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Town & Gown

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

middlebury working togetherThe town and the college of Middlebury share more than a name. They share a history and a living arrangement that is, in the words of President Liebowitz, inextricably linked. We spoke to him about the current state of this town-gown relationship.

I’ve heard you say several times that “a strong town makes for a strong College, and a strong College makes for a strong town…”
It’s absolutely true. In a small, rural community such as ours, the connection between town and gown is far more intertwined than it would be in a metropolitan center or a suburban environment. When you factor in our history, the attachment becomes deeper. Middlebury College was founded not by an individual, but by a group of people—Gamaliel Painter, Seth Storrs, Samuel Miller, Daniel Chipman—leaders in the community who had a vision of the town of Middlebury as a cultural center in western Vermont. The establishment of the College was a huge part of this vision. Just look at the first line of David Stameshkin’s two-volume history of Middlebury: “In the beginning, it was the town’s college.” We’re not named for Painter or Storrs. We’re named for the town itself.

OK, let’s jump forward a century or two. How has this relationship evolved?
First, it’s important to establish the fact that students have been engaged with the community for the entirety of those two centuries that we just jumped over. When students choose a college like Middlebury, they are making a conscious decision about the environment they’ll be living in for the next four years. When you come to rural Vermont, when you come to Middlebury, you are joining a local community as well as a college. Since the College’s founding, students have been actively engaged in the community, in the life of the town, in the lives of its people. They volunteer in the community. They tutor in the schools. They coach and mentor sports teams. They devise programs that fill community needs. They even run for public office.

What has evolved dramatically is the College itself, and its relationship to the town, and this has had both positive and challenging consequences. As the College has grown in size and in stature, we’ve been able to offer more to Middlebury and Addison County. Technologically adroit students are taking projects that they have started in classrooms and in learning environments like our Programs on Creativity and Innovation in the Liberal Arts and are applying them in the community. Just last month came the story of two recent graduates, Nate Beatty ’13.5 and Shane Scranton ’13, who founded a company here in Middlebury that uses three-dimensional architectural modeling and virtual-reality hardware and software to help architects—and their clients—better envision space during the design phase of building projects.

A company like this isn’t happening by accident. These young alums—and others like them—are working out of a local technology incubator, the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET), of which the College is a partner. VCET has two locations, one in Burlington and one here in Middlebury. The opportunity for students or recent graduates to incubate their projects locally is just one part of what I believe is an increasingly fertile environment for an entrepreneurial ecosystem that benefits both the town and the College.

Think of it this way: a student comes to Middlebury and studies in our liberal arts curriculum intensely; she engages in an experiential-learning opportunity like the Solar Decathlon; she takes a MiddCORE course in which she is mentored by alumni, Middlebury parents, or local townspeople, and acquires valuable skills; she enrolls in the student-taught Middlebury Entrepreneurs course and develops a proposal for a nonprofit or writes a business plan, which she then pitches to investors; and then, finally, she incubates her project at VCET. All of these parts of a Middlebury experience are conspiring to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that enriches both the town and the College.

Taking this notion a step further, two years ago the College partnered with the town to create the Middlebury Office of Business Development and Innovation, staffed by a director whose job is to develop new enterprises and grow existing businesses, leveraging the assets of the town and the community. It’s exciting to imagine alumni bringing their ideas and businesses back to Middlebury, which would help the local economy and provide more opportunities for students—it would also make the town an even more appealing place to live and work and innovate.

This sounds great, but you also mentioned there are challenges to the town-gown relationship as the College has grown…
It’s complicated. Middlebury is a quintessential Vermont village and the shire town of Addison County, an area rich in natural beauty and agricultural resources. Yet nearly 10 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and the median household income is well below what it costs to attend the College for one year.

Two hundred and fourteen years after the College’s founding, we don’t look as much like the community as we did two centuries ago. With our $1 billion endowment and students from all over the country and the world—we have twice as many international students as students from Vermont—we have greatly diverged from the town in many ways, which obviously sets the stage for potential conflicts.

For me, it’s important to contextualize any criticisms aimed at the College from the town and to understand that despite our differences, we are as entwined as ever, and that it’s incumbent upon us to work together.

I know that there are some who would wish that the College would just retreat to its position on the hill and stay out of the town’s affairs, but there are far more who appreciate what we bring to the community—financially, culturally, and intellectually. We are and should be partners.

These criticisms that you speak of were evident during the recent debate over a town-college real-estate deal…
Right. For those who don’t know, Middlebury residents recently voted to approve a plan in which the town and the College will swap land holdings, and the College will help the town build a new municipal building and recreation facility. The College will acquire the land where the town buildings currently sit, raze the structures, and create a public park in this space. In turn, the town will acquire College land adjacent to the Ilsley Public Library, the College building (Osborne House) currently located there will be moved, and new town offices will be constructed in its place. Further, a new recreation facility will be built on Creek Road off Route 7 south, adjacent to town playing fields. The total cost of the project is estimated at $7.5 million, $5.5 million of which will be contributed by the College.

Some residents opposed this plan, and the vote was close—915 for and 798 against.  People have very strong opinions. They are passionate about the town, and honestly, I see this as a sign of a strong, confident community, whether these sentiments are in line with the College’s position or not.

When members of the Middlebury Select Board came to the College with this proposal, I wanted to ensure that we were thinking about ongoing initiatives that would benefit the entire town and not just this one particular proposal (for the new municipal building). That’s why we reached an independent agreement in which the College would acquire (from a private entity) and transfer to the town the vacant property on Main Street located along Printer’s Alley next to the National Bank of Middlebury; this property will subsequently be razed, creating a beautiful open space on Main Street leading to the Marble Works complex. And that’s why we gifted to the town 1.4 acres of riverfront land behind the Ilsley Library. Again, a strong town makes for a strong College, and I believe all these moves will strengthen the town,

These ideas and plans have not occurred in a vacuum. I see these as examples of the College and the town collaborating in a wonderful, innovative way to reimagine what this town can be. In 2007, we formed a partnership with a cultural icon, the Town Hall Theater, pledging $1 million to complete its renovation, while establishing programmatic ties that serve both the community and our students. In 2010, we partnered with the town to fund the new bridge spanning Otter Creek. And soon, one may be able to walk from a new park serving as the gateway to the College, up Main Street past the new bridge and a new, energy-efficient town office building, toward the opening to the Marble Works, with the Town Hall Theater just down the street.

We’re very fortunate to be in a position to expand and strengthen a relationship that has already spanned more than two centuries. Our futures—the College’s and the town’s—are inextricably linked. And I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.

Amid the Chaos

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

42-50841050When a string of deadly attacks on Coptic Christian churches in Egypt made international news late last summer and into the early fall, there seemed to be as much confusion over who Coptic Christians were as there was over what was happening on the Egyptian streets. Bob Simon, a correspondent for the CBS News program 60 Minutes articulated as much when he opened a December segment titled “The Copts” with this sentence: “Think of Egypt and the first thing that comes to mind is not Christianity.”

Yet as Simon would explain, Coptic Christians are one of the world’s oldest Christian communities—and the largest Christian group and largest religious minority in the Middle East, with eight-and-a-half million members representing about 10 percent of the Egyptian population.

Febe Armanios, an associate professor of history at Middlebury, was born in Cairo, and though she emigrated to the United States with her family when she was 10 years old, she has made regular visits to her native country and was raised in the Coptic Church. Armanios, the author of Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt, accompanied Simon and a 60 Minutes production crew to the Middle East when they began initial reporting in early 2013.

About a year after this trip, I visited Armanios in her book-lined office in Middlebury’s Axinn Center. The original purpose of the 60 Minutes segment, she said, was to shed light on the Copts. Two years had passed since the Egyptian revolution, and the minority group was engaged in an increasingly tense relationship with the government of Muhamed Morsi. Yet very little was known about them around the world. As she told Simon in the broadcast, there isn’t a lot of awareness of Egypt’s role in the Christian story. “It’s a forgotten community, as many people have called it.”

For the next 45 minutes, Armanios gave me a brief primer on Coptic Christians. Native Christians of Egypt, the Copts split from Chalcedonian Christianity with other Orthodox churches (Armenians, Syrians, Ethiopians) in 451 AD. Copts have always taken great pride in how deep-rooted Christianity is in Egypt—the first Christian monastery was established there, and one of the sites the 60 Minutes crew visited was an underground chapel where it is believed the Holy Family sought refuge after fleeing King Herod.

Christianity was the religion of the majority in Egypt until about the mid-10th century, but since that time the Copts have experienced a complicated coexistence with the Muslim majority and even with other Christians. Fiercely protective of their identity and loyal to their land and to their ancient form of Christianity, the Copts became largely isolationist, from the 15th century onward. They were suspicious of outsiders, specifically Catholic missionaries in the late 1600s and American missionaries two hundred years later. Internally, they were able to practice their religion, but their position in society ebbed and flowed over the centuries. Until the early 1880s, Copts (like all other non-Muslims) were forced to pay a special “protection” tax and were mostly precluded from holding positions of power. Subsequent reforms would eliminate the tax and would allow Copts to become more integrated into Egyptian society, a movement that coalesced when all Egyptians—Muslims and Christians—opposed British rule early in the 20th century.

When the modern Republic of Egypt was established after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the Copts in Egypt returned to a tenuous coexistence with the Muslim majority. Armanios said that during the last 50 years, one can identify waves of Coptic emigration—in the early 1960s, in the late ’70s, and then a steady stream during the past 30 years under the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Though Mubarak’s regime professed secularism, an easy way to direct attention away from other issues— like, say, a struggling economy—was to blame Copts.

Watch: “The Coptic Christians of Egypt” on 60 Minutes

“But the last three years have been a game changer,” Armanios said.

As in the other Egyptian revolutionary movements of 1919 and 1952, Copts joined with the Muslim majority to form a united nationalist front in the revolution of 2011, though the Coptic Pope initially urged his followers to refrain from actively protesting for fear of being made scapegoats. Yet after the Morsi government was established, violence against Copts grew. Tensions were rising. Shortly after the 60 Minutes crew first filmed in Egypt, unidentified extremists attacked the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, an event the Morsi government failed to condemn. And then on July 3, the Egyptian military announced it had removed Morsi from power. Standing beside General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as he announced the change in leadership were other Muslim leaders—and the Coptic Pope.

“It was the first time a Coptic Pope had addressed Egyptians at an explicitly political forum,” said Armanios. “And it was on live television.”

A visible fury ensued across Egypt. “Some people think of Christians as having a secondary status, so they became an easy target,” Armanios said. Angry mobs burned homes, shops, and churches. The Copts were being blamed for conspiring to overthrow Morsi. Then, in August, after Egyptian police and military cleared two Muslim Brotherhood camps, killing close to 1,000 people, the retaliation against Copts was fierce. More than 40 churches were destroyed in just a couple of days. 60 Minutes returned to Egypt for more reporting—this time without Armanios—as the story they had started eight months earlier had taken a dramatic turn.

Sitting in Armanios’s office in early 2014, with violence against Copts still a weekly occurrence, I asked her if this was the greatest persecution Coptic Christians had faced in their 1,600 years of existence.

“That question might be moot,” she replied. “The violence is real.” Whether it’s worse or not as bad as at other times in history may not be the point, she said. She talked about the burgeoning alliance between Copts and other Egyptians and wondered if this could lead to a more pluralistic and democratic country in the years ahead. “Maybe,” she said. “But it is to be determined.”

Amid the Chaos

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

42-50841050When a string of deadly attacks on Coptic Christian churches in Egypt made international news late last summer and into the early fall, there seemed to be as much confusion over who Coptic Christians were as there was over what was happening on the Egyptian streets. Bob Simon, a correspondent for the CBS News program 60 Minutes articulated as much when he opened a December segment titled “The Copts” with this sentence: “Think of Egypt and the first thing that comes to mind is not Christianity.”

Yet as Simon would explain, Coptic Christians are one of the world’s oldest Christian communities—and the largest Christian group and largest religious minority in the Middle East, with eight-and-a-half million members representing about 10 percent of the Egyptian population.

Febe Armanios, an associate professor of history at Middlebury, was born in Cairo, and though she emigrated to the United States with her family when she was 10 years old, she has made regular visits to her native country and was raised in the Coptic Church. Armanios, the author of Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt, accompanied Simon and a 60 Minutes production crew to the Middle East when they began initial reporting in early 2013.

About a year after this trip, I visited Armanios in her book-lined office in Middlebury’s Axinn Center. The original purpose of the 60 Minutes segment, she said, was to shed light on the Copts. Two years had passed since the Egyptian revolution, and the minority group was engaged in an increasingly tense relationship with the government of Muhamed Morsi. Yet very little was known about them around the world. As she told Simon in the broadcast, there isn’t a lot of awareness of Egypt’s role in the Christian story. “It’s a forgotten community, as many people have called it.”

For the next 45 minutes, Armanios gave me a brief primer on Coptic Christians. Native Christians of Egypt, the Copts split from Chalcedonian Christianity with other Orthodox churches (Armenians, Syrians, Ethiopians) in 451 AD. Copts have always taken great pride in how deep-rooted Christianity is in Egypt—the first Christian monastery was established there, and one of the sites the 60 Minutes crew visited was an underground chapel where it is believed the Holy Family sought refuge after fleeing King Herod.

Christianity was the religion of the majority in Egypt until about the mid-10th century, but since that time the Copts have experienced a complicated coexistence with the Muslim majority and even with other Christians. Fiercely protective of their identity and loyal to their land and to their ancient form of Christianity, the Copts became largely isolationist, from the 15th century onward. They were suspicious of outsiders, specifically Catholic missionaries in the late 1600s and American missionaries two hundred years later. Internally, they were able to practice their religion, but their position in society ebbed and flowed over the centuries. Until the early 1880s, Copts (like all other non-Muslims) were forced to pay a special “protection” tax and were mostly precluded from holding positions of power. Subsequent reforms would eliminate the tax and would allow Copts to become more integrated into Egyptian society, a movement that coalesced when all Egyptians—Muslims and Christians—opposed British rule early in the 20th century.

When the modern Republic of Egypt was established after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the Copts in Egypt returned to a tenuous coexistence with the Muslim majority. Armanios said that during the last 50 years, one can identify waves of Coptic emigration—in the early 1960s, in the late ’70s, and then a steady stream during the past 30 years under the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Though Mubarak’s regime professed secularism, an easy way to direct attention away from other issues— like, say, a struggling economy—was to blame Copts.

Watch: “The Coptic Christians of Egypt” on 60 Minutes

“But the last three years have been a game changer,” Armanios said.

As in the other Egyptian revolutionary movements of 1919 and 1952, Copts joined with the Muslim majority to form a united nationalist front in the revolution of 2011, though the Coptic Pope initially urged his followers to refrain from actively protesting for fear of being made scapegoats. Yet after the Morsi government was established, violence against Copts grew. Tensions were rising. Shortly after the 60 Minutes crew first filmed in Egypt, unidentified extremists attacked the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, an event the Morsi government failed to condemn. And then on July 3, the Egyptian military announced it had removed Morsi from power. Standing beside General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as he announced the change in leadership were other Muslim leaders—and the Coptic Pope.

“It was the first time a Coptic Pope had addressed Egyptians at an explicitly political forum,” said Armanios. “And it was on live television.”

A visible fury ensued across Egypt. “Some people think of Christians as having a secondary status, so they became an easy target,” Armanios said. Angry mobs burned homes, shops, and churches. The Copts were being blamed for conspiring to overthrow Morsi. Then, in August, after Egyptian police and military cleared two Muslim Brotherhood camps, killing close to 1,000 people, the retaliation against Copts was fierce. More than 40 churches were destroyed in just a couple of days. 60 Minutes returned to Egypt for more reporting—this time without Armanios—as the story they had started eight months earlier had taken a dramatic turn.

Sitting in Armanios’s office in early 2014, with violence against Copts still a weekly occurrence, I asked her if this was the greatest persecution Coptic Christians had faced in their 1,600 years of existence.

“That question might be moot,” she replied. “The violence is real.” Whether it’s worse or not as bad as at other times in history may not be the point, she said. She talked about the burgeoning alliance between Copts and other Egyptians and wondered if this could lead to a more pluralistic and democratic country in the years ahead. “Maybe,” she said. “But it is to be determined.”

The Wolf Hound

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

coen-1

Sixteen years ago, Joel Cohen ’84 took down a now-infamous con man. And he doesn’t want you to forget what a heinous guy Jordan Belfort truly is.

 

In 1997, when Joel Cohen ’84 was an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, he took over his office’s investigation of Jordan Belfort, the memoir-writing fraudster who made tens of millions of dollars peddling penny stocks. An FBI special agent named Gregory Coleman had been pursuing Belfort’s firm, Stratton Oakmont, since 1992 with a series of prosecutors, but he still lacked the evidence necessary for an indictment. One day, Coleman arrived in Cohen’s office and unrolled a 14-foot-long scroll on a table. Coleman had scribbled names, places, dates, and numbers across the paper in colored markers, tracing the outlines of Belfort’s criminal enterprise.

“I remember looking at it and thinking, ‘What can I do with this?’” Cohen said recently. Then he noticed a few scrawls suggesting that Belfort and his partner, Danny Porush, were laundering their money in Switzerland. Cohen decided that was the lead to follow. “We should try to lop off the head of this organization instead of the feet,” he recalled thinking.

The linchpin for the Swiss strategy turned out to be a tattoo-covered drug dealer named Todd Garrett. Coleman had already started investigating Garrett and his wife, Carolyn—a housewife who  was investing hundreds of thousands of dollars through an account with Stratton Oakmont. She was making a lot of money. She happened to be a Swiss citizen. Coleman had also heard that Todd Garrett was dealing drugs, specifically Quaaludes, to Belfort and other Strattonites. Coleman then received another useful clue. In 1995, a security guard at a mall in Queens had called the NYPD to report a suspicious meeting. A Bentley had pulled up to a black limousine. Two men got out and started arguing, then one passed the other a black suitcase. When the police arrived, they found Garrett in the limo with the suitcase, full of cash, and a gun. They arrested him for illegal firearm possession and seized the cash, figuring they had busted a drug deal. But maybe it had been something else.

Coleman and Cohen subpoenaed security-camera footage from the mall and got a grainy rendering of the meet-up. “We knew Danny Porush was driving a Bentley, and we figured it was a cash drop,” Cohen said. They continued to investigate Garrett’s wife and obtained travel manifests showing that she was making frequent trips to Switzerland. The facts suggested that she and Garrett were Belfort’s cash mules. The trick would be getting Garrett to talk.

“He wouldn’t flip,” Cohen said. “We knew his wife was involved; we threatened to indict his wife, and he didn’t care. He was a Hells Angel, a black belt in karate. Even with a lawyer and an FBI agent sitting next to you, you think, ‘This guy is going to rip my head off!’”

Cohen discovered that they had a trump card. As tough as Garrett looked and acted, he had a weak heart. Some years before, he had contracted a rare virus in Brazil. Now he needed a heart transplant. He was on the transplant waiting list. Cohen did some research and learned that federal prison inmates are not given new hearts. He knew he could indict Garrett for drug dealing—he already had a former Stratton broker who said he had bought Quaaludes from Garrett.

“We told him, ‘If you don’t cooperate and we indict you and you end up going to jail, you won’t get a new heart, and you’ll die,’” Cohen told me. “‘I’m just telling you the way it is. You want a new heart? Do the right thing, talk to us, and you get a new heart.’”

Garrett cooperated.

One of Belfort’s Swiss bankers also cooperated, and the Swiss authorities then came through with some crucial documents. On the Tuesday before the Labor Day weekend of 1998, less than two years after Cohen joined the investigation, FBI agents arrested Jordan Belfort in his mansion on Long Island.

Civility, Please

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

tolerance finalOn the afternoon of September 11, 2013, a Middlebury student and four acquaintances, who are not enrolled at the College, removed 2,977 American flags that had been placed in the lawn in front of Mead Chapel by members of a pair of student groups—the Middlebury College Republicans and Middlebury College Democrats.

The flags were set as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the 9/11 terror attacks, and the act of vandalism left many in the community shocked, angry, hurt, and confused. The student who helped uproot the flags said she found the display offensive to Native Americans and believed the area on which they had been placed had once been an Abenaki burial ground (a claim a local Abenaki chief disputed).

In the days that followed, media attention—mainstream and social—prompted an outpouring of commentary, which included threats and vitriol directed at individuals and the College itself.

In the wake of these events, we sat down with President Liebowitz to talk about civility, responsible discourse, and community standards.

In your e-mail to the community after the incident on campus you made a specific point of stating that as an academic community it’s incumbent upon us to encounter difficult issues, but that doesn’t mean that civility goes out the window when you do so, which is what happened.  
Right. We cherish freedom of speech, but it can’t be at the expense of silencing others. And in this case, we had people who felt very strongly about something, and whether or not we agree with it, it’s their right to voice it. But they can’t voice it by silencing others, by being destructive, and that’s what they did when they forcefully removed the flags.

Civility is a must. We’re an academic institution, and so we don’t only teach facts. We also teach how to argue, how to debate, how to engage, how to learn. And being civil is a key part of doing all of these things.

It seems that when the degree of passion rises, civility starts to slip. Not always, but often.
I think the larger political environment is really in some ways the genesis or the driver of what you’re talking about. If we become less civil on this campus, it’s a reflection of, or it’s an inability to stay removed from, the vitriol that one sees in current national politics.

I mean, I don’t remember this ever—I’ve been a political junkie for a long time, and I can’t recall this level of vitriol. I believe in some ways that models behavior for some individuals, and it only takes one person at one point in time to create this feeling.

There’s a paradox here too, and that is the fact that within this community, we’re overly polite towards one another most times. We’ll have less rigorous and vigorous debate and discussion than one might find, say, if they were in Morningside Heights or in Cambridge. So things can get bottled up, and then when emotions do boil over, people don’t always know how to disagree.
So it’s a combination of things, but I think the bigger issue for us is that Middlebury in some ways is a reflection of a larger political environment that isn’t always pretty.

One of the things that happened in response to this was a flood of vitriolic commentary. Not to excuse the original act, but at the same time, nothing warrants threats against one’s life.
No, it’s terrible. I myself received hundreds of e-mails, literally hundreds of e-mails, and some of them were beyond imagination in terms of the anger, the vitriol, the hatred. The Campus editors told me they got these commentaries in comments on their blog as well. I think many of those writing were not a part of this community, but some of them were.

But let’s not forget what was done here and on what day. September 11 is still an emotional and significant event, and the impact of that day was felt—and continues to be felt—by many, many Americans. People were angry about the disrespect shown for the nearly 3,000 who perished in the attack, but the deep emotions extend far beyond that.They extend to all those who, on the account of that terrorist attack, went to two wars, many of them killed or injured. Their families, no doubt, would view what happened on our campus as unacceptable—not to mention the legal, but highly provocative desecration of the American flag. So the anger and harsh response, while itself very unfortunate, reflects the deep feelings held by so many. There are obviously other ways a protest can be done.

But I do think the tenor of the reaction is also linked to this polarizing political climate. Instead of debate, we mostly see and hear only the extreme views on both ends of the ideological spectrum.
When Bill O’Reilly talked about this incident on his show, The O’Reilly Factor, it was a terrible display of reporting. It was irresponsible and unnecessarily fueled the anger. The show’s producers obviously didn’t check facts with anyone familiar with what actually happened.

After the segment was over, I went upstairs and stopped at my computer. In the three minutes that it took me to close up downstairs and come upstairs, I had already received 18 e-mails, 18 e-mails from people who had watched The O’Reilly Factor, e-mails from Abilene, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; Chicago, Illinois—writing threatening comments that were largely uninformed. They took verbatim what they heard on the show from “reporter” Adam Carolla and from Bill O’Reilly. And it continued for several days.

Wow.
And to answer your question, no, I don’t think such a response was warranted. Though again, I understand the anger and disgust at what happened. Certainly it’s disappointing to see any of them come from Middlebury students, but I would say the overwhelming majority came from outside the College.

But even the ones from Middlebury students point to something that you’ve talked about—close the laptop and go talk to somebody.
Right.

And don’t rely on a comment section or Twitter or—
Anonymous comments, anonymous comments.

Anonymous is even worse. But even when comments are attributable, go talk to someone. Why do you think folks are more likely to respond to a comment section than walk down the hall and talk to someone?
I think it’s just a reflection of how technology has made it so easy for people to comment.  It’s far easier to do something in a faceless way because you don’t have to face the response. Angelique Kidjo, in her Fulton lecture, made this point very, very strongly.  She told the students: “You must face the person with whom you have a disagreement.  In the end, you might not ever speak to that person again, but you can’t end a relationship—you can’t say, ‘I’m not going to speak to my friend for 10 years’ and not speak to them, you’ve got to talk it out.”

This message is a tough one for this generation, because this generation relies so much on, and has really grown up with, social media as the major source for interpersonal communication. So it’s a real challenge.

There were opportunities for students to talk about the flag issue at a series of forums with faculty members. But they were poorly attended, with the exception of maybe one.
I think two.

One or two.
There were, I believe, at least six sessions, and  the best-attended one had maybe 12 students, which is a nice size for such a discussion, but yes, overall attendance was less than what we thought it would be.

In the days after, I went up to Proctor, and I sat down at a table with students and tried to figure out why that was the case—why an incident that created angry debate did not lead to large gatherings to discuss it with faculty. I think by the time the open sessions rolled around—which didn’t take place until the following week for a whole host of reasons—people were formulating their own ideas, they were having so many discussions about this in the dining halls, in their dorms, in their classes,  that they were unsure about what the open sessions would be like. Or maybe it was our students’ already full schedules.

And there’s an interesting twist that students are talking about, which is to say, “What do you think President Liebowitz, what do you think the ultimate harm to the community has been as a result of this?” I pushed them to explain what they meant. At first I was thinking they were concerned that Middlebury’s reputation had been dragged through the mud. But no, they didn’t mean that at all.

What those in Proctor meant seemed to be much more nuanced. They said, “If, in the future, this act serves to silence people who want to speak out and have honest debate, it will have hurt us terribly.” And this was coming from people who largely disagreed, some passionately so, with the act this student committed. Students feared it would further shut down future conversations on important issues.

The strength of this institution is the ability to engage in debate and hear other people’s views and learn from them. And if this incident leads to even a subtle silencing of people to speak out and question the status quo or the prevailing thought, and question even the institution’s perspective on any and all issues, we will have really hurt the College and our students. They need to hear different viewpoints—we all do.  This incident cannot diminish people’s willingness to engage in difficult topics. If it does, then the College will have become a lesser environment for learning.

Some Kind of Place: Auschwitz, Poland

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Auschwitz-photo
There are few place names on the planet that are associated with the heightened level of grotesque depravity as Auschwitz.

Carved out of the quiet Polish village of Oświęcim by Nazi invaders in 1939, Auschwitz was conceived as being a major implement of Heinrich Himmler’s system of forced labor through oppression, a concentration camp that would support the Nazi war effort and, with victory achieved, would serve as one of the greater cities in the Reich. Or so the Nazis believed.

History has recorded a different story, a deranged nightmare of starvation and mass execution. A history populated with gas chambers and crematoriums. A forced labor camp that became a center for extermination.

For the past six years, geographer Anne Knowles has lived with Auschwitz—not in the physical place, but with it, with its conception and its construction and the chaos and instability that belie the common perception of Nazi calculation and precision.

Knowles came to Auschwitz during a two-week workshop that she helped organize at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., a fortnight that brought together nine scholars from diverse disciplines—historical geography, geographic information science (GIS), cartography, history, and architectural history—“to consider how spatial analysis and geographical visualization of the built environment and forced movement of people during the Holocaust might inspire new research questions and pedagogical applications.”

From that workshop in 2007 came a grant from the National Science Foundation that funded six projects (pairing at least one historian with one geographer) that would examine the operational scale of the Holocaust; those six projects became six book chapters in the forthcoming Geographies of the Holocaust.

Though the Holocaust exists as one of the most profoundly devastating geographical events in human history, before these projects, few scholars had ever identified and investigated the spaces and geographical patterns of the genocide. No one had used GIS to do spatial analysis of these events, and, says Knowles, likely never would have if such a disparate group of academics hadn’t come together and forged a multi-faceted collaboration. “It was this frisson,” claims Knowles, “people coming together from different perspectives and different fields and then rubbing up against one another, that set off the sparks of discovery.”

This story presents some of the findings contained in a chapter titled “Visualizing the Archive: Building at Auschwitz as a Geographic Problem,” co-authored by Knowles; Paul Jaskot, an architectural historian at DePaul University; and Chester Harvey ’09 and Benjamin Perry Blackshear ’12.

Auschwitz, says Knowles, was supposed to become one of the greater cities in the Reich. A city was planned that would feature an entrance pavilion and a garden city. A grand headquarters for the commandant was drawn, as were estates for officers. In the idealized designs of architect Lothar Hartjenstein, Auschwitz was to become a “complex urban world supporting the control over a vast, greater Germany.”

But, Knowles says, these 1942 plans were displaced by more pragmatic demands in 1943. “What were built instead were more barracks to house many more guards, who were needed to control hundreds of thousands of prisoners scheduled to arrive from the Jewish ghetto in Budapest.”

Auschwitz-PlansHarvey and Blackshear used architectural drawings and plans and construction records to create the map at right. In green, you see structures that were included in the original plans for Auschwitz and subsequently built. In purple are the buildings that were not included in the original plan, but built out of necessity, including new guard barracks in the lower center of the map. And in orange are the areas planned by architect Lothar Hartjenstein, but never realized. In the upper left corner of the map are the plans for the commandant’s headquarters. Foundations were dug, but that is all. As the researchers note in their chapter, “the rationally planned total environment evident in the clarity of the SS’s ideal conceptualization of the complex in 1943 clashes with the messy reality of plans and buildings that were actualized in fits and starts over time.”

Or, as Knowles says, “The exigencies of war and genocide took over.”

With the erection of crematoria and the implementation of genocide, the SS entered a fevered stretch of drawing and redrawing plans that led to the construction of buildings that would “facilitate the day to day operation of the camp.” Perversely, this would include amenities intended to “entertain and distract” the guards charged with increasingly brutal and inhumane work.

The map below, reconstructed by Blackshear to indicate the dense variety of functions in one small part of the camp, shows the placement of two saunas on the east side of Auschwitz I, circa November 1943. Write the authors, “This cluster of different functions has remained invisible in the scholarship even though our color overlays make it clear that they were in fact extremely visible to the SS and inmates at the site.”

Auschwitz-BlackshearChillingly, the saunas’ design echoed the decorative carpentry of central European tradition. That is, they were not only functional, but had an aesthetic, recreational purpose as well—all within sight of the death chambers.

A primary goal of the Auschwitz research was to use GIS to help understand the role sight played in the exercise of control at the camps. “We wanted to know what the guards could see and what impact that had on the prisoners,” Knowles says. “Were there places that were more dangerous than others? Were there places where people could escape notice?”

Knowles worked with Chester Harvey to use architectural plans, archival images, and aerial photographs to recreate the site and then render three-dimensional images of the camp. “We could place a hypothetical guard in any place in the camp and show what he could see most and least clearly,” Knowles says. Harvey generated the image bellow. The dash of white near the middle of the map indicates the approximate field of view for a person of average height standing in the center of that location.

“But that did not turn out to be the most interesting question—what could a guard see?” Knowles says. “See those buildings shaded red? Those are buildings that were under construction from May 1943 to May 1944. Paul Jaskot looked at this image and asked, rather casually, ‘Could we animate this?’”

Because Harvey had compiled a database of information that included when individual buildings were constructed and what they were used for, he was able to animate just how fluid this site was. “It’s a simple thing,” Knowles says, “but in the mind of an architecture historian, it created what we call in GIS circles ‘the eureka moment.’

RedBarracks“Paul said, ‘Oh my God, look at how chaotic this was—for eight months this was a construction site,’” Knowles recalls. “What the guards saw, changed constantly. The landscape was altered over and over and over. Think about the commotion of a construction site, and then add a swelling population of guards—and prisoners.”

Write the authors, “The scale of construction and its duration probably meant that much of the camp was visually confusing, quite a different environment than the regimented, rational, static image of the camp that has become so familiar to us.”

The Holocaust has always been an event rooted in time and place, Knowles says. “We’re trying to see what that looks like and then analyze the relationship between the two, place and time.”

Mapping, she says, “shows us what [the Nazis] built and did; it shows what their priorities were, rather than what they talked about. It sends a chill down the spine.”

Also, she adds, “In my mind, it highlights the absurdity of Nazi dreams.”

Some Kind of Place: Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Grovers
I’ve lived in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, three times now, each occasion as Emily Webb, the protagonist of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town.

The people who live in this fictional village are unsentimental, hard working, and full of love, though they don’t always have the tools to express it. As Wilder wrote in the preface to the 1957 collection Three Plays, Grover’s Corners is a lens in which “to find value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life.” The door is always open to visitors.

Grover’s Corners has been my benchmark to measure time and growth. I first played Emily at summer camp on Lake Champlain; it was my first big lead in a play, the role gave me the confidence to pursue my love for acting. Ten years later as a professional in a production in Baltimore, Maryland, I was made aware of the pressure of the iconic role and my own shortcomings as a developing actress. Now married, nearing 30, and revisiting the play this past summer in the acting ensemble at the Bread Loaf School of English, I found Grover’s Corners to be a new place, different from the one I knew as a teenager. It no longer felt like a physical location, but rather a fragile moment in time—our moment in time. It creates community by showing us community, and you don’t need to be from small-town New England to understand it.

Wilder wrote: “The climax of this play needs only five-square feet of boarding and the passion to know what life means to us.” What happens on those five-square feet is funny, awkward, brutal, optimistic, and forgiving. That world—Grover’s Corners—is home to me. It is a home created by the artists and the audiences who visit it. In this imagined world, I have been most fully myself. I find remnants of it in Brooklyn, exchanging smiles with a stranger, biking through the park, sharing dinner at home with my husband and friends. It’s a place that allows reflection and growth.
It can happen anywhere or anytime—as long as you leave room for hope.

Julia Proctor ’06 is an actress living in Brooklyn with her husband, Phil Aroneanu ’06. For more on Julia, visit www.juliaproctor.com.