Shirley Collado

Posts by Shirley Collado

 
 
 

A View from the Bubble

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My guest blogger this week is Jamie McCallum, assistant professor of sociology. Being relatively new to Middlebury (he moved here from Brooklyn in the summer of 2011), he makes some interesting observations about life here and things that separate us. I hope you will join in this discussion in the comments section—we’d love to hear what you think. —Shirley M. Collado

I moved from Brooklyn to Middlebury last year. As a newish professor, I’ve experienced some of the same bewildering frustrations facing many new students—the urban-to-rural transition, learning to ski, the paucity of Mexican food, etc. I can deal with all that (I think). But no facet of life at Middlebury causes me more lingering consternation than The Bubble.

Whenever I ask students about their lives, they often discourse disdainfully about life in the bubble, which is shorthand for the stomach-roiling feelings of parochialism, security, bliss, and terror that come with living in a kind of glorious walled city. For a place with such an international presence and a deserved reputation for foreign-language learning, our borders often seem simultaneously invisible and impermeable.

Faculty, especially newer and junior professors, live in bubbles too. Most of us live close to work and keep work close to home. A typical Venn diagram of student and faculty life overlaps only a sliver, the time we meet in the classroom each week, plus some office hours and the occasional extracurricular activity. Our respective bubbles contribute to that separation. While recognizing the fact that we do live different kinds of lives—I’m the type who enjoys his own company and personal space—the faculty-student divide deserves some attention.

At a campus event on faculty diversity last week, students expressed a sincere interest in engaging professors on what was continually referred to as a “human level,” reiterating concerns voiced at the recent PossePlus retreat. I take this as a desire for greater opportunities to learn about each other’s lives outside the classroom and outside the bubbles. Both events were primarily places where students could openly elaborate about where they are coming from. Forums where faculty members are able to convey as much to students might also be useful.

Recently I asked a student what he meant by saying we live in a bubble. He said, “It doesn’t keep us safe; it keeps us apart. And it even keeps us from ourselves.”

I think I know what he means. For every lacrosse player who rules the weekend party scene, there is one who wishes the pressure to drink excessively was not there. For every hardline divestment activist, there is one who sees the issue as part of a generalized struggle for justice for all. There are economics majors who would rather be studying dance, but they are too scared to stand up to their parents and too insecure to admit it to their friends. And just as there are students terrified to speak up in class, there are professors worrying about how their lecture will be received. In other words, things are not as they seem.

Can students and faculty gain a deeper understanding of each other’s lives? Although no one seems to think that bubbles are a good idea, too often we, myself included, act as if there is no alternative. I have certainly not provided a concrete solution here. But someone once said that the point of philosophy is not just to understand the world but to change it. So maybe the point of education is not just to recognize the bubble but to burst it. More

Take a Deep Breath: It’s April

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As I was returning to campus from spring break, I noticed how peaceful—almost tranquil—everything appeared to be. Then I realized I was seeing the calm before the storm. April might bring slow snowmelt and soft showers, but it also brings a full-on hurricane of THINGS TO DO.

Of course, things are always busy at Middlebury. It just takes a glance at the weekly calendar to see how much there is to do here. I have heard people say that if they had enough time to participate in all the symposia, performances, meetings, and sporting events happening on campus, they still wouldn’t be able to take them all in.

But in April, it seems as if the universe of institutional activity goes through a Big Bang because everyone realizes that May is fast approaching and they must schedule their events. It’s now or never.

The last time I counted, there were more than 130 April events encompassing an almost unimaginable range—from CPR training to team Midd’s Solar Decathlon kickoff, from a talk about ocean acidification and oysters to a Russian folk concert, from a festival of new plays rewriting the story of Cinderella, to recurring annual events like the Hannah A. Quint Lectureship in Jewish Studies and the Spring Student Symposium, and to inaugural lectures by newly named faculty, award ceremonies, baseball and tennis contests, and presentations of senior work. And this is just a sampling.

April is also when the College hosts Preview Days, when newly admitted students and their families visit campus to see whether Middlebury would be a good home for the next four years.

I can’t imagine a more fecund, fruitful, and stimulating place than Middlebury in April. So, if you are looking for something new or interesting to liven up the routines in your life, take heart: Middlebury is pulling out all of the stops.

 

Studying Abroad in Le Chateau: Why I never left campus

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Today, my guest blogger is Jake Nonweiler ’14 who took time during a busy period to write about his decision to stay on campus instead of studying abroad. As always, we welcome your comments and thoughts. —Shirley M. Collado

Last semester, I decided to refuse the delicacies of the most gastronomically sophisticated country in the world and sprint every day to my 8 a.m. in BiHall with a protein bar in hand. When I abandoned my study abroad plans, I immediately realized how invaluable studying abroad would have been. It would have opened my mind to a new culture and way of life. As we hear from every TED talk, budding entrepreneur, and leadership conference, “It’s all about the journey.” What I think we fail to hear at these inspirational events, however, is that this journey is often unavoidably miserable and lackluster, which can be hard to change.

Facebook provided me with the consistently unfortunate reminder that I was living less than 100 feet away from where I lived freshman year and that at no point would I be exploring another continent’s intricacies. I felt frustrated, trapped, and embarrassed that I missed a chance to go outside of my comfort zone and explore a new culture. But regardless of my reasoning for making this seemingly erroneous choice, I realized at some point that being so negative about staying on campus was doing nothing but reinforcing my negativity.

I had seemingly forgotten that studying at one of the most well-respected liberal arts colleges in the country provided me with an endless number of opportunities apart from studying abroad. My attitude needed to change, and it needed to change sooner rather than later. So I sat down, pulled out a sheet of paper, and made an optimistic and ridiculously unachievable “burst plan” that was to be completed in no more than four days: find an internship, start a business, learn how to code websites, make 10 new friends, and reconnect with 10 people I hadn’t talked to in more than year.

I couldn’t reasonably complete every item on my list, but my simple burst plan reenergized me. I signed up for MiddCORE and had one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. I found an internship with a company that I aspire to work for after college. I started the continuous process of learning Web development and have become passionate about human-centered design. And along the way, I met people who supported me and shared my goals. Each of these events helped me better understand myself, and I discovered new passions that I now can’t imagine living without.

My point in writing about my experience is not to justify deciding not to study abroad or to discredit those who do, but to highlight the sheer power of perspective. Recognizing that at some points in life’s journey I will be exhausted, frustrated, and embarrassed helps me redefine what and whom I appreciate and value. There’s an unfortunate assumption that not studying abroad means you’re not adventurous or didn’t organize your classes correctly to do so. And while in some instances this is fair, it’s not always the case. I hope that other students who feel ambivalent about studying abroad will recognize that Middlebury’s opportunities are limited only by the desire to pursue them, whether on campus or on the other side of the world.

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?