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Category Archive for 'Social life'

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe strongly in the value of dialogue. I believe that sharing ideas, opinions, and feelings directly with others is what keeps people connected—to their communities and even to themselves.

Lately, it seems as if there is an unusually high level of frustration simmering under the surface of human interactions all over the globe, occasionally exploding in scary and unproductive ways. I believe this is partly the consequence of an absence of dialogue. Annoyances, misunderstandings, and anger can be ameliorated when people simply talk with each other.

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Hello, everyone. My guest bloggers this week are SGA President Rachel Liddell ’14, Assistant Director of Student Activities Jennifer Herrera, and Student Activities Programs and Events Manager Dave Kloepfer, writing about the social scene on campus. We look forward to hearing your comments and ideas!
—Shirley M. Collado

Welcome back! This last week, the new academic year kicked off in a major way with events like the First Chance dance party in the Bunker, Pub Night in Crossroads with WRMC, the DMC and WOC welcome-back BBQ, and McCullough Fest. Plus, Crossroads presented our palates with some pleasant surprises, such as creative, tasty smoothies and milkshakes and fresh-made sushi. When the Student Activities Fair was rained out last Thursday, McCullough became a hot spot for hanging out and reconnecting. For the first time in a while, it looked and felt alive with students—as it should be. Every seat, table, and booth was filled.

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My guest blogger this week is Jordan Seman ’16. She attended the PossePlus Retreat in Silver Bay, New York, which was devoted to talking about class, power, and privilege in America. Like most people who participate in these intense weekends, Jordan was moved and changed by the powerful, frank discussions and exercises, and returned to campus hoping to bring the essence of the retreat back with her.

—Shirley M. Collado

On Friday afternoon, March 1st, I got on a bus full of students I didn’t know, many of whom I only recognized as being Posse scholars but had never interacted with at Middlebury. During the ride, I overheard bits and pieces of conversations in which students said they hoped the retreat would be “worthwhile.”

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Band Goes Here

My guest bloggers this week are Parker Woodworth ’13.5 and Michael Gadomski ’13.5. They took the lead in trying to redefine the student music scene, and they are writing today about some of their successes and obstacles and the philosophy behind their efforts.
—Shirley M. Collado

On a fall afternoon in his kitchen in Cornwall, Matt Bonner ’91 reflected on the social scene during his time at Middlebury: “We’d decide we were going to have a party on Saturday afternoon. It was almost as simple as, ‘keg goes here, band goes there,’ and that was that.” A few months earlier, as part of his 20th reunion, he had played a show at 51 Main with one of his bands from his time here. For Matt and many others, playing and being around music was a defining part of the Middlebury experience.

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Our guest blogger today is Doug Adams, associate dean of students, writing about a topic of great interest to most students: Room Draw.

—Shirley M. Collado

I have to confess that I was a bit reticent when I was asked to be a guest blogger. I thought, what do I have to share that will ease the minds of students around Room Draw? Even more distressing was the thought that I might add to confusion in some way and actually increase your stress levels!

So I took a quick walk around the campus to think about what I might say. As I strolled through the beautiful fall foliage, seeing students hurrying off to class, laughing in a group outside Proctor, enjoying the sunny day, or sprinting past me on an afternoon jog, I reflected that Middlebury is so much more than the bricks and mortar of its buildings. Middlebury is its people and its community. The same is true of the College’s housing. In the end, it really doesn’t matter which building you are living in but rather the people you are living with.

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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.

Shirley

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When I think about what’s bubbling beneath the surface of Middlebury’s student culture, I feel hopeful. When I see students starting to create the culture they want to live in, it feels as if there’s real change in the making.

Middlebury’s perceived “tired,” somewhat “stale” social scene may be ready to bust wide open, and I want to encourage every student to be a part of it, because the more who join in, the more long-lasting and comprehensive this change will be.

What’s changing? Well for starters, the administration is trying to get out of students’ way—to accommodate activities, get rid of red tape, and make venues available. And some students are taking the lead in creating options and formats we would never have imagined. They are redefining and recreating campus spaces and events that are intimate, inviting, and inclusive—and that don’t rely on alcohol as the central attraction.

Just one example is the small concert held in Brooker House on January 14. It was an alcohol-free event with two bands—“Thank God for Mississippi,” a new campus band, and “Sigmund Droid,” from Brooklyn, New York. This wonderful concert, which more than 200 students attended and, from all reports, thoroughly enjoyed, was conceived and organized by Erik Benepe, Eyal Levy, Max Eingorn, and Jebb Norton. It was totally student-run, including crowd management. A student who was there reported that she was “blown away by how much fun everyone was having. They just danced and danced and danced.”

It seems as if the music scene is burgeoning and creating a powerful way for students to get together, have fun, and express themselves. More bands are forming, small get-togethers for jamming are showing up on the calendar, Middlebury Music United  is coming up with new ideas all the time, and anyone can apply to bring a band to campus through MCAB.

Beyond music, other artistic endeavors are in various stages of germination. To name a few: Verbal Onslaught, an open-mic presentation, where people share spoken-word poetry with appreciative, supportive audiences;  Middslam, the competitive poetry format that this year will take a team to national competition; the Moth, modeled after the acclaimed Moth in New York City with storytelling around a theme; and other student organizations that host concerts, fashion shows, dinners, and more.

What began as a trickle of ideas to generate fun on campus will hopefully become commonplace. And as more and more ideas are generated and tried, that trickle might become more dynamic and take on a life of its own. The process of planning and holding events will get easier, since each can be used to inform the next.

I want to thank the students who have taken an active role in helping to create a culture that feels right and works for them. And to all of you who have had a good idea: Go for it! Ask your peers to get behind it and make it happen. Tap into the many resources on campus and don’t be afraid to hold MCAB, SGA, Commons Councils, and your peers accountable.

If we don’t have what you want here, I hope that you will join in and create what you do want. Only you know what you like and need. After all, if the dean of the College threw a party, can you imagine what that would be like?

I met Rob LaMoy shortly after he returned from an exchange program at Swarthmore and then did a presentation about his experience for the Board of Trustees. I was immediately taken by his honesty and insightful views of social life on campus, and I wanted to learn more. I asked him to write a guest post this week—and I’m glad I did. Please chime in with your thoughts about this important topic.
—Shirley Collado

 

Last spring, I was fortunate enough to study at Swarthmore College for a semester through the Middlebury-Swarthmore domestic exchange program. One of the striking differences I noticed between the two schools was how openly “Swatties” of all ages consumed alcohol without facing disciplinary action.

When I returned to Middlebury last September, I submitted an Op-Ed to the Campus about how Swarthmore enforces its alcohol policy. One reader thought I should take a look at the differences between Pennsylvania and Vermont law to better understand why Swarthmore and Middlebury students are treated so differently. This is a valid critique; still, I don’t believe that Middlebury’s hands are completely tied by the law, and I am concerned about the stifling effects our current policies have had on student social life.

Earlier this year, I witnessed a group of first-years sprint out of a social house because it was rumored that Public Safety was passing through. These particular first-years were still on their orientation week, and as such, they had no idea that they were allowed to stay as long as they were not holding drinks. I was inside the social house, unaware of their presence, so it is hard to say if any of them were drinking.

When I thought about it further, I could not help but wonder: were they drinking, or terrified of Public Safety, or both? And should we really devote such a massive portion of our institutional resources toward stamping out moderate drinking?

Middlebury’s student alcohol studies have shown that potentially destructive drinking patterns have worsened in the past few years. Halfway through the 2008 fall semester, 40 percent of first-years engaged in “high-risk” drinking at least once in the two weeks prior to when they were polled. At the same point in 2010, the figure had increased to 55 percent of all first-years.

Some might read this data as evidence that a more rigorous enforcement policy is needed to reduce overall student drinking, and that a more hands-off enforcement policy could exacerbate the problem when students realize that they can drink as much as they want without having to check over their shoulders for Public Safety. But it is important to note that there must be other variables in this equation, because Middlebury’s policies have changed very little in recent years, and yet there seems to be more drinking happening on campus.

This increase in alcohol consumption is troubling, especially when paired with hazy standards of how students are supposed to conduct themselves when they drink. For example, in 2009, I was at an Atwater dance on Halloween Night, called Baile Terror, which was shut down by Public Safety. The reason for the shutdown was that some students were too drunk to wait in line to get into the dance and decided to give security a hard time. Our campus never had a serious discussion about what role students played in this incident, mostly because many assumed that the security officers hired by the College didn’t handle the situation well.

Several parties have been shut down every year since then for similar reasons. Most incidents, such as one last October that resulted in a broken window at the Bunker, usually only involve a few students.

My guess is that the sentiment of most students on these matters is similar to a comment posted on Middlebury Confessional: “BROS: STOP BREAKING SHIT. ADMINISTRATION: BACK OFF.” Unfortunately, the dysfunctional aspects of Middlebury’s drinking culture go well beyond “bros [just ‘bros’?] breaking shit.” Moreover, it seems likely that some level of destructive behavior will persist, even if the administration decides to “back off.” My point is that the dominant drinking culture here is something that a lot of students either participate in or tolerate, even if they are not necessarily the ones who are kicking over trashcans in front of Atwater Hall (to name one example).

On that note, I would like to conclude with a few questions. In the context of alcohol use at Middlebury, which is more influential, in your view—institutional policy or student drinking culture? Is Middlebury’s drinking culture a problem? (Leave comments by clicking here.)

 

Showing Up

At the beginning of each new year, I like to reflect on the things I want to change or improve and then commit to working on them. This has been a lifelong process that I have found very rewarding. And I think it is a critical practice to take on in our personal development.

There is one interpersonal skill, which I call “showing up,” that I try to focus on whenever possible. It requires a skill set almost everyone struggles with from time to time. Yet, those who successfully master it are often quite effective in navigating difficult situations.

Woody Allen famously said, “80 percent of success is showing up.” Most people hear this quote and think of someone passively sitting at a meeting or standing quietly at a gathering. But, I think of someone “showing up” by putting her character on the line, face to face.

This multiple-choice question demonstrates my point:

Something has happened on campus that has left you feeling really frustrated, hurt, and/or angry. The anger is powerful, and it wants to spill out. You are seething. What do you do about it?

A) As the anger builds, explode.
B) Drown your feelings and be silent.
C) Vent to your friends.
D) Vent to the world by posting your thoughts anonymously somewhere.
E) Express your feelings directly to the responsible individual(s).

From personal experience, I know that the last option is often the hardest to muster the gumption for. Confronting someone directly can place us in an intimidating, uncomfortable, unknown situation. Options A through D may feel safer.

But, avoiding direct communication is a lousy way to get through life. Anger remains and festers. Misunderstandings grow deeper. Self-doubt becomes entrenched. When you speak out about what’s on your mind, you are honoring yourself, developing character, giving the other person an opportunity to clarify or re-evaluate, and practicing the most powerful skill any of us will ever acquire, ever. It takes practice and constant fine-tuning to be able to express oneself assertively, yet graciously.

I’d like to invite you to practice direct communication here at Middlebury and to work on making it your “default mode” for handling problems. Students will never again have four years in an environment such as this, where testing the waters, educationally and experientially, is so strongly supported. We try very hard to create an atmosphere that is conducive to open dialogue—that provides honest spaces for people to share their views and their personal feelings, no matter how unpopular.

We have had some difficult and some exhilarating experiences together this year, and through all of them, I have tried to make direct communication my default mode. I must confess that I am not always perfect with this, but I am constantly trying to be better at how I connect and communicate with students, faculty, and staff. I know that tensions sometimes run high when there is a challenging campus issue we are dealing with, and sometimes that results in students feeling frustrated with one another or with the administration. There are times when I could take the comfortable route by issuing a letter or sending an e-mail, but I often see great value in sitting down together, explaining a situation or decision, and being open to feedback—providing transparency and giving all involved an opportunity to be heard. In the end, I think everyone would agree that these conversations help diffuse hard feelings and build understanding.

So consider this: For the rest of this academic year, talk with your neighbors and use your voice, front and center. Let’s really talk. Let’s not simply tweet or leave anonymous notes and postings. Let’s have conversations. I learn every time students are willing to talk with me and with each other.

Will you talk? And if someone talks to you, will you listen and try to understand?

Let me know what you think and how we can all share more ideas, find solutions, build understanding, and show up with respect and openness.

Dear Readers,

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.

 

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