My guest blogger this week is Stanis Moody-Roberts. Stanis is a CRA in Wonnacott Commons. He shares with us his heartfelt experience of being a student here and the rewards he’s found on the job in residential life, where he’s seen how our community can be a source of strength and purpose. As always, I look forward to hearing your comments about this interesting post.
—Shirley M. Collado
The great thing about being a CRA is that, as staff, we’re involved in quite a number of the issues at the forefront of campus dialogue. We’re also in the unique position of having just been Middlebury students, so we approach our jobs with the perspective our student experience offers. This post is dedicated those Middkids who don’t feel as if they fit in here. And that’s a greater number of us than we might perceive.
As a CRA, I get the chance to talk to a lot of people. Mostly about how their day (or night) went. As in:
Stanis: “Hi _____!!”
____: “Hi Stanis!!”
Stanis: “How’s it going?”
____: “Good! How about you?”
Stanis: “How was your day?”
___: “Good! I went to class! Ate lunch at Atwater! Went to the gym! It’s cold as #$%@ out!”
I love those little conversations. I love talking to people, and I really love smiling awkwardly (some Wonnacott first-years honored me with the link go/crastanis). But every now and then, I get the chance to have a more in-depth conversation about a challenge someone is facing. These conversations mean a lot to me because I, too, struggled at times with fitting in here. I carefully hid those struggles and pretended everything was going great—and I think that only made it worse for me.
I don’t want others to “settle” and go the same route that I did; so, I deeply value the conversations that I have that touch upon a difficulty of life here at Middlebury.
Middlebury is a funny place. There’s a lot of pressure to feel happy here. You should be happy: we’re living in a near-perfect, ideal kind of world (they don’t call it a bubble for nothing). If you can’t thrive here, then are you even capable of thriving? We’ve got some of the best, most intelligent professors out there, who are accessible and care about their students. We have a gorgeous campus, a dining plan that rivals any other college, some incredibly talented peers, opportunities up the wazoo for personal growth and professional development—what do you mean you’re not happy? Sometimes it’s hard to express a feeling of not fitting in without feeling like it might be your fault.
That is, at least, my experience for some of my time here. Freshman year, I shamefully passed in every paper for my seminar at least a couple days late (my final paper Christmas Eve). I couldn’t for the life of me understand, of all classes, Intro to Microeconomics. My parents were in the midst of a nasty divorce, and that made me feel even worse. I felt I had to lie: To my friends, I was with my girlfriend all the time. To my girlfriend, I was with my friends all the time. I was really holed up in the upstairs lab of Sunderland, discouraged and down about myself, and even less able to learn or write because of it. In hindsight, I see now that I had wonderful people who cared about me, and who I would grow really to love, but in my mental state, I felt no great connections to anyone. It’s amazing how alone you can sometimes feel, surrounded by hundreds of others in the dark, booming basement of a social house on a Saturday night.
It wasn’t until my senior year, after a semester off and a semester abroad, that things started to really click for me. I found a major I was fascinated with and could do well in. I started opening myself up and feeling stronger connections to those around me. I began to really appreciate my time at Middlebury. I began to feel like I really fit in with many of the wonderful people here. I wish I had worked to figure that all out long before. So, what I want to say is, if you’re facing hurdles, if you’re stumbling on any obstacles, please don’t just lock it up inside and fake a smile and pretend everything is all right. Talk about it. Be open—with your friends, your family, the counseling center, your res life staff—anyone you might feel comfortable with. As a CRA and as a recent alum with a personal stake in wanting students to thrive here sooner rather than later, I’m always up for a conversation—look me up in the directory if you want to talk.
There is another, related matter that I would like to touch on—the health and strength of our community. We do have a really wonderful institution here at Middlebury. We have a ton of resources at our disposal, a highly talented faculty and student body, and plenty of opportunity and paths to success. But for those of us who wrestle, to some degree, with fitting in, we will never come close to realizing our true potential until we are able to feel comfortable and good about ourselves within the Middlebury environment—to feel at home here. Our community, therefore, is one of our greatest assets. Its inclusiveness, its supportiveness, and its openness to a great diversity of personalities are crucial to making this campus the most effective place it can be.
The importance of community really struck home to me at last week’s MLK memorial celebration in Mead Chapel. Dr. King was a true believer in the power of a community that makes room for everyone, and he believed in the ability of a community to adapt. As we all took hands to sing “We Shall Overcome,” the feeling of community within that chapel was so palpable. Sometimes I think that feeling is missing here in the broader Middlebury context.
I’d therefore like to end this post by asking a few questions. Do you see failings in our community here? How does it compare to where you grew up? Where is there room for improvement? Is our diversity of social groups (and their choices/values) at a healthy balance? How do you feel about the Commons system? This is all part of a broader conversation that I believe is worth having. Because, ultimately, our community is US. You and me. And we are the ones who make it what it is, and who have the power to make it how we wish it to be. (You can reach the comments section here.)