Op-Ed by Harry Zieve-Cohen ’15, Nathan Weil ’15, Jia Jun Lee ’15, and Sam Smith ’15

Categories: Uncategorized
Earlier this week Barrett Smith, one of two First-Year Counselors on Stewart Hall’s fourth floor, was dismissed of his duties. This came after Barrett had hosted a person unaffiliated with Middlebury in his room for about a week. We will not be exploring the details surrounding this guest’s stay or his departure, many of which are the subject of debate, but we do urge readers to learn more if they feel it necessary. What we do wish to express is our disappointment in the Brainerd Commons Administrators’ decision to fire Barrett. As first-years and residents of Stewart Hall, we hope and request that the Administration, namely Brainerd Commons Dean Natasha Chang, Dean of the Students Katy Smith Abbott, Dean of the College Shirley Collado, and Brainerd Commons Faculty Head Roman Graf will review and overturn the decision.

The transition to college life has not always been easy and we feel incredible gratitude for the wonderful Residential Life staff that has helped along the way. Barrett is an integral member of the Res Life team and his care, sensitivity, kindness, and passion for the Middlebury community both comforts and inspires us. Indicative of his enthusiasm is the special effort his broken foot has required he make to walk up and down four flights of stairs every day. Barrett could have requested a room change, but he was set on remaining with his first-years, and we are the better for it. His absence, come January, will compromise the comfort that had been cultivated by the Stewart community—including Natasha and Roman—this semester.

While we understand that Barrett’s decision represented a lapse in judgment, we know that such a lapse is hardly telling of the way Barrett approaches his duties as an FYC. As such, we feel that the decision to fire Barrett is excessive. While some punishment may indeed have been necessary, we wish it could have come in the form of a reprimand or probation. A punishment of this sort would have been a more proportionate response to the singular nature of Barrett’s transgression. Furthermore, we are frustrated that the most potentially affected members of this community—the students—were not consulted in the review process over the past few weeks.

We admit that we are not familiar with all aspects of the deliberations, but what we do know is that this decision will be detrimental to the tightly knit community that Stewart currently houses. We recognize the concern Administrators might feel about setting a precedent but feel that the college has other means at its disposal with which it could avoid such an adverse result. There is another precedent at stake here: the disruption and marginalization of first-years’ already volatile lives.

Finally, we do not want it to seem as if we lack an understanding of how difficult this decision must have been for the Administration to make. We know that they hold a responsibility to parents as well as others in the College and we appreciate that the intent behind this decision was to protect students’ interests. We simply do not feel that this decision reflects those interests. Rather than communicating to parents and others that Barrett had been reprimanded and given a better understanding of the full scope of the requirements that surround an FYC, the administration decided on an unnecessarily harsh course of action. Once again, we are disappointed with the unilateral nature of Barrett’s firing and we sincerely hope that Barrett’s case will be reviewed and that his strong support from students, which we anticipate will become increasingly evident over the following week, will help lead to his reinstatement.

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