I was very pleased when Manuel Carballo accepted my invitation to write a guest post this week. As the new director of admissions, he brings to campus a dynamic viewpoint about what it takes to create the type of diverse, welcoming community we all would like to live in. I look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts.
—Shirley M. Collado
This past summer, I moved to Middlebury, Vermont. Again. Having grown up in Costa Rica and not being a big fan of cold weather, this was a bit of a surprise to me, and yet as I talked about the move, I found myself saying time and time again that I was moving back home to Middlebury. While I enjoyed my time away in Austin, Texas, I really missed this place. I missed cheering at basketball games, Commons dinners at Atwater, and having students over for burrito night. Mostly, I missed the casual encounters around campus and getting a chance to reconnect with students and grab a cup of hot chocolate. Bumping into many of you has been a great homecoming indeed.
My role in the Admissions Office allows me the privilege of working with wonderful students from around the world as they are making one of the first major decisions in their lives. It’s an exciting time that invites students to think critically about the place they may want to call home for the next four years. The decision is made with much anticipation and excitement, but soon there is a realization that leaving home means getting out from under that warm security blanket. Making Middlebury and any other place feel like home takes some work and does not always come easily.
Soon after arriving at Midd more than six years ago, I remember getting excited about a Latino festival taking place in Burlington. Having left my favorite Costa Rican restaurant behind in Philly, as well as the great Tex-Mex in Dallas, I was ready for some good food (comida de la buena, not the limited Latino section at our local grocery store, which leaves me searching for plátanos and fresh tortillas) and a little bit of music to warm the soul. When my wife, Brook, and I arrived at the festival, we were somewhat underwhelmed. Other than some empanadas, a handful of street vendors selling hotdogs, and some music in the background, this wasn’t quite the Latino festival I had envisioned. But in all fairness, that was only my first impression. Later I recognized a mostly Caucasian crowd gathering to celebrate my culture, and I really appreciated that. By the end of the night, one of the most diverse salsa bands I’ve seen performed, and they seemed to get it just right.
Our diversity is not always visible from the outside. It comes from our shared experiences and a willingness to live in the intentional community that a small town provides. Most of us didn’t grow up here or dream of snow-filled winters. I certainly did not. I also never imagined making my home in a place where I didn’t have to lock my doors or where a trip to the post office means always bumping into friends.
Making Middlebury more diverse and welcoming takes a lot of work. It takes a community that values discomfort and welcomes those who can offer a different perspective. It also takes some brave souls who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and take on the additional challenge of entering a place that may not feel like home right away. It means some bumps and bruises along the way, but I also hope it means that we all benefit from incredible interactions and learning experiences in and out of the classroom.
Six years later, I have to say that things look different at Middlebury. Our student body looks more diverse, but more importantly, feels more diverse. Students are talking about privilege, panels are discussing socioeconomic differences, and Verbal Onslaught at 51 Main packs the house! A stroll around town, going to church on Sunday, and attending a lecture on campus reveal a much more diverse place than what I saw when I first arrived and even when I left just two years ago. There is no doubt that there is still much work to be done, but I hope that we will recognize the progress and all lend a hand in continuing to make Middlebury a place we’re all proud to call home.
Maybe I’ll even give the burrito cart a shot! Maybe.