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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

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.

 

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.

Stepping Outside Comfort Zones

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My guest blogger this week is Kathryn Benson ’13, writing about a question that made her stop and think. I’ve enjoyed working with Kathryn in her leadership roles on campus. She is active on many fronts and always seems to have creative ideas about ways to address pressing issues.

—Shirley M. Collado

Two summers ago, I was part of a student panel during reunion weekend. A man in the audience posed a question that I will never forget: “What have you done at Middlebury that you never expected? What opportunity have you taken that has surprised you?”

I was the last panelist to answer this question, and as I listened to the other students talk about how they had done everything from joining the Ultimate Frisbee team to learning Russian, my heart began to race because I could not think of anything I had done that was out of my ordinary routine. Sure, I had taken classes that challenged me in new ways. And I had been a leader in a number of clubs and as my Commons co-chair. Yet none of these things truly pushed me outside my comfort zone. And as I looked back at my time at Middlebury, I realized that none of the things I had done thus far set me apart from the student I was in high school.

A few weeks after that panel, I was asked to be a member of Weybridge House, also known as the environmental studies house. At that time, I did not consider myself an “environmental person,” and I wondered if living in Weybridge would actually be a good fit for me. I did, after all, keep my lights on more than they probably needed to be, I took unnecessarily long showers, and recycling was not my number-one priority in life. But I had always wanted to learn more about living a lifestyle aimed to serve the environment just as much as it served me. And so I signed up to live in Weybridge House for my junior year. I decided it was time I did something I had never planned to do, and it was time for me to live outside my comfort zone and routine.

Living in Middlebury’s environmental house was something I never imagined myself doing, yet it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at Midd. I met some of my best friends in that house, and I learned how to caramelize enough onions to feed the 300 people who came to Weybridge Feast.

As the beginning of my last semester at Middlebury draws near, I once again ask myself those wise words from the man at the reunion panel: What have I recently done that I never expected? What opportunity have I taken that has surprised me? Middlebury truly is a safe space for us all to step outside our comfort zones in order to try something new.

It doesn’t matter if you are a senior crossing things off your bucket list or if you are a first-year deciding what extracurricular you want to be a part of—our campus and its surrounding Vermont backdrop offer so many unique opportunities, and I’ve found that it’s the ones you least expect to explore that offer you some of the greatest memories. So I invite you to ask yourself the questions that man asked me: What have you done at Middlebury that you never expected? What opportunity have you taken that has surprised you?

The Big Picture

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

This week, my guest blogger is Rachel Sider ’14.  Rachel is a tireless advocate for many causes, and she encourages students to work together on behalf of issues that matter to them. She has worked with such groups as the national student organization J Street U, Community Council, Somali-Bantu ESL Tutoring Group, Juntos, and the Judicial Board Selection Committee.

I always enjoy hearing students’ viewpoints about issues they are concerned about, and would like to encourage any students who are interested in being considered as guest bloggers to contact Jennifer Herrera or me.

—Shirley M. Collado

Growing up reading the newspaper over breakfast each morning and hearing stories about far-off lands from my journalist grandfather cultivated in me a yearning to address global problems. That is ultimately why I chose to attend Middlebury. Despite its rural location, the curriculum, student body, and campus initiatives focus far beyond the surrounding sheep farms and rolling pastures—they aim to address the international community and its challenges.

As a leader on campus I have always admired how my peers maintain this outlook and are able to think globally. In my opinion, that’s the beauty of the liberal arts experience. But while many students come to campus to learn to engage the world, there seems to be a disconnect between this mission and overall leadership in community initiatives. I noticed this trend of disengagement just months into my freshman year as attendance at J Street U meetings dwindled and concern for group sustainability mounted. In talking with other student leaders, I realized that my own concerns were symptomatic of a greater, campus-wide issue; students arrive each fall eager to get involved, yet many lose interest or prioritize other activities as the semester progresses.

Trust me, I understand—I have done the same. I have found myself overwhelmed with class projects and readings and lost sight of the bigger picture. I have groaned at the thought of organizing another J Street U discussion when I still have a Juntos board meeting to attend and Arabic poetry to analyze. Too often I have seen campus clubs and service organizations lack sufficient membership to effectively fulfill their missions, tackle community needs, and cultivate new leaders. Don’t get me wrong—there are thriving groups doing excellent work on campus—but I know there is the potential for even greater success and impact.

As we kick-off the spring semester, I think back to the passion I felt as I perused headlines over pancakes years ago—my belief that justice and coexistence require better knowledge of global social and political realities. I urge students to reconnect with their own interests, wherever they lie in the world, and to find new ways to translate their passions into civic engagement. For me, the liberal arts experience is about utilizing our global mindset and academic insight to facilitate some sort of action. If we are developing the tools to engage the world—creativity, analytical thinking, initiative, excellent communication—why not put them to work now?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree or disagree that this is an issue facing our campus? Do you feel that we are becoming more disconnected from our willingness to take action and promote change? How can we hold one another accountable for exercising our liberal arts talents in ways that truly engage our community on campus, throughout the state, and around the globe?