Tags » Diversity

 
 
 

A Roomful of People, Thinking and Talking

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Last week, the College held a panel discussion about affirmative action and the case currently before the Supreme Court, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which could overturn affirmative action in higher education. We hoped that the discussion would be sincere and honest—and that people would feel comfortable enough to express themselves, even if that meant saying something unpopular. We also hoped that the audience would remain open-minded and give consideration to the diverse views surely to be expressed.

I think that is exactly what happened. Audience members voiced many differing opinions, sometimes disagreeing with one another, sometimes heatedly so. Yet, for the most part, the audience, panel, and moderators navigated a difficult, deeply personal topic with civility and tolerance. I want to thank those who were challenged by this frank conversation for coming and participating.

Here are some of the questions that were raised:

  • How does the number of students of color compare to other groups on campus?
  • Once students of color have come to Middlebury, is the College doing enough to help them stay at Middlebury?
  • If the Supreme Court overturns affirmative action, how will Admissions be able to achieve a diverse student body?
  • Should admissions decisions be colorblind?
  • What other types of identity groups (e.g., athletes, legacies, cellists, etc.) are targeted in the admissions process?
  • Can admissions decisions be more transparent?
  • How important is Posse to Middlebury?
  • When do we stop taking race into account?
  • What is the fairest way to handle college admissions decisions?
  • What is the collective impact of affirmative action on campuses?
  • Does Middlebury have a standard for diversifying faculty?
  • Is there a conflict between two goals of action: repairing past segregation and discrimination through affirmative action and taking steps to create a diverse campus?
  • By choosing someone based on their race, could they be less qualified?
  • What is the true definition of a Middkid?

For those who were unable to attend, you can view the panel discussion here.  It is clear that more listening, learning, and engaging needs to take place on our campus.  We have work to do, so let’s keep communicating honestly, openly, and respectfully.

I wrote about this topic in an earlier post, and encourage you to read the brief that Middlebury filed along with 32 other colleges, in support of affirmative action, diversity, and inclusion in higher education.

Please add your voice to the conversation. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Factoring-in Race

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Shirley M. Collado

 

 

 

 

 

The World According to Irving

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Not many things will distract the more diligent Middlebury students from their midterm exams, but thankfully an internationally famous author is one of them.

When John Irving stepped up to meet the crowd in Mead Chapel this past Wednesday evening, his good humor, casual plaid-shirted presence and magnetic narrative style made all else slip away for a good part of the following hour. A core audience of students, as well as other campus and community members, enjoyed a mix of personal musings, historical perspective and even a little political rallying along with the highly engaging reading from the author’s current book in progress.

Though he didn’t realize it, Irving was pleased to be reminded during the welcoming comments by Chellis House director Karin Hanta that this is National Coming Out Month, a notable celebration given the recent media focus on bullying and homophobia among young people. The reading, co-sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the Creative Writing Program, the Department of English and American Literatures, Wonnacott Commons, and the Office of the Dean of the College, dovetailed meaningfully with some of the current issues on people’s minds. Irving often interlaces themes of sexuality and prejudice throughout his novels, and spoke passionately about the fundamental right for people to be accepted, tolerated and welcomed for who they are, no matter what the differences among us may be.

Irving’s writing—he has published 12 novels with his 13th underway—has always embraced the normality of difference. As example, he recalled for the Mead audience characters such a Frank Berry from Hotel New Hampshire and John Wheelwright from A Prayer for Owen Meany, among many others who have questioned or confronted their sexuality. His latest narrator is a bisexual man looking back on his formative childhood and sexual awakening via a local librarian, Miss Frost, who is later revealed to be transgender. The unfinished novel’s working title, In One Person is a reference to Shakespeare’s “Richard II,” when in Act V, Scene V, the protagonist says, “Thus play I in one person many people/And none contented.”

With a voice both breathy and expressive yet clipped and direct, Irving brought these new characters to life—the unguarded boyishness of young Billy, the crisp aloofness of the aptly named woman. The issues at hand were deeply serious; the writing—and Irving’s delivery—was unabashedly humorous. When asked later in the Q&A about his habit of blending humor and tragedy, Irving said, “You can’t choose to be funny or not—you either are or you’re not. But the downside is that you also can’t control when it comes out. When you know something really bad is going to happen—and I always do because I am a methodical planner of my plots—sometimes you just can’t help but make a little joke of it.”

Speaking of his methodical plotting, Irving was straightforward and clear about his writing style as a process, almost to the point of being a science. “I always write the ending first,” he explained. “I need to know where I’m going, which probably hearkens back to my early and ongoing influence by such character- and plot-driven writers as Dickens and Hardy. Now that’s not to say that the ending I write can’t change,” he added with a telltale grin. “But it hasn’t yet in 12 novels, so don’t hold your breath.” In fact, he even began his excerpt from In One Person by reading the last line of the chapter first—“So you’ll know when it’s over,” he deadpanned. But in doing so, in all seriousness, he clearly wanted the audience to know—and feel the process of knowing—exactly where we were going.

Irving was first published in 1968, with Setting Free the Bears. Though his career began slowly, he received immediate worldwide attention in 1980 with The World According to Garp. He has won the National Book Award, an O. Henry Award and an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. He’s no stranger to success, and yet he presented himself that evening in Mead as just another writer diligently—and daily—honing his craft.

After his reading, he took questions from the audience. Though he was fond of beginning with a deceivingly short answer—“yes,” “no,” “both”—there was no stopping the author on a roll of elaboration. When a question arose regarding his experience with control issues on the movie adaptations of his books, Irving took a wide tangential turn to politics and in the process expressed his support for Vermont Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin, adding that “if you care about people who care about respecting sexual differences, then don’t vote for Brian Dubie.” Not minding at all that he seemed to have wavered off topic, the crowd responded with a healthy round of applause. And, to his credit, Irving adroitly managed to bring the whole thing back around and satisfy the questioner by saying, “Basically, it’s a two-way street: I respect you, you respect me, and together we can collaborate on something really great.”

Following questions, and nearly 90 minutes after his introduction, Irving enthusiastically moved toward the front of Mead to sign books for a growing line of fans. Seated with pen in hand for nearly 30 minutes, John Irving carefully took each offering, whether a crisp new book just purchased or a tattered paperback from years ago, and signed them all with characteristic style and aplomb.