Author Archives: Middlebury Magazine

Let’s Talk About Race

GroupStudents

(Front Row) Shuba Maniram ’17, (Second Row) Molly McShane ’16, Nia Robinson ’19, Charles Rainey ’19, (Back Row) Debanjan Roychoudhury ’16, Claudia Huerta ’18

As racial conflict unfolds on college campuses across the country, Middlebury wrestles with tensions of its own.

Last fall, the Black Student Union at Middlebury organized a solidarity blackout in support of Black students at Middlebury and on other campuses around the United States. A photograph taken in front of Carr Hall shows hundreds of Middlebury students gathered on an unseasonably warm November evening. By designed necessity (“It is essential we center Black bodies and experiences in this movement,” the BSU wrote on its Facebook page), persons identifying as Black stood in the front; behind them stood white students, faculty, staff.

Two weeks later, the Middlebury community would be looking inward after an incident in a College dining hall. A white first-year student had worn a sombrero to dinner and when asked by a fellow student, a Latino senior, why she had chosen to wear it, her frivolous answer was too difficult for him to ignore. His attempt to explain how her actions were hurtful to him—that within the current context she was appropriating a culture, his culture—were met, those present say, with indifference. The resulting argument spilled over and ignited on social media, particularly the anonymous forum Yik Yak, and though students were leaving the following week for Thanksgiving break, the College administration arranged a pair of town hall-style forums—immediately before and immediately after the break—to discuss the issues of cultural appropriation, community standards, freedom of expression, and what it means to be an inclusive community. By the second forum—a capacity event in Dana

Auditorium, with scores of people turned away—it was clear that while the dining hall incident may have been the spark that ignited the discussions, there were broader, deeper, and far more entrenched issues to deal with. On December 11, a third forum was held in Mead Chapel. And while the gathering opened with a tearful apology from the first-year student who had worn the sombrero, the rest of the 90-minute conversation moved beyond any one incident and spoke to those broader, deeper, and more entrenched issues, feelings, and states of mind and being.

For some people in attendance at any of the events, hearing about racial (and sexist, homophobic, and ethnic) offenses, both explicit and implicit, on the campus was a revelation, as was the pain, frustration, and anger expressed by students of color. No less palpable were the exhausted, at times defiant, statements from students of color that it should not be their sole responsibility to educate their classmates (or professors) on why they were hurt, why they were angry, why they were aggrieved.

Claudia Huerta, a sophomore from Manhattan, says that the town hall gatherings frightened her. “They opened my eyes to the realization that a lot of people on this campus had not been having these conversations. And it scares me because I think I took it for granted that people were talking about these things.”

An academic year that began with Middlebury’s new president expressing the fervent desire that the community consider diversity and inclusivity not as problems to be solved but as an everyday ethic, a way of living our lives, had found the College entering 2016 with a renewed focus on what it would take to turn that aspiration into reality.

***

The racial tensions that exist at Middlebury are not occurring in a vacuum. Across the country, college and university campuses are home to protests, sit-ins, and demands for change led by students of color. For every situation that has captured the nation’s attention—Missouri, Yale, Princeton—many more unfold weekly.

To better understand what is happening at Middlebury, I spoke to dozens of people—students, faculty, administrators, staff. The students of color I interviewed expressed varying degrees of satisfaction with the College, but to a person they spoke to the difficulties, the challenges of being a minority in a very white state and at a largely homogenous institution. (While the percentage of American students of color at Middlebury has steadily increased over the years to 24 percent of the student body, that still means that for these students more than three-quarters of their peers—and a far greater percentage of the faculty—don’t look like them, haven’t experienced life as they have, and often are unaware of what this can mean.)

Shuba Maniram, a junior at Middlebury, grew up in the South Bronx, the child of immigrants from Trinidad. Neither of her parents went to college, so the idea of going away to school wasn’t on her radar growing up, but when she was in sixth grade her teacher outfitted the entire class with T-shirts that read “College Student” on the front and “Class of 2017” on the back.

This teacher was Dena Simmons ’05 (see p. 11), and the following year, Simmons brought Maniram and the rest of the class to visit Middlebury. (“Without Dena I wouldn’t be here,” Maniram says. “And by here I mean college as much as I mean Middlebury.”) Simmons continued to mentor Maniram throughout high school. They shared similar upbringings, and Simmons constantly challenged Maniram to push herself, to imagine a place beyond what was comfortable. When she was accepted to Middlebury, Maniram says the demographics of Vermont and Middlebury worried her, but she idolized Simmons and felt that she had her example to live up to.

But she wasn’t prepared for what awaited her. It wasn’t just the terminology and mechanics of higher education that baffled her (see p. 44); she couldn’t relate to many of her new classmates, nor they to her.

“I vividly remember a moment early in my freshman year when a couple of white girls came up to me and another student of color in the dorms and asked us to show them how to twerk. We said no, so they proceeded to twerk and laugh in front of us. And that was my introduction to what I would come to face at Middlebury.

“And I feel like that moment is symbolic. I didn’t know what microaggressions were—I had never heard the term and wouldn’t have understood the concept then—but that was the first of many times when people made assumptions about me because of what I looked like.”

Maniram and all of the students of color I spoke to say that these assumptions are insulting and invalidating and have not been limited to the dorms, dining halls, or social spaces; for many, the worst microaggressions come in the classroom, when peers or faculty have turned to the one Black person in the room when topics such as slavery, poverty, or urban blight are being discussed. Sometimes the person is explicitly asked to explain a culture; often it’s just a look, a sideways glance that is subtle but no less implicit.   

“Differences in race and class can reinforce alienation, not just here, but anywhere,” says Roberto Lint Sagarena, an associate professor of American studies and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. “But race can compound this feeling, because often it’s a visual difference; it almost becomes exponential in terms of feelings of alienation. And this sets a tone so that students are sensitized to microaggressions. You’re already feeling out of place, like you might not belong, so these slights become magnified. And that increases that sense of pain. A look that might or might not have been something racist or problematic can be interpreted that way.”        

First-year student Nia Robinson came to Middlebury because she wanted to be around students who had experienced life differently than she had. A Posse scholar from Chicago, Robinson attended a high school with twice as many students as Middlebury. She has two younger half-siblings, and she says that when she would go places with them in Chicago, she’d often be mistaken for a nanny; her stepfather is white. So, she says, she was under no illusions that going to a school in rural Vermont wouldn’t be a challenge; yet she says now she can’t think of a day when she hasn’t questioned why she’s here. “I’m having such a disconnect because I feel like people aren’t willing to work to understand other people. There are a lot of people here who don’t understand me, and it’s not because I’m a complicated person,” she says. “It’s because we don’t have those conversations. I care a lot about Middlebury, and some days it feels like most people don’t care enough to at least try and understand why a segment of this student body is unhappy. 

“But at the same time, I understand that not everyone is having my experience, and for some people, Middlebury is perfect. They think, ‘We don’t have to make it better. It’s great.’”

***

At the conclusion of the third town hall meeting in December, President Laurie Patton stood at the front of Mead Chapel and addressed the community. “I have seen remarkable intentionality and thoughtfulness in this conversation—and I have also seen ways in which we could improve both in our mindfulness of each other, as well as our hopes for the future.”

She then stated five guiding principles that she hoped would help the community to move forward. “We must make sure that no single group bears the burden of difference, but that we all aspire to inclusivity—those of us who are not part of historically underrepresented groups need to stand in alliance with those who are; we need to not be afraid to make mistakes and engage with others; I want us to have an open and complex understanding of free speech—free speech is not the opposite of inclusivity; the very way we create a more inclusive community is by exercising free speech and continuing to create understanding even in the midst of tension-filled conversations; [there needs to be] on-going reflection about structural bias. We have been talking about structural issues in which racism and other forms of exclusivity are built into our systems. I think this is the biggest challenge for all of us.”

When Patton talks about inclusivity, she’s addressing a very important distinction with diversity. Roberto Lint Sagarena says, “Diversifying our student bodies doesn’t necessarily do away with issues of difference and the challenges that come with them—being on campus doesn’t automatically make you feel like you’re a part of campus. So how does campus culture change to reflect a pluralism in the student body? Is it a matter of simple assimilation and everybody becomes a part of the same? Or is it an acceptance of difference and a respect for difference, where one can have an affinity group and be with one’s own, but also move beyond that and be accepted by all?”

Leslie Harris, an associate professor of history and African American studies at Emory University, says that these issues are not new, and that she’s struck by the similarities in student demands today and the demands at the dawn of higher education integration 50 years ago.

She points out that many segments of society in the United States have aggressively resegregated and that when students arrive at college they are coming to live in a community that, by design, is just as aggressive in its integration. And there are more students—approximately 14 million 18-24 year olds are in baccalaureate programs now, compared to 2 million in 1949—which means more students from diverse backgrounds. “And you can’t just add and stir,” she says. “It’s the work of institutions to think through what it means for all of these people to come together. You have to be flexible—flexible but strong.” 

Katy Smith Abbott, the dean of the College, agrees. Throughout last summer and into the fall, she worked with Miguel Fernandez, Middlebury’s chief diversity officer, and Andi Lloyd, vice president for academic affairs, on an initiative that would help students become more resilient, and she says that it’s dawned on her that these same lessons can be applied to the institution.

“We should hold ourselves institutionally to the same standard,” she says. “What does it mean to be an excellent institution with a deep history and many traditions, some of which are not that great, and to say, ‘You know what? We can be excellent and we can still move from our original shape to something new.’”

“Racism in this country has been very creative,” says senior Debanjan Roychoudhury. “It’s been very willing to change and adapt, so we need to be similarly willing to adapt and be very creative in how we address these issues. That’s who we are! Let’s use our creativity to fundamentally shape the way we think about inclusion.”

Already this year, Patton and the administration have implemented a number of programs and initiatives that she feels will make Middlebury a more inclusive place. She’s engaged a pair of consultant groups to lead diversity workshops with offices that interact most closely with students and to assist in recruiting a diverse faculty applicant pool; she’s facilitated discussions between the Board of Trustees and African American studies scholars (including Leslie Harris), who specialize in structural bias; she’s directed the Athletics Department and the Department of Public Safety to examine inclusive practices in their respective areas; she’s approved the hiring of two full-time counseling fellows for the health center; and she created a new organization (Alliance for an Inclusive Middlebury) of faculty, students, and staff, who are charged with proposing policies and creating spaces across campus to “make sure we are as inclusive as possible in all facets of our lives together.” And Patton and other administrators and faculty  have been spending many hours meeting with students individually and in groups.

During a conversation with Katy Smith Abbott, I remark that the College has begun to address these issues in a far more rapid manner than is typical in higher education, when institutional change is often tracked in geologic time.

She pauses.

“I think it depends on who you’re talking to. I would say yes, that’s the way it feels to me. I think that’s the way it feels for others who work in student life and work in administrative roles where we’re focusing, daily, on tangible programmatic or policy or institutional change,” she says.

“The tension for me is that I’ve heard very consistently from students —all different voices—saying that the College isn’t doing enough. That’s the piece I struggle with. It’s very real for them. Their experience is absolutely genuine and authentic. And what we’re doing is not visible. Somehow it doesn’t feel like change.”

***

Tiff Chang is one student who feels that Middlebury is neither moving fast enough—nor far enough. Chang, a junior Feb from Marin County, California, says that during most of her first year at Middlebury, she was one of those students who thrived. But then, she says, she began to understand that other students were having very different experiences. She points to a collision of events that affected her thinking—national news coverage of Ferguson and her subsequent participation in the Middlebury Ferguson Action Group; friends leaving the College, citing structural oppression; her experience “with queer marginalization on campus and existing as a queer woman of color in student government.” She adds, “And, basically, finding out how deeply imbedded these systems are in all of us.”

She found the town hall meetings to be not only unproductive but a perpetuation of the racism and alienation that students of color were already experiencing on campus. She says there needed to be apologies on both the institutional and personal level, and that the meetings, as constructed, created a space that did not recognize that students of color have different needs than white students. 

She quickly acknowledges that the efforts of Patton and the College are sincere, that Patton cares deeply about the issues, and that people are working really hard to implement change. But to her, the efforts are inadequate. She urges Middlebury to think beyond “one-off items like panels and lectures that serve a self-selected audience, and consider systems-based change.” For instance, she wants the College to hold a mandatory annual retreat for faculty and staff that addresses issues of social justice, cultural competency, new teaching pedagogy, slow learning, and more.

Chang, who has been a co-chair of Middlebury’s Community Council this year, has spoken passionately and publicly about these issues that are clearly very important to her, and she says that if the College embraced “a really deep, committed understanding of inclusivity” it could distinguish itself from its peers. “Inclusivity is the new sustainability,” she says. “Let’s employ forward-thinking policies and practices around inclusivity and lead by example.”

It’s hard to argue with the goal, but some whom I’ve talked to worry that there’s not room to disagree about how to set that example, and that rhetoric on campus has quickly moved into a binary “us vs. them” construct. Said one student of color whom I talked to: “I am so relieved that we are moving beyond any one incident and are addressing bigger issues, but I worry that too often experiences are becoming generalized, that people are being put into categories—‘all of you’ or ‘all of us.’ I recognize that a lot of the entrenched problems on this campus are the legacy of systemic oppression, but one of the things I struggle with is how to express solidarity with a group of people, my people, while still expressing myself as an individual.”

This student added: “I think a lot of what’s troubling to a number of students of color is that we’re afraid to throw each other under the bus by saying something wrong because you want to stand in solidarity. But the truth is, it’s impossible to agree on all of these things.” 

***

Fear is a word that has come up again and again in my conversations. There’s the fear of being subjected to further racist insults, be they implicit or explicit. (Nia Robinson speaks of returning to her hall one night to find the word “Negroes” written multiple times on a dry-erase board attached to a friend’s door.) And if you’re white there is the fear of saying the wrong thing, of being branded a racist. “Being called a racist is so powerful,” says Miguel Fernandez. “It shuts everything down, the conversation stops. All of a sudden you’re not talking about whatever offended the person of color. You’re arguing about whether someone is or isn’t a racist.”

One white student I spoke to says that she has put herself out there, and she’s been burned; burned to the point she was hesitant to talk to me for this story; she says she’s unlikely to engage with these issues publicly anymore—at least not at Middlebury.

“I recognize that the pain of people in this community is very real, I recognize that the anger is real,” she says. “The sentiments are honest and heartfelt, but I’ve found that it’s too difficult to have constructive conversations because the passion is too great, the anger is too great. I’ve found that too often we each focus on the righteousness of our side of the argument, and then we’re not focusing on the argument itself.”

As an example she points to a series of episodes involving the student newspaper, the Middlebury Campus. In February, a collection of cultural organizations sent an email to the student body calling on the Campus to make amends for “continuously publish[ing] articles that have both subtly and explicitly reinforced the marginalization of several groups” at Middlebury. The letter specifically condemned the decision to publish several op-eds, which contained views that the letter writers felt “actively harm[ed] and systematically silenc[ed] minority groups at the College.”

In response, the Campus editors penned a pair of op-eds (“A Paper for the People” and “A More Inclusive Campus”) in which they defended their decision (and right) to publish opinion pieces—in these cases contributed pieces—that run the risk of offending readers as long as standard journalistic guidelines were enforced. The editors also acknowledged that the paper “suffers acutely from a lack of racially diverse voices” and vowed to find ways to make the newspaper more reflective of the entire community. (Full disclosure: I serve as an advisor to the Campus.)

This issue with the Campus does seem to illustrate a troubling point, perhaps the one opinion shared by most: students are feeling pushed toward silence. There’s the young woman and others who fear the consequences of expressing challenging opinions, and there are the organizations who believe such expression, as it was conducted, systematically silences minority groups.

One student suggests—and others agree—that 90 percent of the student body is not engaging in substantive conversations about race. She says that about 10 percent of the student body could be described as activists when it comes to racial discourse. About 30 percent don’t think about the issue at all. And then there’s 60 percent who are very aware of the tension on campus, but are loathe to speak, at least on any meaningful level; the risk is too great.

So a result can be silence that is just as uncomfortable and perhaps just as damaging. And this worries Nia Robinson. “I know that there are a lot of people who either have good intentions or they empathize with students of color, but they’re not being vocal about it,” she says. “And I so badly want them to speak up because I’m sure they have thoughts and ideas that are completely different from mine, ideas that will challenge me, and that’s a good thing. I come back to a quote from the writer Audre Lorde—‘Your silence will never save you.’”

Shuba Maniram says that she’s found she can have better conversations if she starts by expressing how a statement made her feel, “because somebody may know what it means to be hurt.” (Or at least that’s the hope: See Debanjan Roychoudhury on p. 40) “If I can get you to focus more on how you’ve made me feel instead of characterizing you in a certain way, then our conversation has a relational aspect. If it goes the other way, that’s when people silence themselves.” But sometimes—often, for many—the burden of these conversations is too great. It’s what Patton referred to when she said, “We must make sure that no single group bears the burden of difference.”

“Yeah, there are times when I have to step back,” admits Maniram. “Ultimately, I’m not here to teach people how to be a better person in the world. I’m here to learn. I’m here to get an education; it shouldn’t be on me to always be educating others.”

Anna Iglitzin agrees. A junior Feb from Seattle, Iglitzin is part of a cohort of white students who have formed an allyship group. They’ve struggled to come up with a name for their effort—“Whites Against Racism” had been mentioned, but some disliked the militarism of the acronym so they’ve settled on “Wonderbread: White Students for Racial Justice.” They write op-eds for the Campus, addressing issues of “white privilege, written by white students, predominately for white students,” and they hold regular gatherings, where they attempt to engage previously reticent people in uncomfortable conversations. The thinking is that white students will feel less vulnerable expressing their feelings, their confusion, to their white peers; they’ll be more apt to ask questions if they’re not consumed by fear of upsetting someone.

Iglitzin readily admits it’s an imperfect solution. She worries that she’s helped create a homogenous group on campus attempting to educate others in the homogeny about issues she’s never experienced. She’s also worried that she’ll get something wrong, that she’ll incorrectly interpret something that has been told to her by a student of color, that she’ll inadvertently perpetuate stereotypes. But she and others in the group also understand that if this is what it takes to get conversations started and if this effort helps people who are exhausted, who can no longer bear the burden of explanation alone, then it has to be done.

“But success,” says Iglitzin, “is when those people who do talk to us then venture outside of our circle to engage people who don’t look like us.”

Roberto Lint Sagarena shares a similar sentiment when talking about Middlebury’s new multicultural center. On a blustery April day I sat in Sagarena’s office in Carr Hall, home to both the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Anderson Freeman Resource Center (AFC). The latter, which Sagarena also directs, was proposed by students who felt that the College was lacking a venue that specifically supported students from historically underrepresented or marginalized communities; it opened this year, an occurrence Sagarena wryly calls “fortuitous.”

Sagarena says, and students concur, that the AFC has helped demystify the collegiate process by bringing in writing tutors, counselors from the health center, and counselors from the Center for Careers and Internships to meet with students in Carr Hall; not as a substitute for, say, visiting a writing tutor in the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research, but as a way of letting students know these resources exist.

And the AFC is a space where alienated students can be themselves. “And that’s great,” says Sagarena. “But it needs to build up to something. I want the Center to serve as a home base for previously alienated students who can then take ownership of the rest of the campus. There needs to be a circulation to the Center; we need to be able to help students expand beyond the AFC, and we need to be able to bring in students who would have never thought about what it means to come from a historically underrepresented community.”

Not long after I talked to Sagarena, the College announced that a popular student-run program called JusTalks would become mandatory for incoming first-year students, beginning next year. I spent a good deal of time talking with Molly McShane, a senior, about JusTalks, which was founded four years ago to provide students with the tools and opportunities to hold conversations about difficult topics.

McShane, who is white, attended the National Cathedral School, an all-girls school in Washington, D.C. She discovered JusTalks as a sophomore at Middlebury, a time when she was struggling to connect with other students who found value and community in conversations about identity and power. JusTalks was her answer—she was able to give voice to her experiences (and learned from listening to others’); she also found a community who shared her interest in talking about difficult subjects. She says that the small group settings build up trust and help foster deeper, more challenging—and also more affirming— conversations over time.      

Next year, every first-year student will participate in a JusTalks daylong event during either winter term or spring semester. “Setting the framework in a student’s first year builds a foundation,” says McShane. “It’s a way of saying to every new student, ‘These are the conversations we have and this is the way we treat each other.’”

Adds Smith Abbott: “It can be a space where people don’t have to fear saying the wrong thing as they ask questions and sort through their feelings.”

On this point, I press her about how Middlebury’s faculty can be brought into these discussions. She agrees with the sentiment that for many students of color, the “single most urgent place where they need to see change is in the classroom.” Diversifying the faculty is a work-in-progress, but it’s also the change that will happen the most slowly. So the challenge becomes this: How do you have an impact now?

“As an institution, we need to provide our faculty with opportunities to have the conversation—Why is this important? What kind of discomfort is acceptable and what is not?” she says. “We need to make the resources available for people to have those conversations and, ultimately, to learn, to deepen their skills as classroom facilitators.

“Because they weren’t trained for this,” she adds “and being vulnerable, allowing oneself to be wrong in a space where they are supposed to be the educator is really, really hard.” (More faculty training in this area is another of Patton’s initiatives.)

A year ago, Miguel Fernandez met with department chairs to talk about diversifying the faculty, and he says he was largely met with push back, specifically with how he was defining diversity. The professors asked about expanding the definition to include diversity of religion, diversity of thought. All important, Fernandez told them. But he specifically wanted to talk about the urgent need to increase racial diversity.

“It was different this year,” he says. “I think a large percentage of faculty have found themselves in uncomfortable situations, and they’re looking for the tools to help them navigate this new terrain.”

I have had faculty describe this feeling as being “unmoored,” that at any moment, in teaching their material, they could be treading into quicksand. And many of these faculty members express confusion and dismay about the situation—they say they were once activists themselves and are empathetic to the students’ feelings, yet they find themselves being described as part of the problem.    

Smith Abbott is not surprised to hear this. “People care, they’re curious, they’re worried.” She notes the increase in attendance at voluntary workshops and discussion groups, but she also points out that “students rightly say, ‘It’s not everyone yet.’ And we’re trying to figure that out.”

***

On a sunny Friday afternoon, I met Charles Rainey for lunch at a Thai restaurant in town. It was a few days before elections for the 2016–17 Student Government Association (SGA), and Rainey was one of four students running for president—the only rising sophomore. As a first-year senator, Rainey has been a presence on the SGA (see p. 43), and he was running on a platform—“a movement,” he calls it—that could upend the very role of student government at Middlebury.

The oldest of five children, Rainey grew up in suburban Atlanta. He attended predominately Black schools and says there was a lot of empowerment in his community, but also a lot of prejudice that existed just beyond his neighborhood. He says that being Black is not monolithic—“there’s not one Black experience”—but his life experience has helped him understand what it’s like to be marginalized.

At lunch, he’s in campaign mode, even though I have no vote and this story will be published after the election. “But this is a movement,” he reminds me with a smile. “Not just an election.”

He says the SGA can’t afford “for another year to go by where conversations are not centered on issues concerning inclusivity.” The SGA must represent all students, not just some, and he believes that not everyone is being represented. But he’s encountered resistance, both as a senator and in his campaign, primarily by people who feel that it’s not the role of student government to debate these issues. And this deeply troubles him. (He describes the focus on issues such as dining hall hours as “inconsequential.”)

To our lunch he wore a T-shirt that bears a Desmond Tutu quote: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice then you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” To Rainey, “the SGA has been largely neutral on matters of inclusion and social justice; people have taken a stance that the SGA shouldn’t get involved in these issues. You know what I think about that.”

He has an extensive list of policy proposals—better integrating JusTalks into the first-year experience; the creation of a peer-mentoring program called MiddSibs, in which juniors and seniors are paired up with sophomores and freshmen to form a support network based on shared interests, identities, or backgrounds; mandatory inclusivity training for residential life staff and faculty. While some of the ideas hold more practical promise than others, the point is that Rainey wants to keep the campus’s focus on these issues, wants to keep the pressure on decision makers, and he thinks it should be SGA’s responsibility to do so. 

Katy Smith Abbott says that Rainey’s campaign is pushing the student body to question what their government should be. “Are students eager for somebody who really wants to use that office and that student body to push for change in an activist spirit, or do they want it to continue as it has—as a more traditional, if you will, governing body?”

Rainey lost the election, coming in third place. Karina Toy—an Asian American who touted support for a student leadership retreat, more parking spaces for students, and greater SGA transparency—won. During her campaign she agreed with Rainey that inclusivity was an important issue. She said she was supportive of efforts to build a more inclusive community, but she expressed skepticism at how influential the SGA could be.

***

At the photo shoot for this story, Debanjan Roychoudhury gazed out the large floor-to-ceiling windows in the Axinn Center and watched Rainey jog across the quad, a late arrival to the shoot. To nobody in particular, he said, “Man, he’s gonna burn out.” Roychoudhury would know better than anyone; a few years ago, he was in the same place.

“My sophomore year, I raged against everything,” the senior from Queens tells me one morning while we sat at a table in Crossroads Café. He arrived at Middlebury as an enthusiastic first-year, excited about being in a new place among new people and eager to be involved in as many activities as he could handle. He threw himself into his classwork, joined a number of cultural organizations, and volunteered in the community. He was optimistic, he says, convinced that Middlebury was a place where he could grow and become part of a community that was already becoming special to him. Those feelings didn’t last.

He describes a wave of events that buffeted his optimism. There was the hateful, misogynistic, homophobic letter mailed to a student on campus; there was the time he was at a Halloween party and asked if he was dressed as a basketball player (the six foot four Roychoudhury wasn’t wearing a costume, “though I felt like I had one put on me right then”); there was the time a white student assumed he must love the rapper Jay-Z, presumably because Roychoudhury has dark skin and was wearing a knit Yankees cap, attire favored by the artist; there was the time he attended a campus discussion centered on the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a Michigan law banning the use of racial criteria in college admissions, and he heard a faculty member say that now Black students at Michigan would know they deserved to be there.

“So it became my job to prove to people that I was smart enough to be here, that I was earning my scholarship, that I had earned my place,” he says. “And I fought like hell to prove that.” What felled him, he says, was intransigence. He felt as though he and others were pushing and pushing to talk about these issues and no one was listening; the AFC was two years away from opening, and Roychoudhury felt like he was drifting away. Burnout followed, the burnout he worries about for Charles Rainey. He focused on getting by—getting by and getting out.

Now, though, he feels differently. “I woke up one day and realized that none of this has defeated me. As a student of color, I belong here just as much as anyone else; this is my school just as much as it’s anyone else’s.”

I asked him what prompted this realization, and he thought for a minute. “Maybe it’s as simple as honoring people like Martin Henry Freeman and Marianne Anderson,” he says, gesturing to his backpack which features button pins with the likenesses of the two Middlebury alums, students of color who graduated in the late 1800s and went on to exemplary careers in education.

“Nothing gives me more pride than thinking about what they accomplished. And they are Middlebury,” he says. “Now think about what life was like for them, think about their norm. My grandparents lived under colonial rule. Compare their norm to mine; compare Freeman’s and Anderson’s norm to mine. It’s different, right? It’s better, right? Change is happening if we keep working, if we come together. Sometimes it’s hard to see, but it is.”

Roychoudhury stands up from the table and says he needs to get to class, but he has one last thing he wants to tell me.

“Did you know that when Martin Henry Freeman walked at graduation, the other students held back? They wouldn’t walk with him. And then one guy stepped forward and linked arms with him, and they walked side-by-side in the procession. When we look back on this moment—and I believe it’s a big chapter in our story, and we will be looking back on it—who is going to stand and link arms and walk with their brothers and sisters?”  

Stand and Deliver

Rana

Rana Abdelhamid ’15 has learned to stare down bigotry and xenophobia. And now she’s teaching a generation of American women to do the same.

In an elementary school classroom on the third floor of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, Rana Abdelhamid ’15 is teaching a group of women how to yell. It’s not an easy task. Abdelhamid demonstrates the self-defense move again. She settles into a fighting stance, her right foot back, her left leg bent slightly. She raises her fists in front of her face, which is framed with a royal blue headscarf. Twisting at the waist, she launches a powerful punch with a loud, sharp “KI-YAH!”

“On my count,” she says, urging the nine women in front of her to try. The women are part of a daylong workshop hosted by WISE—the Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment—an organization Abdelhamid founded six years ago, when she was just 17 years old. WISE teaches self-defense, leadership, and social entrepreneurship skills to Muslim women, a task that has grown even more urgent for Abdelhamid, now 23, in the face of a spike in hate crimes against Muslims and increasingly strident anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“One,” Abdelhamid shouts, and the room dissolves into embarrassed giggles. Only one student yells without any self-consciousness: six-year-old Kenza, in her heart-print dress and pink-and-white-striped headscarf, who is attending the workshop with her mother.

“This is important,” Abdelhamid says, gathering the women around her. They range in age from teens to 40-somethings. Some wear hijabs, the traditional Muslim headscarf; others don’t. “As women, we’re told not to be loud,” she says. “We are programmed to be respectful, to be nice, to smile. We giggle, even when we are threatened. I needed to use these self-defense skills once,” she tells the class. “But I didn’t have the confidence to use them.”

***

“I felt a tug at my hijab,” Abdelhamid begins. She has told this story many times in the last seven years; it has lost none of its power in the retelling. Abdelhamid’s animated features still as she recalls walking alone down a New York City street. A man approached her from behind and tried to rip off her hijab. “I remember the hate in his eyes. I felt very vulnerable and very alone,” she says.

The physical fear came first. Her attacker was enormous in the eyes of the petite 16-year-old. She ran. When she was safe, she locked herself in a bathroom and cried. Then came another, bigger fear, an uncertainty about her place in American society: “Why do people see Muslims in this light? Does everyone see me this way? Why does this happen?”

Abdelhamid knew such discrimination and hatred existed. She had been an eight-year-old Muslim-American New Yorker on 9/11 and had seen the attacks and suspicion the Muslim community endured in its wake. At 16, she had just begun wearing the hijab, a personal expression of her culture and religion that also made her a visible target for those who misunderstood her faith. She did not know how to counteract that hate, but she did know how to defend herself.

From the age of seven, Abdelhamid had studied Shotokan karate. Her parents had enrolled their shy daughter in the class to give her the confidence she needed to stand up for herself in the sometimes-chaotic environment of her New York City public school. In the aftermath of her attack, Abdelhamid embraced karate as a tool of self-empowerment and of self-defense; today she holds a black belt.

Karate made Abdelhamid feel less vulnerable, but she still felt alone. She wondered: were other Muslim girls facing the same issues? As a teenager, Abdelhamid was preternaturally attuned to the importance of community. Her mother is a human rights activist and from a young age, Abdelhamid had seen the impact of domestic violence in her community in New York, where she was born, and in Alexandria, Egypt, where her parents grew up. When she was attacked, Abdelhamid had been walking to her volunteer job at a domestic violence shelter.

Those two pieces—self-defense and community building—formed the foundation blocks of WISE, an organization that began with a very personal goal: to help one teenage girl heal.

The idea of a 16-year-old girl teaching self-defense to her peers was not well received at first. Abdelhamid remembers pitching the project to an imam at a Queens community center: “He laughed.” He explained that the center already had classes for Muslim women; they were all religious education classes. “I learned later that after I left he actually ripped up my poster,” she says. The rejection only emboldened her—that “activist spark,” she says now. She was determined to strengthen her argument. She began researching other organizations, gathering data, and seeking out mentors and allies.

Her perseverance paid off. The first WISE course was held the summer of 2010 in Brooklyn. Abdelhamid was nervous as her father drove her to the class; she had never done anything like this before. More than a dozen teenaged girls attended, and Abdelhamid says, “it was that sisterhood that I have always wanted to find.”

That first eight-week workshop combined self-defense training with conversation; the girls had a safe space to share their experiences of being Muslim women in New York. For Abdelhamid, the self-defense portion of the class is key. It attracts a wide variety of women—those who wear the hijab and those who do not; those who have identified as Muslims throughout their lives and those new to the faith; those who consider themselves feminist and those who do not—which makes the conversations among the women richer. “We have debates in the class and opportunity for learning,” Abdelhamid says. “It has definitely challenged my assumptions and my beliefs.”

At the end of the workshop, Abdelhamid thought that she was done—“I felt better,” she recalls thinking. Then she got a phone call from one of the girls in the class. The girl was in tears. She had been on a New York City bus. “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” the bus driver had demanded as she fumbled with her Metro Card. “Because of the class, I knew how to respond,” the girl told Abdelhamid. She recorded the bus number and knew there were people she could ask for help. “How do we keep this going?” she asked.

“That was the moment for me,” says Abdelhamid. “This is not about me. It’s not about me at all.’”

***

Rana2

Google ‘images of Muslim women,’” Abdelhamid says. “I can actually do it for you right now.” She reaches for her smartphone and quickly scans through a dozen or so text messages before entering the search term. Of the first 20 pictures that appear, only three show women in hair-covering hijabs. The other 17 photos are of women in black niqabs, a face-covering veil, or black burqas, a full-body veil.

On this day in late March, Abdelhamid sits in a coffee shop in Cambridge. She is dressed stylishly in a long, bell-shaped black skirt, brown boots, and a patterned shawl, which she gathers in her lap. Her personal style is on display in every detail, from her chunky rings and her penciled eyebrows to her hijab. Today it’s a burgundy scarf—a complement to her lipstick—tied closely to her head in a style she likes to call “the urban turban.” “This is not what I look like,” she says, gesturing to the dominant image of Muslim women displayed on her phone. “We are trying to diversify and elevate the narrative.”

WISE began as a self-empowerment effort—first for Abdelhamid and then for the 500 women who have participated in WISE’s programs to date. The organization now has volunteer-staffed chapters in six cities in the U.S. and Europe; some workshops last a couple of hours, while some last months. The media has embraced WISE—at the recent Boston workshop, two camera crews filmed the self-defense class—and slowly, so have Muslim organizations that formerly laughed at the concept. Once a premed student turned international politics and economics major, Abdelhamid is now pursuing a master’s in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and hopes to turn WISE into a full-time job upon graduation.

As WISE’s profile has grown, it has also become a platform for educating the public about Muslim women. It’s a path Abdelhamid treads cautiously; she does not want to be seen as a spokeswoman for some 800 million Muslim women. But neither can she stay silent.

When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States; when his Republican rival Ted Cruz suggested patrolling Muslim neighborhoods; when ISIS was connected to attacks in Paris, Brussels, and San Bernardino, Abdelhamid’s phone rang. “I get messages all the time, after every attack, from Muslim girls who want to know: I am wearing the hijab. Should I take it off?”

Abdelhamid tells the callers that taking the hijab off is as personal a decision as putting it on, that each woman must make a decision with regard to her safety and stress levels. Abdelhamid has made her choice: “I am defiant. I am going to wear it and I am going to be proud.”

***

As she works to expand WISE, Abdelhamid has introduced a new project: Hijabis of New York. Inspired by the popular Humans of New York blog, Hijabis of New York documents the experiences of women who wear the hijab—in New York and in cities around the world—with a portrait and a one-question interview.

For Abdelhamid, the Hijabis of New York is a digital version of what she calls the “hijabi nod,” that brief moment of recognition and connection between two women wearing hijabs as they pass each other on the street. The project showcases the diversity of women who choose to wear the hijab, even as it builds a virtual community among them.

The questions Abdelhamid and the project’s other photographers pose to these women on the street are thought provoking. She blanches at answering one herself: “What are you struggling with at the moment?”

On the blog, struggle is a common theme. “With staying true to myself and being who I want to be,” says one woman in a hijab painted with watercolor pastels. “Lately, I’ve been struggling with my faith,” admits another in a royal purple hijab.

Abdelhamid pauses, starts, stops. She’s struggling with the same things her classmates are: balancing her class work with her social life; finding her own identity in her 20s; realizing her big ambitions.

She starts again: “I’m really struggling with the hateful rhetoric. It’s hard. I really, really feel American. I feel very proud to be American, and then when I read these things…it makes you feel very vulnerable. It makes you feel like a second-class citizen. These are things that I’m grappling with and that’s hard because I’m leading an organization that is teaching people not to feel that way.”

The Gospel According to Ted

UnTapped_Middlebury

How Ted King ’05 and his entrepreneurial cohort of outdoor enthusiasts seek to upend the market for athletic fuel.

Strapping on her skis and moving slowly—by her standards—through a warm-up at Lake Placid’s Nordic Center, Heather Mooney ’15 does one lap around the stadium, then another, and finally heads out with her teammates for an abbreviated jaunt through the woods. It’s two days before the 2015 NCAA Ski Championships, and Mooney is exhausted. She’s battling a cold, which is sapping her energy at just the wrong time, and she doesn’t have the luxury of taking it easy. She’s running low in another department, as well.

“I have one more,” she says, opening a pouch on her blue waist belt and pulling out a packet of maple syrup. “We have one last late-day race, so the timing worked out perfectly.” Marketed as an “all-natural athletic fuel” under the label UnTapped, this particular packet of pure maple syrup is no homespun remedy but a relatively new product being touted as a natural alternative to synthetic sports gels. The founder of the company and self-professed maple syrup proselytizer—“I’ve been preaching the gospel of maple syrup for years”—is Ted King ’05, a cyclist who competed professionally for nearly a decade.

A native New Englander (a rarity in professional cycling), King earned a quirky reputation on the cycling circuit for being the “syrup guy,” never failing to pack a couple of gallons of the sweet stuff and always having some on hand at mealtime. “It’s not commonplace in Europe,” he says, and what is available tends to be the corn-syrup-based alternatives, which King dismisses as fake syrup. But it wasn’t until a training ride in 2012 that King realized maple syrup’s potential as an energy supplement.

The previous summer, King and fellow pro cyclist Tim Johnson had successfully cycled the length of Vermont’s Route 100—dubbed “200 on 100” for the 200-mile trek—and had set their sights on another 200-mile ride: from Burlington, Vermont, to Portland, Maine. In advance of the new challenge, playfully called “200 not on 100,” King and Johnson got the word out about the ride and as they pedaled across northern New England, they were greeted by cheering crowds along the way. As they neared the halfway point, while zipping along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, they encountered a man waiting on the side of the road—with gift baskets for each rider.

Among various sundries, such as a 16-oz. can of beer, was a mini-container of maple syrup. In an attempt to replace at least some of the 1,000 calories per hour they were burning—and stay sober—they downed the syrup.

“That was probably the first time I really, truly chugged maple syrup on a ride,” says King. The performance benefits seemed clear, he adds, citing a noticeable energy boost. Why not try and replicate it? King began stopping at mom-and-pop syrup stands along his bike routes, buying novelty-size nips and tucking them in his jersey.

“It wasn’t the safest thing in the world,” he says of the glass vials that would surely shatter during a fall. So, aiming to avoid maiming, he started looking for alternative packaging. At farmers’ markets he would show syrup makers his traditional energy gels and ask if they could get their product into a similarly manageable form. He was met with stares of confusion and sent on his merry way. For more than a year, no one seemed to take him seriously. Then King pitched the idea to Andrew Gardner, a friend and amateur cyclist.

At the time, Gardner was the Nordic ski coach at Middlebury, and he had his own syrup stories. Vermont ski racing has more than its fair share of traditions, one of which involves handing out jugs of syrup as podium prizes. “I saw the winners from Saturday’s race chugging maple syrup and then skiing long distances on Sunday,” Gardner says, an observation seconded by Heather Mooney. “Chugging syrup is definitely a thing,” she confirms, especially on the men’s side. It’s a practice that Gardner had noticed but had never really thought about—until King approached him with his crazy idea.

***

Andrew Gardner was not only enthusiastic about King’s idea; he proved adept at solving several of the logistical problems King had encountered, such as sourcing the syrup itself. He introduced King to Roger Brown, Doug Brown, Tim Kelley, and Jimmy Cochran—first cousins who are descended from Vermont skiing royalty. The Skiing Cochrans, as the family is known, have competed internationally for two generations. The four offspring of patriarch Mickey all skied in Winter Olympics (daughter Barbara Ann won gold in 1972), while the next generation has placed six family members on the U.S. ski team. Mickey and his wife, Ginny, also built a small ski area on their property in Richmond, Vermont. Now operated as a nonprofit, this literal mom-and-pop ski hill, with its three lifts and eight slopes, is a bucolic hive of family activity each winter. It is also surrounded by 20,000 maple trees, and in 2010, four of Mickey and Ginny’s 10 grandchildren started tapping the trees and opened a sugarhouse that would produce their signature Slopeside Syrup.

The Cochran cousins loved the idea of syrup-as-energy-fuel, and with King and Gardner, the cohort began scouring the country to find a partner who could package Slopeside’s product in small, on-the-go packets. (The supplier remains a closely guarded secret, says King.)

Next, they turned to crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, where they crafted a campaign that was less a charity plea and more a pre-order system. (“We really wanted this to be a proof of concept,” explains Gardner.) The initial ask was $35,000, and in the days before the launch, King was approving drafts of the site while lying face down on a massage table between stages of the Tour de France.

The campaign blew past its goal, raising more than $50,000, which would fund production of 100,000 packets—though the fledgling company soon learned that there was greater demand for UnTapped than they had anticipated, particularly as customers kept finding new uses for the product. “We’ve heard of expectant mothers using it in labor,” says King. Paramedics have also used UnTapped to treat diabetes, and people report taking it along to diners so they don’t have to use “artificial” brands on their pancakes and waffles.

Naturally, the UnTapped team swears by its product. “It offers the same nutritional benefits found in the very calculated, heavily supplemented stuff, but maple syrup is entirely natural,” King says, citing a laundry list of resulting benefits: antioxidants, low glycemic index (54), and high magnesium content, to name a few. For others though, the jury is still out. Burlington-based nutritionist Kimberly Evans, for instance, loves the idea of UnTapped and even bought it as a stocking stuffer for her partner last Christmas, but she isn’t fully convinced by the science. “I would really have to see some evidence-based research for me to be comfortable recommending maple syrup,” she says. Nonetheless, UnTapped has been flying off the shelves.

According to Gardner, UnTapped is doing well financially, though not to the degree that he, King, or the Cochrans can forgo any other source of income. And there’s still the risk of falling victim to the fad-prone natural foods industry. “We don’t want to become a stop on the trendy-sport highway,” he cautions, conceding that there is a bit of a novelty aura to the product. At least for now, though, the UnTapped upswing continues. You can find it for sale in L.L.Bean stores, and Olympic distance runner Ruben Sanca is the latest endurance athlete to endorse the product. “We’re an actual, legitimate business,” says Gardner. “It’s still one of these things where I turn around and say, this is crazy.”

Uncloaked

yang_milddleburg

 

About halfway through a campus discussion on cultural appropriation and community standards, students, when given the microphone, began by introducing themselves.

Hi, I’m Annie. Hello, I’m Victor. Hi, I’m Peter.

At first I thought folks were being polite, demonstrating that while we’re a small campus, it’s not safe to assume everyone knows everyone else. However, it was during the third introduction—made by Peter, I believe—that motive became more fully articulated.

I’m glad we’re identifying ourselves by name before offering our opinions, he said. It’s the antithesis of the anonymous statements we’re seeing on Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is a social media app, popular with students, that allows users to post their thoughts anonymously. Much of the discourse consists of sophomoric humor, short queries—Is the Grille delivering right now?—and lighthearted complaints. On occasion, someone voices a genuine plea for help and receives responses just as genuine. Several times I’ve read of people expressing emotional anguish and their peers offering near-immediate assistance, which is comforting. But then there is the nastiness—the personal attacks uttered from beneath a cloak of anonymity against individuals and groups. By intent, these remarks inflict pain and fear on those at whom they are directed. And it has the more global effect of tearing apart the trust and respect that holds a community together.

In our fall issue, Dena Simmons ’05 wrote beautifully about race and our shared humanity. Near the piece’s conclusion, she challenged us to “be compassionate…to be open to other experiences…to learn to accept others and ourselves for everything we are—and everything we are not.” That begins when we hold ourselves to account. That begins when we respectfully and accountably exchange our views.

My name is Matt. Please join me in this conversation.

Old Chapel: Vibrant Research at a Liberal Arts Institution

LaurieWEBOne of education’s great aims is to help students see beyond a world of black-and-white and to perceive and be comfortable with the various shades of gray surrounding us. We teach our students to consider ambiguities in scientific, historical, moral, and many other forms of reasoning; in artistic critique; in the digital worlds we all now inhabit. 

And yet, ironically, we still encounter black-and-white perceptions within the world of higher education. One particularly tenacious perception is the difference between the aims of a liberal arts institution and those of a research university. I spoke to a prominent foundation leader who had recently led a meeting between faculty and administrators from liberal arts colleges and research universities, and he said, “Despite their good intentions, everyone still stereotyped the other side, and we at the foundation still had to interpret each side to the other.”

These stereotypes he referred to are ones we encounter all the time: liberal arts colleges are only about teaching and universities are only about research. Universities are supposedly filled with professors who have little time for their undergraduates’ needs. Professors divide their attention between their graduate students and their research—with the classroom a distant third in their priorities. Liberal arts professors, on the other hand, supposedly spend all their time teaching and never think about research. They seldom look up from their pedagogical tasks to engage the outside world, and they’re not committed to intellectual inquiry except as character formation for the young.

But counterevidence of these stereotypes exists all around us. Universities house extraordinary teachers who frequently are also top researchers in their fields. And, as you will read in this issue of Middlebury Magazine, liberal arts colleges have extraordinary researchers active in their fields and pushing the boundaries of knowledge in exciting ways. Nowhere is this more true than at Middlebury College.

Indeed, I believe liberal arts colleges have the potential to rethink and reclaim some of the original purposes of research. So many researchers I have known in higher
education—no matter the institutional context—have said to me, “What I really wish I could work on is this question, not the question I know will be funded or the question the current trends in the field suggest I ask.”

Because research foundations don’t drive the funding structure of liberal arts colleges, researchers in liberal arts often can work on research without being burdened by its “fundability.” They’re not constrained by intellectual fashions, nor the ability of their inquiries to fulfill the common good. While all institutions have to pay attention to questions of funding, larger intellectual contexts, and peer review, liberal arts institutions exist in a space that encourages independence from trends—and thus, creativity.

In addition, because we often exist in smaller, more intense communities of inquiry, we have opportunities to think about and conduct interdisciplinary research in exciting ways.  And because we work in closer proximity to other disciplines than do our peers in research universities, we’re generally much more interdisciplinary in our classrooms—something we can take advantage of in our research as well.

Finally, the research we conduct can be more responsive to the questions of local concerns. It’s no accident that alumni, students, and townspeople collaborated on the hydrogen-powered tractor created one winter term. Nor is it an accident that the levels of toxicity in our region’s lake water concern students in our School of the Environment and our science classes. And it’s no accident that some of our  classics professors teach students to research the ancient world in part by bringing them to the Vermont legislature to see the continuity of certain democratic traditions.

Research can and should be a vibrant part of our lives in an institution like Middlebury
College. What’s more, Middlebury can be a place for a different kind of research that inspires colleagues at different kinds of institutions in higher education—and that breaks stereotypes along the way.

Patton can be reached at president@middlebury.edu.

Old Chapel: Vibrant Research at a Liberal Arts Institution

LaurieWEBOne of education’s great aims is to help students see beyond a world of black-and-white and to perceive and be comfortable with the various shades of gray surrounding us. We teach our students to consider ambiguities in scientific, historical, moral, and many other forms of reasoning; in artistic critique; in the digital worlds we all now inhabit. 

And yet, ironically, we still encounter black-and-white perceptions within the world of higher education. One particularly tenacious perception is the difference between the aims of a liberal arts institution and those of a research university. I spoke to a prominent foundation leader who had recently led a meeting between faculty and administrators from liberal arts colleges and research universities, and he said, “Despite their good intentions, everyone still stereotyped the other side, and we at the foundation still had to interpret each side to the other.”

These stereotypes he referred to are ones we encounter all the time: liberal arts colleges are only about teaching and universities are only about research. Universities are supposedly filled with professors who have little time for their undergraduates’ needs. Professors divide their attention between their graduate students and their research—with the classroom a distant third in their priorities. Liberal arts professors, on the other hand, supposedly spend all their time teaching and never think about research. They seldom look up from their pedagogical tasks to engage the outside world, and they’re not committed to intellectual inquiry except as character formation for the young.

But counterevidence of these stereotypes exists all around us. Universities house extraordinary teachers who frequently are also top researchers in their fields. And, as you will read in this issue of Middlebury Magazine, liberal arts colleges have extraordinary researchers active in their fields and pushing the boundaries of knowledge in exciting ways. Nowhere is this more true than at Middlebury College.

Indeed, I believe liberal arts colleges have the potential to rethink and reclaim some of the original purposes of research. So many researchers I have known in higher
education—no matter the institutional context—have said to me, “What I really wish I could work on is this question, not the question I know will be funded or the question the current trends in the field suggest I ask.”

Because research foundations don’t drive the funding structure of liberal arts colleges, researchers in liberal arts often can work on research without being burdened by its “fundability.” They’re not constrained by intellectual fashions, nor the ability of their inquiries to fulfill the common good. While all institutions have to pay attention to questions of funding, larger intellectual contexts, and peer review, liberal arts institutions exist in a space that encourages independence from trends—and thus, creativity.

In addition, because we often exist in smaller, more intense communities of inquiry, we have opportunities to think about and conduct interdisciplinary research in exciting ways.  And because we work in closer proximity to other disciplines than do our peers in research universities, we’re generally much more interdisciplinary in our classrooms—something we can take advantage of in our research as well.

Finally, the research we conduct can be more responsive to the questions of local concerns. It’s no accident that alumni, students, and townspeople collaborated on the hydrogen-powered tractor created one winter term. Nor is it an accident that the levels of toxicity in our region’s lake water concern students in our School of the Environment and our science classes. And it’s no accident that some of our  classics professors teach students to research the ancient world in part by bringing them to the Vermont legislature to see the continuity of certain democratic traditions.

Research can and should be a vibrant part of our lives in an institution like Middlebury
College. What’s more, Middlebury can be a place for a different kind of research that inspires colleagues at different kinds of institutions in higher education—and that breaks stereotypes along the way.

Patton can be reached at president@middlebury.edu.

Pursuits: The Chaplain

CurtisforWeb

It’s not every chaplain who gets to christen a 7,800-ton, 377-foot newborn. But that’s what Lieutenant Commander Daniel Curtis ’87 found himself doing in Newport News, Virginia, on September 6, 2014, for the dedication of the USS John Warner, a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine, with hundreds in attendance, including the five-term U.S. senator.

“Open our eyes, we pray, to see Your handiwork in every bolt turned, every plate welded, in every wire spliced, every drop of paint spread over the ship that rises before us, as surely as we see Your handiwork in the seas she sails,” Curtis said in his invocation.

An ordained minister since 1992, Curtis began a second career as an officer in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps in 2007, just under the corps’ cutoff age of 42. He has been deployed with Seabees and Marines in peacetime and combat operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, including seven months onboard a guided-missile cruiser.

These days Curtis presides over a congregation of 1,500 seamen and 10 submarines as chaplain of Submarine Squadron 6 in Norfolk, Virginia. Most of this work is done at surface level. While a full deployment on a submarine might run six months, there simply aren’t enough chaplains to go around—the total number in the corps is less than 850—and when he does take his ministry underwater, Curtis will typically join a vessel at its last port of deployment for the journey home. “The camaraderie and sense of community is far deeper when you’ve been to sea with somebody than when you’re just visiting them,” he says.

As a double major in political science and religion at Middlebury, Curtis was considering going into the ministry as four generations of family before him had—“It was a combination of appreciation for my dad’s legacy [Lawrence Curtis ’57, a retired pastor and political science major] and my grandfather [Commander Ralph Curtis, who served in the Navy for 20 years]”—but he wasn’t convinced that pure parish life was his calling.

After completing seminary school in the Chicago area, Curtis received his first pastoral assignment with a United Methodist church in Columbus, Ohio. That was followed by a five-and-a-half-year stint at Grace United Methodist Church in Lima, Ohio, pork-rind capital of the United States and “a small city with all the big-city challenges,” including drug and alcohol addiction and a host of other problems from depression to mental health and family issues.

It was good preparation for the Navy Chaplain Corps. “Probably 80 percent of my counseling isn’t specifically religious,” says Curtis, who teaches a class every Wednesday for new enlistees to address the challenges of submarine life. “There’s a reason why submariners get paid a little extra: the danger, the cramped quarters, the limitations on communications with loved ones ashore. A number of things make it a particularly challenging lifestyle in the submarine world.”

For all the situations he has faced on the job, none was more difficult than the suicide of his son, 20-year-old Jonathan, in Toledo in May 2012. Curtis was stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when word reached him of Jonathan’s death. After coming home for the funeral, he was reassigned to a pool of chaplains for smaller ships in the Norfolk area prior to getting his current assignment in July 2013.

While Curtis and other chaplains are strictly noncombatants and do not carry weapons—“it’s not ‘Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition’”—they are serving a military community. And some people, he admits, don’t like that idea. From his perspective, Curtis sees “a profound need and a really exciting mission field” to carry out his military chaplaincy. “I don’t like war, either,” he says, “but I very much like the opportunity to walk with people who are
serving their country.”