Shirley Collado

Posts by Shirley Collado

 
 
 

This Moment

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Warmth and some sunshine have finally come back after this seemingly endless winter and dreary spring. On one of the first warm days, I took a slow walk, and I suddenly realized that a vibrant green was glowing from tree canopies and almost pulsating along the roadsides and deep in the fields. I was glad that I had taken some quiet time and noticed after this busy academic year.

This summer, I hope that all of us will find opportunities to slow down and to notice those small but significant things that we often overlook in our rush to go about our daily lives. And I hope to hear some stories when everyone returns in the fall about instances when they slowed down and really experienced something in a different way.

For the Class of 2014, Commencement will offer many opportunities to notice and rejoice in the moment. And while graduation is at once an ending and a beginning, it is also a point in time to be fully appreciated in and of itself.

I feel as though I have gotten to know the graduating seniors well over these past four years. Many seniors have become friends and colleagues for whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration—people who have worked hard and grown immeasurably, into strong, thoughtful people who we are proud to send out into the world. Some of the most powerful moments of Commencement will come from family, friends, and the Middlebury community wishing success and happiness on the new graduates.

I hope, as the graduates move on with their lives, they will remember and draw strength from those moments when we all were wishing them well on Commencement day—and that they will visit often to keep us up to date about their adventures, challenges, and successes.

In closing I’d like to thank Kyle Finck, Alex Edel, and the editors of the Campus for their extensive and creative help this past year with this blog and for affording me opportunities to interact with students about issues of importance. It was a rewarding collaboration.

Have a wonderful summer, everyone!

A Space for the Future

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

There is a discussion underway on campus about whether we should create a multicultural center, and if we do, what it would be like. This is an important discussion for several reasons. First, those who think a multicultural center is necessary are explaining why and sharing their concerns with us, sharing what it is like for them to be here on campus. Second this discussion is forcing the institution to look at itself through a different lens than it normally does. And third, it is obliging us to consider the daily realities of our students as we evaluate our institutional priorities. 

As I have been listening to students and thinking about this topic, questions have come to mind that I’d like to share with you.

Can a multicultural center fulfill the need for the “safe inclusion” that students desire? The fact that some individuals struggle to feel at ease here or to feel affirmed and included is something we should all be concerned about. Sometimes these feelings improve when students are able to find a little slice of home somewhere on campus or in town, or a group of like-minded souls to hang with, or people who will listen. I wonder if a multicultural center will allow that to happen more easily.

As an institution, we aspire to honor and engage issues of difference, and we’ve created spaces dedicated to various aspects of identity (intellectual, social, political, cultural, etc.)—from the Rohaytn Center, PALANA, and Chellis House, to the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, the Scott Center, and the Queer Studies House. I’d like to understand in what way these resources and spaces, taken in totality, are not working for everyone.

Let’s assume for a moment that Middlebury commits to creating a new space that is safe and inclusive, that welcomes the intersections of multiple identities. In my opinion, that space must embody and address the future of Middlebury. It must be consistent with the College’s long-term goals, and therefore, it would have to be inclusive for everyone. So the big question is, how do we create more welcoming and engaging spaces for everyone?

I believe that the college experience cannot and should not be “comfortable” all the time. But I also believe that we must afford everyone an opportunity to be fully engaged and to thrive.

Some argue that many existing spaces on campus fulfill the purpose of creating “comfortable” or “safe” environments for the majority of students; yet, there are students who feel completely “outside their skin” in those same spaces. And some argue that by definition, a multicultural center would become an exclusive space.

A big part of the discussion about a multicultural center includes stories (some have been published in beyond the green) from students who describe toxic, unpleasant experiences they’ve had here. Yet, I wonder if their expectations—that a multicultural center would make a difference in these instances—can be fulfilled.

Some students, colleagues, and I will soon be visiting multicultural centers at other colleges and universities to see what we can learn from them. My colleagues around the country have already shared that each space has its own challenges and successes—that no one has gotten it completely right yet.

If Middlebury should decide to develop a multicultural center, it will be important to define its mission carefully and keep that clearly in mind so that the center stays relevant and meaningful—and does not become just another building on campus.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

People You Haven’t Really Met Yet

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

When I go to 51 Main, I feel as though I am close to a little piece of home (Brooklyn, New York) because I run into all types of people there. Not just students. Not just townspeople. But everyone imaginable. They are enjoying a shared interest, mingling, being together in the same place. Worlds collide there in a way that feels comfortable. But on campus, this sort of mingling does not occur as much as I would like, and I feel we are worse off for it.

Why should we care? I believe that Middlebury, considering its relative isolation geographically, is a place that people have intentionally come to—to live, work, and learn. Some of the most fascinating people have been drawn to Middlebury. As lifelong learners, we have a unique opportunity to meet others and learn from them in an organic way. Furthermore, people generally feel more “whole” when they are part of a larger community that extends across the boundaries of multiple identities.

Community Council is such a group—a melded association of students, faculty, and staff, and as co-chair I feel very fortunate to be part of it. This year, we have discussed the fact that faculty, staff, and students don’t connect more easily outside their usual spheres, and we have wondered what can be done to change that. Luke Carroll Brown ’14, Community Council co-chair, has described his own experience when he opened himself to making new connections: “Some of my closest friends at the College, individuals who have taught me far more than I’ve learned in most classrooms, are members of the staff.”

When I go to the Wilson Café, I see students and some faculty there, but very few staff. At Crossroad Café, I usually see staff and faculty, but many students still view it as “institutional” space. I am not surprised that I don’t see many faculty or staff members unwinding after work over a cup of coffee—and possibly a conversation with someone new. It seems that we all revolve in separate orbits, with just a few intersections. When faculty members aren’t teaching and working with students, they are busy with their scholarship and personal lives. Staff members have jobs to do during the day (or night), and then they go home to the other aspects of their lives. And students are busy with their studies and personal interests and are most likely to associate with fellow students.

Feeling busy is probably a major reason that people don’t spend time breaking social barriers. A colleague told me about an experience she had when her computer broke, and she had to stop everything to go to the Help Desk. She didn’t have time, she said, to spend an afternoon there. But afterwards, she was glad it happened.

While she waited in the Help Desk office as they recovered her lost data, she met students, a math professor, a writing instructor, and a grant writer who wandered in with one problem or another. They all sat around the table, commiserating and chatting. “I met for the first time someone I’d corresponded with for years by e-mail.” she said.

That’s what I’d like to see happen more regularly on campus—more organic connections, like those that occurred at the Help Desk and at 51 Main. The question is, how to get them to occur? Can we create spaces that encourage them? Can we all develop the mindset to find them?

Today’s Students Are Changing Colleges

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

When the trustees were here last weekend, I shared a compelling article with them— “Ways Today’s Students Are Radically Changing Our Colleges” from AGB Trusteeship magazine. The article reviews the findings of a six-year national study involving 33 campuses and thousands of students and concludes that students today are “different from their predecessors in ways that have profound implications for colleges.” Three similar studies were conducted between 1969 and 1993.

I would like to share some of the findings with you because you might find them interesting. To me, they raise a fundamental question, What is Middlebury’s role in educating today’s 21st-century students, and how flexible do we need to be to meet their “needs”?

The article states that the primary differences between students today and their predecessors are

  •  “Today’s undergraduates are the first generation of digital natives.”
  • “Undergraduates are older, fewer live on campus, and more attend part time.”
  • “Students are products of the worst economy since the Great Depression.”
  • “They are more immature, dependent, coddled, and entitled.”
  • “They are the most diverse generation in higher education history.”

For this column, I would like to talk about two in particular.

Digital natives: Operating in a 24/7 universe, in which almost everything is instantly accessible, is an unprecedented societal change. The article notes a “mismatch” between the students and institutions of higher ed that conduct business in real time and in real locations and use more linear, passive learning tools, such as lectures and books. Digital natives, however, “prefer active and concrete learning involving applications, games, and collaborations.” They tend to gather information as needed and “don’t understand that plagarism is wrong” because, for them, sharing in all forms is routine, highlighting another possible incongruity as we struggle to enforce our academic-honesty policies. How should Colleges deal with the fact that their students exist in an entirely different realm of experience than the faculty and administrators?

Additionally, digital natives are more comfortable texting than talking. Many people have observed that students today are not as skilled in interpersonal communication and that they don’t have the necessary tools to cope with conflict. Again, does Middlebury have a role to play here? It’s intriguing, for example, to think about interventions that would raise awareness and encourage face-to-face interaction: instituting campus-wide digital-free days or weeks, requiring conversations like JusTalks,  establishing device-free zones.

Immature, dependent, coddled, and entitled: The article describes students who rely on their parents more heavily than previous generations did; they are not as independent or self-reliant. Two-fifths reported that they “phone, e-mail, or text their parents daily” and one-fifth reported being in contact three times a day or more. The article also noted that students report feeling isolated, lonely, having “overwhelming anxiety,” and being “psychologically exhausted.” They “require significantly more psychological and emotional support.”

My colleagues and I are concerned about the psychological stresses students face, often well before they get to college, and the resiliency that many students don’t possess.  I would like to understand this better from your perspective and experience. Your observations, reactions, and suggestions about any of the topics raised in the article may help us find ways to respond to students’ emerging needs.  Most importantly, are there aspects of these findings that call for students to push themselves to claim a different experience in college?  Do you want something different from Middlebury or something different from yourself and your peers?

Copies of the article are in my office for anyone wishing to read it. It is not available online, so come by and see me in person (smile).

 

Should JusTalks Be Mandatory?

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

One of the great aspects of Middlebury is that it provides almost unlimited opportunities for students to grow—to engage with others, to learn about different viewpoints, and to gain self-knowledge. From guest lectures to symposia to open meetings to retreats, the options go on and on.

By the time students graduate, if they have taken advantage of these, they have gained powerful exposure to a much wider community of people than they had known before. They have hopefully improved their ability to work with others and have developed a better understanding of themselves as well.

However, most of these opportunities are voluntary—you have to opt in to get the benefit. Certainly not everyone can be at everything, and you should be able to choose. But, I often wonder if there aren’t some things that we all should be a part of together. Consider some numbers: Mead Chapel was packed on January 9 when Angela Davis delivered the Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Address. It was marvelous that about 700 people came out on a cold night to listen to her ideas about justice and freedom (whether they agreed with her or not), to be in conversation with her, and to challenge her ideas as well. Yet, that 700 represents a fraction of the campus community.

Then the following Saturday, 120 students, mostly first-years, participated in the second annual JusTalks program. With the help of a professional facilitator and trained student facilitators, these students courageously put themselves in an unknown environment where they challenged themselves to engage in dialogue about the complex subject of identity. I don’t know anyone who didn’t find the experience to be valuable. Again, the number who participated is a fraction of our total students.

Which brings me to an idea I’ve been considering: Perhaps having a difficult dialogue about issues of identity and community is one of those things that we should all be part of. Perhaps we should require all first-year students to participate in JusTalks as part of their MiddView Orientation Program.  We make other experiences mandatory because we believe they are central to a 21st-century liberal arts education and because they create shared experience. I believe that JusTalks may be one of those.

The program was developed by students who worked fiercely on an issue they care about: their belief that we need to be in conversation with each other—even if the conversations are hard—and the conversations need to be in person and based on mutual respect. They have gone face to face with fellow students and administrators from all walks of life to make their idea a reality.  They developed and piloted this program in collaboration with administrators, faculty, and staff.  And in my view, JusTalks is a compelling example of the kind of learning experience that every first-year student should have.

That said, I need your help thinking about this: What would be the personal cost if people were going into JusTalks feeling they had to be there instead of being invited and wanting to be there? What are the pros and cons of making JusTalks mandatory?

And if it were mandatory, do you have suggestions for getting full participation?

I look forward to hearing your ideas and to discussing this with you further.

Light of the New Year

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

It’s that time of year, when the darkness descends and the days seem to retreat into a long dusk.  Add to that the “List of Things To Get Done”—before finals, before the College closes for break, before the holidays, and it can lead me into a frazzled, dazed state.

What lifts me up is knowing that decent, human warmth exists in many hearts, in many places. Random acts of kindness, it seems, aren’t really random; they are commonplace. Generosity and joy are all around us—but we often don’t notice because we are overwhelmed and preoccupied with our own busy lives.

And that is the key (something I try to remember to do): to look purposefully for these things, to notice and celebrate them—to give them more weight than the darkness and our daily obligations.

Each time I find kindness, generosity, selflessness, love, gentleness, openness, wisdom (add your own adjective here), it feels as if a candle has been lit in the night. If I find enough of them, they propel me forward and inspire me to focus on what really matters—human connection.

I’d like to wish everyone well in completing those end-of-the-year lists and all of the other matters vying for attention. May your travels to home, family, and friends be safe and restorative.

Have a wonderful winter break, and I look forward to seeing you in the light of the New Year.

It’s About (Face) Time

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe strongly in the value of dialogue. I believe that sharing ideas, opinions, and feelings directly with others is what keeps people connected—to their communities and even to themselves.

Lately, it seems as if there is an unusually high level of frustration simmering under the surface of human interactions all over the globe, occasionally exploding in scary and unproductive ways. I believe this is partly the consequence of an absence of dialogue. Annoyances, misunderstandings, and anger can be ameliorated when people simply talk with each other.

It sounds so simple, but it is becoming increasingly rare that people interact directly instead of tweeting and texting or making anonymous posts. The long-distance approach, with its delayed, often hostile, responses in the absence of real “face time” is, in my view, becoming the norm, and it is creating a numbing effect.

Everyone has probably had an experience like this: Someone has done or said something that has made you very upset. The more you think about the situation, the more upset you become—until you and the person in question talk. Suddenly you have new information and a fresh perspective that is more balanced. Even if you still aren’t entirely happy, your dismay is replaced with understanding. When we look into the eyes of another, we get immediate feedback; we sense their mood, and we have an opportunity to respond sincerely without delays—to be human together.

Here at Middlebury, we are very lucky. We have room to reflect. We have access to tremendous amounts of information  and expertise. We have the technological advances to be in touch with experts around the world. We also live in a community where we can come together and own our thoughts, be accountable for them. There is a tremendous opportunity here at Middlebury to embrace interpersonal interactions, conversations, and dialogues of all kinds. This allows us to grow.

The irony of course is that I’m saying this in a blog. But what I really want is for people to come together and talk. Often.

With that in mind, I’d welcome hearing your ideas about interesting ways for us to learn from each other in ways that are effective and respectful. You can post your thoughts here, but I also enjoy personal conversations.