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.