Tags » Social life

 
 
 

People You Haven’t Really Met Yet

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

When I go to 51 Main, I feel as though I am close to a little piece of home (Brooklyn, New York) because I run into all types of people there. Not just students. Not just townspeople. But everyone imaginable. They are enjoying a shared interest, mingling, being together in the same place. Worlds collide there in a way that feels comfortable. But on campus, this sort of mingling does not occur as much as I would like, and I feel we are worse off for it.

Why should we care? I believe that Middlebury, considering its relative isolation geographically, is a place that people have intentionally come to—to live, work, and learn. Some of the most fascinating people have been drawn to Middlebury. As lifelong learners, we have a unique opportunity to meet others and learn from them in an organic way. Furthermore, people generally feel more “whole” when they are part of a larger community that extends across the boundaries of multiple identities.

Community Council is such a group—a melded association of students, faculty, and staff, and as co-chair I feel very fortunate to be part of it. This year, we have discussed the fact that faculty, staff, and students don’t connect more easily outside their usual spheres, and we have wondered what can be done to change that. Luke Carroll Brown ’14, Community Council co-chair, has described his own experience when he opened himself to making new connections: “Some of my closest friends at the College, individuals who have taught me far more than I’ve learned in most classrooms, are members of the staff.”

When I go to the Wilson Café, I see students and some faculty there, but very few staff. At Crossroad Café, I usually see staff and faculty, but many students still view it as “institutional” space. I am not surprised that I don’t see many faculty or staff members unwinding after work over a cup of coffee—and possibly a conversation with someone new. It seems that we all revolve in separate orbits, with just a few intersections. When faculty members aren’t teaching and working with students, they are busy with their scholarship and personal lives. Staff members have jobs to do during the day (or night), and then they go home to the other aspects of their lives. And students are busy with their studies and personal interests and are most likely to associate with fellow students.

Feeling busy is probably a major reason that people don’t spend time breaking social barriers. A colleague told me about an experience she had when her computer broke, and she had to stop everything to go to the Help Desk. She didn’t have time, she said, to spend an afternoon there. But afterwards, she was glad it happened.

While she waited in the Help Desk office as they recovered her lost data, she met students, a math professor, a writing instructor, and a grant writer who wandered in with one problem or another. They all sat around the table, commiserating and chatting. “I met for the first time someone I’d corresponded with for years by e-mail.” she said.

That’s what I’d like to see happen more regularly on campus—more organic connections, like those that occurred at the Help Desk and at 51 Main. The question is, how to get them to occur? Can we create spaces that encourage them? Can we all develop the mindset to find them?

It’s About (Face) Time

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe strongly in the value of dialogue. I believe that sharing ideas, opinions, and feelings directly with others is what keeps people connected—to their communities and even to themselves.

Lately, it seems as if there is an unusually high level of frustration simmering under the surface of human interactions all over the globe, occasionally exploding in scary and unproductive ways. I believe this is partly the consequence of an absence of dialogue. Annoyances, misunderstandings, and anger can be ameliorated when people simply talk with each other.

It sounds so simple, but it is becoming increasingly rare that people interact directly instead of tweeting and texting or making anonymous posts. The long-distance approach, with its delayed, often hostile, responses in the absence of real “face time” is, in my view, becoming the norm, and it is creating a numbing effect.

Everyone has probably had an experience like this: Someone has done or said something that has made you very upset. The more you think about the situation, the more upset you become—until you and the person in question talk. Suddenly you have new information and a fresh perspective that is more balanced. Even if you still aren’t entirely happy, your dismay is replaced with understanding. When we look into the eyes of another, we get immediate feedback; we sense their mood, and we have an opportunity to respond sincerely without delays—to be human together.

Here at Middlebury, we are very lucky. We have room to reflect. We have access to tremendous amounts of information  and expertise. We have the technological advances to be in touch with experts around the world. We also live in a community where we can come together and own our thoughts, be accountable for them. There is a tremendous opportunity here at Middlebury to embrace interpersonal interactions, conversations, and dialogues of all kinds. This allows us to grow.

The irony of course is that I’m saying this in a blog. But what I really want is for people to come together and talk. Often.

With that in mind, I’d welcome hearing your ideas about interesting ways for us to learn from each other in ways that are effective and respectful. You can post your thoughts here, but I also enjoy personal conversations.

 

Seeking Fresh Voices, Ideas, and Task Masters

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Hello, everyone. My guest bloggers this week are SGA President Rachel Liddell ’14, Assistant Director of Student Activities Jennifer Herrera, and Student Activities Programs and Events Manager Dave Kloepfer, writing about the social scene on campus. We look forward to hearing your comments and ideas!
—Shirley M. Collado

Welcome back! This last week, the new academic year kicked off in a major way with events like the First Chance dance party in the Bunker, Pub Night in Crossroads with WRMC, the DMC and WOC welcome-back BBQ, and McCullough Fest. Plus, Crossroads presented our palates with some pleasant surprises, such as creative, tasty smoothies and milkshakes and fresh-made sushi. When the Student Activities Fair was rained out last Thursday, McCullough became a hot spot for hanging out and reconnecting. For the first time in a while, it looked and felt alive with students—as it should be. Every seat, table, and booth was filled.

McCullough is the student center, your hub for anything, from checking your mail, to munching on a delicious snack like a “Dr. Feelgood” or a tempura shrimp roll, to studying, and even dancing the night away at Café con Leche Latin dance party. These are some of the amazing events at McCullough. Plus, they represent a fraction of McCullough’s potential. The possibilities are endless. And this is where you come in; it just takes your ideas and initiative to realize them.

We want students who are willing to “roll up their sleeves” to make things happen to come forward with ideas. We’re eager to hear what you have to say and want to do.

  • What ideas do you have for making McCullough a more attractive, cool, and fun (less institutional) space?
  • What kind of events and live music do you want to see here in Crossroads?
  • Do you want to be involved with enhancing the social scene? Tell us how.
  • Let us know what ideas you may have for improving outreach and communications about the rich activities already available, and those to come.

Feel free to contact Rachel at sga@middlebury.edu, Jennifer and Dave at student_activities@middlebury.edu, or leave comments here on this blog. We welcome ideas for new programs or events or anything else related to social-life programming that you’re burning to tell someone about.

 

A View from the Bubble

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My guest blogger this week is Jamie McCallum, assistant professor of sociology. Being relatively new to Middlebury (he moved here from Brooklyn in the summer of 2011), he makes some interesting observations about life here and things that separate us. I hope you will join in this discussion in the comments section—we’d love to hear what you think. —Shirley M. Collado

I moved from Brooklyn to Middlebury last year. As a newish professor, I’ve experienced some of the same bewildering frustrations facing many new students—the urban-to-rural transition, learning to ski, the paucity of Mexican food, etc. I can deal with all that (I think). But no facet of life at Middlebury causes me more lingering consternation than The Bubble.

Whenever I ask students about their lives, they often discourse disdainfully about life in the bubble, which is shorthand for the stomach-roiling feelings of parochialism, security, bliss, and terror that come with living in a kind of glorious walled city. For a place with such an international presence and a deserved reputation for foreign-language learning, our borders often seem simultaneously invisible and impermeable.

Faculty, especially newer and junior professors, live in bubbles too. Most of us live close to work and keep work close to home. A typical Venn diagram of student and faculty life overlaps only a sliver, the time we meet in the classroom each week, plus some office hours and the occasional extracurricular activity. Our respective bubbles contribute to that separation. While recognizing the fact that we do live different kinds of lives—I’m the type who enjoys his own company and personal space—the faculty-student divide deserves some attention.

At a campus event on faculty diversity last week, students expressed a sincere interest in engaging professors on what was continually referred to as a “human level,” reiterating concerns voiced at the recent PossePlus retreat. I take this as a desire for greater opportunities to learn about each other’s lives outside the classroom and outside the bubbles. Both events were primarily places where students could openly elaborate about where they are coming from. Forums where faculty members are able to convey as much to students might also be useful.

Recently I asked a student what he meant by saying we live in a bubble. He said, “It doesn’t keep us safe; it keeps us apart. And it even keeps us from ourselves.”

I think I know what he means. For every lacrosse player who rules the weekend party scene, there is one who wishes the pressure to drink excessively was not there. For every hardline divestment activist, there is one who sees the issue as part of a generalized struggle for justice for all. There are economics majors who would rather be studying dance, but they are too scared to stand up to their parents and too insecure to admit it to their friends. And just as there are students terrified to speak up in class, there are professors worrying about how their lecture will be received. In other words, things are not as they seem.

Can students and faculty gain a deeper understanding of each other’s lives? Although no one seems to think that bubbles are a good idea, too often we, myself included, act as if there is no alternative. I have certainly not provided a concrete solution here. But someone once said that the point of philosophy is not just to understand the world but to change it. So maybe the point of education is not just to recognize the bubble but to burst it. More

The Power of Discomfort

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My guest blogger this week is Jordan Seman ’16. She attended the PossePlus Retreat in Silver Bay, New York, which was devoted to talking about class, power, and privilege in America. Like most people who participate in these intense weekends, Jordan was moved and changed by the powerful, frank discussions and exercises, and returned to campus hoping to bring the essence of the retreat back with her.

—Shirley M. Collado

On Friday afternoon, March 1st, I got on a bus full of students I didn’t know, many of whom I only recognized as being Posse scholars but had never interacted with at Middlebury. During the ride, I overheard bits and pieces of conversations in which students said they hoped the retreat would be “worthwhile.” I even heard the PossePlus Retreat described as “emotionally exhausting.” Not knowing what to expect, I soon realized that my experience on the retreat depended on my willingness to engage on a personal level with many students I’d never even seen before on this campus. That was an intimidating thought.

In sharing my concerns with other students and administrators there, I began to understand that feeling uncomfortable is part of the reason PPR is so successful. The activities we engaged in made me aware of the wide range of backgrounds that Middlebury students come from and allowed us to bring the topic of this year’s retreat, “class, power, and privilege in America,” closer to home.

In doing so, I was forced to reflect on my life of privilege, which I feared would not be accepted by many of the students who came from radically different home situations than I came from. I remember distinctly when the retreat leaders asked students to stand up if their families own more than one home. Only four people in the room stood, and one of them commented that, although his father works hard for what he has, he wasn’t sure that “having two homes was fair when so many in the room did not even have one.”

I think many people look at these types of experiences with an abiding cynicism and think that the bonding that occurs is shallow. When relating my experience at the retreat to another friend back on campus, she commented that it sounded like a “big pity-party.”

While retreats such as this one often get very emotional, I think the main purpose of it was not to feel sorry for one another, but to recognize how our backgrounds and life experiences shape the social makeup here at Middlebury. Through learning about others’ hardships and reflecting on my own upbringing, I began to think a lot about our campus and how wealth, class, and privilege shape our experiences here.

Now that I am back from PossePlus, I want to bring these conversations to this campus. If anything, I learned that there is much to be done to make our college community a more open and inclusive environment for students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. So, I invite Middlebury students to reflect on their experiences here and to question how the social scene is shaped by wealth and class, if at all. Think about the activities that students partake in, the culture that exists, and the types of students who tend to hang out together on campus.

After my own serious reflections on this topic, I am surprised by how little we talk about social segregation at Middlebury, and I would like to see the conversations taking place here rather than just at the PossePlus Retreat.

Band Goes Here

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My guest bloggers this week are Parker Woodworth ’13.5 and Michael Gadomski ’13.5. They took the lead in trying to redefine the student music scene, and they are writing today about some of their successes and obstacles and the philosophy behind their efforts.
—Shirley M. Collado

On a fall afternoon in his kitchen in Cornwall, Matt Bonner ’91 reflected on the social scene during his time at Middlebury: “We’d decide we were going to have a party on Saturday afternoon. It was almost as simple as, ‘keg goes here, band goes there,’ and that was that.” A few months earlier, as part of his 20th reunion, he had played a show at 51 Main with one of his bands from his time here. For Matt and many others, playing and being around music was a defining part of the Middlebury experience.

Nineteen years after Matt’s graduation, we found ourselves, dazed, excited, and a little sleep deprived, walking the cultish candlelit procession to Mead Chapel for February convocation. Despite the eerie gravity of the moment, we were deep in a conversation about our shared lifelong love of music.

A year later, we were again talking about music, but this time we were focused on how much we missed it. At that time, there were zero active student bands on campus. You could still say, “band goes here,” but it wouldn’t work out very well. We didn’t even know where to look to find students who might be interested in starting a band. Pretty much the best you could do as a musician was to play a lonely solo set to the four friends who felt like they really should come to your show at the Grille.

In large part, the reasons for this were straightforward. Spaces were difficult to access, and equipment was nearly nonexistent—there was simply no easy place to turn to make music with fellow students. Instead, resources were uncoordinated and worst of all, thoroughly steeped in bureaucracy.

Middlebury Music United was created to untangle all of that mess. Surprisingly, we met little resistance initially. From SAO, the administration, the SGA finance committee, the music department, and even the trustees, so long as we made our case reasonably, it was met with genuine concern and enthusiasm. Although enthusiasm was not always immediately followed by action, we were able to remove bureaucracy, change to student management, and make access easier just by continuing to ask nicely. In our minds, the goal was to make students, rather than institutions, the drivers and shapers of music at Middlebury.

An illustrative example was MMU Nights: the series of weekly Grille and 51 Main shows that we were given to distribute to student musicians. Essentially, our job was to fill pre-determined dates at pre-determined locations with student musicians. This invariably amounted to twisting the arms of our friends into playing hour-long sets or else doing it ourselves. Everyone more or less dreaded playing these shows, and everyone seemed to dread attending them as well.

The takeaway from that experience formed the basis for MMU’s philosophy: we never want to force anyone to play music. We don’t want “MMU Presents” on the top of any posters. We want to help musicians present themselves, to enable the same “band goes here” spontaneity that Matt Bonner told us about. That’s why we ended MMU Nights. Those venues are still open to musicians, and we’re happy to help anyone put a show together, but they’ll need to make the decision to play on their own.

Student culture at Middlebury needs to be driven by students. Culture, in our opinion, comes from what you do because you love it, not because you’re getting graded on it or because it looks great on your resume or because anyone asked you to. Sometimes it’s difficult to prioritize things like that, and we wanted to make it as easy as possible for musicians to do so. That’s why you probably haven’t heard of MMU, but you probably have heard of Thank God for Mississippi or Stoop Kid. And that’s just how we want it. We love music because of how it brings people together and how it makes creativity part of a night out. We want to help musicians, but we also want to help people who like to dance, or like to listen, or just want something a little different on a Friday night. Music at Middlebury isn’t for a select group of people—it’s for everyone. It all started with a simple goal: “band goes here.”

You’re here because you’re ambitious, because you believe in something, and you’re surrounded by people who are here for the same reason. In our years here, we’ve learned that things change when students decide to care. So ask yourself, what do I want this college to be like? If you want more students playing music, we can help. If you want something else, just like a band, it goes here. You are exactly the right person to make it happen. Start doing it, and keep going. You won’t regret it.

For more information on MMU and student music, check out middmusic.org or go/mmu.

Surviving Room Draw

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Our guest blogger today is Doug Adams, associate dean of students, writing about a topic of great interest to most students: Room Draw.

—Shirley M. Collado

I have to confess that I was a bit reticent when I was asked to be a guest blogger. I thought, what do I have to share that will ease the minds of students around Room Draw? Even more distressing was the thought that I might add to confusion in some way and actually increase your stress levels!

So I took a quick walk around the campus to think about what I might say. As I strolled through the beautiful fall foliage, seeing students hurrying off to class, laughing in a group outside Proctor, enjoying the sunny day, or sprinting past me on an afternoon jog, I reflected that Middlebury is so much more than the bricks and mortar of its buildings. Middlebury is its people and its community. The same is true of the College’s housing. In the end, it really doesn’t matter which building you are living in but rather the people you are living with.

This fall began my 13th year at Middlebury. Over the years I have had a many different levels of contact with residential life—from my early days of advising the social houses to more recently developing Res Life staff training and assisting with Room Draw. Through all this time, I have learned one very important thing, and let me be perfectly clear: Middlebury is not a Hogwarts. Despite all the evidence to the contrary (Quidditch anyone?) and a certain Commons coordinator’s awesome sorting hat, Room Draw at Middlebury has nothing to do with magic. It is instead a process of computer systems, hard work, late nights, and amazing attention to detail, which combine to create a fair and equitable process for everyone.

So let me take a little of your time to help debunk some of the myths, rumors, and stressors that seem to perpetuate each year:

  1. The random numbers really are random. Residential Life does not see the numbers until all of the matches have been made.
  2. Online Room Draw is run through a computer program, not a person.
  3. All students who will be on campus in the fall semester receive a random number— even those who live in social or academic interest houses, apply to live off campus, or join the Res Life staff. That way if someone’s plans change, they may still participate in the Draw process.
  4. Residential Life staff cannot tell you how “good” your number is or what room you might get. There are just too many variables. Don’t ask.
  5. Do not get caught up in finding the “perfect” room—the one on the fourth floor with sunset views of the Adirondacks. It’s not about the real estate; it’s about the people.
  6. If it should happen that you do not get a block or house together with your friends, the campus is not that big. You will still be near them.
  7. Having a plan before Block Draw is essential and can help you avoid the stress.
  8. There is no such thing as putting down too many applications for room choices, but every year there are some students who enter too few and then wonder why they didn’t get an assignment in that draw.
  9. Don’t rely on your friends to know all the answers. Take some time to get to know the system and your options. Keep reading the Room Draw website—and then read it again. And do the practice session! It really does help.
  10. Rather than hope you did something the correct way, double-check. Karin Hall-Kolts, residential systems coordinator, is one of the most helpful people on campus and is happy to help.

What I hope you take away from this brief post is that Room Draw is just a process. It does not need to be overly stressful. Through a bit of advance planning and talking with your friends, it is even possible that it can be fun!

Shameless Plug:

Residential Life continually makes strides to improve and streamline the Room Draw processes and our communications. To support those efforts, the College has created a new Residential Life Committee as a part of the Community Council. This group will host open meetings about campus housing so that we can get your input on how things are going. Keep an eye out for meeting times later this fall. And, if you can’t make it to a meeting,
e-mail your ideas to me at reslife@middlebury.edu.

—Doug Adams