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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.

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?

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?

 

A Roomful of People, Thinking and Talking

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Last week, the College held a panel discussion about affirmative action and the case currently before the Supreme Court, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which could overturn affirmative action in higher education. We hoped that the discussion would be sincere and honest—and that people would feel comfortable enough to express themselves, even if that meant saying something unpopular. We also hoped that the audience would remain open-minded and give consideration to the diverse views surely to be expressed.

I think that is exactly what happened. Audience members voiced many differing opinions, sometimes disagreeing with one another, sometimes heatedly so. Yet, for the most part, the audience, panel, and moderators navigated a difficult, deeply personal topic with civility and tolerance. I want to thank those who were challenged by this frank conversation for coming and participating.

Here are some of the questions that were raised:

  • How does the number of students of color compare to other groups on campus?
  • Once students of color have come to Middlebury, is the College doing enough to help them stay at Middlebury?
  • If the Supreme Court overturns affirmative action, how will Admissions be able to achieve a diverse student body?
  • Should admissions decisions be colorblind?
  • What other types of identity groups (e.g., athletes, legacies, cellists, etc.) are targeted in the admissions process?
  • Can admissions decisions be more transparent?
  • How important is Posse to Middlebury?
  • When do we stop taking race into account?
  • What is the fairest way to handle college admissions decisions?
  • What is the collective impact of affirmative action on campuses?
  • Does Middlebury have a standard for diversifying faculty?
  • Is there a conflict between two goals of action: repairing past segregation and discrimination through affirmative action and taking steps to create a diverse campus?
  • By choosing someone based on their race, could they be less qualified?
  • What is the true definition of a Middkid?

For those who were unable to attend, you can view the panel discussion here.  It is clear that more listening, learning, and engaging needs to take place on our campus.  We have work to do, so let’s keep communicating honestly, openly, and respectfully.

I wrote about this topic in an earlier post, and encourage you to read the brief that Middlebury filed along with 32 other colleges, in support of affirmative action, diversity, and inclusion in higher education.

Please add your voice to the conversation. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Words We Use: An Audio Blog

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Before Thanksgiving,  I wrote about the importance of actively engaging in meaningful, direct discussion. Then Anthony Perez came to see me, offering to share a recording of a conversation he had with a friend, Alan Sutton ’14, about the sensitive topic of sexuality. Anthony is a junior from Los Angeles and is majoring in Spanish and minoring in Portuguese. His actions—initiating this discussion and then sharing it with the campus community— take courage and resolve. I am pleased to include the recording here, and I want to thank Anthony and Alan for taking this important step. I hope this will encourage further dialogue across campus.
—Shirley M. Collado

The following dialogue has emerged from my genuine desire to understand how students on this campus consider non-heterosexual culture. I did not have any clear direction or pre-written questions when Alan Sutton, a junior here at Middlebury College, and I sat down to record a candid conversation about sexuality.

What immediately surfaced within the first few minutes of my interview with Sutton was a familiar reality for me: the difficulty that surrounds terminology and nomenclature within the non-heterosexual community. If you don’t currently identify as gay, bisexual, or lesbian then where do you stand? Even more intriguing to me was the question of how normative standards on this campus, and beyond this rural environment, foster a space for speech that is degrading to some.

This small clip is just the beginning in what I hope will be a continued conversation that tackles the necessary issue of creating a comfortable community for every student on campus. —Anthony Perez ’14

 

Let’s Connect: Say It and Own It

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

In the last 15 to 20 years, I’ve noticed that communication between people has become increasingly indirect. There’s been a steady erosion of interpersonal contact in favor of texting, tweeting, facebooking, and e-mailing. We can feel engaged and involved without having to “do” anything.

I remember a time when students couldn’t send me e-mail because e-mail wasn’t available; so they would come to my office or meet me somewhere in person. We would talk, resolve things, meet over a cup of coffee, and forge understanding. And when people needed to talk about something important, there were few options other than to engage with one another directly. It wasn’t possible to deliver messages indirectly the way it is now. And it wasn’t possible to be anonymous.

Is this a sea change?

This societal change has allowed people to avoid taking personal responsibility for conveying their ideas, opinions, and needs. It allows faceless, nameless posts in a universe of empty noise. And it sometimes encourages what I consider irresponsible or avoidant behavior: putting ideas out there without owning what you say. I’m concerned that a time may come when we won’t know any other way. The unfocused, hollow methods of communicating will become the norm, and people will not have the interpersonal skills they need to lead effective lives.

Beyond our communication style, we seem to be losing something else critically important—human connection.  A recent article in the Atlantic cited research showing that although people are highly networked today, they are lonelier than they’ve ever been.

Last week, a group of students came to the first Campus Open Forum to talk about sexual assault. These forums are hosted by Community Council, SGA, and the Office of the Dean of the College and are designed to provide an open space in which members of the campus community can honestly discuss student life topics of interest and any issue they wish to address. As I listened to the discussion, I realized that everyone there was longing for this type of personal interaction. They were there to be heard and to engage candidly with others. That’s the beauty of a residential campus like Middlebury: we can make these connections happen when we choose to.

Lots to talk about

There are many meaningful discussions underway on campus right now: how the endowment is invested, what activism is, sexual assault, quorums at faculty meetings, involvement in student government and other initiatives, faculty/staff-student-community relationships, finding venues for social life, and more. The College is committed to finding ways to encourage members of this community to come together for meaningful conversation and action.

Last year, I encouraged students to turn off their social media for one week to see what it is like. Needless to say, I received a great amount of resistance to this suggestion. But it’s not necessary to “go dark” in order to have face-to-face connections; it is necessary, however, to make these connections a priority instead of following the path of least resistance.

I hope that we can all get into the habit of asking ourselves whether we can hold a particular discussion in person instead of remotely, and I would like to encourage everyone to get involved in the many conversations underway on campus.

I’d love to hear what you think. Do you agree or disagree with me? Do you feel that we are living with more noise and less understanding? And are you willing to put yourself out there in order to have better connections with others on campus?

Other Places for Conversation

  • In addition to the Campus Open Forums, other great conversations happen weekly at the Fireside Chats, hosted by the Institutional Diversity Committee. These are informal discussions with a weekly theme that intersects with identity, diversity, community, or education and the Middlebury experience.
  • SGA holds open office hours each week in Crossroads Café.
  • Community Council holds open meetings on most Mondays at 4:30–5:45 p.m. in Axinn 220.
  • PALANA House hosts topic-based discussions two–three times per year called PALANA Uncensored.
  • Several student organizations are also having topic-based discussions during their weekly meetings.
  • Check Middlink for other upcoming conversations, and post any you’d like to host.
  • Middblog and The Campus offer opportunities for thoughtful discussion, and students are encouraged to submit opinion pieces that foster dialogue.
—Shirley M. Collado