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To Blog or Not To Blog?

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

This month marks the conclusion of my third year blogging for One Dean’s View. It seems like a good time to assess the blog’s future. Where should it go from here? I would like your opinion.

The blog has had very good readership over the last three years, with people visiting from off and on campus. But my hope that One Dean’s View would become a dynamic forum for open discussion hasn’t materialized the way I’d hoped. Over the last many months, readers have stopped commenting publically, using e-mail instead. I know of one instance where the discussion took place on a social media site.

My goal for the blog was to create a space that allows a wide variety of people to express very different ideas and to encourage a campus-wide conversation that welcomes and respects difference. Being based in the administration, I hoped it would allow us to talk about topics that might not be possible in other venues and that it might help break down barriers between the administration and student life.

The world is moving quickly, and this blog needs to evolve with it. The question is, how? It could go to sleep, reappearing only when necessary, when an important issue is at hand. It could ramp up to be more interactive, for which I would need student assistance. Or it could do something else altogether.

To inform my thinking, it would be very helpful to hear from you. What do you think about the blog? Additionally, I would like to know if there are any students with blogging, multimedia, or Web experience who would be interested in working with my office next year, to assist with the blog—with content and presentation. Please send me an e-mail if you are interested.

I’d like to thank all of the faculty, staff, and students who have written guest posts, the readers, and those who have chimed in, whether here or elsewhere, with comments.

Your opinions matter a great deal to me, and I welcome your ideas about One Dean’s View, whether you have general reactions or very specific thoughts. Please tell me what you think in the comments section. Thank you.

Cutting the Umbilical Cord to Facebook

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere


This week, my guest blogger is Leah Fessler ’15. As a Narrative Journalism Fellow and contributor to
middbeat.org and the Campus, she’s learned a thing or two about interacting face-to-face. Please join in the discussion; your comments are always welcome. —Shirley M. Collado
 

“I’m actually not on Facebook anymore.”

Not too long ago, I’d roll my eyes upon hearing this statement, instinctively dismissing the speaker: their loss. When I entered high school in 2007, Facebook was a rite of passage, a patiently awaited privilege. I undeniably associated my acceptance to “the Wellesley High School Facebook network” with maturity and social opportunity.

Six years later, I frequently receive vexed looks upon announcing I’m seven months “Facebook free.” Many deem my social media “breakup” hypocritical. Maybe it is. Nevertheless, it appears that I’ve joined a rapidly growing “trend” of college students deactiving their Facebooks.

I hesitate to label this recurrent pattern a “trend,” because I’m somewhat irked by the mindlessness it implies. But some people do believe that it’s just the “next cool thing to do.”  Many argue that students are now getting off Facebook for the same reason they got on: because everyone else is doing it. On some level, they’re right. Any social movement requires an impetus, and the “if they can do it, I can too” mentality only increases as more people hop on board. But beyond friends’ positive reviews, I, and most who have deactivated, acted with cogent reasoning.

I “logged off” because I believe interpersonal interaction on Facebook is, largely, an allusion. As social beings, we’re fundamentally motivated to be connected, whether to friends, family, crushes, exes, acquaintances, etc. It’s far too easy to feel as if we’ve sustained such connections with 10 minutes of minified scrolling, photo swiping, or wall-to-wall reading. Yet, these actions truly entail little to no thought or effort, and, at least in my experience, can be more honestly classified as “acceptable” procrastination. Intentions may be sincere, but the majority of Facebook “interactions” fuel one-sided relationships. I found myself viewing friends’ abroad albums, crushes “liked music,” or my little cousin’s high school escapades, and feeling, whether consciously or not, closer to said person, despite their utter absence from the “interaction.” So, what did I receive? Instant gratification: the root of most addictions.

I don’t mean to come off as the psycho anti-Facebook crusader, either. Facebook is useful for “checking in” with acquaintances, event planning, and news publication.

But recent studies show that, on average, Americans spend an astonishing eight hours per month on Facebook (compare to two hours on Google). I sincerely doubt the majority of these hours are spent on event planning or news literacy. Despite its guises, Facebook truly cures two ailments: boredom and laziness.

We’re all busy. But why not spend your 10-minute Facebook “break” calling a friend and actually conversing? I’ve found a few minutes of tone, inflection, and laughter (or lack thereof) communicate far more than a wall-post, photo, or even a lengthy inbox ever could. Why not grab a meal with a Midd friend, or chat for a few minutes face-to-face? We live in (overwhelmingly) close proximity. There’s really no excuse.

I’ve got no agenda to tell you how to live your life. But having experienced life “off the book” and the more genuine social interactions it’s forced me to pursue, I’d strongly suggest trying deactivation. Even a temporary break can help develop healthier communication habits. You have nothing to lose.

 

 

Did You Know?

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

On April 17-19, the students who have been admitted to the Class of 2017 and their families will be visiting Middlebury to see if our community is where they would like to spend the next four years. They will be trying to “experience Middlebury,” and I hope we can all make them feel at home.

I want to welcome all of our visitors to campus and invite them to ask any of us for help, directions, or for answers to any questions they may have—we are here to help. I also want to encourage Middlebury students to participate in those activities that offer opportunities for our guests to mingle with current students, faculty, and staff. The Preview Days schedule is available online.

The visiting students receive a Preview Days booklet, which includes among its pages a list of sample questions to ask while here, such as: Tell me about your favorite professor. What did you take for J-term? Or, what’s your favorite Middlebury tradition?

In that vein, I’d like to offer some of my favorite, slightly obscure, facts about Middlebury.

  • Our campus encompasses 350 acres—which makes it large enough to feel spacious yet small enough to walk from one end to the other in about 15 minutes.
  • According to Tim Parsons, our resident horticulturalist, one of the first signs of spring at Middlebury is when the forsythia bloom. But for me, it’s when I hear the peepers singing. Their chorus began just a few days ago! Listen in the evening and early morning.
  • Although newcomers to Vermont often feel that winters are very cold, we can take heart: Vermont is closer to the equator than it is to the North Pole.
  • While it is well known that Alexander Twilight, Class of 1823, was the first African American to graduate from a U.S. college, it is not as well known that Martin Henry Freeman, Class of 1849, was America’s first black college president. He was named president of Allegheny Institute (later Avery College) in 1856.
  • Middlebury students used to be required to attend chapel at 5:00 each morning. Today, Middlebury students are required to recycle.
  • It is believed that Middlebury students invented the game of Frisbee in 1939, when five students on a road trip were changing a tire and took time out to throw a Frisbie Co. pie tin.
  • The Panther sculpture overlooking Youngman Field rests atop a boulder weighing 63 tons. The boulder is hundreds of millions years old and was moved to campus from a Mendon quarry.
  • If you’ve ever wondered why Middlebury has a French chateau on campus: In the early 1920s, the director of the French School dreamed of having a real French chateau here, and one of his students wanted to make his dream come true. She made a large donation to the College, which helped build Le Château, modeled after the 17th-century Pavilion Henri IV at the Palace of Fontainebleau in France.
  • Drivers in Middlebury stop for pedestrians. It’s the law, and it’s also a very nice, friendly gesture. That said, one should look carefully before stepping into the street since not everyone who drives here knows about this rule.

Please chime in: What are your favorite facts about Middlebury? Or do you have a question you’d like to ask here?

 

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

Take a Deep Breath: It’s April

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As I was returning to campus from spring break, I noticed how peaceful—almost tranquil—everything appeared to be. Then I realized I was seeing the calm before the storm. April might bring slow snowmelt and soft showers, but it also brings a full-on hurricane of THINGS TO DO.

Of course, things are always busy at Middlebury. It just takes a glance at the weekly calendar to see how much there is to do here. I have heard people say that if they had enough time to participate in all the symposia, performances, meetings, and sporting events happening on campus, they still wouldn’t be able to take them all in.

But in April, it seems as if the universe of institutional activity goes through a Big Bang because everyone realizes that May is fast approaching and they must schedule their events. It’s now or never.

The last time I counted, there were more than 130 April events encompassing an almost unimaginable range—from CPR training to team Midd’s Solar Decathlon kickoff, from a talk about ocean acidification and oysters to a Russian folk concert, from a festival of new plays rewriting the story of Cinderella, to recurring annual events like the Hannah A. Quint Lectureship in Jewish Studies and the Spring Student Symposium, and to inaugural lectures by newly named faculty, award ceremonies, baseball and tennis contests, and presentations of senior work. And this is just a sampling.

April is also when the College hosts Preview Days, when newly admitted students and their families visit campus to see whether Middlebury would be a good home for the next four years.

I can’t imagine a more fecund, fruitful, and stimulating place than Middlebury in April. So, if you are looking for something new or interesting to liven up the routines in your life, take heart: Middlebury is pulling out all of the stops.

 

Studying Abroad in Le Chateau: Why I never left campus

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Today, my guest blogger is Jake Nonweiler ’14 who took time during a busy period to write about his decision to stay on campus instead of studying abroad. As always, we welcome your comments and thoughts. —Shirley M. Collado

Last semester, I decided to refuse the delicacies of the most gastronomically sophisticated country in the world and sprint every day to my 8 a.m. in BiHall with a protein bar in hand. When I abandoned my study abroad plans, I immediately realized how invaluable studying abroad would have been. It would have opened my mind to a new culture and way of life. As we hear from every TED talk, budding entrepreneur, and leadership conference, “It’s all about the journey.” What I think we fail to hear at these inspirational events, however, is that this journey is often unavoidably miserable and lackluster, which can be hard to change.

Facebook provided me with the consistently unfortunate reminder that I was living less than 100 feet away from where I lived freshman year and that at no point would I be exploring another continent’s intricacies. I felt frustrated, trapped, and embarrassed that I missed a chance to go outside of my comfort zone and explore a new culture. But regardless of my reasoning for making this seemingly erroneous choice, I realized at some point that being so negative about staying on campus was doing nothing but reinforcing my negativity.

I had seemingly forgotten that studying at one of the most well-respected liberal arts colleges in the country provided me with an endless number of opportunities apart from studying abroad. My attitude needed to change, and it needed to change sooner rather than later. So I sat down, pulled out a sheet of paper, and made an optimistic and ridiculously unachievable “burst plan” that was to be completed in no more than four days: find an internship, start a business, learn how to code websites, make 10 new friends, and reconnect with 10 people I hadn’t talked to in more than year.

I couldn’t reasonably complete every item on my list, but my simple burst plan reenergized me. I signed up for MiddCORE and had one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. I found an internship with a company that I aspire to work for after college. I started the continuous process of learning Web development and have become passionate about human-centered design. And along the way, I met people who supported me and shared my goals. Each of these events helped me better understand myself, and I discovered new passions that I now can’t imagine living without.

My point in writing about my experience is not to justify deciding not to study abroad or to discredit those who do, but to highlight the sheer power of perspective. Recognizing that at some points in life’s journey I will be exhausted, frustrated, and embarrassed helps me redefine what and whom I appreciate and value. There’s an unfortunate assumption that not studying abroad means you’re not adventurous or didn’t organize your classes correctly to do so. And while in some instances this is fair, it’s not always the case. I hope that other students who feel ambivalent about studying abroad will recognize that Middlebury’s opportunities are limited only by the desire to pursue them, whether on campus or on the other side of the world.

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.