Shirley Collado

Posts by Shirley Collado

 
 
 

The Power of Discomfort

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My guest blogger this week is Jordan Seman ’16. She attended the PossePlus Retreat in Silver Bay, New York, which was devoted to talking about class, power, and privilege in America. Like most people who participate in these intense weekends, Jordan was moved and changed by the powerful, frank discussions and exercises, and returned to campus hoping to bring the essence of the retreat back with her.

—Shirley M. Collado

On Friday afternoon, March 1st, I got on a bus full of students I didn’t know, many of whom I only recognized as being Posse scholars but had never interacted with at Middlebury. During the ride, I overheard bits and pieces of conversations in which students said they hoped the retreat would be “worthwhile.” I even heard the PossePlus Retreat described as “emotionally exhausting.” Not knowing what to expect, I soon realized that my experience on the retreat depended on my willingness to engage on a personal level with many students I’d never even seen before on this campus. That was an intimidating thought.

In sharing my concerns with other students and administrators there, I began to understand that feeling uncomfortable is part of the reason PPR is so successful. The activities we engaged in made me aware of the wide range of backgrounds that Middlebury students come from and allowed us to bring the topic of this year’s retreat, “class, power, and privilege in America,” closer to home.

In doing so, I was forced to reflect on my life of privilege, which I feared would not be accepted by many of the students who came from radically different home situations than I came from. I remember distinctly when the retreat leaders asked students to stand up if their families own more than one home. Only four people in the room stood, and one of them commented that, although his father works hard for what he has, he wasn’t sure that “having two homes was fair when so many in the room did not even have one.”

I think many people look at these types of experiences with an abiding cynicism and think that the bonding that occurs is shallow. When relating my experience at the retreat to another friend back on campus, she commented that it sounded like a “big pity-party.”

While retreats such as this one often get very emotional, I think the main purpose of it was not to feel sorry for one another, but to recognize how our backgrounds and life experiences shape the social makeup here at Middlebury. Through learning about others’ hardships and reflecting on my own upbringing, I began to think a lot about our campus and how wealth, class, and privilege shape our experiences here.

Now that I am back from PossePlus, I want to bring these conversations to this campus. If anything, I learned that there is much to be done to make our college community a more open and inclusive environment for students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. So, I invite Middlebury students to reflect on their experiences here and to question how the social scene is shaped by wealth and class, if at all. Think about the activities that students partake in, the culture that exists, and the types of students who tend to hang out together on campus.

After my own serious reflections on this topic, I am surprised by how little we talk about social segregation at Middlebury, and I would like to see the conversations taking place here rather than just at the PossePlus Retreat.

Band Goes Here

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My guest bloggers this week are Parker Woodworth ’13.5 and Michael Gadomski ’13.5. They took the lead in trying to redefine the student music scene, and they are writing today about some of their successes and obstacles and the philosophy behind their efforts.
—Shirley M. Collado

On a fall afternoon in his kitchen in Cornwall, Matt Bonner ’91 reflected on the social scene during his time at Middlebury: “We’d decide we were going to have a party on Saturday afternoon. It was almost as simple as, ‘keg goes here, band goes there,’ and that was that.” A few months earlier, as part of his 20th reunion, he had played a show at 51 Main with one of his bands from his time here. For Matt and many others, playing and being around music was a defining part of the Middlebury experience.

Nineteen years after Matt’s graduation, we found ourselves, dazed, excited, and a little sleep deprived, walking the cultish candlelit procession to Mead Chapel for February convocation. Despite the eerie gravity of the moment, we were deep in a conversation about our shared lifelong love of music.

A year later, we were again talking about music, but this time we were focused on how much we missed it. At that time, there were zero active student bands on campus. You could still say, “band goes here,” but it wouldn’t work out very well. We didn’t even know where to look to find students who might be interested in starting a band. Pretty much the best you could do as a musician was to play a lonely solo set to the four friends who felt like they really should come to your show at the Grille.

In large part, the reasons for this were straightforward. Spaces were difficult to access, and equipment was nearly nonexistent—there was simply no easy place to turn to make music with fellow students. Instead, resources were uncoordinated and worst of all, thoroughly steeped in bureaucracy.

Middlebury Music United was created to untangle all of that mess. Surprisingly, we met little resistance initially. From SAO, the administration, the SGA finance committee, the music department, and even the trustees, so long as we made our case reasonably, it was met with genuine concern and enthusiasm. Although enthusiasm was not always immediately followed by action, we were able to remove bureaucracy, change to student management, and make access easier just by continuing to ask nicely. In our minds, the goal was to make students, rather than institutions, the drivers and shapers of music at Middlebury.

An illustrative example was MMU Nights: the series of weekly Grille and 51 Main shows that we were given to distribute to student musicians. Essentially, our job was to fill pre-determined dates at pre-determined locations with student musicians. This invariably amounted to twisting the arms of our friends into playing hour-long sets or else doing it ourselves. Everyone more or less dreaded playing these shows, and everyone seemed to dread attending them as well.

The takeaway from that experience formed the basis for MMU’s philosophy: we never want to force anyone to play music. We don’t want “MMU Presents” on the top of any posters. We want to help musicians present themselves, to enable the same “band goes here” spontaneity that Matt Bonner told us about. That’s why we ended MMU Nights. Those venues are still open to musicians, and we’re happy to help anyone put a show together, but they’ll need to make the decision to play on their own.

Student culture at Middlebury needs to be driven by students. Culture, in our opinion, comes from what you do because you love it, not because you’re getting graded on it or because it looks great on your resume or because anyone asked you to. Sometimes it’s difficult to prioritize things like that, and we wanted to make it as easy as possible for musicians to do so. That’s why you probably haven’t heard of MMU, but you probably have heard of Thank God for Mississippi or Stoop Kid. And that’s just how we want it. We love music because of how it brings people together and how it makes creativity part of a night out. We want to help musicians, but we also want to help people who like to dance, or like to listen, or just want something a little different on a Friday night. Music at Middlebury isn’t for a select group of people—it’s for everyone. It all started with a simple goal: “band goes here.”

You’re here because you’re ambitious, because you believe in something, and you’re surrounded by people who are here for the same reason. In our years here, we’ve learned that things change when students decide to care. So ask yourself, what do I want this college to be like? If you want more students playing music, we can help. If you want something else, just like a band, it goes here. You are exactly the right person to make it happen. Start doing it, and keep going. You won’t regret it.

For more information on MMU and student music, check out middmusic.org or go/mmu.

Refueling in the Classroom

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Every spring semester, I shake off the winter routine by taking a short, weekly “break” from my role as dean to teach a class. It’s one of my favorite things to do as a teacher, clinical psychologist, and college administrator.

This year, I am teaching the 300-level psychology course Approaches to Psychotherapy, which focuses on theories and practices of clinical and counseling psychology. Teaching this course takes me back to my roots as a clinical psychologist, when I developed as a clinician in a variety of settings as a graduate student at Duke University, and I did community mental health work in Washington, D.C., after earning my doctorate—my area of specialty focuses on trauma and dissociative disorders in multicultural populations. In class, we look at psychological theories and approaches through a broad cultural lens—at how they intersect with the experiences of people from various backgrounds and identities.

I have found teaching to be profoundly energizing, for several reasons:

  • A classroom full of bright Middlebury students is a stimulating environment in and of itself. The students always challenge me with their discerning observations, questions, and ideas.

  • Outside experts—practicing clinical psychologists—visit class to discuss their work, which allows me to connect with colleagues active in the field and community.

  • As a class, we think critically about the field of clinical psychology, and that is a good thing. Middlebury students planning to work in the field will ensure that the field evolves and is responsive to new realities.

  • The teaching process revs up my creative juices, and I take that renewed creativity back to Old Chapel. I realize some people don’t think of administrators as creative, but I have found that innovative approaches and inventive problem solving are needed each day.

  • Teaching has helped to make me a better dean. It is grounding (and humbling) to be able to carve out this special time with students. What I gain from the classroom experience stays with me and informs my work for the rest of the year.

I have also taught Racism and Mental Health and Psychological Disorders. I hope I will get to see some of you in my course in the future.

Teaching vitalizes me and pushes me in ways that are so important to being a better college administrator. I am interested in learning more about what students want to experience and learn in the classroom. I also want to know more about what others do at this time of year to recharge their lives. What do you do to rejuvenate and energize your academic or professional life?

What Time Off Did for Me

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere


Several weeks ago, I invited students interested in writing guest posts for this blog to contact me. Happily, one of them was Zane Anthony ’16.5, who writes today about his gap semester. —Shirley M. Collado

By 12th grade, I developed a senioritis so bleak and merciless that I felt like a crayon in a crayon box, trapped in darkness and ill fated to an existence of ambiguous pigeonholing and childhood neglect. Flustered and thundering inside, I felt exceedingly tired, wondering whether the few months of summer would be enough for me to recharge and “sort things out.” Too soon, I would find myself once again submersed in gray classroom grinds, committed to a near future in the progressive locale of Addison County, Vermont.

Last fall, I ultimately decided against signing myself off to another demanding, gazillionth-consecutive academic semester that would become roiled with work and worry. Instead, I kicked back for once, trading the immediacy of a hasty, blurry blastoff to an undergraduate career in exchange for a gap semester. And it was the best decision ever.

Today, the leap from high school to college is rumored to be so drastic, so inexorable, that we are losing sight of ourselves. Students consequently derail and belittle their high school endeavors; that is, building an arts center in Senegal becomes more important to their application to Stanford than to the Senegalese. Looking beyond “looking good” on an application and flashing showy undertakings, why not picture your post-secondary-school careers as the perfect opportunity to become the person you have always wanted to be—more active, more outgoing, or perhaps more generous? College is a breeding ground for out-of-comfort-zone experiences that lead you to new philosophies and understandings about yourself. But as I have come to discover, the time between high school and college is too.

Many young people think that life is encoded like alleles in DNA, or determined by set conditions like those of tall, bulky asymptotes. Attending a small, alternative school, I was lucky enough to be routinely discouraged from reverting to a life of normalcy and cookie-cutter approaches to solving problems, whether emotional, creative, or Socratic. I have finally realized that what has messed me up this whole time is that mental image I have of how things are supposed to be.

As leaves tumbled exhausted from branches last August, I fled from course work and towards my lifelong verve for environmentalism, following the winds to the familiar corridors of Echo Hill Outdoor School in Worton, Maryland. For four months, I taught Chesapeake Bay and swamp ecology classes, history lessons, and low- and high-ropes course initiatives with middle school and upper school students. Though busy, I had countless hours every day to be still and reflect.

Life moved slower. I synced with the natural rhythms of the Earth. I plunged into a world released from e-mails, voice mails, clocks, and schedules, nourishing that part of my being that is fed by swims in lakes, walks up mountains, and paddles through the water. Because of my experiences at Echo Hill, the things I want to do most, and the things that are most important to me, have slowly wedged away the rote, senile tasks I have been programmed to perform in secondary school. I can feel myself transitioning out of a dull, amorphous routine, growing blind to what was once familiar and youthful. But it’s funny because I do not feel as if  I am running away or leaving something behind. Instead, I feel that I am stepping towards something else.

My Febmester taught me that I am my own advocate, motivation, and resolve to succeed—this is conceivably the most critical life lesson I have ever learned. The distinctive life is a triumph, not something that will come if I behave decently, or because my father ordered it from the country club caterer. Beyond latching to the highly coveted, recursive web of hard work, thoughtful leadership, and responsible citizenship, I know I need to work fervently towards my goals, and thereby define my odds for success. It means fundamentally questioning where I am going and making sure I am not following the rut left behind by somebody else.

While driving to Middlebury for my Class of 2016.5 February Orientation, I watched vistas and peaks roll past as if torn straight from summery, warm New England tourist journals. I revered the snow-capped mountains, and barns, and wind farms, scampering towards high ground with my confidence shots, hella warm layers, and every book I own on the environment in search of the rest of my life. “Onward to college,” I thought to myself. “And my timing is perfect.” Was your timing perfect? What could time off do for you?

Self-Fulfilling Rhetoric

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Anyone who pays attention to the news gets a regular dose of misery, as media outlets, and the people they quote, seem to vie for more alarming ways to recount the gridlock, stonewalling, and infighting of our nation’s leaders.

I’ve wondered if these situations are as bad as described, or if the descriptions cause the various players to act the way they are depicted (rising or sinking to expectations). What if officials X and Y were called “thoughtful and cooperative” instead? Would they try to be? And if others believed X and Y had been thoughtful and cooperative about something, would that have an impact on how they might approach X and Y in the future, perhaps setting the stage for a more fruitful encounter?

I realize the dynamics are more complex than this, but there’s no doubt that certain rhetoric can help create the very situations we are trying to abate. The national discussions about gun control and immigration reform employ loaded language and assumptions on each side of the debate, which, I believe, are not helping us find solutions to these problems and sometimes make things worse. The same can be said for discussions about same-sex marriage, or decriminalizing drugs, or affirmative action in higher education, or gender identity, or underage drinking, or women serving in combat, or immigration reform. Almost any topic comes with sets of assumptions and related rhetoric that can stop understanding in its tracks. Once people embrace assumptions, true understanding hasn’t a chance. This pattern is woven into the fabric of our society.

This is where I believe Middlebury comes in. We have an important role to play in influencing how our society converses. I think we can lead by example.

We have been making a concerted effort on campus to advance the skill and the art of talking together. We’ve set up safe places, centered on respect, where people can talk directly with one another about whatever is important to them and strive for mutual understanding—from Justalks, which debuted in J-term, to campus Open Forums to public panel discussions and other venues. I have been heartened by how many students have participated, how seriously they have taken their part, and how eager they are to learn.

I see “Middlebury dialoguing” as a hopeful step—one that could change our society’s reckless conversational habits, because when Middlebury students learn to listen to others and to reach deep understanding, they will be able to plant the seeds of understanding wherever they go. These skills, learned and practiced here, can be taught to others and can make ripples that will sustain over time.

I welcome your comments and observations. Do you think college students can raise the level of discourse in this country? Do you have other suggestions that might change the tone of debate here and in the wider community?

—Shirley M. Collado

 

Stepping Outside Comfort Zones

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My guest blogger this week is Kathryn Benson ’13, writing about a question that made her stop and think. I’ve enjoyed working with Kathryn in her leadership roles on campus. She is active on many fronts and always seems to have creative ideas about ways to address pressing issues.

—Shirley M. Collado

Two summers ago, I was part of a student panel during reunion weekend. A man in the audience posed a question that I will never forget: “What have you done at Middlebury that you never expected? What opportunity have you taken that has surprised you?”

I was the last panelist to answer this question, and as I listened to the other students talk about how they had done everything from joining the Ultimate Frisbee team to learning Russian, my heart began to race because I could not think of anything I had done that was out of my ordinary routine. Sure, I had taken classes that challenged me in new ways. And I had been a leader in a number of clubs and as my Commons co-chair. Yet none of these things truly pushed me outside my comfort zone. And as I looked back at my time at Middlebury, I realized that none of the things I had done thus far set me apart from the student I was in high school.

A few weeks after that panel, I was asked to be a member of Weybridge House, also known as the environmental studies house. At that time, I did not consider myself an “environmental person,” and I wondered if living in Weybridge would actually be a good fit for me. I did, after all, keep my lights on more than they probably needed to be, I took unnecessarily long showers, and recycling was not my number-one priority in life. But I had always wanted to learn more about living a lifestyle aimed to serve the environment just as much as it served me. And so I signed up to live in Weybridge House for my junior year. I decided it was time I did something I had never planned to do, and it was time for me to live outside my comfort zone and routine.

Living in Middlebury’s environmental house was something I never imagined myself doing, yet it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at Midd. I met some of my best friends in that house, and I learned how to caramelize enough onions to feed the 300 people who came to Weybridge Feast.

As the beginning of my last semester at Middlebury draws near, I once again ask myself those wise words from the man at the reunion panel: What have I recently done that I never expected? What opportunity have I taken that has surprised me? Middlebury truly is a safe space for us all to step outside our comfort zones in order to try something new.

It doesn’t matter if you are a senior crossing things off your bucket list or if you are a first-year deciding what extracurricular you want to be a part of—our campus and its surrounding Vermont backdrop offer so many unique opportunities, and I’ve found that it’s the ones you least expect to explore that offer you some of the greatest memories. So I invite you to ask yourself the questions that man asked me: What have you done at Middlebury that you never expected? What opportunity have you taken that has surprised you?

The Big Picture

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

This week, my guest blogger is Rachel Sider ’14.  Rachel is a tireless advocate for many causes, and she encourages students to work together on behalf of issues that matter to them. She has worked with such groups as the national student organization J Street U, Community Council, Somali-Bantu ESL Tutoring Group, Juntos, and the Judicial Board Selection Committee.

I always enjoy hearing students’ viewpoints about issues they are concerned about, and would like to encourage any students who are interested in being considered as guest bloggers to contact Jennifer Herrera or me.

—Shirley M. Collado

Growing up reading the newspaper over breakfast each morning and hearing stories about far-off lands from my journalist grandfather cultivated in me a yearning to address global problems. That is ultimately why I chose to attend Middlebury. Despite its rural location, the curriculum, student body, and campus initiatives focus far beyond the surrounding sheep farms and rolling pastures—they aim to address the international community and its challenges.

As a leader on campus I have always admired how my peers maintain this outlook and are able to think globally. In my opinion, that’s the beauty of the liberal arts experience. But while many students come to campus to learn to engage the world, there seems to be a disconnect between this mission and overall leadership in community initiatives. I noticed this trend of disengagement just months into my freshman year as attendance at J Street U meetings dwindled and concern for group sustainability mounted. In talking with other student leaders, I realized that my own concerns were symptomatic of a greater, campus-wide issue; students arrive each fall eager to get involved, yet many lose interest or prioritize other activities as the semester progresses.

Trust me, I understand—I have done the same. I have found myself overwhelmed with class projects and readings and lost sight of the bigger picture. I have groaned at the thought of organizing another J Street U discussion when I still have a Juntos board meeting to attend and Arabic poetry to analyze. Too often I have seen campus clubs and service organizations lack sufficient membership to effectively fulfill their missions, tackle community needs, and cultivate new leaders. Don’t get me wrong—there are thriving groups doing excellent work on campus—but I know there is the potential for even greater success and impact.

As we kick-off the spring semester, I think back to the passion I felt as I perused headlines over pancakes years ago—my belief that justice and coexistence require better knowledge of global social and political realities. I urge students to reconnect with their own interests, wherever they lie in the world, and to find new ways to translate their passions into civic engagement. For me, the liberal arts experience is about utilizing our global mindset and academic insight to facilitate some sort of action. If we are developing the tools to engage the world—creativity, analytical thinking, initiative, excellent communication—why not put them to work now?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree or disagree that this is an issue facing our campus? Do you feel that we are becoming more disconnected from our willingness to take action and promote change? How can we hold one another accountable for exercising our liberal arts talents in ways that truly engage our community on campus, throughout the state, and around the globe?