140 items found for your search. If no results were found please broaden your search.
In an op-ed published in last week’s edition of The Campus, Professor Noah Graham discussed the massive paychecks allotted to top administrators at the college. During the 2015–2016 fiscal year, these included numbers like $482,773 for the Monterey President/Special Advisor for Initiatives and $458,932 for the Vice President for Finance and Treasurer. A commenter on Graham’s op-ed wrote that they were “embarrassed, infuriated, and pained by this information. Everyone knows that Middlebury College is not a beacon of equity and inclusion, but I did not realize that the situation was this dire — that our own administrators were perpetuating the income gap that I am sure they speak frequently of closing.” Truly appalling, however, is the stark contrast posed by a comparison of these paychecks to those on a spreadsheet of Middlebury staff pay ranges, where some yearly salaries amount to as little as $22,165.00. (It should be acknowledged that some staff work part time, thereby lowering this number.) Such inequality, while extremely pronounced, is not surprising; income inequality exists across the U.S., and the Middlebury College community is no exception. At the same time, Middlebury compares itself to 21 institutions — NESCAC and other liberal arts colleges — and finds itself among the upper echelon for exempt (salaried) workers, but just above the median for non-exempt (hourly) workers.
The workers who belong to the latter category form the vanguard of day-to-day staff interaction with students at Middlebury College, and wage inequality is just one injustice they face: we are all aware that the students with whom the dining hall and custodial staff interact on a daily basis behave disrespectfully and embarrassingly towards these workers. As a board, we would like to call for the improved treatment of Middlebury’s wage-earning staff on the part of both the administration and the student body. The administration, on its part, should increase non-exempt workers’ abysmally low wages. We as students can, and must, elevate our behavior in dining halls, dorms and other campus spaces from that of children to that of the college-age adults we are.
A recent example of student misconduct came last week when the SGA sent out an email announcing the suspension of 10 o’clock Ross. The email identified issues with “cleanliness, including ice cream spills, dirty dishes, and general disarray.” The email went on to point out how “the Ross Dining Hall Staff trusts the student body by allowing us to enjoy late-night snacks in the dining hall after hours and we have failed to step up to the task.” This is not the first cancellation of 10 o’clock Ross: last year, the discovery of beer bottles and other uncleanliness led to a similar suspension.
Students’ behavior indicates a severe lack of consideration for our staff, which manifests weeknight after weeknight. We are better than this; dining hall staff should under no circumstances be called upon to clean up childlike messes made by adult students. It’s hard to blame Ross Dining Hall for a suspension that seems so fitting; students are acting like elementary school kids, and as a result are having their ice cream and sugared cereal privileges taken away.
A similar pattern of thoughtlessness occurs in dorms. The custodial staff routinely has to deal with problems beyond what should be reasonably expected of them. Among these are dirty dishes, left out in the hallway by students too lazy to return them to their rightful dining hall. An email to residents of Coffrin Hall called for improved student behavior in light of beer cans being left in hallways, signs being ripped off of doors and vomit in bathrooms. On a floor in Milliken Hall, a custodial staff member has taken to leaving notes, often humorous in nature, in an attempt to make students realize that their actions have tangible consequences. “My mother works with disabled elementary school kids,” reads a note above the hall garbage cans, “and even they know how to recycle.” This indicates that the normal systems of response — which consists largely of hall-wide emails sent out by RAs — are not enough to keep students mindful of staff. Whether it be food fights in Ross, people drunkenly leaving behind their plates on St. Patrick’s Day or students leaving dirty dishes in hallways, students constantly act in ways that make the lives of staff members more unpleasant.
Another example of this lack of respect has arisen with the new swipe system implemented in dining halls. Students interact with dining hall workers every time they get a meal, swiping in inches away from a seated staff member. “If people forget their card, they get pretty upset with me,” says a worker at Ross who is responsible for overseeing the new swipe system. “I don’t make the rules, I’m just following them.”
Overall, the significance of students’ lack of consideration for staff cannot be overstated. Staff are working diligently to perform duties beyond the scope of their responsibilities while receiving inadequate compensation for the duties within their job descriptions. We are not arguing that paying non-exempt workers more would justify current student treatment towards them — regardless of income level, this treatment is unacceptable. Paying them more would, however, demonstrate that the Middlebury community values them and their jobs.
The President of Kentucky State University set a glowing precedent in 2014, taking a $90,000 pay cut and distributing it among the university’s lowest income employees. As a result, 24 employees salaries raised from $7.25 to $10.25 per hour, representing a huge increase in yearly earnings. “This is not a gift,” said President Burse, “it’s an investment.” We are not asking for anyone at Middlebury to take a pay cut, as such band-aid action does not challenge or alter systemic issues at the root of wage inequality. However, the ethos of Burse’s action applies; by treating staff with financial respect and care, we invest in the school the same way we do when paying out large “stay bonuses” to various administrators. Middlebury’s administration should apply this same ethos in considering future pay rates for non-exempt employees.
While profound disparities in Middlebury’s pay scale staff are beyond students’ ability to change, treatment of staff remains very much within student control. This means recycling, so that custodial staff do not have to do it for us. This means returning our own dirty dishes to the dining hall when we’ve finished our most recent unlimited meal. And it means recognizing that the staff are not in charge of systems like swipe-ins, however personally irritating we might find them. We as students may not be able to increase paychecks, but we can at least try to account for the difference in basic human decency.
Two recent SGA bills proposed changes to the way that existing SGA funding is distributed to student clubs. One bill, put into effect last weekend, altered an existing bill concerning management of club sports funding, removing a $1,000 budget cap that previously limited funding to newly formed club sports teams. This bill would effectively allocate existing student activity funding to new sports teams. Another bill, which has yet to take effect, calls for the existing funding to go towards providing more financial aid for students who can’t afford the travel costs that many clubs incur. (See story on page A1 for more details on the contents of the respective bills.)
Travel presents a valuable component of many student organizations’ agendas. But clubs often lack the budget to pay in full for student travel to off-campus events that constitute such valuable components of their respective missions. As a board, we believe that students should be able to enjoy the benefits of traveling for club events even if they are unable to self-fund the price of transportation, food, and other travel costs that club members so often have to pay out of their own pockets. We stand with the bill submitted on March 11 that calls for the formation of the Off Campus Food Financial Aid Program, which would provide a direct remedy to the plight faced by the students who aren’t able to pay for club travel expenses.
In a perfect world, the two aforementioned bills would be implemented simultaneously: there would be no budget cap on newly-formed club sports teams and students in need of financial aid for club trips would receive all the compensation they need. Unfortunately, there is a finite amount of SGA funding allocated to clubs. $416 of each student’s annual tuition is allocated to club funding (giving the SGA an annual budget of a little over $1 million to provide clubs) and that number would have to go up for both of these bills to be viable simultaneously. Given the already bloated (and rising) cost of tuition, the option of increasing overall funding frankly isn’t feasible.
As a board, we believe strongly that allocation of funding for student activities holds huge implications for the construction of more equitable spaces at Middlebury. Pursuit of constructing equitable spaces should be at the forefront of the SGA finance committee’s mission as it works to determine where this funding is spent. Of the two bills, we see the March 11 financial aid bill as making the greatest strides in constructing more equitable student spaces in which students are able and encouraged to pursue the activities that ignite their interests.
For all of the incredible resources that Middlebury presents us here in Vermont, leaving campus to pursue one’s interests still holds tremendous value for students. Traveling with clubs allows students access to a wealth of illuminating events such as conventions visited by J Street U, games against opponents that push athletes’ boundaries or debate competitions in nearby cities. These experiences matter and can be just as valuable to a student’s educational experience at Middlebury as classes and club events on campus. But for students who already rely on financial aid in order to study and live here in Middlebury, these trips simply aren’t accessible.
When a club’s budget is unable to cover the cost of travel to locations far away from Middlebury, wealthier students participating in club travel often pay the cost of travel themselves. This makes many clubs elitist institutions whose benefits can only be enjoyed by those who have (or whose parents have) extra money to invest in educational experiences beyond classes and residency at Middlebury. This bill presents the SGA a valuable opportunity to curtail this elitism and allow existing organizations to make all of their activities accessible to students who are interested in participating in club activities. This bill isn’t calling for more money — it’s simply asking for existing funds within the budget to go towards financial aid for travel as opposed to funding new club sports teams.
Furthermore, students often feel trapped at Middlebury in a space that is both geographically isolated and ideologically isolating for many. Being a full-time Middlebury student is exhausting and incredibly discouraging at times. Getting away from campus, especially for pursuits as constructive and valuable as those offered by clubs, is a valuable opportunity to temporarily escape the struggles of finding one’s place here. No one student should be provided that opportunity over another purely because of their wealth or their parents’ wealth.
We acknowledge that both bills are fighting for student equity and equal opportunity on campus. The bill proposing the removal of the budget cap for new club sports teams would no doubt provide increased opportunity to students looking to pursue their interests outside of the classroom. However, the financial aid bill more directly addresses a pressing situation that needs to be addressed: There are many, many spheres at Middlebury in which disparities in opportunity provided to students based specifically on class needs to be evaluated. These range from participation in secret frat activities to Atwater parties to sports formals that require fancy clothing. Club activities constitute one of these spheres, and the bill that was presented on March 11 presents a more-than-feasible solution that would have significant benefit for students who are presently prevented from joining in club activities because of their financial standing.
This September, the Middlebury College Bookstore announced that all textbook sales would take place online rather than through the on-campus bookstore. Beginning in the spring 2018 semester, textbooks were to become available for sale through the MBS online platform.
In order to quell anxieties which arose around the new system, the store assured students that they would retain the ability to use their financial aid, and that the turn-around for book orders would be approximately two to three days. This last piece is crucial for students who, at the start of the semester, find themselves still shopping for classes, much less books.
While this shift was initially championed in the name of convenience for students, the first few weeks of this spring semester under the new system have disproved any such claims.
To begin with, nowhere in a college-wide email did the bookstore actually announce that there would no longer be physical textbooks available for purchase. Middlebury’s own website claimed that “During the summer  session, the campus bookstores will not be carrying any textbooks.” This resulted in high levels of stress at the semester’s start, an already trying adjustment for students.
Further, gone is any pretence of two to three day shipping; books ordered through MBS Direct take as many as 10 days to arrive, eating up crucial class time. While there are faster options, such as Amazon and other online outlets, these can be increasingly expensive.
The new system also creates challenges for students navigating the add/drop period. As anyone who has taken a class at the college can attest, Middlebury’s add/drop period is vital for those attempting to construct their schedules at the beginning of each semester. The online bookstore has proved an enormous obstacle to what must remain a flexible process, as books are no longer immediately available for purchase. As a result, students are forced to gamble — either order books in advance for classes to which they have not yet committed, or wait until their schedule has solidified and endure the subsequent shipping period.
The reality is that even if students order their books on day one, classes move too fast for 10-day shipping — the cheapest option — and this makes it harder for a student to join a class a few days late, even if there is room for them.
In addition, a complicated return policy makes it harder for students to drop a class.
“Having already ordered the textbook played a huge role in my deciding to stick with Intro to Modern Logic this semester,” says Ellie Eberlee ’20, an opinion editor. “I’d already paid $171 for it and had no ability to return it for free.” Not only is this incredibly restraining, but it is wrong, as the logistics of obtaining required materials should play no part in students’ course decisions.
Some students have even refrained from buying books as a result of the new system. They claim to be ordering books they think they need versus all of the required texts, and then finding PDF versions of the text online.
“The system change this year made it seem like such a hassle, and I found a slightly older version so easily online,” says Jordana Solomon ’20. “It seemed silly to spend more money and time on a new book I would never use again.” The majority of students, however, look to buy from outside sources.
“They used the same system at my high school, so I’m used to it,” says Eve Labalme ’20. She shrugs. “I just ordered my books on Amazon for half the price.”
Amazon offers free two-day shipping for students, as well as a variety of used and reduced prices. What does it say when a global corporation can more adequately cater to students’ needs than the college itself? As a result, the mail center staff has been overworked, and lines to pick up packages have become noticeably longer. This is a clear signal that the new system is irredeemably inconvenient; the college should aim to provide the simplest and most direct route to course materials.
At its core, the new system makes a number of socioeconomic assumptions. First, it assumes that all students are paying (or have the ability to pay) for books using a credit or debit card. Second, it gives priority to students who have the means to pay for expedited shipping. Those for whom the extra fee is one sum too many are left sitting in class at the the start of semester, panicking for lack of access to required materials and wondering why their situation does not appear to be a concern for the college.
While the library offers a cost-free alternative, most courses only put a single textbook on reserve. In classes with up to 35 students, this is nowhere near sufficient. The library’s lack of on-reserve texts may have been a pre-existing problem, but the shift to virtual book shopping (temporary or otherwise) has foregrounded the issue.
The obvious solution? Bring the books back. The physical bookstore may not have been perfect, but problems associated with the new system far outnumber the old ones. An on-campus bookstore with a full stock of the texts the required by the college is not an unreasonable request.
In returning to the physical bookstore, students and staff could work together in order to streamline the process and strike a realistic compromise that is both economically feasible and convenient. Barring that, a more functional system involves increased communication between the bookstore and professors. If a professor is teaching a class they’ve taught for the past several years, perhaps they could upload or share their syllabus more than a few weeks in advance.
Some students have to borrow money or budget, processes that take more than a few weeks. This would help with lowering costs (students can buy a book for less if it means they can save more on shipping) and add a buffer zone for incorrect texts or editions. Professors also could refrain from asking students to buy books when they plan on assigning only a few chapters for reading; photocopying is an effective alternative.
Outside of the college, there are ways to reduce the burden on Middlebury’s bookstore. Professors could send their syllabi to bookstores in town; not only would the college be supporting local businesses, but this would open another relatively immediate avenue for students to purchase books.
Additionally, students or the college could facilitate the “selling forward” of books from student to student, a practice which currently takes place largely through “Free and For Sale,” a student Facebook group. Members of the town could participate, as they often audit classes or else own old copies of books required for literature classes. Retired professors could also use this platform to get rid of books they have collected over the years.
Beyond logistics, we believe there is immense value in having physical books in a bookstore. How are we, as students, supposed to read this latest move on the part of the college? Our college campus no longer includes a functioning bookstore. Instead, we have more shelf space for a fifth iteration of the Middlebury-brand water bottle.
That seems like an apt metaphor for the college’s priorities, which appear more in line with running a profitable business than an institute of higher learning — otherwise they would do everything in their power to make required texts as accessible as possible. If there is one place a school can afford to lose money, it is on books.
High school students across the United States have participated in organized protests against elected politicians who have not worked to enact gun control legislation in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. Students who survived the shooting have admirably led the charge in calling their generation to action, using social media to organize marches, demonstrations, protests and walkouts of high school classes.
Many high school students who have already participated in walkouts and protests have been punished by their high schools for missing class, as CNN has reported. In response to the discipline faced by protestors, various colleges and universities across the country have assured prospective students that discipline inflicted upon them by their schools as punishment for participation in peaceful protests will not affect their chances of admission. Brown University, University of Massachusetts Amherst and others all posted such statements to Twitter in the days following the shooting. On Monday, Middlebury followed suit, publishing its own statement on its admissions website.
Each statement varied in tone and style. Most notably, the posts referenced school shootings, gun control, free speech and protest in different ways. For example, Brown assured students that “peaceful, responsible protests against gun violence will not negatively impact decisions of admission to Brown.” Bucknell, however, tweeted that students who “receive disciplinary action due to participation in peaceful protests” would see no impact on their admissions decisions, omitting mention of gun control.
Middlebury’s statement places itself between the two sides, but in a vaguer category. It claims to respect free-speech rights of students and student applicants, including the right to engage in peaceful protest and civil disobedience. Ending its statement by addressing student applicants, the announcement guarantees that the admissions committee will consider situations with the belief that students are active citizens with political rights and obligations. The statement explicitly says this is true without regard to any specific political or social issue.
As a board, we believe deeply in the value of demonstration as a fundamental method for affecting change on college campuses and beyond, and we stand with the high school students across the country who have bravely chosen to strive for this change in their communities through protest. We have continually voiced our belief in demonstration since the protests against Charles Murray last February ignited a national debate about the limits of students’ right to demonstrate.
In response to Middlebury’s statement, this board would like to offer thoughts to the conversation. To be clear, we are in no way supporting or denouncing the statement. Rather, the board would like to use this opportunity to offer ideas that encourage people to question their definitions and beliefs regarding forms of protest and treatment of protesters.
While the college officially published this statement, we hope that it continues to apply to students in the future as we continue to work through this time of political and social tension. While this step can serve as an expression of support for young Americans navigating the debate over gun control, it should ultimately be implemented as a broader means of acknowledging how essential open, non-violent demonstration is as a fundamental right of students in America.
This policy should apply both to students protesting for gun control in the wake of the Parkland shooting and to those engaged in non-violent, non-hateful demonstration for other causes, now and in the future. From this, we should expand our definition of violence. It should include not only physical violence, but discriminatory abuse, structural violence and institutional violence — to name a few.
We also invite people to question what people mean when they say “peaceful.” Is a protest only not peaceful when it is inconvenient for someone? When do the ideas become too radical, and therefore deemed “non-peaceful”? For example, Middlebury administrators have looser restrictions with how to respond to student protests that do not publicly undermine its authority as an institution.
The Charles Murray protests are an example of a student-led movement to reject complicity. We must protect form above content of protests to ensure that future student protestors at Middlebury are not disciplined more harshly for protesting an issue with which the college administration does not agree.
We should also look to this institution’s history when considering the novelty (or lack thereof) of the issue of students’ rights to protest. According to “A People’s History of Middlebury,” most of the student body went on strike in November 1879 in support of a fellow student who accrued over 50 demerits as a response to his irresponsible antics against the demerit system introduced the year before. The result was a decision to suspend every student who protested. Soon after, negotiations continued and all punishments were rescinded, except for those of the student behind the reason for the protest.
Charles Murray showed that Middlebury was more willing to denounce those standing up for what they believed to be violent — whether the methods can be agreed upon or not — than to take the opportunity to be clearer on what we will and will not allow in our community.
History also shows how undecided the college is in how they treat protesters. This reality should be considered with how we respond to the college’s statement concerning “peaceful protest and civil disobedience.” Does the college support civil disobedience as long as it doesn’t expose the fractures in the institution’s foundation? Is the protest peaceful until those in charge feel like their authority is attacked?
The debate over students’ right to demonstrate, so closely tied to the national debate over freedom of expression on college campuses, has been a pertinent topic on this campus for longer period than most of us are aware. The college administration has repeatedly voiced its belief in free speech as essential to intellectual freedom, going further to connect that freedom with the freedom to protest in its most recent statement. In this era of political activism, moving forward has to come at some cost.That includes the risk that in making a brave announcement, Middlebury’s institution may assume some risk.
We hope that administrators will consider actions such as these as central to the mission of the college, rejecting the fear of risk that bolder actions may produce. This moment provides Middlebury with a valuable opportunity to confront our values — especially when they differ — and acknowledge the struggles of future students by validating their right to exercise their freedom to protest.
Last Wednesday, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz entered Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and shot and killed 17 people. Many of us were devastated. When innocent people (to say nothing of children) lose their lives, we are compelled to hold loved ones close and consider who we are and what we value.
On learning of the events in Parkland, few of us were shocked. This latest school shooting comes in the wake of a litany of others over the past several years. Our generation has grown up all-too-familiar with horrors like these, and as the headlines continue to accumulate we do not merely grow more and more hopeless, but we are left increasingly disheartened by the lack of action on the part of elected officials.
The response to tragedies such as these has become ritualized. We read the article, we like the Facebook status. For those of us lucky enough not to be personally affected, we do our best to move on. This is a tragedy in and of itself. Violence on this scale should not and cannot be normalized.
The current generation of young people has barely known a world without mass shootings. We practiced active shooter drills and rehearsed lockdowns alongside the alphabet, before we were old enough to differentiate between which was normal and which was not. Children should not grow up in a society that forces them to think devastation like this is inevitable.
Many are not hopeful that the school shooting in Parkland will be the last, fearing instead that this cycle will continue. Many of the survivors have taken to social media themselves, calling for the government to take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again. And this is at a time when ordinarily they should be worrying only about the pressures of high school. There is a note of hope in this: Perhaps our generation will fill the void left by passive politicians who are too afraid to take any bold political action, who offer nothing more than “thoughts and prayers.”
We have grown up in a world that is reactionary, not proactive, in the face of such violence. As the last few days have proven, 17- and 18-year-olds are taking this issue more seriously than adults. They see how this country feigned outrage once again without working toward a solution. They read about certain members of Congress receiving substantial donations from the NRA.
What it increasingly comes down to is whether you value the lives of schoolchildren over people’s claims to military-style weapons — and this board does, without question. If these tragedies are the manifestation of the gun rights advocates’ ardent protection of the people’s right to bear arms, we will not stand it. The ubiquity of mass murder must end.
Legislators should start by banning the AR-15, which happens to be America’s most popular rifle, according to NPR and NRAblog.org. It is a military-inspired rifle that is designed to kill efficiently and is accurate, customizable and reliable. We saw this on display in Parkland, as it was Nikolas Cruz’s weapon of choice. Equally horrific was its role in the death of 27 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
According to Time Magazine, mass shooters also used AR-15s or comparable weapons — such as the SIG MCX — in shootings in Aurora, Colorado (death toll: 12); San Bernardino, California (death toll: 14); Orlando, Florida (death toll: 49) and Las Vegas, Nevada (death toll: 58). Why do we value a person’s right to access these types of weapons over so many lives?
AR-15s and similar high-performance weapons were not part of the Founding Fathers’ reality when they wrote the 2nd Amendment. It is time for us to stop defending all types of arms. There are hunting rifles, and then there are AR-15s — between them are profound differences, and these differences need to be recognized in the development of gun legislation that more accurately reflects the capacities of modern weaponry. The 2nd Amendment was not created for these styles of weapons and we should not treat it as such.
Many on the left have been criticized for inserting politics into the national conversation surrounding tragedies like these. Why wouldn’t we insert politics into an issue that so desperately needs better policy? These challenges require immediate preventative action. This can only occur through aggressive and proactive policy change.
We are all well-aware of the long list of opportunities we have had to make tragedies like these less likely in the future. From organizing sit-ins to forming coalitions to promoting new legislation, citizens have been stepping in where the people elected and paid to do so haven’t.
It is time the U.S. government asserts the right of children to attend school without fear of bodily harm over the right of some to own military-style weapons. It is time that we value life over tools used increasingly to bring about death. As the social media presence of students of Stoneman Douglas High School has shown, we are the ones who have the courage to make change — something NRA-bought politicians lack.
We refuse to become numb to tragedies like these. We will tolerate them no longer.
Transparency in the administration is an issue our board has raised numerous times over the past years, yet we still find ourselves writing the same editorial.
In the aftermath of recent discussions that have taken place in community forums and town halls, this issue has been raised again. The question we ask now is, How can administrators improve in order to make community discussions more valuable?
Many students feel that attending town halls and forums is not a worthwhile use of their time because they leave feeling more confused, angry and ill-informed than when they entered. Statistics, financial numbers and linear timelines often are skimmed over, ignored or diverted to examples of administrative successes.
There are significant opportunities for college administrators to exhibit greater transparency when discussing issues pertinent to student life and general operations of the college. Doing so would prompt a more fruitful discussion that leads to the “formation of community” that administrators have consistently called for.
We would like to acknowledge administrators who we feel could be emulated in providing students with transparent dialogue. College treasurer David Provost has provided a stellar example of administrative transparency that other administrators could aspire to when engaging in community discussions.
During a forum on Jan. 24, Provost thoroughly and transparently explained the reasons behind the September closing of college-owned restaurant 51 Main (now The Rough Cut). Instead of falsely painting 51 Main as a successful project, he told students candidly that the restaurant had been a financial disaster that had lost the college $250,000 per year.
Many feel that administrators often divert difficult or pressing questions about mistakes they have made to point out successes they have had. During the forum, Provost did the opposite when discussing issues like student diversity. He was engaging, funny and self-deprecating, answering student questions thoroughly and honestly.
Provost works with financial information that is often easier to disclose than the work of other offices such as judicial affairs, and we recognize that his candid style isn’t appropriate in every setting for community discussion. But aspects of Provost’s honest approach could still easily be translated to many other forums. If more forums are like last month’s, we gurantee more and more students will actually show up.
At the same time, this paper recognizes that complete and utter transparency is not always an attainable goal for every administrative position. The college may be legally obliged to maintain confidentiality when discussing certain topics, and is not always free to disclose details about sensitive issues that students might want to know during community discussions — for example, specific details of judicial cases, which are often bound by Title IX regulations.
The ability to disclose information in student forums depends upon the department of the given administrator engaging in discussion, the particular topic at hand, and a wealth of other factors. The Campus recognizes this fact.
Still, when these constraints around disclosure are present, administrators could provide students with thorough, transparent explanations of exactly why certain details aren’t available to the general public, as well as thorough background information that at least leaves students informed about the discussion they are engaging in.
This is another area in which Provost has excelled. During the Jan. 24 forum, he provided a wealth of background information that students found beneficial. Students who attended said they felt well informed about the topic they were discussing. Provost clearly and patiently provided background information concerning issues that gave the students the knowledge they needed to engage in a productive discussion.
This approach could be seen as a baseline for all administrators leading or engaging in challenging community discussions. When a sensitive question arises about a student engaged in a judicial process, for example, the administrator being questioned could provide as many facts as necessary and allowed. When they find themselves unable to disclose information, this point would ideally lead into an explanation of why certain information cannot be disclosed, rather than diverting the question to a discussion of administrative successes.
This open style of communication is also important because student dialogue and general gossip that circulates on campus has sometimes placed unfair blame upon administrators such as President Patton. More background and patient explanation during discussions would be a step towards remedying this.
Leaning into transparency are the first steps towards creating a community that is empathetic, supportive and committed to change. Time and time again, members of our administration have called for students to take on a role in “building community” and rebuilding a broken campus in which many of us feel isolated and alienated. It would be much easier for students to do this if they felt the respect granted through authentic, transparent conversation in student–administrator forums.
Without this transparency, students are left to draw their own conclusions, leading to false accusations and gossip. We hope this is the last editorial we have to write asking for transparency, and that we can work to fight for the future The Campus has sought to resist — one in which Middlebury dies in darkness.
Even though not all students spend time as part of the Residential Life staff, they all have contact with them over our four years. Whether it is putting in work orders or feeling homesick as a first-year, the Residential Life team spends hours of their time upholding the Middlebury’s values as a residential college. They are being asked to do more, but their pay and training does not reflect that.
Last year, it was announced that the position of the Commons Residential Advisor (CRA) would be replaced with the creation of the Commons Residential Director (CRD). While the name change is insignificant, the changes to what the roles entail are not. The main differences are the CRDs do not live in the First-Year dorms, they need to have a masters degree or higher, and take on a less personal role overall due to the less direct interaction they have with students. The CRDs now also did not attend Middlebury. The CRAs were described as the connective tissue, bridging the gaps between students, deans, and all of the Residential Life staff. CRDs function closer to administrators and disciplinarians. Now that this integral part of Residential Life is gone, student staff, mainly First Year Counselors (FYC) are left to fill in the gaps.
Some of the responsibilities of FYCs have grown to include increased hours on duty, more formalized rounds, fire safety checks, regular programming for their halls and dealing with any crisis their first-years are facing. While these all seem like they should be under the job description of FYCs, CRAs used to be in charge of or assisted with many of these tasks. Further, CRDs are officially supposed to handle programming, but there is no time or accountability to make this happen. Another issue that arises from CRDs not living in First-Year dorms is the FYCs are often the first responders to incidents of assault, alcohol and sexual misconduct. There is a deficit in training that makes FYCs unqualified to handle these situations. If the lack of training is not enough, Residential Life staff are also underpaid. This year, FYCs made $2,400 with an extra $200 that came after asking. This is around 58% of what they should be paid – about $4,500 – under Vermont’s minimum wage law. However, since they are classified as student leaders, there is a loophole that allows the college to pay them less. After a series of meetings this past semester, the stipend was raised to $3,150. A position on Residential Life is advertised as an employment opportunity, and for students who need to work, this is a disincentive. Even if students do not need to work on campus, they are being told to do more, but their pay and training are not reflecting the increase in tasks.
The SGA, with the help of many concerned Residential Life staff members, has proposed a bill that will attempt to address the gaps. First, the pay for the job should reflect the minimum wage law in Vermont. The college cannot ask students to do more, like have a required amount of hours, without raising how much they are paid. Also, training for Residential Life should include CPR and First Aid. FYCs are often first responders since the CRDs do not reside in the First-Year resident halls. They should not be dealing with violence, injuries and alcohol without training. Finally, a position should be created for a Senior Residential Advisor (SRA) that mirrors what used to be the role of the CRA. This position could be a recently graduated student who contracts with the college to fill in the support gaps. The SRA could also be a senior student who does this job in exchange for a lighter course load or as credit for a class. While the specifics of the role has not been communicated, living in First-Year dorms could be included.
Over winter break, there was an email sent out with an updated pay scale, but it did not address the issues in training or support. The SGA and Residential Life staff members hope this bill can attempt to address the remaining issues. The purpose of a Residential Life team is to foster and support a robust residential learning community, an important counterpart to academics, but they cannot do that without the skills or pay. We as The Campus Editorial Board propose that this bill passes. If this bill is not approved, people will be less inclined to apply and Residential Life will be in crisis.
Editor’s note: Our board includes members of Residential Life staff, past and present. We invited Kyle Wright to our editorial meeting to help us understand his legislation, and our News team met with administrators to discuss the issue. Our managing editor, Will DiGravio, played no part in the discussing, writing or editing of this editorial due to his past involvement in Residential Life negotiations.
As our campus entered finals period a month ago, a list, inspired by the #MeToo movement, was published on Facebook. This list cited many male students, approximately 35 of them, as being complicit in gender-based violence, describing each of their behavior in parentheses next to each name. The list looked like this: “John Doe (rapist), John Doe II (sexual harassment, emotional abuse), etc.”
The Facebook list has spurred further dialogue about sexual assault, patriarchy and sexism on campus. #MeToo, among many efforts in Hollywood and other spaces to empower women to come forth and speak out against abuse they have experienced, puts the list into context.
The time is apt, and long overdue, for society, and our community specifically, to critically assess the ways we tacitly condone sexual assault and violence against women. For too long, women have suffered abuse from men and few systemic steps have been taken to name or address it.
This paper’s fall editorial, “It Happens Everywhere,” touched upon how our community needs to do more to prevent harassment and abuse done onto women. Clearly, sexual assault happens on our campus. Regardless of how we feel individually about the actions of the person who published the list, that choice highlights the broken nature of situation on campus.
Someone in our community felt compelled to compile this list of men who are allegedly guilty of sexual violence on multiple occasions, not to mention all the unnamed men. It’s also important to note that not all of the aforementioned survivors consented to having their stories shared, a fact that demonstrates yet another troubling aspect of the situation.
One common critique of the list is that the publisher did not authenticate claims because survivors who spoke out against the listed men were not named, nor was an accompanying narrative about the incident. It is unfair to ask survivors to make themselves so publically vulnerable and risk their health and safety. They do not need to reveal themselves. They did not ask for the abuse they experienced; they are not required to publicize their pain.
No doubt it was jarring for all of us to see the names of those we know on that list. As members of this community, our indignation is colored by the anecdotes of our friends and peers who say the college’s legal system has failed them.
While we understand that the legal framework (particularly Title IX) is central to the operation and responsibilities of the administration, we are frustrated by the way in which it prioritizes careful legal-speak over empathy. Issues of sexual violence are treated like legal complexities, as ambiguous gray areas, and often eclipse the actual experiences of survivors.
Though the school has advocated its judicial processes and reporting procedures, these are not for everyone. There are other roads to healing for victims of sexual violence, including Parton’s counseling center and MiddSafe. To speak of one process as the predominant form of support fails to accommodate the nuance of these situations.
The way society reproduces notions of patriarchy and bestows young boys with sexist, problematic understandings of sex and intimacy needs to be part of the framework. These same notions of patriarchy persist at the college, so the college could help students unlearn these insidious lessons through more thorough sex and consent education for first-years. Once such work is incorporated and built upon, then perhaps Middlebury can better support those who have experience sexual violence, and prevent it in the first place.
But the college’s orientation program cannot be the only place where this issue is addressed. Students have a responsibility to end rape culture on this campus. We need to set new standards for how we uphold ourselves in our interactions.
We already have such a framework for understanding microaggressions and cultural appropriation. Many of us come to Middlebury without a sufficient understanding of these issues, but we quickly learn what actions or statements are offensive. Calling out these instances is a part of our campus culture. Indeed, we students have the collective power to establish norms and to hold each other accountable when they are broken.
Much of the dialogue surrounding the list has been raw, in part because it affected, directly or indirectly, so many people on this campus. As we decide where to go from here, our campus should move forward with nuance and intentionality. Let’s believe and listen to women, acknowledge when and how we’re complicit, and work hard to bring justice to this issue.
Each year the Queen of England opens Parliament with a speech from the throne outlining her government’s legislative agenda. In similar fashion, President Trump will give a State of the Union address on Jan. 30, presenting his vision for the United States. These state speeches offer a model for Middlebury to function more like a cohesive institution: a yearly “state of the college” address given by the president during J-term.
January is a reflective period at Middlebury, sandwiched in between two semesters. The president’s office has already organized several campus-wide events this month that offer space for discussion. An annual presidential address would round it off, serving as a natural step toward achieving this administration’s own goal of achieving “rhetorical openness,” outlined in a document called “Envisioning a Rhetoric That Binds Us.”
The idea is not new among academia, either: Cornell, Texas and Virginia Tech all have yearly state of the university addresses given by their presidents. Smaller schools like Oberlin and Lafayette also have them, and arguably benefit more from them because of their tight-knit nature. Middlebury would be wise to follow these schools’ lead.
The past year has been turbulent for the campus. Since Charles Murray, administrative communication has been fraught. It came to a boil in the town hall in Mead Chapel last November. This event was necessary and cathartic, but it suffered from a lack of structure. The constant passing of mics left many questions unanswered.
The town hall, as messy as it was, was a positive thing for this campus, especially because it allowed students to hear directly from President Patton on a range of heated issues. This is something that our college needs.
Middlebury needs a better structure of communication in place, one that makes the administration accountable to its students and even alumni. A public address in Mead Chapel would encourage productive conversation, both qualifying and clarifying the direction of the college.
This board recognizes its own hand in placing sometimes impossible demands on President Patton. Students have asked that she stop talking and start listening, and now we’re asking her to talk. Generally, the president talks publicly when something goes wrong. But a speech built into the structure of the year would give more regularity to the president’s appearances. It would give her a chance to speak proactively on her administrations efforts improve this campus.
Like the United Kingdom or the United States, Middlebury is an institution rich in history. It could benefit from the ceremony of the presidential office. It also needs an accessible discourse on matters of college policy, from judicial processes to dining halls — one in which as many students as possible are involved, in a public forum and not in obscure committee rooms.
Public speeches with a question-and-answer session are healthy for a civil society, especially because they require an institution’s leader to outline her vision before a wide audience in plain terms. They also gives an opportunity to question and critique proposals. As we have seen with the current White House’s press briefings, the ability to present and defend decisions before a public audience is the mark of a good administration.
Further, the address would bring together all members of the institution to envision Middlebury’s future, especially alumni, who have expressed a keen interest in the state of the college in the comments section of this newspaper.
Such a speech runs the risk of descending into grand platitudes that whitewash unpleasant aspects of Middlebury. Our hope is that the president commits to discussing uncomfortable or challenging aspects of the school. It is precisely these that most direly need to be addressed.
In structuring the speech, the president would ideally make a concerted effort to address certain specific topics, not just push the communications office’s agenda. Perhaps the SGA could suggest specific topics they would like her to address. As a new campus tradition, this speech should cover issues of importance to Middlebury, much like world leaders talk about specific policies that are relevant to their nations’ debates.
This newspaper’s reporting has its limitations. Our reporters cannot read the administration’s minds. What’s more, trustee meetings are closed to reporters. A public address would give the president and administration a venue to present their voice directly to students without going through The Campus’ opinion pages — which are nevertheless always open.
To prevent the speech from becoming one-sided, a structured question-and-answer period is essential. What the town hall attempted to do was commendable, but it needs to be structured so that questions receive answers. It also cannot work unless there is mutual trust — trust that students are willing to listen, but also trust that President Patton will speak genuinely to the issues of greatest concern.
The state of the college should be discussed truthfully and openly, without spin, each year. In turn, many members of this institution will listen and ask questions as we collectively chart a new course.
In our last editorial for this fall semester, we think it is important to further compound our finals stress by considering some of the dangerous repercussions of the Republican tax plan, a bill passed by the House and Senate that is expected to soon become law.
The plan, touted by many Republican lawmakers as intended to benefit the working and middle classes, will in fact target some of the most vulnerable populations. According to analysis by PBS, the changes include tax hikes for those earning less than $30,000 per year, having disastrous implications for lower income families in particular.
Although the pernicious effects of this legislation are broad, affecting the tax deductibility of school supplies and student loan payments, we have chosen to focus more narrowly on the ways in which the plan targets higher education.
We recognize that much of the conversation has been too heavily slanted away from discussing the effects that the proposal would have on especially vulnerable populations, and appreciate that even having the ability to consider graduate school represents a manifestation of some relative privilege.
At the same time, we acknowledge that enrollment or completion of a graduate program does not guarantee a change in marginalization status of someone, whether that is low-income status, race or gender. Further, for some students at Middlebury, the most immediate effects do not lie in affecting their ability to go to graduate school. The tax hikes for lower income families will be more damaging than a graduate school tax.
The Republican tax plan is, simply put, an attack on systems of higher education, affecting both private and public institutions. Among its provisions, the plan would tax tuition waivers for graduate students, increasing their tax payments by thousands in most cases, by some estimations.
It would also make college and university endowments taxable. We encourage readers to visit an article by news editor Nick Garber, “College Officials Voice Opposition to GOP Tax Bills,” which discusses the proposed endowment and student loan interest tax — with its approval meaning 12 or 13 students could not receive financial aid.
We encourage Middlebury College to make an official statement opposing the bill — especially in the midst of current efforts to support marginalized students.
The immediate effects of the plan are astounding, but its long-term implications are even more bleak. The plan would make elite institutions such as ours even more inaccessible to people of lower incomes. A person of more affluent means will always be able to go to graduate school, just in the way that wealthy institutions like Harvard will always find the resources they need for their graduate schools to thrive.
The real concern here, the people and places being most profoundly hurt by this plan, are those with fewer financial resources — the students and institutions with less private funding. Although those who support this bill may take issue with how liberal many academic institutions have become, those are not the ones which will be most profoundly affected by the plan. The plan would make elitist institutions like ours even more inaccessible to those with less financial stability.
For more vulnerable students, modifications like taxing tuition waivers can be the difference between going to graduate school and pursuing employment after graduation. These are decisions that should not have to be influenced by finances. Regardless of income, all students should have the opportunity to pursue a more advanced degree, should they so choose. Limiting the access to higher education only further inhibits social mobility and suppresses the lower and middle classes in our already oppressive economic systems.
Beyond the independent implications of the plan, there are the broader concerns for our nation’s ability to compete in global economies. Disincentivizing people from pursuing higher education will set us back globally. As Inside Higher Ed reported, more than 50 percent of those studying in STEM fields in graduate schools in the United States are from other countries; at some universities, the number is around 80 percent.
Many of those students will leave our country (especially with the encouragement of our prohibitive federal immigration system), bringing their skills and knowledge elsewhere, in place of keeping that skilled labor here.
For those of us facing already daunting decisions after graduation, the Republican tax plan only adds to those worries. The general uncertainty we already manage will be compounded by the Republican tax plan’s attack on higher education.
For many, the effects of the plan will be an inconvenience. For others, it may radically shift the options available to them for their futures. In a world that should be dedicated to expanding access to education for all, this plan works against an admirable mission under the false claim of benefitting the middle class.
We’re living in a powerful moment if you have been affected by gender-based violence or know someone who has — so, everybody.
Since New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey first exposed film director Harvey Weinstein, 35 men and counting have been accused of sexual misconduct. Emboldened by the #MeToo movement, many women have taken to social media to share their own experiences. Some claimed to be “shocked” and “surprised” by the prevalence of sexual violence. But victims are not surprised, and perpetrators are not naive.
The extensive research of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reveals that every 98 seconds, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. That amounts to more than 570 people a day. The Bureau of Justice reports that this violence is not limited to the private sphere; every day, about 50 people are sexually assaulted or raped in their workplace. Poor, POC or LGBTQIA folks are most vulnerable to this kind of abuse.
Weekly Reveal Journalist Bernice Yeung writes, “It’s a problem that affects people in all types of work, extending beyond film, media and politics to the women who clean hotel rooms, tidy office buildings at night or pick vegetables.”
Sexual violence happens all the time — and, depending on the identity of the victim or the perpetrator, it often isn’t acknowledged by mainstream media outlets.
Sexual violence is undoubtedly part of U.S. culture; it is part of our patriarchal, political heritage. From Thomas Jefferson to Donald Trump, you can be an accused-sexual assaulter and become president in this country.
Yet, we’re still taught to think of rapists and gender-based abusers as “other,” as abstractions. They are nameless, faceless “bad guys.” But they have names; they have faces. To appropriate the title of a brave and important Middlebury program, “It Happens Here.”
The National Institute of Justice reports that “85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim; about half occur on a date.” Queer folks are even more vulnerable. Here are some alarming statistics from the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey survey and the Human Rights Campaign.
Forty-four percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35 percent of heterosexual women.
Twenty-six percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29 percent of heterosexual men.
Among transgender racial minorities, 24 percent of transgender Native Americans, 18 percent of transgender people who identified as multiracial, 17 percent of transgender Asians, and 15 percent of black transgender respondents experienced sexual assault in K-12 education settings – much higher rates than students of other races. Transgender women respondents experienced sexual assault more often than their transgender male peers.
Bernice Yeung said it well: “At the heart of any sexual harassment accusation is the abuse of power. Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein had movie roles to offer. Reporter Glenn Thrush of The New York Times could help young journalists get in front of a top editor. Congressman John Conyers could open doors to a high-powered political career… [And] immigrant women from the working class... face the same kind of power imbalance as the women coming forward today, except the exploitation plays out differently. Their bosses aren’t famous but they still have real influence on the people who work for them. These supervisors can hire and fire, mete out extra hours or take them away. For women living paycheck to paycheck, that’s a significant kind of power to wield.”
We see this power dynamic play out at Middlebury between men and women, straight and queer folks, and upperclassmen and underclassmen. Inappropriate behavior, rooted in struggles of gender and power, happens all the time in our community. We see it when first-years are invited to senior sports team suites in Atwater; the senior men have all the control. We see it when the credibility of student survivors is questioned.
The onus is partially on our institutions. We commend “It Happens Here” and MiddSafe for their admirable work. Green Dot’s current form is a good start too, but we can do more to act preemptively and support women. We suggest more thorough Green Dot training for first years and sports teams.
Moreover, a more effective judicial system is in need for addressing perpetrators. We also call on the CCI to develop further resources for students on how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace. When students graduate they ought to be prepared for employers who try to use their power to take advantage of their employees.
Ultimately, this matter comes down to individuals and it is their responsibility to make a difference. Sexual and gender-based violence is inappropriate — period. To those who seek to trivialize the threat of sexual and gender-based violence: shame on you. Reread the statistics. If you haven’t experienced sexual or gender-based violence, listen to the people, especially women, who have. Their stories are the ones that matter most.
Perpetrators are beginning to be held accountable in a way they weren’t before and that is noteworthy progress. But even if someone hasn’t been indicted in the narrow legal sense — especially via the myopic system on college campuses — that doesn’t mean the perpetrator’s actions weren’t egregious.
There are many reasons why students choose not to report, from revictimization by an exhausting judicial process to concrete threats from perpetrators, whose status and power protects them.
As The New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes, “For most women, the perpetrator is not a Hollywood executive, or a sitting senator or an esteemed journalist. For most, there will be no press conferences if they come forward. There will be no celebrity attorney to sit at their sides and stroke their hands. There will be no morning news shows to praise their courage. For most, the decision to speak up will still feel fraught and without sufficient benefit to outweigh the possibility of negative repercussions.”
If you have behaved in a way that has facilitated sexual or gender-based violence, directly or indirectly, you need to change. Bystanders need to be held accountable too because they are complicit when they remain silent. We all need to be intentional about fighting gender-based violence.
Next time, be the difference between a good night and nightmare. Check your friends and check yourself. Risk losing social capital in order to prevent someone from trauma, and contemplate why holding back is considered “cool.” Junior and senior men, think about your power in spaces and your social capital on a Saturday night. Athletes, leave aggression and force on the field because that has no place in consent culture.
As Blow puts it, “We have to focus on the fact that jokes that objectify women are not funny. And we have to focus on the fact that society itself has incubated and nourished a dangerous idea that almost unbridled male aggression is not only a component of male sexuality, it is the most prized part of it. We say to boys, be aggressive. We say to our girls, be cautious. Boys will be boys and girls will be victims… [People] are not responsible for men’s bad behavior. The idea that horny men can’t control themselves is a lie!”
As one of our editors so aptly put it: Believe it or not, you are accountable for your actions — for the pain you do or do not cause. So act consensually, defend consent culture and, most importantly, be a decent human being.
Last Thursday, Nov. 9, hundreds of members of the Middlebury community gathered in Mead Chapel for a town hall meeting. The event was originally planned by Women of Color and the Black Student Union with support from SGA and was subsequently co-opted by the administration, who claimed it had been already planned. While it was presented as a “community conversation,” it was more of a Q&A for students who wanted answers from the administration.
The unstructured nature of the forum allowed for administrators to dodge questions posed by students. Instead of one answer for one question, the microphone was passed around among students. Every few questions, an administrator would answer selectively. This was in part from the stream of questions and the inability to answer due to legal reasons. Either way, there was common theme of answering the least inflammatory part of questions posed. (Please look to the News section of this paper for a selected transcription of the event.)
The town hall meeting was an example of students’ qualms with administration coming to fruition — the primary issue in question being defensiveness. While the event was intended to be a conversation, flyers handed out listed the accomplishments of the administration. In an event framed to have a primary goal of listening, we find it specious to bring a planned response and hand out a rap sheet at the door. If there was in fact transparency, there would be no need to set up a line of defense before the conversation began.
Administrators’ primary response to stories shared and questions asked were to express how hurt they were, rather than asking why students felt that way or how they reached conclusions. This response stopped the conversation, making it about administrators’ feelings, rather than the issue that presumably brought us all there.
This town hall meeting clearly demonstrated the need for more transparency on the part of administrators. One of the most common responses from administration was, “we’re working on it, but we can’t share.” This frustrates us as students, deterring us from working to move forward because we don’t know how much progress is being made.
The need for transparency is not new; students have been asking for it long before the Charles Murray fiasco. We understand there are some questions that cannot be answered due to legal reasons. At the same time, leaving us in the dark forces students to make uninformed demands or actions that could be more complete if there was a better understanding of situations. Students should not have to visit deep corners of the Middlebury website or come to town halls to ascertain how the school is improving.
The administration also needs to match the vulnerability of the students who share their stories. At the meeting, speakers noted that this issue goes beyond what happened to Addis Fouche-Channer. Many students have been vulnerable in public and private arenas, without much resolve from the administration. Administrators say they appreciate the vulnerability of students who routinely share their stories, but fail to give them the same courtesy.
These “community conversations” then become spaces where students retelling stories of hardship and silence are met with sighs and shaking heads. This is not to say administrators need to match students’ stories with their own, but preplanned answers to complex questions are certainly not the answer.
While the town hall brought light to issues students have been talking about for years, it did not leave its attendees with a concrete understanding of where to go. If anything, it was cathartic and allowed students to give an uncensored and unobstructed message to the administration. But the work is not done there, especially since the administration is notorious for listening to students share their thoughts and stories without doing anything to follow it, other than make a committee.
Other than a need for increased vulnerability and transparency on the part of administration, we have suggestions for moving forward.
Administrators should not look to students to do their jobs. Students have done the work to provide frustrations, reasons and ideas to the administration on multiple occasions. The task is now to listen. If students are not presenting reasonable ideas, tell them. If there is information that would make students’ ideas better, tell them.
Marginalized groups are putting down effort and showing why they’re uncomfortable, often with no return. Further, all members of the community should be informed of the feelings and sentiments that students at the town hall shared. We cannot move forward if some of us are ignorant of the problems a significant amount of our community face.
Whether we encourage cultural sensitivity training beyond the first year or invite students to bias training for faculty and staff, we need to all come to this conversation. We all need to continue to come because the work is not done. Instead of asking why people are sharing “negative” stories, ask why the stories exist. Ask what you can do to decrease the amount of stories or care for those who have been affected by oppression.
Everyone can see the administration is trying. We cannot call on the administration to fix racism. We can call on them to make concrete steps to combat institutional racism here, now, at Middlebury College. This is a difficult ask but not an unrealistic one, considering this is the work for which administrators are paid.
Students are paying and going into debt to be here. It is not the job of marginalized, or really any, students to fix the problems they did not cause. We’ve seen plenty of disingenuous promises and productive discourse; now let’s make some concrete plans.
The administration has criticized this paper’s coverage in public and private, and to our editors. They have implied that this paper contributes to negative perceptions of our school. They have shown discomfort and grown defensive when community members have shared their stories. The administration has realized we are a broken community.
They have also said it is the role of this paper to help build a new community by running positive stories. We disagree. There are no positive or negative stories, only truth.
The Campus ought to be a means of dissemination. We strive to report on the Middlebury student experience as it is, whatever it may be and in its truest form. Authenticity needs to be compulsory of the free press, coupled with thorough investigation. We aspire to these principles in order to best serve the student body.
Undoubtedly, many people in our community feel that we have not met these aspirations, some feel we have, and others probably think we have the wrong objectives entirely. We unequivocally believe that the aforementioned goals are of the highest priority, and acknowledge there is still plenty of room for The Campus to grow.
We want to be a newspaper for the community, but we must be a platform for the student experience first and foremost. This is our mission and this is where we will continue to improve. We want to prioritize true, genuine stories that reflect the milieu on campus, as well as in the surrounding town area. We believe our job is to capture the sentiments of life at Middlebury as we see it happening in real time, and inquire deeply. We acknowledge that in the past we have not always done this well.
The college press needs to mirror the student experience like a shadow at dusk. When someone walks about, the sun casts a mighty shadow of that person on the ground. No matter where that individual goes or what they confront, their shadow will be by their side depicting a larger version of themselves.
The Campus aims to function the same way. We wish to work alongside students by representing their opinions in print and bolstering those feelings, the way a shadow augments someone’s stature. When the student body faces hardship, whether it be racially charged incidents, the Trump administration’s threat to DACA or the Charles Murray fiasco, we as an editorial team strive to report on and defend the sentiments of the students.
In the Campus office we do debate such issues. We have our own opinions, but ultimately we aim to print the truth and channel how the student body feels overall. It is not our role to elevate our own voices; rather it is our duty to champion the perspectives being shared in McCullough, the AFC, in the dormitories, etc.
Moreover, we should be a microphone for students’ voices. We aim to be a means of amplifying what is already being said by folks around campus. When opinions are expressed, but neither the faculty, nor other students, nor the administration listen or respond, we will, to the best of our ability, be the loudspeaker that makes those attitudes clear and heard.
In this work of advocacy, we hope to build a more cohesive community. Collectively, Middlebury College needs to work towards greater solidarity during times of adversity. Recognizing the struggle and experiences of one another, amidst violent actions of racist assailants, is absolutely necessary. We create this cohesion through the paper by reflecting the student experience so that everyone is made aware. We also want to serve as a nexus of all student voices to propagate their views, while recognizing that some voices are historically and unfairly marginalized. We will equitably support the experiences of women, POCs, queer, disabled and poor folks in particular.
For those who feel we have the wrong objectives or are utterly failing to meet our standards, we implore you to propose how we can improve. We will seriously consider your criticism. However, we will not give praise where it is not due. We will not publish masturbatory tales about our community that belie the struggles this campus is going through. That sort of advertisement is left to the communications office.
If you do not like what we print, we invite you to write in. As long as they fit our editorial standards, we will publish your essays and letters. We ask you to exhibit “rhetorical resilience” and to not let the word of the press get you down. Instead, embrace what the words say, own your shortcomings, and work to improve and grow. It is what we plan to do.
The Crest Room: formerly a meeting space for the SGA during some hours, arts and crafts center at others and ambiguous pseudo-lounge when unlocked and unoccupied. Now it is a faculty lounge from the hours of 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and a student lounge from 4:30 p.m. onwards. This makes the Crest Room one of precious few student spaces left on campus.
Several grades are overenrolled. Most dorm lounges have been converted to doubles or forced triples. The new meal plan will limit access to the dining halls, previously some of the most open, accessible places to congregate. And the organic farm, cherished by students for its beauty and idyllic sunsets, has now been rebranded as “The Knoll.”
Student spaces are neither prioritized nor present enough on campus, and the administration takes unilateral action too often. “The Knoll” is perhaps the best example. It is not clear why the organic farm was renamed, but many people, both students and garden staff, felt surprised by the change. It was negligent and patronizing to make such an unnecessary change to a place that is mostly enjoyed by students. The farm is a sanctuary that is used for events like picnics and star-gazing, which get students out of the library and enjoying the natural beauty of Vermont. Naming it the “The Knoll” feels like a commercialization of the experience at the farm. This renaming is part of a trend of the administration devaluing spaces specifically popular among students.
Even our student center, McCullough, the one space defined by its purpose to serve students, is threatened. McCullough is enjoyed and utilized by the student body, from academic study groups to gallivanting crowds on late Saturday nights. But the Crest Room, one of the better study areas in the student center, now belongs to faculty most of the day. While the room is not habitually used by students, it should still be a room for students.
This new role reversal is all too consistent with a general negligence regarding student held space. The student center should be a place of stability and comfort, which the students can always enter. It should not be conditional on how often we use it or whatever reason prompted the new faculty presence.
Middlebury staff know that student spaces are an issue, but there has been little change in the right direction. In October 2016, the college dean’s office launched a study, called “Social Life on Campus: Student Satisfaction and Social Culture,” to better understand student life. The report, conducted and prepared by James Terhune Consulting, was the result of focus groups with Middlebury College students.
They found that “virtually every group (including faculty and administrators) identified concerns about insufficient common areas and social spaces available to students.” Further, “many students expressed disappointment that McCullough is underutilized and is not a place that students use to hang-out, or where they are likely to casually encounter one another. Several students indicated they would like to see the Crossroads Café and the Grille open and accessible to students more often.”
The weekend hours of both the Grille and Crossroads are limited. A crowd manager could open these spaces on weekends in order to increase their use. Many students are crowd manager trained, and would jump at the chance to earn a little extra cash.
The administration ought to act swiftly given the results of the report they themselves commissioned. Our lack of a fully-functional student center is less pressing in early autumn, when outdoor picnic tables and Adirondack chairs are an option. But winter is coming, and with it a need to find suitable study and social spaces indoors.
In the past, the dining halls have served as a warm, available place for students to get together. Professors are technically welcome too. But for students, the experience is now fraught due to overwhelming lines and cluster created by the swipe system. It is near impossible during peak hours to go to the dining halls for a cup of coffee or just to socialize.
Indeed, the swipe system isn’t going away, but the college should listen to student feedback. Our formerly open dining plan had a tangible impact on Middlebury culture. The social aspect of the dining hall is critically important and must be preserved.
The concluding paragraphs of the James Terhune Consulting report assert the following: “The biggest take-aways . . . center on the ways in which the College engages, interacts, and partners with students on matters related to social life and the student experience broadly. Increasing student participation in governance and policy development, and improving communication with and to students about matters that greatly impact their lives and experience is crucially important.”
The college should take the findings of this report seriously. Student voices need to be included in discussions about repurposing and renaming spaces. Student life and overall happiness will benefit from this inclusion. After all, the best marketing strategy is to let the product speak for itself.
The college bookstore is an inevitable, unfortunate part of the Middlebury experience, contributing significantly to our school’s textbook problem. Middlebury does little to address the substantial burden of excessive textbook costs on students. Faculty can assemble booklists without regard for the price of a work and its value to their class. But instead of providing an affordable, convenient vendor to mitigate excessive expenses, the campus store is a price-gouging local monopoly.
The ludicrous cost of textbooks is not unique to Middlebury. Throughout the country students begin their semesters with jaw-dropping bills at their school stores. Students have admitted to spending over $300 for one book, an absurd pricetag even for those who can afford it, and these texts frequently offer little advantage over cheaper options or previous editions.
But Middlebury’s bookstore does a remarkably poor job of making affordable textbooks accessible. Though the bookstore sells new books at cost, they sell used textbooks at extreme markups, buying them for only 5 to 10 percent of face value and selling them for nearly the cost of a new text.
The store’s website claims that profits “offset the cost of what the college pays for education.” This statement is obscene and offensive to the students and families who pay tens of thousands of dollars each semester in tuition.
The lack of accessibility to textbooks for students on financial aid is a serious shortcoming of the college. At Middlebury, students on financial aid receive limited help in purchasing their textbooks. Some receive a loan to cover book costs but have to pay back the cost in full within a month or two. Some schools, like Williams, offer all students receiving assistance free textbooks. A scheme like this prioritizes learning by subsidizing the means of education. It is a matter of conscious allocation of capital.
While Williams does enjoy an endowment over twice as large as Middlebury’s, our college can still do better to prioritize subsidies for textbooks — a core mechanism of education — and ensure that students on financial aid do not face academic disadvantages.
In the meantime, students with financial need can reach out to professors requesting that copies of books needed for class be placed on reserve in the library. Bookstores in town can be a great resource too. We also recommend selling books on the Free & For Sale page or working with the library to keep costs low.
Options for improvement abound. The bookstore could work with professors to help them find high quality, affordable books. The store could also seek to ensure the same book is used each year, so students can be assured that the store will purchase their books at the end of the semester. It could even build a set of books available each semester to students in a particular course. Middlebury deserves a bookstore that benefits rather than exploits the student body.
The bookstore’s return policy preys on students, especially those in compromising financial situations. According to the policy on the bookstore website, students are only able to return a book for any reason up until the first Friday of classes for store credit. After this deadline, they must prove that they dropped the class for which they purchased the book, and may still receive only a partial refund in store credit. Additionally, CDs and shrink-wrapped books cannot be returned once opened, deterring students from exploring new classes during the add–drop period, one of the college’s greatest assets.
This return policy needs revision. It should not interfere with Middlebury’s generous period for course exploration, which encourages risk-taking and the pursuit of new interests in accordance with the liberal arts philosophy. In short, financial ability has no place in academic choice.
The college seeks profit in many ways beyond the tuition bill. Many seniors graduate with hundreds of dollars in Papercut balances and bookstore gift cards. But textbooks are fundamental to the learning experience.
As a college whose primary purpose is education, this school should make a conscious decision to make textbooks affordable. It must say no to profit margins, to capitalism in education, when knowledge itself becomes a commodity.
The content written within the Opinions pages may cause emotional distress. Please exercise discretion. The Opinions pages of The Middlebury Campus provide a forum for constructive and respectful dialogue on substantive issues. With this in mind, The Campus reserves the right to deny publication of all or part of a submission for any reason. This includes, but is not limited to: the making of assertions based on hearsay; the relation of private conversations; the libelous mention of unverifiable events; the use of vulgar language or personal attacks. Any segment of a submitted article that contains any of the aforementioned will be removed before publication. Contributors will be allowed to reference prior articles published in the Opinions section or announcements for the public record. If a reference is made to prior articles, the submission will be considered a letter to the editor. The opinions expressed by contributors to the Opinions section, as well as reviews, columns, editorial comics and other commentary, are views of the individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the newspaper. Submit works directly to the Opinions Editors, Drawer 30, email@example.com or via the paper’s web site at www.middleburycampus.com. To be considered for publications, submissions must be received by 5 p.m. Sunday. The Campus reserves the right to edit all submissions.
Kneeling during the national anthem is a common form of protest right now — in the NFL and other settings. The contentious topic emerged in media and politics when Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, kneeled during the national anthem as an act of peaceful demonstration for Black Lives Matter in August 2016.
People have begun to debate whether or not the “kneeling” movement is anti-American, disrespectful and corrosive. Recently, in reference to “the kneel,” President Trump referred to the NFL protesters as “sons of bitches.” Others argue in Kaepernick’s favor. Somewhere along the way, in debating the efficacy of “the kneel,” we forgot the real, important reasons Kaepernick brought it to the table in the first place.
Discourse on the topic is decidedly fraught, and has been sensationalized in mainstream media outlets. But the Middlebury bubble is not immune to such conversations: “kneeling” during Nescac games has happened, too. Players kneeled in salute to Kaepernick’s cause during an Amherst football game last fall, as well as during a Wesleyan basketball game back in February. With the fall sports season at Middlebury well underway, how will we grapple with such questions? Will we kneel? Will we respect those who do, and those who do not?
At Middlebury, and perhaps at many similar liberal arts institutions, American institutions are openly challenged. In the classroom, we spend much of our time learning about our nation’s troubled past and present, fraught with injustices and inequalities. Sometimes, we learn things about our country we didn’t realize and aren’t proud of. It can lead some students to wonder if social justice movements can be conducted patriotically.
The rhetoric and imagery surrounding the national anthem protests seems to create the illusion of a social justice movement at odds with patriotism. Protesters accuse our country of hypocrisy. America’s founding documents espouse “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and rhetoric of opportunity while black bodies are gunned down by the police. Black NFL players and those in solidarity kneel to speak out against repeated, systemic violence. Not everyone feels safe in America; not everyone feels fully protected by state institutions.
We all want a fairer America, an America that lives up to its rhetoric. By “kneeling,” some players no doubt feel they are acknowledging the hypocrisies of America — and the language of its anthem, the proverbial land of the incompletely free. They are calling on the country they love to do better.
What does this mean for our community at Middlebury? Protest is patriotism in its purest form; holding America to the high standards of its lofty ideals and sacrificing to improve it. We cannot condone flippant critiques of American systems lightly. But we can applaud and elevate critiques of American systems that are serious, brave and crucial.
Protest is pro-American and fundamentally American, since the Boston Tea Party and the country’s founding. Challenging one’s government, especially in oppressive circumstances, has always been a core American value, as evidenced by the Declaration of Independence itself: “When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
We can recognize that to protest American institutions — whether that means standing up to a militarized police force or kneeling, on one of the most visible stages in sports and in television, in solidarity — is not to be “anti-American.” Indeed, the prerogative to fight for a more equitable union — challenging those with power in the process — is written into the very backbone of our nation.
We are taught at Middlebury to think critically about the institutions around us. But we shouldn’t stop at the armchair critique; we should take the lessons of protesters like Colin Kaepernick seriously, and fight for an America that does live up to the rhetoric upon which it was founded. Whether you choose to kneel or stand for the national anthem, if you play in or attend any of the Nescac events ahead, we encourage you to take the issue seriously.
Give it the time and attention it deserves. Use the opportunity to break the Middlebury bubble and talk about what it means to be an American today — in the era of Trump — outside of the narrow context of our idyllic Vermont landscape. Our nation is in a moment of flux, and Middlebury — despite the privileged bubble it inhabits — is not immune to that.
Remember, you can be proud of an imperfect nation. And, sometimes, the best way to show love for that nation is to challenge its imperfections, boldly and unapologetically.
Next month, Middlebury trustees will vote on a new mission statement to replace the existing version, first adopted in 2006. While many on campus may not know the current college credo, its importance should not be understated, nor should the shortcomings of the proposed replacement. A mission statement defines a school’s core values and highest aspirations. But the proposed revision does little to capture the essence of Middlebury College or provide a clear vision for the future of the school.
The proposed new mission statement reads:
Middlebury College seeks to create a transformative learning experience for our students, built from a strong foundation in the liberal arts and supported within an inclusive, residential environment. We not only inspire our undergraduates to grapple with challenging questions about themselves and the world, but we also foster the inquiry, equity and agency necessary for them to practice ethical citizenship at home and far beyond our Vermont campus.
The new mission statement bears little resemblance to its predecessor, loosely defining the school’s pedagogy with glib, cliché buzzwords like “inclusivity,” “equity,” and “agency,” while avoiding any mention of Middlebury’s unique campus community. It excludes reference to Middlebury’s extensive undergraduate offerings, environmental stewardship and international focus, valuable aspects of the college that the current mission clearly states. Indeed, the proposed statement fails so completely to capture the values and character of the college that it could easily pass as the mission statement for virtually any liberal arts college in the nation.
A statement of core beliefs and aspirations should offer a clear vision for the school and a guiding philosophy for periods of hardship like the numerous challenges posed by the past year, yet the proposed mission statement does neither. Values with broad definitions like inclusivity and equity merit explanation. Middlebury’s mission statement should serve as an outline of our community’s values which can be used to consider various ethical dilemmas, like the Charles Murray lecture, which seem to put our appreciation of free speech and inclusivity at odds. The new statement puts forth few concrete values, making it virtually useless as a tool to guide our community.
Of course, the current mission statement has its shortcomings. It does not mention the liberal arts, which is a strength of the new version. Nor does the existing one touch upon the college’s partnership with the town of Middlebury or provide even the slightest nod to valuing diversity. The college strives to embrace a myriad of identities, opinions and experiences, so this should be explicit in our mission. Moreover, the school should stress its commitment to Addison County. Established to serve as the town’s college, Middlebury should care deeply about its neighbors, and there is much to learn from the people who live outside these landscaped quads.
Ultimately, little will change next month regardless of the fate of the proposed mission statement. Unwritten, the finest aspects of our college community will live on, embodied in our community. Mission statements are supposed to evolve with the school and its values. But we should take concern with the school’s unwillingness to commit to preserving the unique aspects of the Middlebury that make it stand out among its peers. More concerning is the committee’s failure to offer a clearly articulated vision that can be looked to for guidance in trying times.
For those less familiar with the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, here’s a brief summary: The program began in 2012 with an executive order issued by President Obama. It allows for individuals brought to the United States as children to receive deferred action from deportation. DACA recipients pay a significant fee and submit the proper documentation. They must meticulously prove (among other requirements) that: they have a high school diploma, are in school or served in the military; do not have a criminal record; and entered the country before the age of sixteen and have not left since.
In addition to the clear challenge of not being native born in the U.S., non-permanent resident immigrants like DACA recipients bear an inordinate burden, daily. Now, under the Trump Administration, the program is in grave danger. The President has repealed the executive order under the pretense that he wishes for Congress to solidify it into formal legislation. It is hard to know Trump’s true intentions, but regardless, DACA is gone in six months if Congress cannot agree on something.
However, in this editorial, we will aim to address the issue as it applies to Middlebury College. We understand that DACA and immigration is a national issue, but we want to take the conversation beyond divisive Congressional lines and recognize that this issue affects members of this community, whether we know them personally or not — or whether we are even aware of their presence on this campus. Immigration should not be a partisan issue. No one is illegal and everyone has a right to a decent living and the pursuit of happiness. Neither side of our representatives in D.C. have ever been wholly on the moral side of this debate, a point we find valuable when considering the tension this conversation brings.
We, the Editorial board, would like to address the “DACAmented” and undocumented students on campus to make clear that we value your presence in our community and stand with you in this time of uncertainty and fear. We recognize the severity of the end of the program, and want you to know that, despite the actions of the current presidential administration, we believe in your right to live, work, learn and thrive in this country.
We know that belief is often cheap abstraction. It won’t make you feel safer or less vulnerable. It won’t give you the tangible support that you need, and we realize that.
First, we would like to commend college administration for their proactive efforts in supporting “DACAmented” and undocumented students. Although the college may not be in a position of complete power to support and defend these students, we believe the prioritization of this concern is not to be understated. We want to follow the administration’s model and discuss some concrete priorities we see for all levels of the Middlebury College community in supporting immigrants, documented or otherwise, on campus.
The executive order that established DACA was a temporary fix, and the security of Dreamers’ lives here in the United States cannot be ensured short of federal law. We hope for a pronounced legislative effort to permanently solidify some form of the DACA program that guarantee basic and permanent rights for Dreamers. At the Middlebury College level, we encourage all members to participate in the democratic process in the methods to which we are accustomed: writing to our Congressional offices, volunteering with or donating to immigrants’ rights organizations and participating in peaceful protests. We need to show the country that this issue matters to us and that we demand change.
We further hope that the administration will continue to make this issue a priority, even when the primary national focus inevitably shifts elsewhere. Even with a solution for the approximately 800,000 DACA recipients, many undocumented immigrants (some living within our small Middlebury community) will still be left living in fear of deportation, a reality many of us never have to consider. As we move forward in our targeted support of Dreamers, we cannot forget the millions that are left without options. For those that are able, we must leverage our status-based privilege to show our community, both local and national, that we support the rights of immigrants. Moreover, it isn’t enough to merely believe in the value of immigrants; we must take action. We must proudly fight with them to achieve a secure life in this country.
The word “community” is a trite word on this campus — in classes, in club meetings, in glossy admission materials. Since the beginning of her tenure, President Laurie Patton has stressed the importance of “rhetorical resilience” in strengthening the communal ethos of Middlebury.
But when it comes to the long and complicated work of building a more just and tolerant community, what is the non-rhetorical (interpersonal) labor necessary? Our campus is small and intimate. Trust is the underlying fiber that weaves us together.
It’s safe to say that this core tenet of our campus is fractured. Charles Murray’s appearance last spring revealed and exacerbated the pre-existing rifts that divided us and continue to drive us apart — between people and systems, between people and people. Those schisms were picked up by national media outlets, exploited, sensationalized. Everyone had an opinion on how and why the Murray incident occurred and what should have happened instead. The drama was discussed and re-discussed. Some voices were amplified, others drowned out. Now that the national media has moved on, we’re left in this shared space to mend our community.
The turbulence surrounding Charles Murray’s visit wasn’t about him. His visit was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back — the incident that opened up the floodgates and revealed the burgeoning tension, frustration and anger that lived on our campus. What the event proves is that Middlebury was not, and still is not, the ideologically homogeneous bubble that some may have believed it to be. We must address this reality head-on because the events of March 2 unveiled divisions and threatened our trust in one another.
The usual conversations about race, class and gender will help us begin to heal. But it is crucial that we move forward with more rigor, and especially more vulnerability, to rebuild our shared space. Vulnerability is what allows us to change and improve. When we are vulnerable we are transparent, revealing our most authentic selves — especially the flaws — and making us more empathetic and prepared to grow.
But it’s hard to guarantee vulnerability. It’s a challenging, serious thing to ask of anyone. True vulnerability is nearly unheard of from our administration, a body bound up in obscure legal requirements and inhibited by a strict PR narrative. Meanwhile, the faculty are vulnerable on occasion. Take when Bert Johnson publicly apologized for the departmental process of symbolically co-sponsoring Charles Murray’s talk. But more often than not, the faculty — worried, in every likelihood, about upholding authority in the classroom — seem rigid and lacking in tenderness.
Moreover, as students at an elite college, we are trained to believe we are perfect and “good, open-minded people.” But this hubris is not conducive for vulnerability. We are not good at admitting fault. All this serves to create distance, fear and distrust.
We also need to assume the best of each other. A successful community requires a foundation of goodwill. We must engage with people in a way that allows everyone to fail and learn, while recognizing that the onus of explaining and educating falls on the same groups of people all too often. This is hard to balance, but not impossible. Rebuilding the trust between students, faculty and the administration starts with recognizing that many in our community face challenges to their identity, and sometimes humanity.
It also means problematic ideas should be confronted accordingly and not indicted as malice. Similarly, systems and institutions should not be confused with individuals. We as students can criticize the administration and faculty, while simultaneously acknowledging individual administrators and professors who are serving our best interests. We all can stand to be more sensitive and patient as we look to make our campus an example of unity, equity and kinship.
All members of the Middlebury community — including the 638 new freshmen we are welcoming this fall — should believe in each other’s goodness and be dangerously vulnerable. In the past, The Campus has used its position of relative power in ways that have alienated fellow members of our community. We pledge to better use our platform to amplify the voices of those who have been speaking up about injustice at Middlebury all along — such as the AFC and cultural organizations.
Certain student leaders have stressed, time and time again, the importance of refusing to shy away from the effects of division and inequity at Middlebury. We need to learn and build from the mistakes of last year. We will undoubtedly make more, but with commitment, this year can be one of growth for our community.
On April 20, 2017, Professor Bert Johnson wrote in to this paper with an apology. This doesn’t happen frequently; we were surprised and moved. Professor Johnson, chair of the Political Science Department, wrote that he regretted the manner in which department co-sponsorship was issued to Charles Murray’s speech on campus. “The short amount of time between when the event became public and when it occurred gave all of us scant opportunity to listen to and understand alternative points of view. Most importantly, and to my deep regret, it contributed to a feeling of voicelessness that many already experience on this campus, and it contributed to the very real pain that many people – particularly people of color – have felt as a result of this event.”
Professor Johnson’s apology is, in many ways, the impetus for this week’s editorial. As an editorial board, we would like to thank Professor Johnson for his honesty, candor and courage not in retracting his decision, but in showing vulnerability and conceding that his actions may have caused pain in others. Professor Johnson didn’t base his apology in upholding lofty abstract principles, but rather in the fact that he hurt people on this campus. He represents an admirable desire to resist the urge to over-intellectualize issues and instead choose to recognize the pain one can cause, particularly in our small Middlebury community.
Unfortunately, we aren’t always very good at doing that. Why should we be? Many members of the Middlebury community got here by succeeding; by sounding smart, by developing transcripts that supposedly “prove” we know things. We argue to win, not to listen. As students, we’re pretty collectively insecure about admitting when we don’t know things, and we don’t make room for others to make mistakes. There’s pressure in classrooms, in forums and even in dining hall conversations to prove not only our intellectualism but also that we are “woke” in a kind of verbal posturing that places excessive value on certain kinds of speech, and excludes those who don’t have the vocabulary to discuss issues of race, gender, class and so on.
For this, we commend Professor Johnson’s humility and his ability to see that offering an apology does not discredit him; rather, it reveals his willingness to put the weight of a reconsidered issue above ego. It reveals not only his humanity but his ability to recognize the humanity in others. In the wake of contentious events like the March 2 protest and the election of Donald Trump, we’ve seen members of our community go on the defensive and assume the worst in others. We leave little room for nuance, and group people in categories of right or wrong, with us or against us. We misread ignorance as coming from a place of malevolence rather than lack of experience, and create spaces where people of other opinions do not feel safe to express themselves, make mistakes and, most importantly, learn. March 2 happened as it did largely as a result of a specific culture we have developed on this campus. It was a symptom of various issues here, and it will not go away unless we, collectively as a Middlebury community, decide to change the way in which we navigate our differences.
Conversations about the intersections of identity and free speech will continue. Professors: you have a responsibility to create fair spaces in which to address these issues if they come up, ones in which one set of ideas (or a means of expressing those ideas) is not inherently privileged. If you don’t know how to do that, admit that you don’t know how. We as a student body need our professors to demonstrate to us that it is okay, inevitable and necessary to be confused and even wrong. By doing so, you can uphold the lofty ideals of academic institutions espoused throughout the Charles Murray debate as more than an intellectual value, but a pedagogical practice. You can show us that college is a place for the airing of all views that need to be challenged. Administrators: you have a responsibility to create an environment in which students and faculty are not incentivized to put ego and title above listening. You set the institutional example. You, too, can embody the idea that apologies are examples of strength, not weakness.
Many students on our editorial board recalled their professors expressing a sense of loss or confusion after the 2016 presidential election, an inability to manage discussion or even process what was happening, whether in a classroom setting or otherwise. That kind of honesty and vulnerability is what can make the wounds of this community heal. This is a small college. For students, it’s more than a place of learning; it’s a 24-hour home. We all feel a sense of responsibility for what happens here. We’re going to need to have some hard conversations in the near future, conversations that will take immense emotional labor and vulnerability. These conversations can’t and won’t happen unless we, as committed members of the Middlebury community, are ready to listen, empathize and learn.