Nearly a year ago, I announced the formation of the Task Force on Alcohol and Social Life to assess the relationship of alcohol to social life at Middlebury. The task force submitted its formal report to President Liebowitz and me in May, which outlined many recommendations for addressing alcohol-consumption concerns, social life programming, and improving current policies and procedures.
Task force co-chairs, Dean of Students Katy Smith Abbott and Coach Bob Ritter, have provided an update about the status of the report with important news about some of the recommendations.
Your comments and feedback continue to be valuable to our work in this area. Please don’t be shy about communicating your thoughts in the comments section below.
Welcome and welcome back! It is wonderful to have you on campus and to have the College newly energized. We hope that your summers were restorative and that you are looking forward to a year of adventure, hard work, and meaningful friendships.
We are writing to you in our roles as co-chairs of the Task Force on Alcohol and Social Life. As many of you know, the task force, a 15-member group of students, faculty, and staff, met throughout the 2011–12 academic year and submitted over 40 recommendations to the president and the dean of the College at the end of May. You can read the full text of the report and those recommendations here. You will need to log in with your Middlebury username and password. The Campus highlighted some of the major recommendations in the final issue of the year, and we shared an overview of these recommendations with the senior leadership of the College and the Board of Trustees at their May meeting.
We’re now eager to update you on some of the work that has been undertaken over the summer and some of the changes you are likely to notice as we move into this new academic year, as follows:
Student Social Life
Some of the most promising work has occurred in the arena of student social life, in direct response to feedback we received from students in focus groups and other small-group conversations. We initiated a new practice last spring, that of scheduling a “Social Summit” each semester. At these summits, student organization leaders and members of the Student Activities staff come together to share ideas and to actually begin scheduling the social calendar for the following term. Extra support for this initiative is in the works: the task force’s recommendation to hire a social events coordinator—a dynamic individual who will serve in a key programming role—was accepted, and that interview/hiring process is underway. The social events coordinator will be pivotal in supporting efforts at Crossroads Café, the Gamut Room, 51 Main, and elsewhere, and in supporting scheduled Pub Nights, Trivia Nights, and performances of Verbal Onslaught in the Grille this fall and beyond.
One thing we heard loud and clear from students is a desire not just for more programming, but also for more varied programming. We count on you to stay involved and to bring these ideas to Commons Councils, MCAB (including the Small Concerts Initiative), the Gamut Room, your social house or special interest house leadership, or to any other student organization that is prepared to make things happen. But our hope is that you will already detect a shift in the way things are scheduled and supported.
Health and Wellness
One area of particular focus and concern for the task force was that of health and wellness. We are delighted to report that the task force’s strong recommendation that the College hire a director of health and wellness education was accepted. A hiring committee met and interviewed candidates over the course of the summer, and we are bringing our first candidate to interview on campus on September 17–18. She will offer a public presentation on Monday, September 17, at 4:30 p.m. in Hillcrest. We hope that many of you will plan to attend.
Once hired, the director will oversee many of the educational and preventative measures recommended by the task force and endorsed by the president and dean of the College. These include the online course that all incoming first-years take, MyStudentBody; creating a social norms campaign on campus; actively programming with student wellness leaders and members of a wide range of student organizations; developing a sexual-assault advocacy program; and implementing assessment tools that provide us with good information on what’s going well and what we could be doing better.
Prevention and Support
Last week, all new students went through a peer-led Bystander Intervention Program during orientation. Known as PAWS (for Pause. Assess. Worried? Speak Up!), this is a Middlebury-specific program that is intended to give students the tools and some of the language to intervene in situations that could be dangerous or threatening. BASICS, a nationally recognized substance-use-assessment program, was piloted last spring and will continue to be administered through Parton Center for Health and Wellness. A new session entitled “Alcohol and Social Life at Middlebury: What Parents Need to Know” was offered during new student orientation, part of our commitment to partnering with parents and sharing information in the most transparent way possible. Finally, and significantly, we are in the process of developing an alcohol/drug support group on campus. The task force recommended the support group in response to widespread student feedback. If you would like to participate in shaping the focus and format of the group, please contact Virginia Logan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alcohol and Social Life Surveys
The 2010 Middlebury College Survey on Alcohol and Social Life that led to the creation of last year’s task force was also the basis for a NESCAC-wide alcohol survey administered this past spring on nine NESCAC campuses. It will continue to be administered every four years. The survey results are important and will be shared in an open forum for all members of the Middlebury community on Thursday, September 20, at 7:30 p.m. in McCullough Social Space. We hope that you will plan to attend.
As members of the task force learned throughout last year, many of you have strong thoughts about what’s working and what isn’t, and we will continue to depend on you to ensure that the campus culture is defined by diverse social options and an atmosphere of respect for self and others. The more information we can share (whether it’s the NESCAC data or the realities of party registration), the more effectively we can work as partners in ensuring that this campus is both fun and safe.
Underage and Problematic Drinking
Of all the task force recommendations, those requiring the greatest attention and consultation fall under the category of “Underage and Problematic Drinking.” While the task force discussed the potential benefits of policies such as a ban on hard alcohol, this was not ultimately what we endorsed. Instead, we urged the president and dean of the College to consider a three-tiered response system (focused on education, intervention, and response/discipline) that would work in concert with our current citation and judicial response protocols. The recommendation calls for very specific responses when College policy is violated and alcohol is a major contributing factor or when underage students are in possession of hard alcohol. A final decision on these policy changes will occur during the course of the upcoming year and will depend on the input of a wide range of stakeholders, including Public Safety staff, Commons deans and heads, judicial board members, and others.
Making Good on a Promise
In closing, we want to bring special attention to another key recommendation and invite your feedback and your participation. “Community” is one of the major categories in the task force report. It encompasses recommendations that range from increasing knowledge of the College’s Community Standards to facilitating connections between students and the custodial and public safety staffs who support them. The task force strongly supported the implementation of a yearlong working group that focuses specifically on the question of Community at Middlebury. Community is a word and a concept that we refer to with great frequency, but we learned last year that many students question whether we are doing our collective best to make good on this promise of life at Middlebury. Please let us know if this is a conversation you would like to take part in.
The work of the task force represents not the final word but rather a big piece of an important and ongoing process. We strongly encourage you to continue sharing your good ideas as well as your critical feedback. We hope you do so in the interest of strengthening the social fabric of this place and, yes, of doing your part to create and support a real sense of community for every student on campus.
Katy Smith Abbott, Dean of Students
Bob Ritter, Head Football Coach