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Reunion ’14: Tell Us One Thing

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video

We asked alumni returning to celebrate Reunion to tell us one thing they just had to see when they came back to Middlebury.

 

More “Tell Us One Thing” videos.

 

Homecoming

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Leah

For some students who study abroad, the greatest culture shock they encounter is when they return home.

When Sayre Weir ’15 left the U.S. to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last fall she says that she was prepped and packed for the anticipated transition to a foreign culture. Her new vocabulary included terms like “culture shock,” and her suitcase contained an adjustment guide, courtesy of the Middlebury Study Abroad Office, which fit snugly alongside her Patagonia jacket and spring sandals. Yet while Sayre’s transition to this foreign city was jarring and difficult, she expected it. What surprised her was how difficult it was to return to Middlebury.

When asked about her re-entry experience, she took a deep breath and said, “I was overwhelmed. Walking into Proctor dining hall was probably the most over-stimulating experience during my the past three years here.”

Sayre’s remark reflects the surface of a deep-rooted struggle for many Middlebury students: reverse culture shock, an equally if not more powerful experience than foreign culture shock—the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Every year, roughly half of the Middlebury junior class studies abroad, traveling to more than 40 countries and enrolling at more than 90 different programs and universities. Just over half of these students study at Middlebury Schools Abroad—in 37 cities in 17 countries, where Middlebury students will live and learn among native speakers. Prior to leaving, students are debriefed on their program’s requirements and realities at country-specific pre-departure sessions featuring both study abroad advisors and previous students. Most programs students attend, including both Middlebury Schools Abroad and externally-sponsored programs, also include on-site orientation in the destination country. Often one of the most emphasized concepts in these orientations is “culture shock.” Repeated forewarnings of the overwhelming adjustment to foreign cultures, social codes, food, climate, and politics are logical and internalized. However, the reality of students’ post-abroad re-entry contains its own set of hurdles.

Jeremy Kallan ’14, who studied in Alexandria, Egypt, agrees with Sayre in articulating his own frustrations in returning to Middlebury. “Being abroad is an emotional roller coaster,” he said. But coming back can be just as hard. When you return, “everything’s the same and normal and it seems boring. And I kind of felt depressed, purposeless, like home and Middlebury are not everything I thought they were [when I was away].”

Students and institutions alike are working to devise helpful solutions to this taxing, yet inevitable experience. Like other colleges and universities, Middlebury has employed a number of re-entry events—writing workshops, speakers, lunchtime discussion series—throughout the year. And at the start of the fall semester, International Programs holds a “welcome back” reception for students who have studied abroad the previous academic year.

“The challenge,” says Stacey Thebodo, the assistant director of International Programs, “is at events other than the fall welcome back reception, we have seen very poor attendance.” She said that only a small fraction of the 350 students who go abroad each year have attended the organized events, which has left her office puzzling over how to support students returning to Middlebury.

“Though we know that the students who come to these events need the support, we also believe there are others out there who could use advice. Every year I have a few students come into my office individually saying that they are struggling with the transition. Research shows that reverse culture shock can be much more difficult than the culture shock experienced abroad, because after studying abroad you are a changed person – you probably have a new world view – and it can be difficult to figure out how to fit into your old environment. You start to question your cultural identity and what “home” is. At the same time, everyone is asking you, “So how was X country?” and they really only want a quick response (“It was great!”). When students return to Middlebury, they also tend to experience challenges with academic adjustment. Students get used to a lot of independence abroad, and in other countries there is much less continuous assessment throughout the semester, so readjustment back to the Middlebury/US system and the workload can be overwhelming. We encourage students to try to find ways to incorporate their study abroad into their academics back at Middlebury—for example, into their senior theses, or participating in the research symposium, or continuing to take language and/or area studies courses.”

 Among the main frustrations that students report are extremes of experience (“I go from living in Botswana in the spring to interning at a New York City publishing house in the summer to returning to Middlebury in the fall, where I fall into all of the same routines that existed before I left”) and lack of understanding among peers how difficult studying abroad can be.

“I struggle when anyone asks me what it was like abroad,” says Milou Lammers ’15. “For many people, I find myself limiting my response to ‘I loved Paris.’” For those she knows better, though, she allows that while she loved the city, she found the program to be arduous, and not the glamorous American in Paris story that people who haven’t been abroad seem to expect. “I find it difficult to be one of the few people I know who didn’t necessarily enjoy their study abroad experience. I have to make the distinction that I loved France and my language skills really improved,” but loving the program, she says? No.

Thebodo says, “When talking about study abroad, students often do not talk about it being difficult, and it is difficult. It is supposed to be challenging! If you are not experiencing some discomfort, then you are probably having a very surface level experience and are not immersing yourself and challenging yourself to meet people and engage with the culture. This is also true when you come back home – adjustment is a process and is not easy, and it takes time. This is where a lot of growth and learning comes from; often it takes awhile after being back home to realize how much you learned abroad.”

And then there is the race to catch up with those who have been here all along, the unrealistic expectation of picking up right where one had left off several months prior.

So, what is the solution? More structured programs upon returning to campus? Mandatory on-site reverse orientation? Perhaps the first step is just talking more about how difficult returning from abroad can be. As Thebodo says, her office is there to listen and to help. And it appears that there are more than enough people experienced with this issue to start a dialogue. The learning curve may be steep, but the opportunity is there to be seized.

 Leah Fessler ’15 studied in Buenos Aires last fall. She is a contributing editor to Middlebury Magazine.

“Ok, Let’s Try This Again…”

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

SC-2The second story in a three-part series chronicling student-led Middlebury Alternative Trips (MAlt) before the start of spring semester. In this Dispatch, twelve students spend a week at a struggling elementary and middle school in rural South Carolina.

 

Pencils and pens hit the floor.

A teacher yelled at her students.

A classroom door slammed shut.

Before the meltdown began at this small school in rural South Carolina, a sixth grader had raised her hand and asked a question.

“Miss,” she said to her teacher, “I don’t feel like I am learning anything by you just clicking through these slides. I am not understanding or learning anything from it.”

The science teacher responded by throwing down a handful of pencils and pens.

“If you want to learn science, teach it to yourself!” she yelled and stormed out of the classroom.

That was the welcome that twelve Middlebury  students received on their first day on site at the school. The shocked and fearful expressions that spread across the faces of the Middlebury students in no way compared to the reactions of the sixth graders, most of whom shrugged their shoulders, as if saying,

“This is normal…nothing really changes with her.”

What scared us was that it was abundantly clear that this was not the first time the children had been yelled at or walked out on. We had heard that teacher retention was a challenge at the school, something the administration struggled with. And the students? They didn’t have a voice.

This school has a history of threatened closure; it has long been seen as one of the worst elementary and middle schools in this rural county in northeastern South Carolina, an area best-known for tobacco farming. With only about 46 students being taught in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, school administrators have tried valiantly to meet the needs of their students, most of whom come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. After administrative changes and the addition of Teach for America instructors during the past few years, there has been a subtle shifts for the better in the school’s academic standing. A big issue that remains, though, is keeping those teachers who are having a positive influence—and working around those who aren’t.

When that science teacher walked out on our first day at the school, Stuart Green ’16 went to the front of the classroom and began to draw on a white board, sketching  diagrams. He asked students to come to the board to point out the answers to his questions; some  were encouraged to recreate the diagrams that he had drawn and erased.  Slowly, the energy level rose. Hands were raised. Answers were shouted out. Collectively, the class was signalling what that one brave young woman had voiced earlier: they wanted to learn.

On our final day in South Carolina, the students held a talent show, an impressive display of wit and candor and enthusiasm. At the end of the show, our MAlt was called to the stage. The sixth, seventh, and eighth graders had prepared something for us, something we did not expect. Every Middlebury Mentor was presented with a white mailbox, each containing  individual notes from every one of the students we had interacted with during the week. The messages varied though shared a common theme of appreciation:

“Thank you for coming.”

“You helped me a lot through the week.”

“I calmed down because of you.”

“Thank you for making everyone laugh and for having a fun time with us.”

At that moment, it was hard to tell if we had made a greater impression on them, or them on us.

In Another County: One Week in America’s Natural Gas Mecca

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On January 31, eleven Middlebury students—outfitted with cameras and field recorders—piled into a 15-passenger van and motored seven hours south to Bradford County, Pennsylvania, home to one of the most densely hydraulically fractured regions in the United States. Their week-long Middlebury Alternative Break (MAlt) Trip in Eastern Pennsylvania was structured as an opportunity to explore energy issues. It was a leap into the unfamiliar, an attempt to humanize the social, political, and environmental dimensions of natural gas extraction.

Two of the participants chronicled their experience.

The first thing we did when we rolled into Bradford County was scan the scenery for signs of hydraulic fracturing: the “frack” pads, the clear cuts of forest, the cesspools, the bulky rigs and power stations. Instead, we saw a community enduring what seemed to be the consequences of the natural gas industry’s “boom-bust” economy. We observed only vestiges of the gas companies: the occasional water truck, a frack pad, or pickup stained packed with pipeline, stained ink black. Landmen had already collected signatures from landowners’ to drill. Wells had been drilled, fracked, and re-fracked. For the lucky few, royalty checks, big or small, were streaming in. The traffic that accompanied the initial fracking boom had thinned. Local shops, hotels, and restaurants, once teeming with contractors, landscapers, and engineers, were emptied.

frack

One of the authors, Zane Anthony, standing at an abandoned fracking site in Pennsylvania

We wondered where everyone had gone. (To the next fracturing sites outside the Marcellus Shale border, we would learn—to North Dakota or Oklahoma where communities were being zoned and primed for drilling, fracking, and extraction.)

It seemed that everyone we encountered had a story. One resident we met was Carol French, a lifelong dairy farmer and Bradford County resident, who along with fellow dairy farmer Carolyn Knapp, founded Pennsylvania Landowner Group for Awareness and Solutions (PLGAS) in 2008. PLGAS provides a forum for community resistance to unjust business practices by the gas industries in the region.

Carol told us that she had never considered herself an activist type. Then, she leased her land to Chesapeake Oil Corporation. Drilling began on her property, and her water turned to gelatin. She and her livestock developed rashes all over their bodies. Her adult daughter became sick multiple times and ultimately moved out of town. Carol sells her milk to many corporations, but she no longer drinks it herself. She said her community was now fraught with environmental health risks as a result of the industry’s unregulated, unrestrained efforts to extract.

Later in the week, we visited the office of the Bradford County Planning Commission. They told us the fracking industry has funneled wealth into the area and enabled farmers to sustain the economic viability of their livelihoods. We asked them about Carol’s and Carolyn’s claims. They said water contamination as a result of hydrofracking was not a prevalent issue, insisting the industry is safe. PLGAS and the Planning Commission’s stances on natural gas issues were fundamentally divided. We were in a dual reality.

We also encountered middle ground. We met with a man at the county’s conservation agency who considered fracking one of the most effective farmland conservation efforts he had ever witnessed. In the county, many of the farmers are elderly, and a farmer’s retirement is his land. We were told that royalties from the industry have allowed many farmers to remain on their land into retirement. Without this option, the conservation agency’s representative told us, developers would have purchased the land, subdivided it, and built “McMansions.”He also noted that the industry has encouraged people to break their conservation easements with the agency to allow for more fracking and paid for the resulting fines. It is not yet understood how fracking has impacted the land and its resources, he said.

We also interviewed a couple who leased their 200 acres at the height of the boom and today earn substantial income from royalties. With this money, they installed a geothermal heating system on their property. Other families, they noted, leased early on for a fraction of the price of those who waited long enough for higher royalties, which has resulted in a substantial wealth gap previously unseen in the area.

On the last night of our trip, we worried that once we returned to  Middlebury our memories of this place would fade, that we would forget that our lives are so deeply rooted in energy consumption, consumption that affects communities like this one in complex and permanent ways. But this concern didn’t last long. We had traveled to a seemingly foreign  jurisdiction to see first-hand the environmental and societal impact of natural gas extraction; when we left, we were determined that our experience wouldn’t be left behind.

Zane Anthony ’16.5 is a biology major from Annapolis, Maryland. Sophie Vaughan ’17 is an environmental studies major from Oakland, California.

This is the first Dispatch in a three-part series chronically student-led Middlebury Alternative Break Trips.

The Sochi Experience

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

simi_hamiltonFor the second-consecutive Winter Olympics, cross-country skier Simi Hamilton ’09 competed for the United States. We look back on his road to Sochi.

American cross-country skier Simeon “Simi” Hamilton ’09, a three-time NCAA All-American at Middlebury, did something on December 31 in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, that no American male had done in more than 30 years. He won a cross-country World Cup race.

In a 1.5km sprint freestyle (skating) race, Hamilton won a frantic fight on the final straightaway with Canada’s Alex Harvey and Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway to take his first-ever leg of the Tour de Ski, part of the cross-country World Cup circuit, and earn his first World Cup podium (top three) finish. The win was also the first by an American male on the World Cup since Bill Koch won the Sarajevo 30km event in February 1983.

With the Sochi Games just a month away, there was suddenly a bit of additional media glare on Hamilton’s Olympic prospects. Hamilton, from Aspen, Colorado, arrived in Sochi being talked about as a contender in the sprint events. And he would not have disagreed with that assessment.

As it happened, the Olympics didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. All the Olympic cross-country races were held at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center, a lovely venue at the top of a long cable-car ride, a couple of thousand vertical feet above the mountain town of Krasnaya Polyana. Most of the early races, in particular, were held in sweltering temperatures, for world-class skiing, in the mid-50s. There was plenty of snow up at Laura, but its consistency was constantly shifting – slush in the sunshine, glare ice in the shadows – and ski techs had a tough time dialing in base preparations and wax choices. In fact, one of the biggest stories in cross-country racing at the Games was the inability of the vaunted Norwegian team to provide its athletes with skis that worked.

So, against this backdrop, in the men’s 1.8km sprint freestyle, Hamilton made it to the quarterfinals, but finished sixth in his heat, with only the top two advancing, leaving him in 27th place overall. He was part of the 4x10km relay team for Team USA that finished 11th. And he teamed with Erik Bjornsen in the men’s team sprint classic event, qualifying for the finals and finishing a respectable sixth overall. Bjornsen, a distance specialist, was pinch-hitting for Hamilton’s usual sprint partner, Andy Newell, who was knocked out by illness.

“I was really hoping for a little more success here,” he said right after the team sprint on February 19, during which he ran six laps of a grueling 1.8km course. “I feel like I’ve had a lot of good international experience over the years, and I’ve been progressing every single season. Last year was kind of a frustrating season with a lot of illness, but this year I feel like I made some really big gains, and I’ve felt fitter than I ever have and my speed is a lot better.

“So, to come here and be 27th in the sprint was definitely a little frustrating. But you know, at the same time, I think one of my strengths is just looking at the big picture, and I think being a good ski racer means that you’re a well-rounded racer, and you can process things, and take them in stride and learn from them. And the more you ski race, the more you realize that not every day is going to be the best day ever.”

While he found his Olympic experience somewhat frustrating, his focus is on the future. “I was looking forward to this day [the team sprint] all week, he said, “and now I’m looking forward to getting some really good training in over the next 10 days before we have a skate sprint in Lahti, Finland, and finishing out the season really well.

“Yeah, it’s a cool experience being here with a great team and a great staff, in a beautiful place, and my family’s here. No matter what the result is, we’re just lucky to be on this team and be here and represent the U.S.”

A People’s History, Documented and Taught

Categories: Midd Blogosphere
Student protesters at Middlebury in 1970.

Student protesters at Middlebury in 1970.

Around 10 p.m. on January 22, the third Wednesday of winter term, Hanna Mahon ’13.5 and Kristina Johansson ’14 finally drew an end to their long day and waved good-bye to each other. In fewer than 12 hours, they’d be seeing each other again.

 But unlike other students around campus, who were following similar winter term routines, Mahon and Johansson’s relationship was different—they were co-teachers for a student-led course called A People’s History of Middlebury College.

Different from the other course offerings during winter term, A People’s History was conceived, created, and instructed entirely by the two students. And while student-led winter term courses date back to 1970— a year when Alan Agle ’70 and Barry Sullivan ’70 offered courses on computer systems and on Rousseau, respectively—they are not annual occurrences because they require a skill set and level of organization that not every student has or wants to employ.

Take that busy Wednesday, for instance. That day, the two instructors had arranged for a pair of guest speakers, Steve Early ’71 and Torie Osborn ’72, to offer an oral history of student protests at Middlebury in the ’60s and ’70s. Right after class, the eight students, their peer instructors, and the guest speakers headed to the Grille for a continued lunch discussion on activism. After a two-hour break, they reconvened at Wonnacott House for dinner with the course’s faculty adviser, Jonathan Miller-Lane, other alumni, and professors. A heated discussion at the dinner table was followed by a panel discussion, titled Middlebury in the 1960s: Student Resistance and Social Change, held in Dana Auditorium.

“This is a complicated, moving-parts course they’ve organized—guest speakers, the archives, this panel,” said Miller-Lane. “They are taking it very seriously and are deeply committed to it. I’ve been really grateful to see that happening, to see the quality of their thinking and the quality of their work.”

And while the schedule that Wednesday wasn’t exactly typical for the class—most days did not require five-plus-hours of attendance—the content of the day was representative of a class that “centered on marginalized voices and on periods of struggle” at Middlebury. It was, in the words of its creators, about the stories of buried or forgotten resistance and struggles of the students, faculty, and staff of the College during the past two centuries of its existence, episodes that contributed to Middlebury as it is today.

Mahon and Johansson started researching protest movements at Middlebury after returning from Occupy Wall Street in New York City in 2012. Mahon says that it was the first time she had thought about her place within a legacy of people who had tried to make changes at Middlebury. In the summer of 2013, she and Johansson applied for funding from the Center for Careers & Internships (CCI), stayed on campus to research and construct a history of struggles and resistance at Middlebury, and created an interactive Web museum with the findings. Soon after their project started, they believed that their endeavor was worthy of further investigation with a larger group of peers.

As an independent scholar with a focus on peace and justice studies and an educational studies minor, Mahon had heard about student-led classes and suggested to Johansson that they design a course. With the guidance of Miller-Lane they did just that, submitting an application in September 2013; two months later, the faculty curriculum committee approved their proposal and A People’s History of Middlebury College, STLD1006, was scheduled for winter term 2014.

According to Miller-Lane, teaching the class as an instructor constituted the praxis part of Mahon’s senior project, where theory and practice come together. “The course enables her to extend herself,” Miller-Lane said. “To take the study she’s done and organize the course around this idea is different from producing a product like a thesis. It requires effort to bring those pieces together.”

“Very often the professors’ courses will be on big-lens, broad-view social movements,” Miller-Lane added. “The course is unique in that it’s very specific to this institution. There are occasionally courses like that, but I don’t think this is filling a gap that is only fillable by student-led courses.”

Although alumni and professors with more experience teaching may instruct the same content as well as, if not better than, Mahon and Johansson, the democratic and dispersed power dynamic in the classroom has been appreciated by enrolled students.

“There is a more relaxed atmosphere in class,” said Kate McCreary ’15. “It seems that people are more likely to speak up about what they’re thinking without a professor in the room, particularly in a class that can be rather critical of Middlebury.”

Rebekah Moon ’15 agreed. “I think people have a tendency to be more candid about personal experiences that relate to the material or their honest opinion about a particular ideology or event if there isn’t an official authoritative figure around, which is really nice.”

Admittedly, Mahon and Johansson feared that their identity as students would compromise their student-teacher relationships, giving their peers an excuse not to take them seriously, but they found the opposite to be true. Because students and instructors were naturally around each other outside the classroom, they found that conversations from class spilled over to lunch tables and everyday life. Further, they discovered that their identity as peers made members of the course feel more, rather than less, accountable.

“Since this is my last semester here, I have a lot of social things going on in my life,” said Gregg Butler ’13.5. “If I had taken another class, I think I would have done a lot less work. Because they’ve created this communal feel to the class, I want to throw myself into these things and I don’t want to disappoint them.”

On January 29, the last Wednesday of the term, the class presented their work to the public in conjunction with an exhibit in the Davis Family Library. (The exhibit opened a week before the presentation.) Among the topics discussed: the treatment of racial and religious minority students by fraternities in the ’40s and ’50s; a LGBTQ group organizing on campus during the ’90s and the first decade of this century; the ways in which Middlebury students have “passed” as members of different identity groups throughout the ages; and the campus political climate during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

“If a protest, by definition, is an expression of objection or disapproval, I think some of the students’ projects represented their ‘objections’ or ‘protest’ to the official history of Middlebury,” Rebekah Irwin, director of Collections, Archives & Digital Scholarship, commented after the presentation. “The College’s written history is incomplete, and the students very actively (and exhaustively) worked to make additions and corrections to the College’s historical record.”

Sara Bachman ’13.5 agreed with Irwin and added, “I think the student-led class is a little bit of an active protest saying that we’re going take charge, we can do this too.”

________________________________

Besides the panel on student protests in the ’60s and ’70s mentioned at the beginning, and the Web museum on the resistance and struggles in our community that students are continuously adding to, Special Collections also mounted an exhibit drawn from the College Archives—A People’s History of Middlebury College: Student Resistance and Social Change, based on the course.

The Case for Oratory

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Oratory is a group experience, a give and take between speaker and audience. In contrast with other subjects like physics or philosophy or the political history of France, the best indication of how much you are learning comes from how your fellow students (i.e., your audience) respond to your work.

Dana Yeaton leads a warm-up exercise using tai chi.

Dana Yeaton leads a warm-up exercise at the start of class.

That’s why Dana Yeaton ’79 teaches oratory in a workshop format. One of the 125 courses offered on campus during the 2014 Winter Term, Oratory: A Speechmaking Studio was a class on a mission.

“This course wants you knowledgeable about the history of rhetoric. It wants you passionate to explore the world of ideas and put what you find into words. It wants you confident that when you stand up and speak those words, people will listen and maybe even be changed,” Yeaton said in the first class.

“And to do all that you need each other. As an audience, yes, and as fellow travelers who will question and challenge and console each other along the way. Your best work will very likely come from the desire to engage your classmates.”

The 22 students were required to give a speech on the first day of J-term and a speech the next day and a dinner toast and a critical response to Pericles’ Funeral Oration. There was a mini-moth, a rant, a “great speech speech,” and a three-minute speech adapted from a term paper that had been written for any other class. There was also a TEDx pitch, a scripted and memorized TEDx talk, and probably one or two more speeches. And every speech was videotaped and critiqued by fellow students.

Yeaton, a visiting assistant professor of theatre, believes that great oratorical skills come from understanding the basics of rhetoric, gaining an appreciation for what makes a great speech, mastering the physical aspects of public speaking (use of voice, posture, eye contact, etc.), and practice, practice, practice.

Cole Bortz, from Littleton, Colorado, delivers his mini-moth speech.

Cole Bortz, a first-year student from Colorado, delivers a speech.

During the second week of class, the oratory students delivered their mini-moth speeches, which were five-minute-long personal stories told live without notes. By this time members of the class were well versed in their public-speaking basics: approaching the podium (or stage) with confidence, finding a solid neutrality in their stance, establishing a moment of solidarity with the audience, and enunciating clearly.

The class split up for a mini-moth practice session, and James Clifford, a junior from Tiburon, Calif., picked a partner and headed into the hallway of the Mahaney Center for the Arts looking for a place to work on his speech. He chose a quiet spot under the stairs and launched into his mini-moth about why his friends on the ski team call him “The Fireman.” (Moth talks are based on The Moth Radio Hour, an NPR show, and moth performances have been popular at Middlebury for the past four or five years.)

Clifford’s true story was about how he bonded with other members of the team on an Alpine ski-training trip out West. It involved a pan of flaming nachos, the local fire department, billows of smoke, and, well, that’s how he earned the moniker of “The Fireman.” After practicing his speech and reviewing the feedback, Clifford returned to the classroom where he would present it to the class.

“Oratory has been one of the most valuable pieces of my Middlebury education,” Clifford later said. “Through this class I found my voice on the page and I found my voice at the podium.”

The case for oratory is on the rise at Middlebury. Yeaton is working with a group of administrators who are discussing how to make proficiency in public speaking an expectation within the curriculum. Their effort comes on the heels of President Ron Liebowitz’s observation in Middlebury Magazine that alumni are saying the College could do a better job preparing its graduates for the rigors of public speaking.

All eyes are focused on the speaker.

In oratory, all eyes are focused on the speaker.

Sophomore Premlata Persaud from New Jersey is confident that the oratorical skills she gained during Winter Term will transfer to other classes. “I find it difficult sometimes in seminars to express my ideas in a way that really convinces my professors and other students, but now I have a checklist of sorts to go through before I make an important statement in class.”

Heading into the 2014 J-term, Dana Yeaton had high hopes that his class’s enthusiasm for oratory would spread across campus. “This course is designed as a laboratory in which we will be teaching each other the art of oratory,” he told his students. “You will be reading, analyzing, writing, and delivering speeches; you’ll do physical and vocal training, and focus exercises.” And he also said the class would be “exporting” this model through a workshop series and at the Martin Luther King Oratorio in Mead Chapel, which Yeaton directed.

The professor’s hope took root when the oratory students offered a series of public-speaking workshops open to anyone wishing to improve their oral communication skills. During the final week of Winter Term about a dozen students from the Middlebury Entrepreneurs class showed up at the workshop, anxious to hone their oratorical skills for the final projects they would present in their class the next day.

For two hours the oratory students became the teachers: they formed small groups, discussed principles of oratory, analyzed the visitors’ speeches, and led training exercises designed to build their guests’ public-speaking skills.

In a spontaneous moment during class one January afternoon, the students decided to form the Oratory Society of Middlebury. The group made a circle in the middle of Room 232 and composed the oath Ethos, Logos, Pathos for membership in the Oratory Society, which is open to the Middlebury College community. The College would now have a student organization committed to conducting workshops, sponsoring public-speaking events, and advocating for oratory’s place on campus.

If anyone were looking for a sign that students had bought in to the importance of oratory as a group learning experience, this was it.