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Seeking Fresh Voices, Ideas, and Task Masters

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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.

 

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

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tibetan Peace Flag-Making at Middlebury College Library, Oct. 1-14

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

 

Students and the whole Middlebury community are invited to the Davis Family Library to make Tibetan Peace Flags that will decorate the building for the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This is a chance to share your message of peace, thanksgiving and good will with the Dalai Lama and our whole community. Come and write your wishes, thoughts and prayers, or express your feelings by drawing or decorating your flag.

Tables with flag-making supplies will be set up in the library lobby from Oct. 1-14.  Flags will be on display in the library throughout October.