Posted on behalf of Matt Birnbaum ’12

Categories: Uncategorized

I’ve been told that I make people uncomfortable when I talk to them- on more than one occasion too. I’ve been called confrontational, uncompromising, and even alienating at times. I have strong opinions and I’m not afraid to share them. Does this disqualify me as “a member of our community?” Perhaps it’s my tuition payments that makes me a member of the ‘community’ (likewise, does that exclude Staff members or Davis Scholars- how about Professors- their children- dogs- what if dogs put me on edge? Or how about alumnae who don’t live here anymore and don’t even have the decency to donate- I know, despicable).

The idea that we have some kind of cohesive, normative community here makes me sick to my stomach. It is prejudiced, discriminatory, and marginalizing, at the very least. I think it’s openly acknowledged that spacial and social boundaries exist at this college along racial lines (i.e- “why do all the (black/latino/international) students sit together”). Often these boundaries exist along class lines too (not always, but prep school is a pretty good determinant of your social group here, or maybe even entry into a ‘secret’ society).

To deny this, you are either blind, or an ass. The narrative we tell ourselves, laden with feel-good culturally produced Midd-isms (“professionalism,” “pragmatism”, “globalism” “environmentalism,” “athleticism,” “liberalism”) shield students from thinking critically about the fact that other people exist on this campus who identify or look different. This is the same mindset under which we regularly invoke that we graduated the first African American undergrad but- OOPS WE FORGOT TO MENTION- we just didn’t know it at the time! It is the same mindset under which people on this blog comment “We go to the most ‘liberal’ school- how can you talk about race here!”

I regularly hear of blatant homophobia and have witness plenty of sexual and gender based violence on this campus. Some of these students, including one who has been accused of RAPE, as well as people who regularly display blatant disregard for common property, remain on this campus, are allowed to remain on this campus, and perpetuate these tendencies weekly. Are they not members of this “imagined community” you speak of? As I hear, it seems some of their parents donate a lot of money, so according to the definition we arrived at above…

During my freshman year in Stew, a floor-mate, blackout drunk, harassed a female friend of mine in ways that are legally too graphic for a 17 year old (which she may well have been at the time). After chasing her into the dorm room with his penis in hand, on full display, he continued to bang on the door in front of a crowd of gathered onlookers, screaming and calling her name. He was subsequently summoned to talk with his ‘concerned’ dean. No action was taken. Maybe his parents were notified. (NOTE: This was well before Natasha Chang became Brainerd Dean).

In light of all this, it seems to me that the bigger issue is how this guest was treated. If you want to argue that as an FYC, Barrett is responsible first and foremost with following the rules (i.e- registering guest, three day maximum, especially when people had voiced concern) that’s fine. If the administration chose to fire him for that, I think its problematic, I think it’s unwise, but certainly within their right to do so. Given that Barrett broke the rules of his contract, and made some serious lapses in judgement, including lying to public safety, it’s not my place to make that decision and I will bow out of giving my opinion (sorry Barrett). This is a terrible and difficult situation for all involved- Res-life, Dean Chang, Barrett, Commons Heads, etc. It is inevitable that not everyone would be happy with this decision, and the bad handling of a very public incident (bright idea making a scene like that) surely made things harder.

That being said, everyone seems to acknowledge that part of Barrett’s role as FYC is to be trusted with making good judgment calls. By supposing this man was a threat to the ‘community,’ you are thereby also implicating Barrett’s good judgment. He may have made some bad judgment’s about handling the aftermath (see above) but that’s not my issue here. The way I see it, logic dictates that if Barrett chose to offer Luuay a place to stay, he had concluded that indeed he did know Luuay well enough. Again, I remind you that Barrett was hired at least partly because of his perceived good judgment. The remaining string says that if Barrett concluded he knew Luaay well enough, and there was hitherto no reason to suspect his good judgment, under what grounds can one possibly consider Luuay a danger? Superficial appearances?

If you can disagree with this logical construction then I’ll have no choice but to condemn your ‘anonymous one night stand,’ or conversely, any past-present-future use of the phrase ‘love at first sight.’ Because everyone knows everyone at Middlebury so well, right? Because we’re all the same, right?

I don’t know Barrett very well, but based on the few conversations we’ve had (and what the blogosphere tends to project) I am fairly positive that he recognized student’s discomfort to be problematic or portraying some biases. I do know he recognizes some of the issues I outlined above. He also seems to be an incredibly sensitive and insightful person, and as an FYC, had the nuance to pick up on this. I would bet he saw it as his job to create a learning opportunity for these students, and by all accounts, he made every effort to do so even though few people took the initiative to get to know Luaay.

As an active member of the CouchSurfing network (and I know of many other Midd students are as well) I have often let “people I don’t know well” stay in my dorm for a few nights and I (as well as others) have had some of the most profound learning experiences in doing so. According to Luaay’s CouchSurfing account, he is a dedicated pacifist, he abstains from alcohol and drugs, and is fluent in three languages. In his own words he is,
“A strong believer in cultural exchange!
I strive for better world,for unity,love,tolerance and understanding within humanity.
We have only one another on this planet,so lets be one!
In strangers I see new friends whom I haven’t met yet. so come ova hommie!.
i’ll brew you a cup of tea!!”

It seems to me that given these qualities, not to mention all the hoopla around alcohol and dorm damage on campus, Luaay is exactly the sort of people we should be inviting into our so-called ‘community’ with open arms.

Finally in the interest of full disclosure; 1) I lived on Stewart 4, my freshman year, and I walked around that bathroom naked all the time- for goodness sake it’s even a gender separate floor. I would bet that what was disturbing about this particular naked man was that he looked ‘out of place’ and 2) I can’t comment on the specific ‘peeing incident’ but whenever I see drunk people pissing away in public, which is unfortunately way more often than I would like, it is usually in front of crowds of people no less (outside LoFo, the Bunker, on Battell Beach etc). All I’ve ever heard are either words of support or sarcastic heckling.

Maybe thats just me.

2 Responses to Posted on behalf of Matt Birnbaum ’12

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  2. Anonymous says:

    this is most perfectly worded, Matt. Thanks.

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