As we start the school year together, I am so pleased to see you all, rested and energized, and ready to tackle the opportunities ahead. I hope you had an engaging, yet restorative summer. I know I did, and I am excited to begin the year with you anew.
The beginning of the school year is always infused with a special level of energy and excitement. We head into the fall looking forward to rich conversations and growth as individuals and as a community, reflecting on how best to strengthen what works well for us, and challenging ourselves to gain new insights and skills in other areas of exploration.
This approach certainly characterized the 2010–11 year, and, as happens every year, those of us in the student life area came away with a number of important issues on which to reflect and work over the summer. Among the more prominent of these issues was the question of student-life policies and how to ensure that they meet several standards: that they are based on a defined set of community values and goals, that they are written as clearly as possible, and that they are easily accessible to all students.
We therefore undertook a major review of all Student Life Handbook policies in order to meet these goals. We removed text that was redundant, tried to simplify language that was confusing, and reorganized the layout to improve clarity and accessibility. In addition, we added a clear set of Community Standards upon which these policies are based. Most of the text of these standards was consolidated from existing handbook language, but because it was formerly distributed over several different locations, it was difficult to process as a coherent set of values. These are the standards that characterize our approach to all decisions around student and community life at Middlebury, and we hope that their increased transparency will help to guide us all.
I would like to draw your special attention to a few important initiatives:
1. We have introduced a new Sexual Misconduct Policy, based on more than two years of research by Middlebury’s Sexual Assault Oversight Committee. Changes include an effort to encourage the reporting of violations by removing an in-person judicial board hearing from the process; engaging a trained professional investigator; strengthening and clarifying all definitions, including those of consent and coercion; and ensuring that all parties have equal rights and opportunities throughout the process. You will be hearing more about this policy in the weeks to come, but in the meantime, I encourage all of you to familiarize yourself with it.
2. We have streamlined the language of our Alcohol and Other Drugs policy considerably. After last spring’s all-campus forum about our alcohol policies and practices, we agreed that this year we would create a working group of students, staff, and faculty to explore some of the important issues and suggestions regarding alcohol and social life that emerged from the forum. I am looking forward to this process; in the meantime, we hope you will find this description of our current policies to be clear and accessible.
3. We have strengthened the hazing policy on two fronts: In addition to providing new sections that contain examples of active and passive hazing, we have provided a clarified processes description and created a hazing website. We hope this will augment the policy by providing educational information and resources. Although the site is still in its early stages, we will continue to develop it this fall; students interested in contributing to this effort should contact Associate Dean Doug Adams.
4. We have added a new policy in the General Conduct section called Providing False or Misleading Information, in which we clarify our expectation that all students communicate with members of our staff and faculty with complete honesty and integrity. Although this standard is not new, in the past, we have held students who violate it accountable under the former Respect for College Officials policy (now called Respect for the Authority of College Officials). In an effort to bring this expectation to students’ attention in the clearest way possible, we have made it more explicit under the new policy.
5. Finally, in an effort to highlight some of Middlebury’s most important resources and practices, we have created a Middlebury Student Resource Guide. This booklet has been distributed to all new students and is available online. It is intended to highlight for all students those policies and resources that are especially important and to direct you to more information as appropriate. We hope it will help both new and returning students to understand and embrace our community values and to feel at home here.
I look forward to a year of spirited discussion and exploration with you. Let the discussions begin: Please post any comments you’d like to make about the policies, or student life in general, here.