs to be any less yelling! Show small acts of kindness. Help tidy up, make a cup of tea, listen intently. And reminding a family member that today is indeed Thursday — not Monday — goes a long way too. Giving Back How to support those who need it the most. Reach out to your grandparents. Give them a ring and tell them what you’ve been up to. No matter how mundane your day might sound to you, we bet it will mean the world to them. You can also flex your tech skills and teach them how to do what all the cool kids are doing online these days. Lend a (physical) hand. Buy groceries for your elderly neighbors, write a letter to an inmate, help your parents clean the house, or make sure your younger siblings are doing their homework. It’ll make you feel better, too. Whether you’ve already checked off each of these ideas, or if you have yet to even begin, we hope that these suggestions for love and affection remind you to take a moment to practice mindfulness and to prioritize your mental health during these bizarre and trying times. There are endless ways to make these long, isolated days feel a little bit better. So, if you can, take some time away from your never-ending to-do lists, familial and academic obligations, and any feelings of guilt about what you should be doing. We will try our best to do the same. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
The editorial board is proud to endorse John Schurer ’21 for SGA president. Through his work with organizations like the SGA, MCAB and ResLife (to name but a few), John has demonstrated exceptional, genuine commitment to the Middlebury community over the last three years. We are confident that he will be an excellent representative for the student body and a dependable liaison with the administration. His track record of empathetic engagement has prepared him to run a more accountable and open-minded student government. From the moment he started at Middlebury in the fall of 2017, John not only sought to engage meaningfully with his community, but to make the college a more welcoming, work-able place for those around him. During his first year, John started the social media campaign #MeetMidd, seeking out and sharing the stories of countless classmates. Inspired by those stories, John went on to represent his peers as a class senator. Throughout his campaign, John reiterated his commitment to active listening. Meeting with our board, he candidly admitted that he “is comfortable not having all the answers.” We trust that he will exercise a similar humility as president. On that note, we sincerely hope that he considers integrating core pillars of his contenders’ platforms into his own. As each led distinct, innovative campaigns in their own right, all three of these candidates only stand to gain by engaging with the ideas and initiatives proposed by their competitors. Unlike many previous presidential races, this year’s endorsement was not simple. Members of the board expressed enthusiasm for all three contenders. To that end, we commend the passionate canadacies of Arthur Martins ’22.5 and Myles Maxie ’22. Both demonstrate bold, unyielding visions for equitable change within an organization that is regarded by many as inefficient and inaccessible. Where Arthur places a much-needed emphasis on coalition building, particularly in regard to his advocacy for mental health support and the international student community, Myles urges institutional structures at Middlebury to remain self-critical, identifying transparency and collaboration as areas in which there will always be room for improvement. They would both make terrific SGA members — or presidents — in years to come. John has proven to have strong relationships with many administors. As the college continues to navigate a profoundly confusing and complicated time, we believe it is important for the next SGA president to hit the ground running come fall. John’s wealth of institutional knowledge and familiarity with internal processes give him the necessary skills to work alongside administrators during this time. We hope that in moments when student voices merit particular recognition, John will leverage his established relationships to vouch for them. We trust that John’s extensive background working with and inside the SGA will not prevent him from taking hard stances on difficult or controversial issues. He has proven himself to be patient, diplomatic and mature. We encourage him to be decisive when and where needed. Throughout his time at Middlebury, John has made repeated, wholehearted efforts to get to know each and every one of us. As he has shown through the production of Moth-Up and the founding of #MeetMidd, John cares deeply about Middlebury’s stories. We can think of no candidate more qualified to value and tell our stories as SGA president. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
The Campus does not usually publish its editorials on Tuesdays. Today, however, faculty will meet to discuss the motion to enact a mandatory credit/no credit grading system. We wanted to contribute to that discussion, so we are publishing this piece in advance of that meeting. As a board, we ask that the faculty endorse a mandatory credit/no credit grading policy at their meeting this Friday. For lack of any real finality on the issue up to this point, we feel it is essential to take an unwavering stance on how students will be graded this spring. More than two-thirds of the way into this semester, students are still unsure how their work will be evaluated. This uncertainty is not only unacceptable — it was also avoidable. We understand that the academic continuity group wanted to make a quick decision about grading in the week following students’ departure from campus, resulting in the initial creation of the opt-in Pass/D/Fail grading policy. Following that announcement, however, student activists created well-researched and widely-circulated platforms, both in favor of and against the opt-in policy (raising, in particular, questions it posed about equitability). Those activists brought their platforms to the Student Government Association (SGA), after which the SGA polled the student body on three grading options: a dual A/A- system, universal pass/fail and the existing opt-in policy. These results, which favored the dual A/A- system, ostensibly never made their way to the administration and were never released to the student body (The Campus received a link to a Google Drive folder with the results upon request). We later learned that, even if the survey had been shared, it would not have added relevance to the debate, as a dual A/A- system does not comply with the terms of Middlebury’s accreditation as a college. In any event, the SGA did not immediately endorse a policy based on those results, though the Senate has since endorsed the mandatory credit/no credit system. After weeks of debate, the college announced on April 3 that it intended to maintain the original policy, extending the deadline by which students need to declare Pass/D/Fail. The email was clear: discussion appeared closed. And yet, as The Campus reported this past Friday, it is anything but. We recognize that this debate has been a contentious one, with arguments on both sides meriting careful consideration. That said, we find the sheer amount of waffling — on the part of both administration and faculty — unsettling. We are also disappointed that the SGA survey results further obfuscated the situation by it presenting students an option that was not viable. Because of this confusion, many faculty have voiced feeling that they remain unsure what students really want. As students, we are therefore declaring our firm support for the proposal put forth at last Friday’s faculty meeting in favor of a mandatory credit/no credit system. No matter which option faculty vote for on Friday, some students will be upset. We took a poll within our own editorial board: about 83% of the 29 editors who voted were in favor of a mandatory credit/no credit system, while 17% supported the standing opt-in policy. Although we could not come to a complete consensus as a board, we believe that the credit/no credit system, like the universal pass/fail system proposed by #FairGradesMidd, is a more effective proposal in addressing the systemic inequities associated with remote learning. In the end, our board decided that individual desires to raise GPAs were outweighed by bigger-picture considerations of equitability. Inequality has always existed at Middlebury, and many low-income and first-generation students are accustomed to working under disproportionally challenging circumstances and expectations. Still, the college provides us all a bed to sleep in, dining halls to eat in, a quiet library to work in. We all operate in the same time zone. Now, even these measures of equity have disappeared so that for many students, the choice between letter grades and pass/fail hinges on systemically-induced circumstances beyond their control. As we pointed out in our last editorial, “optional” doesn’t always mean optional for everyone. Faculty also brought up at Friday’s meeting that some junior faculty — including those who are maybe pursuing tenure — are also deeply affected by this debate. Pressures from students and peer faculty to dole out good or accurate grades may unnecessarily add to feelings of stress. We ask members of the faculty to attend the meeting on Tuesday and discuss the proposed credit/no credit system with their colleagues. We also request that you consider providing traditional letter grades for senior work where appropriate. Since these grades determine departmental honors and often play a more crucial role in admission to graduate programs, we think they merit a separate discussion. But above all, we plead that you make a final decision. The stress and confusion generated by this uncertainty has already impacted students’ mental health and ability to perform in their classes. As Covid-19 evolves, questions will continue to arise that we aren’t able to answer. This should not be one of those questions. Editor’s note: Film and Media Cultures Professor Jason Mittell is The Campus’s faculty adviser and was a co-writer on the motion. He was not involved in any way in this editorial discussion. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
Everything we know is changing. Peppered all around the globe, Middlebury students are now undergoing a very different method of schooling. And like most transitions, this one is not without its kinks. Maybe you’ve forgotten to mute your mic or sent what you thought was a private message to the whole class on Zoom. Maybe you’ve forgotten to “go” to class altogether. And maybe, for you, this is not about unfortunate inconveniences but about serious barriers — lacking reliable WiFi, your own computer or a quiet place to work. The majority of us have departed a campus which, for the most part, offered us the same universal resources and standardized academic procedures. Now, the opposite couldn’t be more true, and the expectation of a one-size-fits-all approach to academics is no longer viable. But in these unconventional times, we have the opportunity to innovate beyond the conventional vein of teaching and learning. To our professors, we want to say thank you. We do not take your hard work for granted. We breathed a collective sigh of relief when you reworked and shaved down your syllabi. We’ve appreciated the softening of the professor-student power dynamic as you have doled out your phone numbers while your kids and pets bop in and out of the video frame. And we are indescribably grateful for classes that begin not with a discussion of the last night’s readings but with the simple yet essential question: “How are you doing?” Within the context of remote learning, professors have been significantly more flexible. But this situation also calls for reflection on what “flexibility” actually entails. As a board, we do not claim to know exactly what the answer is — when we got together to parse it through, we could not always articulate what we meant conceptually when we said we wanted a more flexible virtual classroom. Instead, we were able to identify where we saw it working best. Often, that efficacy coincided with clearly-stated expectations from professors about our work going forward. One editor said her professor uploaded an annotated version of the old syllabus that showed what she was changing for the rest of the semester. Another said his professors have been holding one-on-one sessions with students to ask them what they want to get out of the semester. We found that some of the most meaningful displays of flexibility addressed potential disparities in students’ capacity to learn this semester as well as concerns about grades. For example, while extensions for 10-page research papers might allow students to achieve higher grades in the long-run, they don’t mitigate the stresses that comes with penning an essay thousands of miles from the stacks of Davis Library, in a time that has filled even the most optimistic of students with bouts of existential dread. The same may be true for assignments now labeled as “optional.” What does that really mean? Even when these assignments are marketed as grade-boosters, it’s hard not to worry what a professor will think if they’re not completed. (And of course, as the contentious debate over opt-in Pass/D/Fail has shown, optional for some means definitely-not-optional for others.) Clarity in regards to what is expected of students is crucial. But what might be the most vital aspect for remote learning is deliberate and purposeful instruction. When our worlds are turned upside down, we should center what we consider the most meaningful. By stripping down our education to its most pertinent essentials, we can re-evaluate not just what we’re doing but also why we’re doing it. Against the backdrop of precarious circumstances, we have the chance to reconsider the intentionality behind our learning. In doing this, the last thing we want is for professors to feel any undue burden. Please do not spend hours crafting an entire new syllabus. Even small changes can relieve a profound amount of anxiety — decreasing the page requirements for papers, having assessments be open note, seeking out and listening to feedback, encouraging reflection over analysis, offering different format options for a final. And as we ask for this reexamined flexibility from you, we acknowledge that these relationships will only be effective if we return the favor. We urge our fellow students to be patient, adaptable and compassionate with our professors as they navigate these newfound hurdles alongside us. Above all, these considerations can and should extend further than this semester. There should always be a place for resolute intellectual engagement unhampered by grades. And there should always be a place for genuine human connection and the mutual embracing of uncertainty. In the recent weeks of physically distanced learning, many of us have found our “classroom” environments to be less intimidating and more, well, familial — ripe with more mistakes, laughter and “thank-yous.” We started out this remote experiment thinking about how to adapt the structure of lecture halls to our laptops, but we should also be envisioning ways to bring the intimacy of our Zoom screens back to our classrooms. And hey, we wouldn’t mind the continuation of guest appearances by professors’ kids and dogs, either. This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.
Not many would characterize Middlebury’s student-administration relationship as “simple.” Mere weeks ago, the college faced intense, sustained outcry from students protesting Charles Murray’s third controversial invitation to speak on campus. On Murray and other issues, students have critiqued the administration for a lack of forums for accessible, inclusive dialogue, as well as a broader lack of transparency around decision processes. It’s tough to blame these critics: Communication relaying decisions made by the administration often assumes a distant, all-too institutional tone. Like pretty much everything else in our lives, though, that tone — not to mention the broader student-administration relationship — shifted over the past few weeks. Take the days leading up to students’ departure from campus. Per the college’s March 10 email, nearly all students were initially expected to vacate their rooms by the night of Friday, March 13. Responding to students’ stressed objections, though, the college extended that move-out date to late Sunday, allowing more time to book plane tickets or make arrangements to stay with friends. While students were unable to reap the benefits of this extension — like those who had already scrambled to purchase Friday plane tickets — we appreciate the flexibility and humility exhibited in this gesture, which recognized that the original timeline was neither practical nor sympathetic. This same tone imbued administration communication throughout spring break, wending its way into regular emails, social media updates and resource pages from various college bodies. While these updates rarely claimed to have all the answers (many simply alluded to decisions under consideration), they went a long way toward making scattered students feel in the loop. These dispatches weren’t purely informative, either; they contained as much well-wishing and community-building as they did logistics, from photos of seniors at sunrises to poetry courtesy of President Laurie Patton. Plus, rather than silo updates into discrete emails to students, faculty and staff, information was compiled together onto a single, publicly-available page. We’re pleased by how many of these announcements read less like stiff, official college communications and more like the reflections of individuals likewise mourning the loss of our on-campus community. During a crisis which has quite literally stripped us of the comfort of others’ company, such virtual displays of humanity were and continue to be deeply appreciated. Our appreciation extends beyond Facebook posts or emails, to initiatives like Student Emergency Funds and offers to compensate for lost work studies. And comparing Middlebury’s response to that of other schools has only reinforced our sense of pride. Rather than make an immediate decision on, say, commencement proceedings (some schools have cancelled them outright or else intend to stage virtual ceremonies), Middlebury has held off for the time being in order to consider all options — and, in an email sent over spring break, President Patton even asked for students’ help in coming up with those options. The school is also providing staff with a Covid-19 Pay Bank, which will allow them to take off 21 additional sick days without dipping into their regular banks of days. We are pleased by the continued reassurance that wage continuity is one of the college’s priorities, even amidst an uncertain financial situation. This isn’t to say that the college’s response to our current crisis has been perfect. Many students find themselves frustrated or confused by unanswered questions — what, for instance, has Middlebury done with students’ possessions left on campus? Is the college planning to standardize the wide range of teaching approaches individual professors have adopted? Will the 120 students remaining on campus be asked to leave before the semester is over? Others are unsatisfied with current plans for the semester, as the debate around opt-in and universal pass/fail grading indicates. And the remote resumption of classes this week will inevitably be attended by its own fresh set of concerns. While we recognize that confusion and ambiguity are unavoidable during such a sudden, unprecedented period, we ask that the college exercise the same striking flexibility and empathy in addressing these and future issues. As the spring semester carries on, we want the college to continue to value Middlebury’s off-campus community by maintaining a consistent openness to students’ feedback. We’d hope, too, that this accessible, human approach to administration extends beyond our current crisis and into future academic years. Setting inevitable fears and frustrations aside, the last few weeks have left students proud of the college which most of us have, for the moment, left behind. We trust we’ll be just as proud of the one we return to.
We hear you: this wasn’t how the spring semester was supposed to go. In the wake of President Patton’s email Tuesday, announcing the shift to remote learning following an early, extended spring break, to say that things are “uncertain” feels like an understatement. Talk to anyone on campus: chances are they’re upset and confused. We are too. It’s hard to fault anyone for their feelings at a time like this. The whole range of emotions (anger, disappointment, fear) seems pretty understandable. Less understandable, though, are some of the conversations and reactions which have taken place on campus over the past couple of weeks. At Winter Carnival, two students appeared dressed in hazmat suits with “Everybody is F***ed” written on the back. Following Amherst’s cancellation of in-person classes on Monday night, a group took to Battell Beach chanting “COVID-19.” We realize that humor forms a vital tool for coping, especially in situations as nebulous or unfathomable as this one. Still, the virus affects members of the Middlebury community differently — including their ability to laugh along. For some, the virus simply represents an inconvenience (cause for cancelling spring break plane tickets, say, or renting a storage locker in town). For others, though (members of the community who have existing health conditions, for instance, or those with family and friends in high-risk environments) the stakes are much, much higher. And so what to some might seem like an innocuous joke, is to others a reminder of the imminent danger their parents and friends face back home. We’d suggest that instilling fear or uncertainty is too high a price to pay for the sake of a joke. Humor aside, it’s imperative that we think critically not only about the conversations we’re having, but who’s in the room when we have them. In a community as small as Middlebury, it’s easy to forget those who are hurt are often on the periphery of the Middlebury community. And, in a community as small and diverse as Middlebury, this awareness assumes even greater importance. Come this weekend, students, faculty and staff will start spreading who knows where, for who knows how long. We’d suggest, though, that the impending distance doesn’t make upholding a safe and sensitive community any less important. Really, it’s reason to come closer together.
Not all college students have an easy time voting in their school’s state. During recent election cycles, politicians in New Hampshire, Texas and Florida made conscious efforts to suppress the student vote — everything from enacting voter-suppression laws to shutting down polling stations convenient for college-aged voters. In Vermont, we’re lucky. Relatively speaking, students choosing to participate in local politics face few roadblocks to civic engagement. Town halls and elections are readily accessible. In fact, Vermont’s same-day online registration allows any Middlebury student with a U.S. passport and proof of residence to cast a ballot with virtually no prior planning. With the March 3 elections approaching fast, this ability assumes immediate importance. Next week, we have two important political days in rapid succession: March 2 and 3. On March 2, communities come together on Vermont Town Meeting Day to elect local officials, approve an annual budget and discuss town issues. March 3 marks Super Tuesday, when 14 states and one territory hold their nomination contests, collectively determining a third of the delegates for the Democratic National Convention over the course of a single day. In light of these fast-approaching days, we’re calling for all Middlebury students to vote, and to do so consciously, wherever you do it. Many students feel strongly about sending absentee ballots back home. Students from swing states, for instance, might feel their votes matter more there. Others cast their votes in attempts to either oust or maintain current leadership. And many may simply choose to vote in the state they grew up in, and continue to consider “home.” And yet there are compelling reasons to vote in the Green Mountain State too, beyond logistical voting accessibility. The state’s scale — with only 600,000 residents — and long tradition of split-ticket voting make Vermont idyllic to begin one’s political engagement. Vermont’s size places emphasis on local politics and town hall meetings that have open doors to students. Politically, it is well known that residents of Vermont tend to “vote their conscience” as opposed to along party lines. As the rest of the country has become increasingly polarized, Vermont has managed to maintain common ground between parties, as voters regularly swing from Democrat to Republican depending on any given candidates’ platform. The lack of political divide allows students to think critically about the issues as opposed to being swept in the tide of blue or red. Still, voting in Vermont shouldn’t be taken lightly, and votes on Vermont-related issues should be cast with intentional research and consideration. While ballot questions about flood-resilience measures or funding for the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity might not directly impact the lives of students on Middlebury’s campus, they represent vital issues for the surrounding community. Anyone who can vote should vote, regardless of location. For many Middlebury students, that entails mailing a pre-requested absentee ballot back to their home state. For others, that means taking advantage of same-day registration in Vermont, and showing up to the Middlebury Recreation Center between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on March 3. In either case, however, we ask that students to engage purposefully with the issues behind their ballot. If you are voting in Middlebury next week, check out our guide here.