Tags » Campus community


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




Surviving Room Draw

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Our guest blogger today is Doug Adams, associate dean of students, writing about a topic of great interest to most students: Room Draw.

—Shirley M. Collado

I have to confess that I was a bit reticent when I was asked to be a guest blogger. I thought, what do I have to share that will ease the minds of students around Room Draw? Even more distressing was the thought that I might add to confusion in some way and actually increase your stress levels!

So I took a quick walk around the campus to think about what I might say. As I strolled through the beautiful fall foliage, seeing students hurrying off to class, laughing in a group outside Proctor, enjoying the sunny day, or sprinting past me on an afternoon jog, I reflected that Middlebury is so much more than the bricks and mortar of its buildings. Middlebury is its people and its community. The same is true of the College’s housing. In the end, it really doesn’t matter which building you are living in but rather the people you are living with.

This fall began my 13th year at Middlebury. Over the years I have had a many different levels of contact with residential life—from my early days of advising the social houses to more recently developing Res Life staff training and assisting with Room Draw. Through all this time, I have learned one very important thing, and let me be perfectly clear: Middlebury is not a Hogwarts. Despite all the evidence to the contrary (Quidditch anyone?) and a certain Commons coordinator’s awesome sorting hat, Room Draw at Middlebury has nothing to do with magic. It is instead a process of computer systems, hard work, late nights, and amazing attention to detail, which combine to create a fair and equitable process for everyone.

So let me take a little of your time to help debunk some of the myths, rumors, and stressors that seem to perpetuate each year:

  1. The random numbers really are random. Residential Life does not see the numbers until all of the matches have been made.
  2. Online Room Draw is run through a computer program, not a person.
  3. All students who will be on campus in the fall semester receive a random number— even those who live in social or academic interest houses, apply to live off campus, or join the Res Life staff. That way if someone’s plans change, they may still participate in the Draw process.
  4. Residential Life staff cannot tell you how “good” your number is or what room you might get. There are just too many variables. Don’t ask.
  5. Do not get caught up in finding the “perfect” room—the one on the fourth floor with sunset views of the Adirondacks. It’s not about the real estate; it’s about the people.
  6. If it should happen that you do not get a block or house together with your friends, the campus is not that big. You will still be near them.
  7. Having a plan before Block Draw is essential and can help you avoid the stress.
  8. There is no such thing as putting down too many applications for room choices, but every year there are some students who enter too few and then wonder why they didn’t get an assignment in that draw.
  9. Don’t rely on your friends to know all the answers. Take some time to get to know the system and your options. Keep reading the Room Draw website—and then read it again. And do the practice session! It really does help.
  10. Rather than hope you did something the correct way, double-check. Karin Hall-Kolts, residential systems coordinator, is one of the most helpful people on campus and is happy to help.

What I hope you take away from this brief post is that Room Draw is just a process. It does not need to be overly stressful. Through a bit of advance planning and talking with your friends, it is even possible that it can be fun!

Shameless Plug:

Residential Life continually makes strides to improve and streamline the Room Draw processes and our communications. To support those efforts, the College has created a new Residential Life Committee as a part of the Community Council. This group will host open meetings about campus housing so that we can get your input on how things are going. Keep an eye out for meeting times later this fall. And, if you can’t make it to a meeting,
e-mail your ideas to me at reslife@middlebury.edu.

—Doug Adams



Engaging with Middlebury

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Our guest blogger today is Charles Arnowitz ’13, who I have the pleasure of working with in his role as the president of the SGA. —Shirley M. Collado

As Student Government Association president this year, I’ve dealt with campus issues that run the gamut—from student programming to funding to college governance to communications to the most mundane elements of student life. Across these diverse issue areas, I’ve found that one theme predominates: the need for student engagement with Middlebury as an institution.

Our campus is full of potential leaders and creative thinkers. I know. I’ve worked at the Admissions Office for four years and have observed for myself the new additions to the student body; moreover, I engage on a daily basis with friends and peers who rarely cease to amaze me. Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of being a student at Middlebury is how much I learn from those peers and how much my friends surprise and impress me.

Nonetheless, despite the quantity and quality of potential leaders here at Midd, our campus suffers from a lack of student engagement with institutional policy. In fairness, students are busy—we have challenging academics, usually a few extracurricular activities or a sport schedule to navigate, and social obligations as well. This is part of the lifestyle we choose when we choose Middlebury, and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

But while I know most of us are proud and grateful to spend four years here, few of us are fully satisfied with Middlebury institutionally—whether it is social life, endowment policy, academic policy, or anything in between, many students feel there are areas where Middlebury could improve.

To those students, I say: On a campus as small and as codependent as ours, engagement really matters. Pushing through the relevant institutional channels (and, occasionally, outside of those channels), individuals can have a lasting impact on College policy or student life. Our carbon neutrality initiative, Alcohol and Social Life Task Force, Middview, the new Pass-Fail option, and others are the products of student engagement with the institution. And yet, when the dean of the College announces a meeting to talk about alcohol use on campus, just 20 students show up. When the SGA has a meeting on something controversial that touches on all of our lives, only a handful of students will attend.

The administration and the Board of Trustees are not the enemy of student welfare—not only do they want student input, they often beg for it. Being busy is legitimate, but we all abdicate the right to complain when we don’t attempt to make our voices heard.

In conclusion, I encourage students to engage more actively with institutional policy by attending open meetings, providing feedback when requested, and making student viewpoints clear. We all have opinions on the issues that Old Chapel deals with. Sometimes, there will be student consensus around an issue; other times, a split will exist. But no one with power to change policy can act on our views if they don’t know they exist.

There are open SGA Senate meetings on Sundays at 7:00 p.m. and open Community Council meetings on Mondays at 4:30. The Office of the Dean of the College, Community Council, and the SGA will be pioneering a new Campus Forum event in an effort to encourage student input. We would love to hear from you.

—Charles Arnowitz ’13

Cultivating Hope, Wisdom, Compassion, and a Tree

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Nature can teach us many things. Life, death, love. And Hope, Wisdom, and Compassion. How appropriate the 14th Dalai Lama uses ‘cultivating’, the act of promoting growth, to describe his wish for the dissemination of his main tenants for the human race to strive for.

Sogyal Rinpoche, the Buddist author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, writes of trees:

Think of a tree. When you think of a tree, you tend to think of a distinctly defined object. But when you look at it more closely, you will see that it has no independent existence. When you contemplate it, you will find that it dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretch across the universe. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it all the seasons form part of the tree. As you think about the tree more and more you will discover that everything in the universe helps make the tree what it is; that it cannot be isolated from anything else and at every moment its nature is subtly changing.

A Bur Oak is planted next to the Garden of the Seasons just south of the main library, waiting to be blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Think about this tree, as it grows tall and wide, its roots spreading far across the quad joining its companions, and be reminded that like a tree, we all depend upon each other as well: we all share a subtle net of relationships. Let the small oak show our hope, our faith in growth and long life, as our grandchildren will see the large tree. And let it teach us wisdom, like the timeless ‘wise old oak’ of our childhood stories, and learn from it compassion, as no tree stands alone.

Bur Oak by the Garden of the Seasons

Being in it rather than getting through it

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Our guest blogger today is Jonathan Miller-Lane, associate professor of education studies and head of Wonnacott Commons. His post explores a challenge of trying to live “mindfully.”

If there is a reason why it is worth coming together at a residential liberal arts college in the Champlain Valley of Vermont, rather than, say, staying home and taking all your courses online, it might have something to do with the intellectual community that is made possible when we come together to learn, listen, talk, and share meals. However, at this time of year, in the heart of fall semester midterms, it is so easy to slip into the “Just let me get through this midterm / this day / this week and I’ll be fine” mind-set. Line ’em up, knock ’em down. Two weeks to break. Then one month, and Thanksgiving; two weeks, then winter break. Line ’em up, knock ’em down. We come all this distance, spend all this money, spend huge amounts of human energy to prepare and maintain an extraordinary physical environment and organize a complex series of courses and events, so that we can all say how little time we have for each other because we are all so busy, busy, busy. Huh? Yes, we live in a fast-paced digital world. But, as an educational community, do we have nothing to say regarding how we might reflect upon, interrogate, and engage this 24/7 lithium-battery-charged life?

We sometimes seem to be overly focused on performance at the expense of valuing the power of practice. Students perform papers, exams, presentations, etc. Professors perform lectures, office hours, etc. The idea that by coming together we might be practicing something sometimes seems to get lost in our communal efforts to demonstrate normative forms of academic competency. What would things look like if we were to value practice over performance? By practice, I mean something like when we say, “Doctors practice medicine.” Generally, hopefully, the idea that doctors “practice” medicine does not mean that when doctors see their morning patients they are practicing for the big game patients in the afternoon. We do not say that doctors “perform” medicine any more than teachers “perform” teaching.

I think when we say lawyers practice the law, or doctors practice medicine, we mean that there are a set of principles, a body of knowledge, prior experiences, and other elements that an individual brings to bear when addressing any individual case. Each moment is a moment when all these elements come together uniquely. Practice seems to emphasize engagement with another. Practice suggests a sense of reciprocity—there is listening involved. Performance, on the other hand, seems to emphasize presentation for another—listening is done primarily by the receiver.

Maybe, one reason we are too busy for each other is because we see no need for reciprocity. I mean, really, who has time for that? I have my normative academic performance in five minutes, tomorrow, next week. I have no time to be in this thing here, because I have to get ready for that next performance over there…

If the value of coming together lies in the potential that our communal engagement offers, can we imagine embodying practice? Would we allow ourselves greater intellectual risk-taking as a result? Is there a Way of being a student or a professor that is different from the mere performance of those roles? 

Footnote: The title for this reflection was, like practically every other good thing in my life, my wife Karen’s idea.

Factoring-in Race

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

On October 10, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether the University of Texas exceeded its right to consider race and ethnicity in its admissions decisions (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin).  Institutions of higher education flooded the Supreme Court with amici curiae briefs supporting the University of Texas. Middlebury joined with other liberal arts colleges in filing a brief because the court’s decision could have significant ramifications for higher education.

Many—and as time goes on, more and more—consider it imperative to create diverse campus communities using as many facets as possible (race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, religion, worldview, country of origin, gender identity, and so on), so that our students can engage others who reflect the real world, and so experience the global environment they will live in for the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, as our brief notes (see pages 27-30), researchers have demonstrated that diversity improves learning outcomes, resulting in significant gains in educational attainment for both white students and students of color; it also leads to curricular and pedagogical innovations. Achieving wide-ranging diversity on campus requires us to look at, among many things, race and ethnicity. Not only must we admit students who can excel academically but also who, taken as a group, will make our community well rounded.

The Supreme Court affirmed in 2003 that colleges may use race and ethnicity in a limited way to ensure diversity on their campuses. Because Texas University, as a public Texas institution, must admit any applicant who graduates in the top 10 percent of his/her high school class, and because many Texas high schools are composed of large populations of various ethnic groups, the university can achieve racial diversity almost automatically.

The attorneys for Abigail Fisher, the student who filed the complaint, contend that race should not be considered for students who fall below the top 10 percent because the university already has a means to achieve racial diversity.

The court may decide to rule narrowly about this question—just focusing on Texas and the 10 percent policy. Or, as some fear, it could decide the issue more broadly and overturn its 2003 decision.

At Middlebury, we feel very strongly that our extraordinary liberal arts education is anchored in having the rich diversity we have on our campus. October 10 will be the beginning of a national discussion about this topic, and I encourage you to pay attention.

This issue is not without complexity, and both sides have honest and sincere reasons for their positions. You can read more about this in an article in Inside Higher Ed, which contains numerous links to other documents and articles. It’s a subject that is highly relevant to all of us, and I welcome hearing your views.

—Shirley M. Collado






Meet the Class of 2016

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Recently, I had the pleasure of welcoming the Class of 2016 to Middlebury. They are now full-fledged members of our wonderfully vibrant community.  For some of them, it may seem like a long way from home and a stark contrast to all that is familiar. But I believe they will find their time here to be both challenging and rewarding.

When I first came to the College in 2006, I felt instantly at home. One wouldn’t think that a Dominican woman from Brooklyn, New York, would find in rural Vermont what I found here—an inviting and supportive community that demands the best from us. I want every student to feel as much a part of this community as I do.

I’d like to introduce the newest class: Chosen from an applicant pool of more than 8,000, it represents 44 states, D.C., and 50 countries. Five percent of its members didn’t have to travel too far from home because they are already Vermonters, and 12 percent are first in their families to attend college. Out of approximately 690 students, 72 are internationals and 142 are U.S. students of color.

But the numbers only tell part of the story.

They don’t show the diversity that comes from all of the layers that make up who we are as individuals and what we bring to the table collectively. So here are some other facets of the class: Among them are—

  • out-of-the-box thinkers
  • musicians
  • a bee-keeper
  • a unicyclist
  • spoken word poets
  • artists
  • photographers
  • a maple sugar maker
  • adventurers
  • a budding meteorologist
  • environmental advocates
  • multisport athletes
  • a Guinness World Record setter for kayaking
  • scientific researchers
  • polyglots
  • young entrepreneurs
  • activists

Middlebury has a long-standing tradition of attracting all kinds of students and of supporting and fostering student leadership in community service, creativity and innovation, activism, excellence in athletics and academics, spiritual and religious engagement, and encouraging personal and social responsibility. The Class of 2016 is now part of this rich legacy. And the unique voices they bring will add depth and texture to our community.

Please join me in welcoming them to campus and helping them feel at home. I look forward to seeing you and engaging with you over the course of the year. I want everyone to bring their energy, ideas, and life experiences to make us shift and change and create more learning opportunities for all.

My office, the Office of the Dean of Students, and your Commons offices are always open to support you and to hear about your ideas, achievements, and proud moments, as well as your challenges.

—Shirley M. Collado