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Dear Readers,

I have had the honor of working together with Janet Rodrigues ’12 on the Community Council in her role as a member and now as co-chair. As my guest blogger this week, I asked her to share her views about some of the challenges students face on this campus. She has more than fulfilled this request by sharing a story about a difficult day in her life. I look forward to hearing your comments.
—Shirley M. Collado

I will not forget one of my most stressful days at Middlebury thus far (I hope I haven’t spoken too soon). I would like to share this day with you in order to get to something more important than a day in the life of little miss me.

I woke up early that day to campaign for student co-chair of Community Council, and I spent two hours riding my bike across campus chalking “Vote Janet for SCOCC” everywhere. I mean everywhere! Breathless, I arrived at class, and suddenly it began to pour.

Then, during class, the professor decided to address concerns regarding course material that some of us felt was exclusive in nature, reflecting primarily white, male worldviews. This had alienated the two students of color and others. Apparently, I had a lot to say on the topic, and by the time class was over, I realized that very few of my white colleagues sympathized or understood the alienation I described. (I think an element of unearned privilege makes it hard for some to understand or identify with my experience, and the difficulty I find bridging this gulf is frustrating for me.)

Then, I went off to a lecture on Mozambique, widely attended by aspiring Peace Corps volunteers. As I listened to the lecturer talk about my people, I wanted to explode because he was referring to us in “development jargon”—“change behavior,” make “progress,” as if we need to be “changed” by someone else. As I walked out of the talk, I screamed—in frustration over the injustice, alienation, and lack of control I felt.

Days like these—with seemingly small, subtle interactions—can chip away at us. We can become numb as a result, numb to our feelings and needs. For me, this day was filled with a series of events that I felt helpless over. It was a day in which my community deeply affected me. This was the day I realized I was living in depression and that I needed to address it.

I will not share how my depression manifested, but I would like to share what I learned about how to get through it. This day, I realized what I truly needed from my Middlebury community and from my communities beyond Middlebury. Above all, friends and community are the most important healers.

We are under constant pressure to stay in control—in control of ourselves, our friendships, our academic careers, our futures. The list goes on. How we treat the members of our community and most importantly, ourselves, can get lost along the way. Just look at the prevalence of alcohol abuse and damage to campus buildings. This behavior does not prioritize self or community.

But to put our community and ourselves at the top of the priority list takes commitment, easily forgotten when life gets overwhelming. A few weeks ago, I was asked to step in as interim president of Student Government. I was quite content with the position I already had, Community Council co-chair, and I was enjoying garnering excitement around Community Council. When I was asked to put some of my responsibilities on hold in order to address the sudden absence of a president, I was ambivalent at first. And I almost missed the point: A student realized he could not carry his load, and he did something about it; he turned to the rest of us for help.

We have all been in a position where we realize we can no longer meet others’ expectations. During these times, our friends and our community must support us. If you have not come to such crossroads yet, it will happen. There will be inevitable times when we all must ask ourselves, “Can I actually be in total control?” NO!

This is where community comes in. We may not know when someone needs us. Thus, we must always tap into the pulse of our community and pay attention to each other. We need to recognize when others are feeling alienated and help vocalize their concerns. And if someone is bearing a heavy load, then we need to recognize that and try to help. We are all trustees of each other’s happiness.

21 Responses to “With a Little Help from My Friends”

  1. anonymous says:

    Thank you, Janet, for this thoughtful topic. I have experienced some of the things you describe. Especially my own pain at not feeling understood, and then trying very very hard to have a meaningful voice here. I’ve been depressed to the point of wanting to give up, but then I found help, also from friends and a counselor…

  2. White Male says:

    I have been living a lot of what you described, perhaps not on the same level, but depression nonetheless. Thank you so much for your story and the insight and help you provide.

  3. Mindy says:

    Bravo, Janet. We need more of this kind of talk at Middlebury. We become so wrapped up in our own little worlds and in the need to always seem in control, as you say, that community and self are constantly left by the wayside. Why can’t we value learning to take care of ourselves and be good community members as much as we value academic success? I think many of us (myself included) are afraid of life after college, and how we can ever hope to support ourselves and build a life in this political, social, and economic climate. So we fill our lives with as much work and extra-curicular stuff as possible to try and become the best possible candidate for the “real world”. But how can you present yourself well if you’re exhausted, depressed, estranged from yourself…? The theory of a liberal arts residential campus is about building community and skills beyond the classroom. Why have we lost that at Middlebury and can we get it back?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Janet, I can relate to many of the things you describe, including personal alienation and a feeling of helplessness as a female minority in a white-male dominated atmosphere. It is the seemingly small interactions that encompass our overall experience at Midd (and in life for that matter). Thank you for sharing and getting your voice out there!

  5. Christopher De La Cruz says:

    “We are all trustees of each other’s happiness.”

    Wow wow wow.

    Janet, what a brave post. I personally can say that it is a relief to see someone express these sentiments – things that are usually shared between intimate friends or counselors as mentioned above – openly.

    The point you made about the pressure of maintaining “control” really resonates. That pressure to stay “in control” makes the moments you lose a little control 10x worse. Sometimes to the point where you’re not even reacting to what has just happened to you, but the things you have kept “in control” over for the past week.

    My question is, is there a way we as a community can help foster these “trustees of each other’s happiness?” Not that I don’t believe Middlebury isn’t full of these kinds of people – every day I am affected by someone’s selfless act of reaching out whether I can acknowledge it at that moment or not.

    I just think there is a kind of “overload” we all experience here that makes it very difficult to recognize when someone needs us or that makes us afraid to ask someone to help us out (in fear of taking away the little time they have). Is this something anyone else experiences as well?

    In the end, I do think it is posts like these that start a dialogue within the community that can remind people (because yes, there are times where we need to be reminded) that we are all in this together and so I appreciate that you are able to be the one to do this.

  6. Addi DiSesa says:

    Who applies the “pressure” to stay in control, Janet? I would argue that those who feel the pressure also apply it. Are you suggesting that Middlebury College, white men, your family or others apply the pressure? I am either missing the point or disagree with your suggestion (or not) whence we feel the “pressure.”

    To a different point, what does drinking to excess have to do with your depression? Surely you realize that students drink because they are able to feel looser in social situations they find uncomfortable otherwise. I like to drink because it makes my dance moves feel that much cooler. I don’t like the idea of breaking shit either, but I’m not about to condemn people for expressing themselves in a way that does not interest me. You may say that breaking things when hammered is wrong, but then it’s you applying the pressure. Maybe there is some other explanation for that type of expression. I don’t know it’s fair to rule out any possibilities.

    While I have your attention, might I stay on the topic of dorm damage, an topic addressed in this space on previous occasions. Are issues like this (and the plates for that matter) truly ones stemming from privilege. One might argue “tragedy of the commons” issues are prevalent in privileged and non in our society. If you were to walk through a low-income neighborhood in this country, are you suggesting we wouldn’t find litter and the like strewn about? If that’s the suggestion, I might argue otherwise.

    Finally, thanks for putting yourself out there. It takes courage to be in the public eye. I respect you greatly.

  7. Kyle H says:

    Thank you for sharing your insights with the rest of the community Janet. This is what we need to move forward – thoughtful engagement with one another.

  8. Christian Bonaventura says:

    This was truly a courageous submission. I know exactly what it is like to lose control and let yourself slip into the whirlwind of social activities and the work hard- play hard mentality at Middlebury. I have let people down and disappointed myself with my actions. However, Middlebury has people that can give you a second chance and turn your life around. There is opportunity for greatness, change and a true development of personality here and we must all take advantage of it in our way.

    Thanks for this inspirational post. Made my day better.

  9. Karen Rauppius says:

    To Addi :

    It would be futile to try to pinpoint the source of Janet’s “pressure”. Certainly, we can imagine that the pressure of self-control is self-imposed. However, that urge, that idea that we ought to be the masters of our lives, only exists because of exterior norms that are projected onto us by a host of institutions, stereotypes, ideologies, and persons. I agree that “those who feel the pressure also apply it” – or peer-to-peer enforcement of the norm – is one way in which the pressure to perform well and stay in control is dispensed, but by no means is it the only way.

    SURELY you realize that not all students have the same motivation for drinking alcohol! I don’t dispute that some individuals engage alcohol in a relatively benign fashion, to “loosen up” or feel better on the dance floor. That’s fine, and it would seem that type of drinking fits nicely in a narrative of self-control. You drink to loosen up, not to f**k yourself up. Unfortunately, others drink to f**k themselves up. Many people here operate on a “Work hard, play hard” ethic which has been the subject of much debate amongst both the student body and the administration. Students work intensely during the week, trying to live up to expectations while still maintaining a semblance of “control” in their lives… then as soon as the weekend hits, they binge drink alcohol to relieve the pressure and maximize pleasure. Binge drinking isn’t necessarily a problem either, but is is a problem when people start damaging a lot of property and frequenting the hospital.

    I don’t know if you’ve forgotten this, Addi, but willful and malicious destruction of property (i.e. vandalism) is ILLEGAL, first of all, but also extremely inconsiderate to the people who will have to repair and pay for that damage. We’re not talking about litter, we’re talking about smashed windows, graffiti, broken furniture, uprooted trees. Maybe in this situation applying pressure is what we ought to do. After all, “pressure” doesn’t have a singular, negative character. But really, destroying things without taking responsibility does not send the message that one cares about the community. Letting a friend drink too much and leaving her behind at the party where she gets sexually assaulted does not send the message that one cares about others. Drinking to the point of oblivion does not send the message that one cares about oneself.

    I believe that part of what Janet is getting at is that life is demanding, often times unmanageable, sometimes infuriating, usually just enough to drive you crazy. People at Middlebury are very good at erecting a facade of composure because they don’t want anyone to second-guess their ability, but it’s clear that many many many of us feel like breaking down at some point. Janet writes to remind us that so long as we have taken the time to show our friends, our family, and our community, that we care for them, then they will care for us at our worst moments. Without that network of concern, we risk becoming isolated, neurotic, even violent. It’s so important that we stay connected and involved with each other, because as Janet says it (and it’s such a beautiful idea), we are all trustees of each other’s happiness.

    Thank you for this Janet, you are an inspiration to everyone.

  10. Jacob U says:

    Janet: Thanks for a really honest post, I really loved reading it.

    Addi: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I appreciate your willingness to own your response by posting it with your name – I think a lot of what this blog is about is to provoke these exact conversations. A couple thoughts based on the conversation so far (to add to Karen’s points in particular):

    To your point about drinking to excess as expression, I have a couple things to say. I agree that there is a way of drinking that is fun – I’m not that good of a dancer either :) However, to question whether drinking to excess can be linked to depression is more than a little naive – maybe it will take until we graduate and the word ‘alcohol abuse’ is replaced with ‘alcoholism’. And more, to call the destruction of property which other people (i.e. residents of the particular dorm/ house & their custodial staff) have to take responsibility for “a form of expression” displays an immense amount of privilege, as well as a misunderstanding of what it means to express one’s self in a community. What makes dorm damage so upsetting is specifically that students feel like we have the privilege to kick a whole in the drywall without any thought of who pays for it, and who goes out to fix it the next day so that we don’t even have to think twice about it. To compare it to litter in a low income neighborhood seems to reveal a lack of experience living in a place without anyone to clean up after us.

    If we are ever going to reach the type of trusting, respectful, and authentic community that Janet is talking about, it feels necessary to take a stand against that sort of stuff. To equate the pressure felt by those who are doing the dorm damage with the pressure that leads to sadness or depression is ultimately quite unfair.

    Thanks again for posting, and I hope this conversation continues.

  11. Laurice Fox says:

    Janet, I love you like a sister and will always try to be there as a “trustee of hapiness.” Definitely so proud of you for posting this and sharing something so personal.

    As for Jacob and Karen’s response to Addi’s comment, I want to thank them as well for that.

    Addi, I’m not going to elaborate because I think Karen and Jacob have in a way expressed my sentiments in reaction to your comment, but I’m just going to state that it was rather ignorant and I’m hoping that you were kind of just typing with out contemplating what you were actually asking or stating.

  12. Addi DiSesa says:

    Quickly to Laurice: I believe that calling someone’s thoughts ignorant because you disagree with them more harmful to any community than drinking to excess. For you to “state that it was rather ignorant” is a hurtful assumption. A comment like yours is the equivalent of raising your voice; you have spoken more loudly and with a greater deal of malice than either Jacob, Karen or I have (so far as I can tell). I do not know you but am sure that you aim to be as thoughtful as I, especially when sharing thoughts on public topics in a public forum.

    Jacob and Karen: When I asked Janet what HER depression had to do with drinking I only meant to suggest that her leap from talking about alienation to excessive drinking by “privileged” college students made the latter appear more as a separate point to a separate issue. I agree that alcohol abuse in college can lead to more long-term issues in the future. Self-medicating with alcohol and drugs tends to replace more substantive (and substance-free) mechanisms for assessing the sources of depression or sadness in our lives.

    As to dorm damage, let me state unequivocally that I abhor it. I have very little patience for it whatsoever. My issue is with reflexive connection you have assumed that relates dorm damage to privilege. I am very privileged and I hate dorm damage. I think you and I could find people at Middlebury who, apart from being at Middlebury, are less privileged in some, albeit subjective ways, who are more guilty of dorm damage than I. My previous point about walking through ghettos and seeing disrepair comparable to the aggregate damage done at Middlebury over the course of one year by drunken students attempts to arrive at this point. The knee-jerk reaction in our community is to blame the rich or privileged kids. That reaction is not always wrong, but no more (politically) or factually correct than blaming football players for any and all damage done to ADP after a given weekend.

    I hope that this clarifies some of my points. I also want to insist that this forum continue to be a place of tempered discussion and positivity, rather than a place for waxing self-righteous. We are not the salt of the earth. Thank you all for your thoughtfulness. I look forward to more discussion.

  13. Karen Rauppius says:

    Addi: Thank you for taking the time to further illuminate the arguments from your initial post. Since it sounds like the main bone you’re picking is the idea of privilege being the culprit behind excessive drinking, I will speak only to that point.

    Firstly, I’d like to point out that nowhere in Janet’s article does she use the word “privilege” except in the following: “I realized that very few of my white colleagues sympathized or understood the alienation I described. I think an element of unearned privilege makes it hard for some to understand or identify with my experience.” This usage of privilege no doubt refers intellectually to the classic article by Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, which explores some of the ways in which American society, largely structured by whites, provides a host of free privileges to whites – everything from the availability of flesh-colored bandaids to the ability for a white person to wear second-hand clothes without this being attributed to their race’s poverty.

    http://nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf

    That being said, I’m not sure where you got the idea that Janet was accusing “privilege” of causing Middlebury’s alcohol problem. It would appear that you have your own knee-jerk reaction which is to defend privileged students no matter the nature of the discussion. However, I do sympathize when you say that there is an unjustified tendency in the community to point fingers at privilege. The idea I want to raise is that “privileged kids” are different from “attitudes of privilege”. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having billionaire corporate despots for parents (I guess) and we shouldn’t immediately assume that material wealth equals material disregard on Middlebury’s campus. But I do think it is useful to think about “attitudes of privilege” and how they play into alcohol abuse and property damage.

    An attitude of privilege is one in which an individual feels absolutely entitled to certain things or actions. This attitude is most problematic when the entitlement encompasses notions like “I’m entitled to smash all the light fixtures on this hall” or “I’m entitled to verbally assault Public Safety” because part of that sense of entitlement is a refusal to be accountable. Another way of understanding attitude of privilege would be to see is as a belief in one’s immunity from rules, responsibility, or punishment. Any way you slice it, I’m implying that you can be a privileged kid and not carry the attitude of privilege, just as easily as you can be a non-wealthy kid and carry the attitude of privilege.

    To fight the problems that arise from attitudes of privilege would not mean targeting the rich students and forcing them to repent on their knees. Rather, the goal would be to promote ideas about mutual accountability, about taking care of one’s community, about caution and thoughtfulness, to counteract the attitude. Janet’s article is contributing to this process. She is NOT simply another warmonger, flinging accusations at the students who come from privileged backgrounds. I think that, if Janet does make “privilege” an issue in this article, it is only to raise a degree of self-awareness, relativity, and sensitivity.

    Thanks.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I hope that we can express support for our friends without having to shove the arguements of others. I think all the posts and perspectives have been thoughtful enough, and I support Addi’s point that we should not call people’s arguements “ignorant” simply because we disagree with them. Especially in a public forum.

    And if you’re bitter about my comment that we should all respect each other’s opinions I wasn’t brave and listed my name as anonymous so HA!

    But anyway, Janet there is much truth and beauty in your statement that “We are all trustees of eachother’s hapiness.” I really believe this statement. You are very brave for sending this out.

    Also, I’m sorry that you feel isolated on this. I hope that everyone whose feels isolated by their perspective here will continue to, even to people who seem not to understand, speak out and express themselves. There are, I believe, many of us who will and want to listen and understand. And there is benefit to everyone in understanding other people’s perspectives, especially the ones that are the most different from our own (even in politics).

    Middlebury is not a perfect community but no place is and I still believe, and many of you might agree with me, that we have at least have something of a good and thoughtful community here at Middlebury. And that there are many people here who will listen.

  15. Anonymous says:

    *peoples’ *arguments

  16. Janet Rae Mondlane says:

    There is an element that I share with none of the bloggers, and that is age. I am 77 years old, and have the privilege to be Janet’s grandmother. I am impressed, and perhaps amazed, at the deep thoughts expressed and aired by such (from my standpoint) young people. In my youth, I raced along with life, totally enjoying the vigour of being young and pretty intelligent (I only realize that now when I am rather more decrepit). I finally reached the age of evaluation, where most of you seem to be now. So through thick and thin I married into a liberation movement and ended up spending my life on the other side of the world. “We are all trustees of each other’s happiness.” My granddaughter reached into my soul and brought to light the thoughtful phrase by which unawaringly I tried to live my life. How extraordinary to see it flying on the masthead of youthfulness. It bodes well for the future of the tired planet.

  17. Nial Rele says:

    Thank you, Janet for your post. This has been an amazing conversation and in many of the posts above I have read ideas and emotions that I have felt but found it hard to put into words or process. Thank you all for providing me with some clarity.

    I would also like to echo Janet’s call for us, as a school, to work on our capacity to be there for each other. This is, though, much harder said than done. I would argue that the fact that we aren’t ‘there for each other’ is what causes tremendous pressure in the first place. Addi spoke about how these pressures and expectations can be created by us ourselves, but to a large extent these pressures also arise from within the smaller immediate communities that we are placed within or choose to live within. And the pressures that this creates: those to conform and those that exclude are tremendous. Let me expand:

    We live in our little bubble, we eat in the same dining halls, we live in the same dorms, we attend class together, but we also live in and create, year after year, a culture of divisions and exclusion. We hear so much language about ‘our’ Middlebury community. It is naïve to believe that Middlebury students are one united community. I have been here for three years now and yet why is it that sometimes, if not often, I feel that I am living in ‘their’ community and not my own?

    Many at our school belong to and even define themselves by groups, teams and clubs, and these groups often find themselves, consciously or unconsciously, reinforcing ideas of privilege, hyper-masculinity, gendered roles or other ideas that drive deep wedges of separation into the fabric of this ‘community’.

    There can also be a certain loss of freedom of choice when one falls into groups and it becomes all the more difficult to stand up to what one may consider wrong. I saw a Middlebury sports team t-shirt a few days ago that said “Pain is temporary, Glory is forever.” This begs the question: what sort of expectations are we creating for ourselves and each other? (And oftentimes the College administration is party to this process.) Are these expectations reasonable and is this not a scenario of a few making unilateral decisions for others?

    We are all privileged to be at this school, and I do think the term ‘privilege’ is thrown around too often. But it has become almost taboo to talk about topics of privilege on campus. We need to begin to acknowledge that there remains a large group on this campus who display attitudes of privilege. Why is it that so many students at our college have only white, well-to-do friends? Why is it that there is disproportionally higher campus leadership from the minority groups on campus? Our system of living, our community is broken.

    One can argue that these forms of separation are natural to schools our size, that people of similar interests and actions attract each other and naturally band into groups. And yes, every person is free to live their lives how they wish to, value their own priorities and build their own groups, but not when it comes at a cost to others. Not when our actions, the way we conduct ourselves, the way we dress, the way we speak, the way we drink takes away from another’s right to make those decisions for himself or herself.

    Once we entered this institution, we held a responsibility to be a part of and contribute to a system of equal opportunity to all others who take part in it.

    The reason I bring this up is that I strongly believe that issues around alcohol, dorm damage, and social divisions (and the factors that cause them) on campus are integrally related and trying to deal with them individually is an incomplete venture. This loss of freedom to choose is the primary roots of these problems and this is driven, at large, by the divisions we create on campus. Also, there exists a bubble of ignorance for those who do not have a broader view of who constitutes our community. For Middlebury to become a truer ‘community’, we would need to realize that it belongs not just to you and your friends, but to all those other students you may never meet, to the custodian who cleans your dorm, to the men and women who make our food, to our professors, to the public safety officers and so many others.

    I realize that I am being very critical of our school community, and there are many aspects of life at Middlebury that I love and I have met many amazing people at this school. But we can do better than where we are. I think I am a pretty optimistic person and I have faith in our ability to change and improve. This truly hinges on everyone playing a part.
    My plea is for each of us to take a minute out of our busy days and reflect on what pieces of the puzzle do we each represent. Ask questions like, who are my friends? Why? Who has been there for me when I have needed them? What have I done for them? Do I act like my true self? Have I left someone feeling excluded? Do I know my custodian’s name, have I spoken to him or her? Are my peers pressuring me to do things that I would not do otherwise?

    I am First Year Counselor this year and I have forty amazing guys on my hall. They are excited to be at college and have tremendous energy. All I wish is that they will have a chance to be driven by this energy and find their own destinations instead of being driven by the expectations of others. School work is hard enough, I wish that they will not need to view life outside the classroom as a struggle.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this, I hope my ramblings make sense to you.

  18. Meli says:

    Thank you Janet for this beautiful post, and thank you Jacob for your comment. You and Karen both took the words right out of my mouth in your posts. I know I’m only a year older (i think), but I’m extremely proud of you and Janet. The class of 2011 left Middlebury in good hands.

    In regards to being the “trustees of each others happiness”:

    I would like everyone in this blog to count their blessings with what they have in Middlebury. Yes, at times you may feel alone, or stressed out and your day may not go your way. You won’t realize it now, but those everyday interactions you have with friends is what makes life at Middlebury so valuable. Appreciate that friend that barges into your room to just talk and crack a couple of jokes before you pull that all-nighter. Appreciate those 2-hour long meals at the dining hall with different friends or acquaintances. Appreciate people who stop by your carrel to just say hi (even if it is annoying at times). Why you ask? Because it won’t be there in a short amount of time.

    Being away from Middlebury has taught me to appreciate those trustees of my happiness while I was there. You are all lucky. Take advantage of those 4 beautiful years–because those trustees will not always be a walk down the hall. I’m extremely jealous.

    P.S. Janet I absolutely love your grandmother’s post. I admire her for being a part of this discussion. I’ve got my grandma’s name too ;-)

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