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Since the 1960s, Middlebury has conducted intermittent diversity climate assessments every six to seven years, according to Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández. The most recent of these initiatives is the Action Plan for Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, a multi-year plan published in September by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (OIDEI).
OIDEI began writing the plan in fall of 2019 and circulated the plan to key stakeholders in the spring. Like many of its predecessors, publication of the 2020 Action Plan followed a discrete campus or national event: in this case, the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolisis police officer last summer, which set off a fresh wave of protests about racial justice and equity in communities around the country.
The plan is ambitious in both objective and scope, aiming to “identify and implement strategies that will engage the entire campus community in the work of fostering greater access, equity, inclusion, and full participation for Middlebury students, staff, and faculty.”
Though Fernández and Directory of Equity and Inclusion Renee Wells spearheaded the Action Plan, they consulted numerous constituencies, including students, faculty, staff, administration, trustees, committees and alumni. They also looked at nearly two dozen reports, assessments and data to identify the institutional barriers that are mentioned in the report. From the feedback they received, the original plan underwent several iterations of revision.
“Diversity plans often present lofty goals but lack specificity and strategy and therefore lead to ‘diversity clutter’ with a host of disconnected initiatives,” reads the Action Plan. To avoid these usual pitfalls and increase accountability, the Plan is broken into five foci: Faculty and Staff; Students; Fostering and Restoring Community; Accessibility; and Transparency and Accountability. For each of the 61 initiatives described, the Action Plan details the responsible units, a proposed timeline and a measure of accountability which delegates the responsibilities of the initiative.
Still, the Action Plan introduction specifies the document should be viewed as a “roadmap,” not a “mandate.” When asked to confirm if strategies in the Plan would definitely be accomplished, Fernández acknowledged that fiscal realities as well as student and faculty initiatives could slightly shift the Plan’s approach. Wells said that the timeline may accommodate strategies as they become financially feasible.
“Our goal is that all of this gets accomplished and more,” Fernández said.
This Middlebury Campus investigation reports on the progress of the initiatives in the Action Plan with a particular focus on those with a proposed timeline of the 2020-2021 academic year. This project is split into five sections — one for each the Action Plan — and is the product of dozens of interviews with staff, students, committees and administrators.
“The United States of America has not solved racism or issues of equity and inclusion in 200- plus years. I do not expect Middlebury will resolve it in five years,” said Fernandez in an interview with The Campus. “So I'm sure there is going to be plenty of work to do in five years, [but] I hope we'll be in a much better place.”
Introduction by Hannah Bensen '21.
The section of the Action Plan for Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that focuses on students is broken down into four categories of initiatives: recruitment, financial aid, development and support.
Renee Wells, Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion, hopes that these initiatives address the questions about community
“How do you help students understand what it means to be a part of a community and to foster community with and for others?” Wells said.
Wells, working alongside Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández and a variety of other staff members across the college, have aimed to interact with students when there are opportunities to engage with the entire student body, specifically through ResLife and Orientation.
Fernández has also aimed to increase the amount of direct student feedback for the respective initiatives, and has met consistently with Concerned Students of Middlebury and the SGA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee.
They hope to use these initiatives to make DEI a key component of the Middlebury experience across all parts of campus and academic life.
“Part of what it means to be at Middlebury is to be a part of a community and to think about how you are part of a community in a way that's intentional,” Wells said.
Out of 15 total initiatives in the student section of the Action Plan, eight have been completed, four have been partially completed, one is unknown, and four have not yet been completed. The initiatives that have not been completed at all have completion dates in future years.
Nicole Curvin, Dean of Admissions, has relied on demographic data and institutional research to integrate DEI initiatives into several aspects of the admissions process.
Strategy #1 is to increase the admission of historically underrepresented groups. Curvin reports that 40% of the incoming class of 2025 is BIPOC. In 2019, for comparison, only 27% of the student body were BIPOC.
Strategy #2 outlines the creation of a Student Ambassador Program, which was formed in the last academic year in order to reach underrepresented prospective students. The program, which typically sends ambassadors to high schools around the country, has temporarily moved online because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We plan to continue to develop this program and eventually return to in-person visits with high school students once it is safe to do so,” Curvin said.
Strategy #3 involves introducing DEI as a core value in the recruitment process. This has involved training staff and student employees on DEI in a variety of ways.
“In the past two years, we hosted facilitators during our annual staff retreat and as we embarked on application review to consider how we approach our evaluation of lived experiences and school context,” Curvin said.
Staff have also read texts, listened to podcasts, and attended conferences and workshops focused on DEI in order to better understand how to best recruit a diverse student body.
“We become better recruiters by understanding and acknowledging our applicant pool for who they are,” Curvin said.
Strategy #4, to increase the accessibility of campus visits, has been put on pause as in-person campus tours did not resume until May 6. Now that in-person tours are allowed, Curvin hopes to consult the community about how to make them more accessible to all prospective students.
“We have already begun discussions and have added features to our website and videos to support prospective students,” Curvin said.
Strategy #5 outlines a plan to offer opportunities for critical conversations about DEI among staff in both Admissions and Financial Aid, both of which have taken part in DEI workshops. ResLife staff have also attended four mandatory DEI workshops this year, according to Dean of Student Life AJ Place.
According to Kim Downs-Burns, associate vice president of student financial services (SFS), SFS has initiated several strategies to implement DEI in their work that aim to better support low-income students.
The SFS office has met with incoming Posse cohorts to review financial aid decisions, collaborated with other NESCAC schools to reach out to low-income students to answer questions about financial aid, worked with SGA to provide an emergency assistance fund for J-term, and participated in Discover Middlebury to meet first-generation students.
Strategy #6 aims to increase accessibility to Middlebury by creating a financial aid policy that goes “beyond need blind and covering full demonstrated need.” One example of this policy that the college has started implementing, according to Downs-Burns, is that many students in Posse cohorts receive financial aid that goes above and beyond their demonstrated need.
SFS has also worked to use fundraising as a way to increase financial support available.
“One of our upcoming fundraising campaigns is prioritizing new gift funds to expand our current pool of eligible students,” said Downs-Burns.
Strategy #7 also addresses accessibility by aiming to reduce the barrier of the cost of course materials such as textbooks.
“SFS has done some work analyzing the costs of textbooks, average course costs, and comparing textbook allowances with what our peer institutions offer in their aid packages,” Fernández said.
SFS already conducts an annual review of their average textbook costs compared to peer institutions. More work will continue on the project in upcoming semesters.
“Currently Midd incorporates a $1000 annual book allowance in the individual student aid budgets which is the median of all Consortium of Financing Higher Education (COFHE) colleges,” said Downs-Burns. COFHE contains 35 other selective liberal arts colleges.
In the fall of 2020, 489 students qualified for SFS’ book advance program, but many students didn’t take advantage of their qualification, which has led SFS to reevaluate the program.
SFS plans to work with the Office of Advancement to fundraise for a book grant program to assist aid recipients with purchasing textbooks, which has been hampered by Covid-19 costs.
“Currently the funding is limited, but we hope a successful pilot will lead to an increase in eligible students,” Downs-Burns said.
Fernández will be working on the textbook accessibility initiative, as well as Strategy #8, which aims to grow an endowed fund to enable students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in the full Middlebury experience, including funding for travel home or trips to Burlington. An endowed fund entails investments of capital that can be periodically withdrawn.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for funds has been so high that all donated funds have been put in use and not placed in an endowed fund.
According to Fernández, President Patton plans to make the fund a priority in upcoming fundraising campaigns. The college aims to have the textbook accessibility initiative complete within the next year, while the endowed funds for underprivileged students is expected to be completed in two years.
Strategy #9 extends Wells’s work with DEI workshops to student leaders in Orientation, ResLife, International Student Services, MiddSafe, SGA, and other student organizations.
Similarly, Strategy #10 aims to embed DEI into Orientation programming, and Strategy #11 outlines increasing opportunities for critical conversations among the general student body.
“I have been meeting weekly with the JusTalks students throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, and they have developed and facilitated dozens of peer education workshops during the fall, J-term, and spring semesters,” Wells said. JusTalks also collaborated with Orientation to offer workshops for the class of 2024.5.
While the scale of activities has been inhibited by social distancing requirements, there are plans to expand these initiatives once operations go back to normal. Amanda Reinhardt, Director of Student Activities, said that the virtual workshops are just the beginning.
“As we start planning for MiddView 2021 and Feb Orientation 2022, we will continue to explore ways to incorporate and assess additional DEI content into Middlebury’s Orientation programming in order to meet the goals outlined in the Action Plan,” Reinhardt said.
Rob Moeller, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Residential Education and Innovation has been involved in adding DEI components to the ResLife program.
“This spring we have been partnering with the Anti-Racist Task Force to join and support their work fostering these important conversations. ResLife has also been working in collaboration with JusTalks to hold workshops for first-year [residential hall] communities in-person and virtually this past fall and in the planning process for doing the same this spring,” Moeller said.
To help with these initiatives, Crystal Jones, who will join the staff in July as the inaugural Assistant Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion, will help to develop and facilitate these critical conversations.
Strategy #12 aims to provide more mental health resources to students and support for historically underrepresented groups. Moeller has worked with ResLife to create skill building sessions on making friends, addressing friendship myths and creating panels for students to discuss navigating the social contexts of Middlebury.
“Additional collaborations are underway with CTLR to help reduce stress by offering tried and true time management strategies,” Moeller said.
Maddie Hope, Assistant Director of Health and Wellness Education, has also worked with ResLife to promote mental health strategies through several events and training. Some of these events include ProjectConnect, stressbuster series, speed friending events, mental health peer educator workshops and ResLife student staff training.
As listed in Strategy #13, the College plans to join the Consortium on High Achievement and Success (CHAS) to focus on advancing the academic success of BIPOC students at selective liberal arts institutions by 2023.
Strategy #14 is a broad goal, hoping to increase resources to underrepresented groups, specifically in the Parton Center for Health and Wellness and Anderson Freeman Resource Center (AFC). The initiative to assess staffing at the AFC has been initiated and a new director will be starting July 1.
“We have just hired a new Director of Counseling who is a person of color and has years of experience providing counseling to these communities,” Fernández said. The new director, Alberto Soto, specializes in advocating for diverse populations and the intersection of social justice and mental health, according to Fernández.
Ben Gooch, associate director of clinical operations for counseling services, said that social justice practices and experiences with multicultural counseling are a required component of counselings’ application process.
“We work with programs that we know have a strong stance on supporting underserved communities and training their future counselors to be social justice advocates and allies,” Gooch said.
The counseling department has also recently adopted a new model of counseling called the Flexible Care Model (FCM). FCM, which Soto is an expert in, aims to move care away from systems that perpetuate white and Eurocentric concepts of counseling.
“Our overall goal with this model is to increase immediate access to counseling for students, incorporate multicultural counseling understandings into our session to make sure that we are providing good care that takes into account the diversity of our campus community, and to provide more options to students for what their relationship to counseling can look like,” Gooch said.
The counseling deparment also participates in anti-racist reading groups and training oppurtunities. The Center for Health and Wellness has also collaborated across departments to form working groups for specific issues.
“An example of this is our Trans Care Working Group, which is designed to help make sure staff are up-to-date on the best practices and to work toward dismantling barriers to care for trans-identifying students,” Gooch said.
The Office of the President has completed Strategy #15 by creating a taskforce that has been meeting since the start of the year to explore the creation of a center to support LGBTQ+ students.
Fernández explained that there is a multi-year plan to move forward. “The first year, we will work to find a designated lounge or another existing meeting space; the second year, we will explore the possibility of using a College-owned house; and during a subsequent year, once the new student center is built, we recommend that the center for LGBTQ+ students be located there,” said Fernández.
Ever since 1971, a group of roughly 100 students has arrived on campus during the snowy month of February, joining the small community of Middlebury students and alumni with half year graduation dates. These students — called “Febs” after their unusual matriculation and graduation month — have often led slightly different paths than students who enter the college during the regular cycle. The college’s February Admissions page describes Febs as members of “a long tradition of adventurous students who aren’t afraid to do things a bit differently.”
But being a Feb has changed this year. Instead of traveling, many first-year Febs spent their Febmester in quarantine, while graduating Febs were unable to take part in the traditions they have looked forward to since orientation. While there is not one singular Feb experience, many described feeling especially close to their peers, the presumption of stereotypes — and even certain disadvantages of the program.
Febs by the numbers
For some, being a Feb is a starkly different experience than being a “Reg” — the colloquial term for those matriculating in September — for better or for worse. For starters, each Feb class is fairly small — around 90 to 100 students. This can be an attractive selling point for those who are interested in the possibility of a close-knit graduating class.
Eli Richardson ’23.5 said the program was a significant part of his decision to apply to Middlebury.
“I enjoy coming in with a smaller community of people,” Richardson said. “I have interacted with people different from me and grown as a result of it.”
But class sizes have shifted significantly in the past year. Many students elected to take a semester off amid pandemic precautions, health concerns and increased financial strain. As a result, some Febs have shifted back into a Reg class year, while some Regs have done the opposite — joining a Feb class with which they did not matriculate.
Richardson’s class currently sits at 90 students, the smallest of all the current Feb classes, according to the college’s email list. The senior Feb email list includes 200 students.
The Feb community
Many Febs have found a kind of instant community among members of their class, bonding during the adjustment period when they first arrive on campus. Charlotte Cahillane ’19.5 noted that the experience of joining Middlebury a semester later than the Reg class had a significant impact on the friends she made.
“Based on the nature of starting at the same time and not having easy ways to build community with other classmates, some of my closest folks were Febs from my year,” Cahillane said.
Despite initial apprehensiveness about their later start date, Cahillane said that the 2019.5 Febs eventually began to feel more connected to the class of 2019.
“You realize everyone is in similar boats and not that much farther ahead than you are,” she said.
First-year Febs participate in orientation trips and events each winter, led by Febs in the grades above. This year’s first-year Febs were the first class to have a fully remote orientation; they were also given the option of living together in Forest — where all the first-year Feb counselors (FebYCs) live — or being placed in random housing assignments.
Long after the initial orientation, many Febs maintain strong relationships with their smaller class.
“The greatest Feb tradition is the sense of camaraderie amongst a subset of students with a single shared experience that persists through your time at Midd,” Noah Fine ’20.5 said.
While most Febs do not feel like there is a clear divide between Febs and Regs, they do think there are certain Feb stereotypes that have persisted throughout time.
“Febs were people who were enthusiastic, outgoing, a little bit weird, and people who didn't get in during regular admissions, which put a chip on our shoulders,” Colonno said of the stereotypes.
Though she graduated a semester early — making her part of a Reg class — Colonno’s friends from Middlebury still call her by her nickname, “Febbie,” 16 years after graduation.
Cahillane remembers her classmates being interested in a variety of hobbies and activities, but there were some commonalities that stood out. “A lot of folks were into hiking, being outside… a lot of geography,” Cahillane said.
“There's definitely a Feb stereotype that holds up to a certain extent, but there are a bunch of different personalities in my Feb class, and I don't really see a divide between Febs and regs,” Richardson said.
While there are no official college demographics for Feb classes, they have often been seen as more white and wealthy than the overall student population. This perception has become so ubiquitous that it is part of campus humor. In 2018, the college’s satirical newspaper, The Local Noodle, ran an article with the headline “Elizabeth Warren to Join Class of 2021.5, Creating Most Diverse Feb Class to Date” featuring Warren’s headshot photoshopped into a picture of students at the college rock climbing wall.
Some students described feeling the impact of Feb class demographics.
“It definitely shaped my social sphere. Febs historically have been white and upper middle class — not 100% — but those are the folks who can take a semester off,” Cahillane said.
For Sophia Lundberg 21.5, the lack of diversity in her Feb class had a significant impact on her social life and mental health at the start of her college experience.
“I felt like I tried very hard to be a straight, wealthy, white student for a very long time with varying levels of success before realizing that that’s really tiring and burdensome, and I should just try to embrace my identities and experiences instead,” Lundberg said.
Niki Kowsar ’21.5 says that, as an immigrant, she felt out of place in North America — and coming to Middlebury was no different. However, she found her fellow Febs to be empathetic, allowing her to connect with her peers despite demographic differences.
“There are activities where wealth, privilege, and access come into play, specifically with traveling and outdoor activities like skiing, golfing, etc., but that's not just specific to the Feb classes, but more so toward the general Middlebury community,” Kowsar said.
Lundberg, who is one of the two SGA Vice Presidents, hopes that the college pursues policies that diversify Feb admissions and create strong support systems for Febs throughout their four years at Middlebury.
Student leaders aimed to increase awareness about privilege, microaggressions, and anti-racism, among Febs by adding a JusTalks component to this year’s Feb orientation
“I think the inclusion of JusTalks was an exceptional first step, but broadly, it's important for Middlebury to admit more racially and socioeconomically diverse groups of students for future Feb classes to bring in different perspectives while ensuring that all students feel valued and accepted,” Kowsar said.
The defining feature of being a Feb is the gap semester, referred to as a “Febmester,” that members of the class take before entering college. Many Febs are grateful for the opportunity to take time off between high school and college without the commitment of a full gap year.
Libby Scarpota ’24, formerly a member of the class of 2023.5, was one of the Febs who became a Reg this year, spending the spring working at an environmental nonprofit in Hawaii. But, as a former Feb who matriculated a few weeks before Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, Scarpotta was able to spend her Febmester working as an au pair in Italy.
“I would highly recommend taking time off school while you're young,” Scarpotta said. “In a sense, it's not like I had a ton of huge responsibilities, and I was able to gain skills and learned a lot as a person.”
But Scarpotta also acknowledged that Febmesters full of travel and work experience are not universally accessible.
And joining campus in the middle of the semester can also pose a unique set of challenges. “I knew going to Middlebury that I wanted to study languages, so it was really tricky that I couldn't study new languages in the spring… that was why I graduated early,” Colonno said. “I had to do summer school and hustle to get on track.”
To some, the lack of immediate access to some aspects of campus life are part of what makes the Feb experience unique.
“Being a Feb can make it difficult to join clubs and other activities your first semester but there’s a certain sense of community that Febs thrive off of as a result,” Fine said.
A beloved Feb tradition takes place on the day of their graduation: when students ski — or otherwise descend — down the Snow Bowl in their caps and gowns.
“I'm not a great skier, so I'm genuinely scared for graduation, but even if you don't ski it is a huge bonding moment,” Melisa Gurkan ’23.5 said.
The night before graduation, the Febs are invited to a “Febs and sibs” dinner, where Febs and their siblings head to Atwater Dining Hall for a meal and a party. The morning afterwards, Febs don their caps and gowns to hit the slopes. While most choose to ski, some opt for more creative ways of getting down the slope — including canoes.
Feb life during Covid-19
As the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted learning online and forced restrictions on campus social life, many students have chosen to “Feb” themselves and graduate a semester earlier or later than planned.
Lundberg knows students who have taken time off for reasons ranging from mental health to simply wanting to have a relaxing semester after a long year of isolation.
“I think Covid has just shown many people that it’s OK to have a “non-traditional” college experience,” she said.
Febs, once a close-knit identity, are now composed of a large number of Middlebury students, which has shifted what it means to be a member of a mid-year graduating class.
“I think [identifying as a Feb] is becoming more irrelevant with the number of people Febbing themselves,” Scaperotta said.
Changes in graduation date have caused some to rethink their social circles given that new members of Feb or “Reg” classes may still primarily have friends from their previous class year.
“I am nervous about that last semester,” Scarpotta said. “My friends make fun of me that I will have to find freshman friends to live with, but I just hope to meet people in every class year.”
The traditional image of the close-knit Feb class has also faced new obstacles this year. Some members of the Class of 2024.5 have struggled to meet other Febs and first-years due to Covid-19 restrictions on campus. Unlike the first years who entered in the fall, class of 2024.5 Febs only had two to three days as Middlebury students before classes began.
“There's a sentiment that we didn't have a proper orientation. The regular freshmen had a week of getting to know each other and we were just thrown in,” Julia Lininger-White ’24.5 said.
But even without the traditional Feb Orientation and in the absence of typical social activities this year, first-year Febs have still found ways to connect with members of their residence halls or classmates in their first year seminars.
The Class of 2020.5 also missed out on some traditional aspects of the Feb experience. Like the Class of 2020, they were not able to have a formal graduation ceremony. Instead, the Super Senior Febs joined a substitute celebration at Alumni Stadium organized by Julia Sinton ’20.5 and Ben Slater ’20.5. While the college has planned an in-person graduation ceremony for the Class of 2021 that remote seniors can attend, remote Febs were not allowed on campus to celebrate with their peers this February.
Fine feels lucky that he was not in the class of 2020, self-named the “Class of 19.75,” who were sent home abruptly in March. Instead, he had the option of spending his final semester on campus, enjoying the friendships he had established over several pre-pandemic semesters.
Conversely, current sophomore Febs were forced to leave campus only five weeks into their college experience.
“The 23.5 class was really small, so right off the bat we were a very close grade,” Gurkan said. “And with Covid, people rushed to stick with the friends they made to have people to talk to over the summer and to go into housing with.”
But even without class-wide events and traditional social activities to bring them together, some Febs still feel a close bond with their peers. For Lininger-White, the level of camaraderie is closely connected to the small size of Feb classes.
“I think the best thing is having this smaller class,” she said. “When I see a Feb, I know I’ll like them.”
Covid-19 restrictions, such as room capacity and limiting close contacts, have put a new strain on student social life. Knowing that people have a wide range of risk tolerances when it comes to potential Covid-19 exposure, students also face the added challenge of navigating friendships.
“Some people don’t feel comfortable going to team practices outside or they shower at 2 a.m. to avoid people, and there are other people walking around without masks on at night or having crowded parties,” Nhi Dang ’23 said. “It’s a new part of social interactions. You have to make sure everyone is comfortable and on the same page with Covid-19 and it can be awkward if you aren’t.”
Some of this discomfort can also manifest when students have had to confront peers who are not following on-campus Covid-19 guidelines.
Isabel Linhares ’22, who is studying in person this year, recalled a scenario in which another student was not following physical distancing guidelines in the dining hall line last semester.
“I asked them to please back up just a little… they essentially told me I was naïve for expecting folks to social distance properly,” Isabel Linhares ’22 said.
The burden of speaking out about peers’ risky behavior often falls on students who are most at risk for severe complications of Covid-19, according to Linhares.
Such uncomfortable social situations in the fall have led some students concerned about Covid-19 risk to complete the spring semester remotely. Others, unhappy with what they saw as restrictive Covid-19 safety policies, have also elected to complete their spring coursework online, often from locations with more relaxed approaches to public health.
First years and first-year Febs have had the added challenge of forming friendships within the constraints of Covid-19 restrictions. Keziah Wilde ’24 felt that on-campus rules, such as room capacities, made it more challenging to make friends last semester. Even so, Wilde felt that the unusual form social interaction took sometimes had the effect of strengthening students' connections.
“There was something binding about things like watching movies outdoors when it’s freezing,” Wilde said. “There is something funny about that, which makes it memorable.”
However, Wilde still felt that the rules were an impediment to forming friendships.
“It's not like breaking rules looks cool. It just makes it easier to make friends when rules are broken,” Wilde said. “The reason that rules are upheld is because it makes people more comfortable, not actually for preventing Covid.”
As the spring semester progresses, some students feel that an increasing number of their peers are violating Covid-19 guidelines.
“[After initial weeks] most students seemed to relax not only their own definitions of closely following the guidelines, but also their expectations of others and their willingness to hold each other accountable,” Linhares said.
Many students have violated Covid-19 guidelines this year. A survey conducted by The Campus found that 354 out of 550 respondents broke Covid-19 health protocols in the fall semester. In September, 22 students were removed from campus following two Thursday-night gatherings that exceeded occupancy and indoor gathering limits in Atwater suites.
The college has reported 126 substantiated rule violations this spring, and two students have been removed from campus.
Throughout the four-day midterm recess that took place last week, many students flocked to Lake Dunmore and some gathered in unmasked groups by the lakeshore, prompting an email from Dean of Students Derek Doucet.
“In speaking with some of you who were there, it was clear that yesterday’s gathering was the inadvertent result of multiple groups of friends and close contacts all having the same idea of going to Dunmore on a beautiful spring day,” Doucet said in the Saturday morning email. “The final result however was that too many people gathered in one place, and it cannot happen again.”
Currently, one student is in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 on April 5, according to the college’s Covid-19 reporting dashboard.
Ben Gooch, Associate Director of Clinical Operations at the Center for Health and Wellness, has noticed worrying trends among students that use counseling services. He acknowledges that changes to social life may have played a role.
“The level of inconvenience it takes to meet up with people in safe ways has made people less willing to reach out to friends that they may be less close with,” Gooch said. “There's a lot less of running into people in the gym or dining hall in the same way.”
Some students struggle with internal debates about whether or not to socialize if it means breaking the rules.
“I work with students who mention they feel socially isolated so they want to see people, but when they see people they feel anxiety or discomfort of being caught,” Gooch said.
Gooch hasn’t heard from students about pressures to break rules to fit in, but did hear that Covid-19 rules have made some students more isolated.
“What Covid has allowed for is that some people naturally gravitate towards spending time alone, and Covid has given permission,” Gooch said.
Many students have taken to anonymous social media accounts like the Instagram account @middconfessions to express their frustrations. One post from Feb. 28 reads, “I know Covid restrictions are only gonna be this strict for a little over a week, but I’m so worried [about] missing out [because] I don't want to break them to the extremes of others.” Another post expresses similar worries, “Being the friend group left out of the group due to Covid regulations sucks...I can’t help but feel personally hurt by it.”
Visiting speakers Pablo Gilabert and John Tomasi spoke at a webinar titled “Are Social Justice and Capitalism Compatible?” on March 10. Political Science professors Gary Winslett and Keegan Callanan moderated the event, which was sponsored by the Alexander Hamilton Forum and Department of Political Science.
Tomasi, professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Brown University, argued that social justice and capitalism are compatible in a world where society is structured upon what he called a “market democracy” model.
Tomasi outlined a philosophical binary between an anti-capitalist and pro-justice left — consisting of Rawls, Marx, and Chomsky — and a capitalistic right — defined by the work of Freedman, Locke and Hayek.
Tomasi, who described himself as “enthusiastically capitalistic… and maybe more foundationally enthusiastic about social justice” argued that economic freedom and social justice are not mutually exclusive but rather work together in an ideal scenario.
“There exists an ‘undiscovered frontier’: conceptions of social justice that are also enthusiastic about private economic liberties,” Tomasi said. He also advocated for “prioritarianism,” which stipulates that the ultimate goal of government should be to achieve the best outcomes for the most disenfranchised in society, as opposed to a view of social justice that is focused on the pure equality of people.
Gilabert, a professor of Philosophy at Concordia University in Montreal, disagreed with Tomasi and argued that it is not feasible for social justice and capitalism to functionally co-exist. He outlined traits of capitalism that inhibit social justice: lack of equal opportunity, exploitation, domination and conflict with democracy.
“Capitalism allows significant inequality in wealth and power, affecting how our children grow up,” Gilabert said. He explained how capitalism fundamentally fosters inequality between workers and capitalists. “Bargaining power is dramatically asymmetrical, except in rare cases of a skilled worker in a tight labor market ... capitalists can and do take unfair advantage of workers,” Gilabert said.
Gilabert also analyzed alternatives to capitalism, noting that socialists often depend on the same principles that capitalists endorse: freedom, democracy and community. Even though Gilabert questioned the efficacy of socialism, this didn’t change his main argument that capitalism inhibits social justice.
The two speakers then took questions from attendees and responded to each other's arguments.
“Socialist regimes have done terribly at protecting political freedom,” Tomasi said, referring to a slide showing the leaders of states including the Soviet Union and Cuba. “Do you think they had political freedoms?” Tomasi asked Gilabert, referring to regimes such as the Soviet Union and Cuba.
“In those regimes, the means of production were not under democratic control… If they are socialist, it’s not the socialism I cherish,” Gilabert responded.
One student asked the speakers who should bear the responsibility of building these societies.
“What gives me most hope for progress is commitment to a quality of mind, a stubborn open-mindedness,” Tomasi said in reply. “People should be impatient of the ideologies of their elders.”
A two-day fundraising campaign yielded $144,000 for JusticeProjects, a joint initiative between the Student Government Association (SGA) and Office of Advancement seeking to promote diversity, equity and inclusion by awarding money to affinity groups and student-run social justice projects. College trustees matched individual donations up to $250, for a maximum of $50,000 in total matched funds.
Seventy percent of the money raised will be given to institutional bodies or affinity spaces on campus, while the remaining 30% will be allocated to student-run projects, according to the SGA bill. Project proposals will be vetted by SGA directors and proposals requesting over $10,000 will be approved by the SGA senate.
Student-run projects can be proposed by individuals or groups and can include anything from money to buy a spikeball set or funds to bring a particular speaker to campus, according to Maggie Connolly ’23, SGA director of student affairs and a co-author of the bill. SGA Vice President Roni Lezama ’22 said the SGA will also provide funding for projects that take more than one semester to complete.
The SGA Representatives also encourage students to collaborate with others in their projects. SGA Directors and Senators are available to help students with the planning.
“We encourage students to think big,” Lezama said.
Lezama, who also helped write the bill that called for the creation of the JusticeProjects, said he was inspired by the college fundraiser for racial justice organizations last summer that raised $71,000.
“That campaign was successful, but we wanted to find ways to continue sustained advocacy for the BIPOC community,” Lezama said. “I did not want money to be the barrier that prevents students from pursuing any idea that could have a tremendous impact.”
The success of the inaugural JusticeProjects fundraiser was thanks to effective collaboration between students and administrators, according to Connolly.
“I want to communicate to students that they should know the administration really wants to see your ideas come into fruition and make things as accessible as possible at Middlebury,” she said.
In addition to an annual JusticeProjects fundraiser, the SGA will be pursuing further fundraisers for local and national Black Lives Matter organizations later in the spring semester.
Starting the second week of March, students can apply for project grants by visiting go/SGA.
The Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) has been hard at work organizing a socially distant Winter Carnival to take place from March 12–20. The events will be a mix of indoor, outdoor and virtual activities. The final itinerary for the weekend will be sent out to students next week.
“The weekend will have larger events, and the weekdays will have smaller repeating events so everyone has the opportunity to participate in them,” Chloe Fleischer ’21.5, the MCAB traditions co-executive who has been leading the planning effort, said.
The carnival will span eight days this year to make activities accessible for all students despite capacity limitations.
Instead of the usual day at the Snowbowl, MCAB has organized neon ski and sledding to take place on the Mead Chapel hill on March 13.
“We will have a mid-2000s themed glow-in-the-dark dance and are hoping it will be available digitally and in-person with hula hoops to maintain distance,” Fleischer said.
Students can also participate in night sledding and a virtual escape room the evening of March 13.
“We will also have music, lights, fire pits and hot cocoa to make a great atmosphere,” Fleischer said.
On March 19, students can look forward to live performance art fest featuring students in WOMP and a cappella, stand-up comedy, and improv groups.
Instead of the traditional Winter Ball, student DJs will be performing in different locations so students can dance at a “Mask-erade ball” on March 20.
The organization of some activities later in the weekend is reliant on whether students follow Covid-19 protocols in the initial events. Students can sign up for events with limited capacity on Presence and can check MCAB social media and email announcements for the final itinerary next week.
The cost of room and board, totaling $16,630 for the 2020-2021 school year, will remain unchanged and will not include any refunds, despite a shorter on-campus semester and remote J-Term.
Associate Vice President for Student Financial Services Kim Downs-Burns said that this price maintenance is because student enrollment in J-Term has never incurred any additional costs in tuition or room and board and because students will be on campus for a similar amount of time as previous fall and spring semesters.
Although on-campus semesters are shortened, students will be on campus for roughly the same number of days because the 2020–2021 Academic Year has fewer breaks and earlier arrival times to account for on-campus quarantine.
Fall students who arrived on Aug. 28 will have been on campus for 86 days. In fall of 2019, students were on campus approximately 90 days, varying slightly if they stayed on campus for breaks. Similarly, students will be on campus for about 14 weeks this spring, depending on the length of breaks; in the spring of 2020, students would have been on campus for 14 weeks if the semester had gone as planned.
When campus closed during the initial Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, students received a prorated refund for room and board ranging from $1,000 to $4,380, depending on a student’s family contribution to the cost of attendance.
Downs-Burns also explained that although students often assume costs are built into the fall semester because Febs start in the spring, that this is not the case. “J-Term is covered by endowment earnings and other sources [outside tuition],” Downs-Burns said.
Every year during J-term, a sizable portion of the student population is off campus exploring internships or other opportunities, as students are only required to be on campus for two out of four J-terms.
This policy is consistent with other NESCAC schools. Amherst College will have a remote January Term — its version of J-term — at no additional cost to students enrolled in the fall or spring.
The Student Financial Services Office (SFS) has made changes to their policies to relieve some financial burden incurred by Covid-19. Kim-Burns explains that her office has approved 150 requests for reconsideration of financial aid based on reduction to family income or increased medical expenses.
“Total additional funding spent since July is approximately $1.1 million,” Kim-Burns said. Instead of looking at 2018 tax returns to assess aid like they usually would, SFS will look at 2020 projected income to accommodate changes. This policy will continue into the spring. “If a family has experienced a drop in income, we want to know about that,” Kim-Burns said.
She recommends students first reach out to their Dean of Residential Life and then email email@example.com to get help with financial aid. “We are meeting full financial need for the full four years; we need to be here at every moment for students,” Kim-Burns said.
Starting this spring, students can exchange their $25 declining balance for “Middlebury Money,” a community currency accepted at almost all businesses in Middlebury. Students will have the option to receive a traditional declining balance on their student IDs for on-campus purchases or receive a $25 check that they can spend both in town and at many on-campus locations.
Co-authored by Directors of External Affairs Henry Ganey ’22 and Daniel Gutierrez ’23 and Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President Roni Lezama ’22, the bill was passed on Sunday, Oct 4.
Middlebury Money is withdrawn from a bank account at National Bank of Middlebury that is owned by the Better Middlebury Partnership in an effort to keep dollars within the local economy, according to Experience Middlebury, which oversees the program.
The bill serves dual purposes. “It will increase accessibility for students to experience off-campus life by removing financial barriers and will also help stimulate the local economy in light of recent events — the pandemic and the closure of main street [for construction],” Gutierrez said.
The spring will function as a pilot period for the program, though students must opt in if they want to participate. “We don't want to force students into it, and we want to get genuine feedback,” Gutierrez said.
The SGA will send out a Google form before the spring term in which students will select their preference. Students who opt in will receive a check in their mailbox, a special kind of payment method that they can spend only at Middlebury businesses — including those at the college, such as Midd Xpress and the college bookstore.
Gutierrez and Ganey are also working with Treasurer David Provost to potentially increase the amount of declining balances.
“Because of the budget freeze, it would be hard to get an increase this semester or next, but it looks like there is a good chance it will happen in the future,” Gutierrez said. He said he was aiming for an increase by fall 2021 for a total amount of $50 but that it all depends on the college’s budget.
Gutierrez also hopes to add Middlebury to a consortium of Vermont colleges that allow students to spend allocated money at any retail location in Vermont.
Students are excited about the new flexibility of the declining balance. “It not only allows us to support local businesses but it also gives students who were previously discouraged from going to town due to financial barriers an opportunity to do so,” Isabella Peixoto ’23 said. “I will definitely be spending it at Taste of India or Vermont’s Own.”
The use of a racial slur targeting a Middlebury student and an update on the college’s five-year action plan for anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion were the focus of an open meeting co-hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA) and college administrators on Oct. 8. Student moderators represented groups accross campus, including the SGA, International Students’ Organization, Umoja and the Muslim Students Association. Panelists included President Laurie Patton, Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández, the Director of the Task Force on Anti-racism Christal Brown and dozens of other faculty and administrators.
President Patton opened the event with a statement regarding the recent incident of race-related harassment on campus, which has since been investigated. “Racial slurs have no place on our campus, and no one should have to suffer dehumanizing treatment while pursuing a Middlebury education,” Patton said. She emphasized the work of the Senior Leadership Group (SLG) in response to this incident and listed several specific action steps.
The Board of Trustees plans to form a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee which will communicate frequently with BIPOC students and faculty. Patton’s aim is to make DEI issues more central in the Trustees’ decision making. The SLG has been talking to the SGA and Concerned Students of Midd — a group of students who sent a statement to President Patton and the SLG criticizing a May 31 community-wide email from Patton for drawing parallels between racial injustices and the pandemic. The email has since been removed from the college’s announcements. According to Patton, the SLG plans to implement restorative practices and is hoping to conduct follow-up meetings with Concerned Students of Midd.
Patton also announced that the college will hire four new faculty members, three of whom will teach subjects related to Black Studies. One of the new faculty members will be in the Black Studies Program. There are also plans to create two more positions in the Black Studies Program in the future, thanks to a recent large donation.
Patton went on to address the $500,000 the college received this past spring for anti-racism initiatives. Of that, $250,000 will go to the Task Force on Anti-racism, which will then decide where to allocate the funds. Another $50,000 will go to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS), and the remaining $200,000 will be allocated through the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (OIDEI).
The office and the SLG will also meet with a newly formed task force of several compensated Black students to help determine how these funds will be used. Patton also provided more details about the Twilight Project, which will include research and artistic programming aiming to “bring to light those whose stories were previously left out of the cultural record.”
Fernández followed Patton and presented the Action Plan for Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Fernández explained how the report was influenced by several outlets for student opinion, including the 2019 Zeitgeist and a climate assessment. After receiving input from multiple student organizations over the summer, the 35-page report was published by OIDEI in September. Fernández emphasized that the report is a “living document,” and that revisions have already been made, including the creation of the taskforce of compensated Black students that was conceived on the advice of Rodney Adams ’21 and Kaila Thomas ’21.
Christal Brown, the leader of the Task Force on Anti-racism and professor of dance, explained her new role within this network of initiatives. Brown has a two-year leadership role and said she aims to “stand in the gap as we traverse who we've been and who we are becoming.” She emphasized the need for greater communication and listening as a community.
The panelists then went on to answer previously submitted questions. When asked about plans to expand the Black Studies program, Director Daniel Silva explained that there are currently no faculty with a doctorate in Black Studies. He said that the program requires a core of faculty, commenting that a colleague described the current Black Studies programs as “like having a chemistry department without chemists.” Silva advocated for hiring four or five professors in the next few years and spoke in support of a Black Studies distribution requirement. Patton noted that hiring priorities are determined by faculty through the Education Affairs Committee, not by administrators.
Marti McCaleb, civil rights and Title IX coordinator, responded to several questions received about the outcome of the Sept. 25 racist incident. She said that investigations are confidential to protect student privacy as mandated by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). McCaleb noted that the impact of discrimination goes beyond the individuals involved and impacts the whole community.
Patton responded to a question about a separate incident of racism that took place outside the French House, during which an older, white community member sitting at the bus stop yelled “all lives matter” at a Black student. Patton said she hopes to intitate anti-racist intiatves within the town, including a “town-gown” coalition and educational workshops.
Panelists also addressed ways in which the college can support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. Director of Intercultural Programs and Professor of American Studies Roberto Lint Sagarena said he is “here to serve” and asked for students to reach out individually if they need assistance. Miguel Fernández added that he has been able to give DACA students grants in place of work-study and is able to aid in paying application fees and other expenses. Fernández said he is “trying to be creative but also cautious.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the event took place on Oct. 9 instead of its correct date, Oct. 8.
Karina Martir ’24 and Meg Farley ’24 emerged from a field of seven candidates as the two first-year Student Government Association (SGA) senators. The two victors, who ran together and publicly supported each other’s campaigns, are now dedicated to working together to facilitate connections and inclusion among first years. In the same election, Sabian Edouard ’21 — who ran unopposed — won the special senior senator election to fill a vacant spot.
On Sept. 24 and 25, 269 first years voted for their class representatives with a turnout rate of 44.6%. Karina Martir and Meg Farley won with 26.4% and 18.4% of the vote respectively. Sabian Edouard won the senior senator election with an 11.5% voter turnout.
Martir, from Los Angeles, is part of the South East Asian Society (SEAS). Her platform emphasizes community, school spirit, diversity and inclusion, self-love and the arts. At the top of her agenda is aiming to build connections between first years, despite the distance that Covid-19 has created.
“We are very split between Battell/Allen and Stew/Hepburn kids. I want to bridge that gap, and the one with remote students,” Martir said in an interview with The Campus. She hopes to host virtual events and promote school spirit through events like a pajama day.
Another of Martir’s policy goals is to support the arts on campus, including finding Covid-19 safe ways to share student art. “I would love to do some outdoor performances, like an open mic night,” Martir said.
“I want people to know that I'm very approachable if you have questions or want to grab a meal, or have a music jam session,” Martir said.
Meg Farley, from Illinois, is a member of Sunrise Middlebury and Interfaith Varsity. She is also on the college’s Environmental Council. Farley uses the acronym BRIDGES to consolidate her policies: Building community, Recognition, Inclusion, Diversity, Good eats, Environment, and Support and safety.
Farley is passionate about promoting anti-racist initiatives. “Middlebury’s response to racial injustice has been completely inadequate and we need a lot of systemic change here,” Farley said. “I'm here to do the work and listen to the needs of the communities I represent,” she said, emphasizing the importance of listening to the experiences of BIPOC students.
Farley also wants to promote effective composting and recycling policies and set up social gatherings for first-year students, where they can meet new people over dinners that occur twice a month.
Sabian Edouard, from Chicago, also hopes to focus on inclusivity of marginalized groups and remote students through community-building initiatives.
“I’m ready to stop talking and start acting,” Edouard wrote in his official statement of interest. “As your Senior Senator, and as your peer, I will act as a committed initiator and avid supporter of work that needs to be done within and outside of Middlebury’s campus.”
Edouard hopes to develop an event called “Opening the Outdoors: A Day of Canoeing” to advocate for widespread accessibility to the outdoors. Like the newly elected first year senators, he is open to input from his peers.
“If there are any changes you want to be seen, let me know and I will do my best to make it happen,” Farley said. She told The Campus she wants to meet all of her peers and is on a quest to learn every first year’s name and pronouns.
After campaigning side by side, Farley and Martir are now ready to work together to accomplish their goals. “Back home I earned the reputation of someone who gets things done, and I'd love to earn it here,” Farley said.
Edouard said that although it was unfortunate there were no other candidates on the ballot, he is still grateful to represent the senior class. “I also think ballot options hold value for all voters. However, this doesn’t in any way change my commitment to doing the best job I can,” he said. “I appreciate those that did vote and hope that they continue to do so in the upcoming presidential election!”
While large universities around the country are becoming Covid-19 hotspots, the 11 schools in the NESCAC — which have far fewer students and are generally located in low-density areas — have kept their Covid-19 cases extremely low so far.
Middlebury College has only seen two total active cases, and both students have since recovered. All NESCAC schools except for Tufts University have had fewer than five positive cases. Tufts — which is over twice the size of the other NESCAC schools and is located in a major city — has had nine new positive tests in the last week, with a total of 26 Covid-19 cases.
In contrast, several large universities across the country have witnessed catastrophic Covid-19 outbreaks. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill evacuated students after testing revealed a positivity rate of 13%, while the University of Georgia and University of Wisconsin-Madison both reported over 1,000 cases in the past week.
All NESCAC schools tested students upon arrival, instated a quarantine period afterward, and are now intermittently testing students through the Broad Institute, a testing provider based in Cambridge, Mass. Bates College and Bowdoin College are testing all students twice per week, whereas Middlebury and Connecticut College are performing tests on a portion of the student body each week in addition to testing students who show symptoms.
In late August, Middlebury welcomed 2,161 students back to campus, with an additional 85 students living in off-campus housing and 329 studying fully remotely. Bowdoin College was the only NESCAC not to invite all students back, permitting just 653 students — or 40% — back to campus and prioritizing first-year and transfer students, with some other exceptions. The Bowdoin Orient reported that 75% of students were dissatisfied with this decision.
Some NESCAC schools are adjusting their academic policies to allow increased flexibility. Bates College is proceeding with two 7.5-week modules instead of a traditional semester. Williams College is allowing students to take as many classes Pass/Fail as they want, and Trinity College is allowing students to graduate with 1.5 fewer credits than are usually required. Tufts is allowing students to graduate after only six full-time semesters instead of the previous requirement of eight, offering increased flexibility for students to attend part-time. Middlebury has also modified its academic policy, allowing students to take up to one course during the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters on a credit/no-credit basis.
Amherst has moved many classes to outdoor spaces and installed temperature monitors at the entrance to several student buildings. To reduce the spread of germs, Hamilton College spaced out classes by 20 minutes for classroom cleaning and Williams converted most housing to single-occupancy.
NESCAC schools have already had to penalize students for breaking Covid-19 safety rules. Dean of Students Derek Doucet told The Campus that several students have already been asked to leave campus, while more are awaiting appeals for violating guidelines. Bowdoin has also asked a first-year student to leave campus for violating the seven-page community agreement that all students studying on campus had to sign. One reason for this strict enforcement is that most NESCAC schools occupy small towns with limited healthcare services.
The cost of testing and implementing Covid-19 regulations is putting new financial pressure on NESCAC schools. Middlebury has allocated $5 million to cover costs created by the pandemic and increased tuition by the standard of 3%. Bowdoin will spend $875,000 on testing this year. Williams is the only NESCAC school to reduce tuition due to the pandemic, lowering the total by 15% for all students, in addition to eliminating the student activities fee. Trinity is keeping tuition stagnant at the 2019-2020 level.
But not all small colleges have been able to maintain low Covid-19 rates. Colorado College shifted to fully remote learning after 11 of their 800 on-campus students tested positive and an entire dorm of 150 students was quarantined.
Vermont has maintained one of the lowest Covid-19 rates in the country, and only 38 out of 42,109 total tests at Vermont colleges have been positive, according to the Vermont Department of Health. The largest college in the state, the University of Vermont, has seen 15 positive cases so far.
While many large and urban universities are suffering from uncontrolled outbreaks, schools in the NESCAC and Vermont colleges are maintaining low rates by merit of advantageous size and geography, bolstered by strict rules and frequent testing.
Middlebury Language Schools, MiddCORE and the Bread Loaf School of English, among other summer programming, will be taught through remote instruction this summer, while the School of the Environment in China, the Museum Studies Program in Oxford, and several other Middlebury summer programs have been canceled, according to an April 17 announcement from Provost Jeff Cason.
“We were most concerned to provide academic continuity and the possibility of degree completion for our largest summer programs: the Language Schools and the Bread Loaf School of English,” Cason wrote in an email to The Campus.
Rachel Lu ’23, was excited to attend the French Language School this summer to meet the language requirement to study-abroad in France, until she heard of the change to remote and withdrew from the program.
“My biggest concern for online school is that the immersive experience would be compromised,” she said. “I think Language Schools are tested and proven because of the environment it creates, but there is no way that can be replicated in front of a computer screen, unfortunately.”
According to the Language School website, programs will only run if there is enough interest for each online course. Tuition will remain the same, but room and board costs will be eliminated.
Cason said he has received significant positive feedback when the switch to remote learning was announced for both Bread Loaf and Language Schools. He predicts that the online model will draw in new students, including alumni, who can now participate in the programs from wherever they are located.
After Mariana Zieve-Cohen ’23 learned of the switch to online, she decided to apply to the Spanish Language School. “As I spend all year in Vermont on Middlebury’s campus, I did not want to spend my summer there,” she said. “But with it online, I can stay home while also participating in the program.” She said she works well at home, so is not very concerned about being about to focus on the material, but is wondering how practicing speaking will be affected.
“Remote learning is more accessible for many students so in that sense I think there are benefits,” said Zieve-Cohen.
Still, Cason anticipates lower enrollment at the Language Schools this summer. This could pose a financial burden to the college, depending on the final enrollment numbers. “Normally, the summer programs provide a significant boost for the college in financial terms,” Cason said. This will add to the already large financial impact of Covid-19 on the college.
Associate Dean of the Language School Per Urlaub and Director of Enrollment Molly Baker commented on how the shift to remote learning is changing preparation for the summer classes.
“Preparing for the Language Schools is always a demanding process since we have so many moving parts to create a top-level curriculum, engaging co-curricular activities, and an environment for students with all the tools they need to succeed,” they wrote in an email to The Campus.
Moving the program online not only creates many of the same challenges, but also presents hurdles with technology and engaging students from a distance. But Urlaub and Baker do feel optimistic about the continued success of the program and the faculty’s ability to take on the new challenge of going remote.
“At Middlebury, we are very fortunate to have the absolute best language faculty in the world,” they wrote. “Teaching online will be a new model for some of them and provides an invitation to experiment, but virtually all of them routinely use technology in sophisticated ways at their home institutions to engage with their students.”
While mindful of the limitations technology and remote learning present, including less ability to expose the students during co-curricular activities to their target language and provide them with constant feedback throughout the day, Urlaub and Baker say the faculty and staff are up for the task and that the programs will have the same “rigorous spirit” and “intensive standards” as they always do.
In addition to the Language Schools, the Bread Loaf School of English will also be offering online classes. Cason noted that it was important to continue these classes, since some of the masters students were planning on completing degrees this summer. But two of the three Bread Loaf Writers' Conferences have been cancelled. This includes the Translators' conference and the Environmental Writers' conference, both of which take place in June. A decision about the August Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference will be made in June.
"I have generally asked our staff to hold on making preparations for the August conference until we hear further instructions from Middlebury’s senior management and their Crisis Management Team." said Jennifer Gotz, director of the writers' conference.
"However, since we have officially canceled our June conferences, our staff is hard at work on that and on setting up some virtual programming that we are hoping to offer," Gotz said. These programs will be free and open to the entire community.
Leif Taranta ’20.5, along with other student activists in the Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG) and the Trans Affinity Group (TAG), has been leading and planning workshops that aim to teach the Middlebury community how to be more effective activists. While the workshops have covered a variety of topics, they center around what Taranta calls “the hard skills of organizing” and inform students about current movements.
Taranta has been doing organizing work since they were in elementary school and has worked with organizations focused on fossil fuel resistance, immigrant solidarity and community support. Taranta utilizes their own skills to educate others specifically on de-escalation and nonviolent direct action, but also brings outside trainers to campus to assist with the workshops.
Upcoming workshops on March 14 and March 18, led by outside trainers Sonia Silbert and Emma Schoenberg, will address nonviolent direct action and de-escalation. In April, regional activists will come to campus to discuss issues including native sovereignty, regenerative agriculture and regional fossil fuel resistance.
“One of the main purposes is to give people the tools to create a better world, wherever they see themselves fitting into that,” said Zoe Grodsky ’20.5, the co-manager of SNEG, who has also facilitated lectures and workshops surrounding activism. She said that whatever path students decide to take, education is absolutely essential.
Taranta emphasized that anyone, regardless of activism experience, is welcome to attend the workshops. They noted that being an activist can come in many capacities.
“People think, ‘Oh, I’m not an activist,’ because they think activists look a certain way,” Taranta said. “Someone might not be comfortable taking direct action, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do valuable work behind the scenes.”
Taranta’s main motivation for facilitating the workshops is to fill in the gaps they see in education. “There are so many people here that are interested, but I don’t think our education is set up to give us these skills,” they said. “We are taught in class to critique and take things apart, but aren’t taught how to create solutions.”
Grodsky has been involved in planning workshops for the day of strikes and teach-ins that correspond with Charles Murray’s visit to campus on March 31. While Taranta said the uptick in workshops is not a direct response to Murray, they noted that the workshops will happen in tandem with the event.
“We need people prepared to be de-escalators,” Taranta said. They hope the workshops will provide a source of community support during Murray’s visit.
Taranta has high hopes for the spring. “We can be pretty limitless in terms of what we envision, and a whole lot can change fast,” they said.