Tag Archives: Campus community

New Vandalism

Middlebury is ending the semester awash not only with hard discussions on stress and appropriation, but with a new surge of tree vandalism.

Four trees have been vandalized in the last four days. Three this past weekend, 1 pulled up out of the ground by Battell, one by HMKL pulled up and dragged to the front door, and one snapped at the base, only 20’ from a dorm.

Dawn Redwood snapped at base

Trunk of the Dawn redwood

Then two nights ago a memorial tree was rocked back and forth, unsuccessfully broken off, so instead all the branches were snapped off, and the top severed and left on the lawn. This is a new on our campus, as we’ve never had a memorial tree killed before.

2015-12-09 13.08.06

Don’t think of it as vandalism, however, think of what is happening as aggression and violence. Vandalism is breaking off random branches here and there; violence is taking a well-established tree with a 3” trunk at rocking it back and forth for probably ten minutes until it snaps and breaks at the base. A former student wrote an entire term paper on tree vandalism, and told of the link of alcohol fueled aggression and violence against trees.

But, like many problems here on campus, who dares speak up? I’d certainly be nervous to confront someone in the act, and I carry chainsaws around for a living. I think back to my time on community council last year, with long discussions led by Ben Bogin on a Social Honor Code, not just an academic one. Read William and Mary’s code, or Haverford’s, with their ‘Confrontation’ philosophy, as difficult and engaging as President Patton’s wish for more and better arguments.

So maybe our department no longer plants smaller trees, as the smaller size seems to encourage vandalism.  The field house, for example, was planted in 3” trees, and they would be nearly impossible to pull out of the ground. The problem with that, like many problems we face this semester, is the concept of resiliency.

Like people, trees and forests do better in large, diverse groups. Diversity brings resiliency- look to the lessons of Dutch elm disease when many, many towns lost nearly all of their shade, or look to our future when Emerald Ash Borer moves into Vermont and destroys all our ash trees, almost 15% of all trees on campus. We are diverse in tree species, so 15% is a hit, albeit an unpleasant hit that we can suffer through.

But only if we keep planting our forest without ceasing, and keep the goal of diversity. The nursery industry in Vermont doesn’t have a big diverse selection in large trees, so we plant smaller unusual trees in addition to the larger ones. Smaller trees are also easier to plant, and cheaper, so we can plant more trees in a year, and come in many different species, much more than basic maple, oak, and honeylocust. It’s these small trees, however, that keep getting vandalized, snapped, and pulled up out of the ground.

Our campus forest is losing resiliency, and to be honest, so am I.

Emerald Ash Borer Presentation-This Wednesday

Part of my absence from the blog would be teaching my winter term class “Trees and the Urban Forest” again this semester. It’s a great class, in a super rushed sort of way all winter term classes probably are.

As you may well be aware, the Emerald Ash Borer is a small exotic insect invading the country, and is poised to enter Vermont in the next couple of years. It has the potential to eliminate all the native Ash trees from the state. Just on the campus grounds itself we have over 200 large Ash trees that will need to be removed at great expense, and replanted. For a quick explaination, see http://www.vtinvasives.org/invaders/emerald-ash-borer .

Two years ago my winter term class took a draft of an emergency preparedness plan for the eventual arrival of the insect from the State Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation and completed it for the Town of Middlebury. This winter term we are now drafting the plan for Middlebury College. This includes surveying all the Ash on campus, coming up with options for treatment or removal, giving replanting options, and running a computer model to calculate the lost benefits from these trees, including stormwater and pollution abatement, carbon sequestration, and energy savings.

We’d be honored if you could join us to present the plan to the College community on Wednesday, January 28th at noon, in The Orchard, room 103 in the Franklin Environmental Center. I understand it’s short notice (sorry!) and winter term is crazy in even a relaxing year. Please feel free to email me with questions, and if you know of someone else that would be interested, please let them know!

Fall Arbor Day 2014

An extremely late spring-not warming up until mid May-left our landscape department short on time. We decided to postpone Arbor Day for a fall celebration, which we are holding next week.

Friday, October 10th, starting at 3:00.

We’ll start with a tree tour, this time focusing on the 10 (12) oldest trees on campus, but of course looking at more than that. We’ll start at the plaza at the Mahaney Center for the Arts, and walk through campus, eventually ending up at-

The west side of Battell-the corner of Battell Beach. After looking at the oldest trees on campus, at 4:30 we’ll plant what will be the youngest trees on campus. This is an area that saw a lot of tree vandalism (since cured! no damage this year). We’ll plant a half dozen or so trees on this corner of the beach, forming a little grove of color.

We’ll bring the food, and pre-dig the holes (oh, hydraulics and backhoe, my mistresses in crime), so all you’ll need to bring is a willingness to get your hands and knees a little dirty. Rumor has it there will be ice cream, cider donuts, and cider.

Come for the tree tour, or come for the planting, or join us partway after your classes. I’ve never done a tree tour during foliage season, so if you’ve gone on one before this one will have new stories.

Oh, and someone bring a frisbee. My 14 year old daughter just joined the high school frisbee team, and needs some practice.

Here’s a sneak preview-

2014-10-02 15.41.47

Today’s Students Are Changing Colleges

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).


Light of the New Year

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

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.


Seeking Fresh Voices, Ideas, and Task Masters

Hello, everyone. My guest bloggers this week are SGA President Rachel Liddell ’14, Assistant Director of Student Activities Jennifer Herrera, and Student Activities Programs and Events Manager Dave Kloepfer, writing about the social scene on campus. We look forward to hearing your comments and ideas!
—Shirley M. Collado

Welcome back! This last week, the new academic year kicked off in a major way with events like the First Chance dance party in the Bunker, Pub Night in Crossroads with WRMC, the DMC and WOC welcome-back BBQ, and McCullough Fest. Plus, Crossroads presented our palates with some pleasant surprises, such as creative, tasty smoothies and milkshakes and fresh-made sushi. When the Student Activities Fair was rained out last Thursday, McCullough became a hot spot for hanging out and reconnecting. For the first time in a while, it looked and felt alive with students—as it should be. Every seat, table, and booth was filled.

McCullough is the student center, your hub for anything, from checking your mail, to munching on a delicious snack like a “Dr. Feelgood” or a tempura shrimp roll, to studying, and even dancing the night away at Café con Leche Latin dance party. These are some of the amazing events at McCullough. Plus, they represent a fraction of McCullough’s potential. The possibilities are endless. And this is where you come in; it just takes your ideas and initiative to realize them.

We want students who are willing to “roll up their sleeves” to make things happen to come forward with ideas. We’re eager to hear what you have to say and want to do.

  • What ideas do you have for making McCullough a more attractive, cool, and fun (less institutional) space?
  • What kind of events and live music do you want to see here in Crossroads?
  • Do you want to be involved with enhancing the social scene? Tell us how.
  • Let us know what ideas you may have for improving outreach and communications about the rich activities already available, and those to come.

Feel free to contact Rachel at sga@middlebury.edu, Jennifer and Dave at student_activities@middlebury.edu, or leave comments here on this blog. We welcome ideas for new programs or events or anything else related to social-life programming that you’re burning to tell someone about.