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Category Archive for 'Social life'

I believe we are at a tipping point at Middlebury. This moment and opportunity will require real commitment and the generation of creative and serious solutions as we look for ways to improve student-life options on campus. The process began last year with the alcohol survey and the student forum on alcohol—and is continuing now in all sectors of the College.

Although the discussion has focused primarily on alcohol use, it touches on so many other aspects of social life. I would like to open the conversation, engaging as many of you as possible in finding workable solutions.

It is clear to me that addressing this campus issue will take the commitment, energy, and creativity of many members of our community in order to find good answers—that not only make social life more engaging here but that also foster independence and accountability among students.

My blog today includes the letter that I recently sent to the campus community about the Task Force on Alcohol and Social Life (below). I’m calling on students to step up and offer ideas and views in the comments section here, on MiddBlogand through The CampusPlease feel free also to speak with any of the task force members or to visit me during my office hours.

Let’s see how many different, thoughtful ideas we can generate. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


Dear faculty, staff, and students:

Last year we began important discussions about the relationship of alcohol to social life at Middlebury. This process began with an alcohol survey in the fall of 2010 and concluded with a well-attended student forum on alcohol in the spring of 2011. Energetic conversation on the subject was augmented by coverage in The Campus and in MiddBlog.

This year we wish to move these conversations toward constructive, realistic, and practical responses. In the process, we seek to answer these questions:

  • What role should alcohol play in the social life of our students?
  • How might we improve social events with and without alcohol?
  • What are the options for students who do not wish to drink?

As recently reported in The Campus and in MiddBlog, I have formed the Task Force on Alcohol and Social Life, composed of students, faculty, and staff to:

  • Review the quality and variety of social options on campus (as well as how social events are marketed)
  • Assess the positive and negative roles that alcohol plays in student social experience
  • Propose new or revised policies, procedures, and support structures that effectively address student, faculty, and staff concerns

I am very pleased to announce that Dean of Students Katy Smith Abbott and Coach Bob Ritter will be co-chairing the task force. Task force members include:

  • Adam Beaser, ’14
  • Priscilla Bremser, Professor of Mathematics
  • Susan DeSimone, Associate in Science Instruction, Biology
  • Dan Gaiotti, Associate Director, Public Safety
  • Carllee James, ’13
  • Matt Kimble, Associate Professor of Psychology
  • Nathan LaBarba, ’14
  • Robert LaMoy, ’12
  • Sylvia Manning, Manager, Custodial Services
  • Ellen McKay, Administrative Program Coordinator, Chaplain’s Office
  • Nial Rele, ’12
  • Becca Shaw, ’12
  • Annie Wymard, ’15

Task force members will specifically be asked to:

  • Review current national and regional data on alcohol use among college students; examine evidence-based recommendations to reduce problematic drinking; evaluate the applicability of national and regional recommendations to the Middlebury setting.
  • Review current alcohol policy and make suggestions for revised policies and enforcement.
  • Assess the College’s approach to health and wellness education, consider programs for prevention and for those struggling with addiction.
  • Develop ideas for enhancing social life, including viable options for first-year students.
  • Assess the balance between fostering independence and student responsibility while ensuring the safety of all students.
  • Investigate the relationship between excessive drinking and vandalism on campus, with an eye toward proposing workable solutions.
  • Present additional ideas and creative solutions.

This task force will be a working and action-oriented group. In addition to carrying out the above-mentioned tasks, they will be engaging members of the community (especially students) throughout the year for feedback and ideas. A final report with recommendations will be submitted to President Liebowitz and me by late April 2012.

We are committed to this effort and hope that you will be a part of the conversation and the solutions by providing feedback and ideas along the way. Feel free to reach out to Dean of Students Katy Smith Abbott, Coach Bob Ritter, or me if you have any questions or suggestions.

Shirley M. Collado

Dear Readers,

I have had the honor of working together with Janet Rodrigues ’12 on the Community Council in her role as a member and now as co-chair. As my guest blogger this week, I asked her to share her views about some of the challenges students face on this campus. She has more than fulfilled this request by sharing a story about a difficult day in her life. I look forward to hearing your comments.
—Shirley M. Collado

I will not forget one of my most stressful days at Middlebury thus far (I hope I haven’t spoken too soon). I would like to share this day with you in order to get to something more important than a day in the life of little miss me.

I woke up early that day to campaign for student co-chair of Community Council, and I spent two hours riding my bike across campus chalking “Vote Janet for SCOCC” everywhere. I mean everywhere! Breathless, I arrived at class, and suddenly it began to pour.

Then, during class, the professor decided to address concerns regarding course material that some of us felt was exclusive in nature, reflecting primarily white, male worldviews. This had alienated the two students of color and others. Apparently, I had a lot to say on the topic, and by the time class was over, I realized that very few of my white colleagues sympathized or understood the alienation I described. (I think an element of unearned privilege makes it hard for some to understand or identify with my experience, and the difficulty I find bridging this gulf is frustrating for me.)

Then, I went off to a lecture on Mozambique, widely attended by aspiring Peace Corps volunteers. As I listened to the lecturer talk about my people, I wanted to explode because he was referring to us in “development jargon”—“change behavior,” make “progress,” as if we need to be “changed” by someone else. As I walked out of the talk, I screamed—in frustration over the injustice, alienation, and lack of control I felt.

Days like these—with seemingly small, subtle interactions—can chip away at us. We can become numb as a result, numb to our feelings and needs. For me, this day was filled with a series of events that I felt helpless over. It was a day in which my community deeply affected me. This was the day I realized I was living in depression and that I needed to address it.

I will not share how my depression manifested, but I would like to share what I learned about how to get through it. This day, I realized what I truly needed from my Middlebury community and from my communities beyond Middlebury. Above all, friends and community are the most important healers.

We are under constant pressure to stay in control—in control of ourselves, our friendships, our academic careers, our futures. The list goes on. How we treat the members of our community and most importantly, ourselves, can get lost along the way. Just look at the prevalence of alcohol abuse and damage to campus buildings. This behavior does not prioritize self or community.

But to put our community and ourselves at the top of the priority list takes commitment, easily forgotten when life gets overwhelming. A few weeks ago, I was asked to step in as interim president of Student Government. I was quite content with the position I already had, Community Council co-chair, and I was enjoying garnering excitement around Community Council. When I was asked to put some of my responsibilities on hold in order to address the sudden absence of a president, I was ambivalent at first. And I almost missed the point: A student realized he could not carry his load, and he did something about it; he turned to the rest of us for help.

We have all been in a position where we realize we can no longer meet others’ expectations. During these times, our friends and our community must support us. If you have not come to such crossroads yet, it will happen. There will be inevitable times when we all must ask ourselves, “Can I actually be in total control?” NO!

This is where community comes in. We may not know when someone needs us. Thus, we must always tap into the pulse of our community and pay attention to each other. We need to recognize when others are feeling alienated and help vocalize their concerns. And if someone is bearing a heavy load, then we need to recognize that and try to help. We are all trustees of each other’s happiness.

Starting Fresh

As we start the school year together, I am so pleased to see you all, rested and energized, and ready to tackle the opportunities ahead. I hope you had an engaging, yet restorative summer. I know I did, and I am excited to begin the year with you anew.

The beginning of the school year is always infused with a special level of energy and excitement. We head into the fall looking forward to rich conversations and growth as individuals and as a community, reflecting on how best to strengthen what works well for us, and challenging ourselves to gain new insights and skills in other areas of exploration.

This approach certainly characterized the 2010–11 year, and, as happens every year, those of us in the student life area came away with a number of important issues on which to reflect and work over the summer. Among the more prominent of these issues was the question of student-life policies and how to ensure that they meet several standards: that they are based on a defined set of community values and goals, that they are written as clearly as possible, and that they are easily accessible to all students.

We therefore undertook a major review of all Student Life Handbook policies in order to meet these goals. We removed text that was redundant, tried to simplify language that was confusing, and reorganized the layout to improve clarity and accessibility. In addition, we added a clear set of Community Standards upon which these policies are based. Most of the text of these standards was consolidated from existing handbook language, but because it was formerly distributed over several different locations, it was difficult to process as a coherent set of values. These are the standards that characterize our approach to all decisions around student and community life at Middlebury, and we hope that their increased transparency will help to guide us all.

I would like to draw your special attention to a few important initiatives:

1. We have introduced a new Sexual Misconduct Policy, based on more than two years of research by Middlebury’s Sexual Assault Oversight Committee.  Changes include an effort to encourage the reporting of violations by removing an in-person judicial board hearing from the process; engaging a trained professional investigator; strengthening and clarifying all definitions, including those of consent and coercion; and ensuring that all parties have equal rights and opportunities throughout the process. You will be hearing more about this policy in the weeks to come, but in the meantime, I encourage all of you to familiarize yourself with it.

2. We have streamlined the language of our Alcohol and Other Drugs policy considerably. After last spring’s all-campus forum about our alcohol policies and practices, we agreed that this year we would create a working group of students, staff, and faculty to explore some of the important issues and suggestions regarding alcohol and social life that emerged from the forum. I am looking forward to this process; in the meantime, we hope you will find this description of our current policies to be clear and accessible.

3. We have strengthened the hazing policy on two fronts: In addition to providing new sections that contain examples of active and passive hazing, we have provided a clarified processes description and created a hazing website. We hope this will augment the policy by providing educational information and resources. Although the site is still in its early stages, we will continue to develop it this fall; students interested in contributing to this effort should contact Associate Dean Doug Adams.

4. We have added a new policy in the General Conduct section called Providing False or Misleading Information, in which we clarify our expectation that all students communicate with members of our staff and faculty with complete honesty and integrity. Although this standard is not new, in the past, we have held students who violate it accountable under the former Respect for College Officials policy (now called Respect for the Authority of College Officials). In an effort to bring this expectation to students’ attention in the clearest way possible, we have made it more explicit under the new policy.

5. Finally, in an effort to highlight some of Middlebury’s most important resources and practices, we have created a Middlebury Student Resource Guide. This booklet has been distributed to all new students and is available online. It is intended to highlight for all students those policies and resources that are especially important and to direct you to more information as appropriate. We hope it will help both new and returning students to understand and embrace our community values and to feel at home here.

I look forward to a year of spirited discussion and exploration with you. Let the discussions begin: Please post any comments you’d like to make about the policies, or student life in general, here.

Dear Readers,

I have asked Lisa Gates, associate dean of experiential education, assessment, and planning, to be this month’s guest blogger. She is writing about the vision behind the new Center for Education in Action and how the center’s work is critical to a liberal arts education. Not only is her post informative, it also raises some intriguing questions about how we choose to spend our time.

Shirley M. Collado
Dean of the College

There’s a quote on my refrigerator from the writer Annie Dillard. It reads: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” Admittedly, it’s one of those obvious points, the kind of sentiment that ends up on refrigerator magnets in the first place, and yet I always appreciate the message: stop for a moment, think about the myriad things one does in the course of a day, and connect these daily actions to the larger picture. Are the things that I am doing today important to me? What am I learning from these things?

And that’s where the Center for Education in Action—EIA for short—comes in. As students, you are already well acquainted with at least some of our parts—career services, the Alliance for Civic Engagement (ACE), health professions and fellowships advising—but in coming together as one center, our goal is to provide you with a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Together, we bring more comprehensive advising and resources, more funding and more opportunities for interesting, challenging experiences outside the classroom. Because what you do outside of academics, too, is part of your Middlebury education—and it’s a critical part.

So let’s talk a moment about this broad category of out-of-the-classroom experience. These run the gamut from campus jobs to playing on an athletic team, from mentoring kids after school to presenting your work at the undergraduate research symposium, from practicing guitar (or yoga or rugby or you fill in the activity) to doing a summer internship, maybe with a botanical garden in Denver or the Department of Homeland Security in D.C. (examples of internships offered to students for this summer). This is what you do in the course of a given day or week or month. This is how you spend your days. And yet as quotidian—or in some cases necessary—as some of these activities are, they can still tell you something useful about yourself.

Think about these choices you are making. You’re doing all these things, but why these things and not others? What are you learning through these experiences? Are there connections between what you do outside of class and what you choose to study? Can you take what you learn in volunteering, working, or interning and apply it to your academic life? What do you like or dislike? What fascinates you? What challenges you? What puts you to sleep? Thinking about these choices will provide you with valuable information as you make decisions about classes next semester, your summer plans, or what you might want to do after graduation, because, like it or not, that day will come, too. Your learning is cumulative, and the more you can do to make those active connections between these various experiences and your formal education, the better prepared—and successful—you’ll be in choosing your path after graduation. And the happier you’ll be with your choices.

EIA is one of many resources at Middlebury available to support you in your educational journey here. If you haven’t connected with us yet or haven’t talked with us in awhile, take the time to stop by and look at what we have to offer: internships; jobs; funding; community connections, global and local; career exploration; alumni connections; fellowships and grad-school advising; and preparation for med, dental, and vet school applications.

Did you know we provided 91 students with funding last summer to participate in unpaid internships and independent projects? We offered more than 300 Midd-friendly internships and supported community engagement work in Vermont, Gambia, China, and Uganda last year, among other places. We helped students apply for and win prestigious scholarships, like the Fulbright, the Beinecke, the Watson, and the Gates Cambridge. We helped students gain admission to medical and veterinary schools and find jobs with organizations ranging from Teach for America to Goldman Sachs. Behind the scenes, we’re working with our extensive and enthusiastic alumni, parent, and professional networks to identify new opportunities, speakers, funds, and contacts that can help you connect with opportunities and advice in the areas you’re interested in.

Most important, we’re a place for conversation and advice. We don’t expect you to have figured it all out; we just expect to help you in that process. Figuring it all out, after all, is one of those elusive goals that no one, not even a Pulitzer-prize winning writer like Annie Dillard, really achieves. It’s what you do in the course of a day, a week, or a month that matters. One of the greatest joys and challenges of a liberal arts education is that it is not prescriptive. It leaves you to figure out what you are interested in, what excites you, and how you can deepen those interests through the experiences you choose while a student. You’re in charge of your educational path, but we can certainly help you as you explore these fundamental questions.

Want to learn more? Come see us in Adirondack House. Career counselors have drop-ins from 2–5 p.m., Monday–Friday, and all advisers—for community engagement, health professions, and fellowships—are available for appointments and can be reached by phone or e-mail (check out go/eia for a full list). Just give us a call (x5100) or drop by!

—   Lisa Gates
Associate Dean of Experiential Education, Assessment, and Planning

The annual Posse Plus Retreat was held at Lake Morey in early March, and I felt privileged to be there as a participant. This event gave Posse Scholars an opportunity to invite other members of our campus into a critical dialogue for a full weekend. More than 120 faculty, staff, and students attended, committing their time, energy, and personal courage to the process. I was moved by their passion and honesty. The retreat reminded me of how much we, as a community, need to have this type of reflective time. Although it involved a subset of the campus, I believe it has opened lines of communication and brought critical issues to our attention.

The retreat invitation, sent by the Posse Foundation, defined this year’s subject this way: “This year’s Retreat is your time to collaborate, contemplate, and create the life you want and the legacy you will leave behind both collectively and individually. At this year’s Retreat, we’ll discuss what it means to be living as a Millennial; what it means to be happy; what it means to be charged with leading a world you’re only beginning to shape but will soon inherit.” (Read a PDF of the full invitation: PPR.)

It was a provocative weekend. We had many thoughtful discussions about issues such as technology and privacy, ethics, and stress on college campuses. We also explored similarities and differences across generations.

We looked at what it means to be living as a Millennial. People spoke with honesty and passion.

The retreat reminded me of the extent to which students are grappling with complex concerns. They’re bearing the burden of environmental irresponsibility, war, a daunting economy, a challenged and dispirited workforce, and they are thinking about how to apply their educations to the problems that need to be solved.

I heard students saying that although they feel criticized for being “checked out” or for not caring or for being disconnected from reality, they actually care a great deal about what is happening in the world. Unfortunately, some find our societal challenges so daunting they don’t know where to begin to address them.

Students talked about how fast-paced everything seems—how it’s not enough to do three things; they have to do eight things. It’s not enough to graduate from Middlebury; they have to have a plan in place before they get their diplomas.

We explored differences and similarities across generations.

This sense of urgency leaves little room for them to take risks, to possibly fail at something, to be flawed. Students talked about having to carry anxiety as a constant companion, anchored in the fear of not being good enough, of not doing their best at everything.

Even issues of race and diversity seem less straightforward for students now then they were for earlier generations. I heard some students describe wrestling with conflicting desires to be politically correct and at the same time to express their identities. These students try to avoid labels, which also makes it hard for them to state: “This is who I am; this is my identity, and this is what I believe.” Instead, they described feeling that they must be all things to all people. Of course, there’s strength in this type of sensitivity—these students are becoming a new kind of global citizen—but it can also come at a price if they do not believe they can freely express who they really are and what they really think.

Our dialogue over the weekend also included serious introspection about how Middlebury can foster different types of environments for students. Although the sense of anxiety and pressure many feel did not originate at Middlebury, the atmosphere on campus may somehow reinforce it for some. We asked ourselves how we could soften the environment and create an atmosphere that encourages some risk taking, introspection, and a degree of letting go. Some simple ideas were suggested. For example, adopting a pass/fail option might alleviate performance pressure and encourage some risk taking.

Although 120 people talked about these things at Lake Morey, I’d like to expand the conversation to the full campus. Please feel free to weigh in and share your views. What pressures do you feel? What legacy do you want to leave? What could Middlebury do as an institution to help foster a space to make changes, take a deep breath, and just let you be you?


Please weigh in to the discussion. Leave a comment here by clicking on "comments" beneath the post title.


Dear Readers,

I  first met Jacob Udell at a meeting with the Religious Life Council, at the very beginning of my first year as Dean of the College. His intellectual fire, fierce leadership, and disarming honesty instantly impressed me. Subsequently, he followed up with a meeting in which we explored how to bring together students from all backgrounds and encourage them to collaborate, get to know one another, and challenge themselves. We’ve been working together and getting to know each other ever since.  I am pleased that Jacob has decided to share part of his experience with the Middlebury community as guest blogger this month, and I look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts about this compelling topic.

—Shirley M. Collado
Dean of the College

Early last year, a close friend of mine was sitting in Proctor when my name came up. “Who is he?” someone at the table asked. “Oh, you know, he’s the kid with that funny hat,” responded another. My friend, aware of the internal struggle I’d had in deciding to wear a Jewish head covering on campus and Jewish himself, indignantly snapped back, “It’s called a kippah!’ Much to his surprise, however, the funny hat being referred to was not the kippah but actually a flannel Middlebury cap that I often wear. Embarrassed, my friend apologized for his strong reaction and couldn’t wait to laugh about it with me later.

This story is on my mind as I write this blog post because it captures the importance of language in grappling with identity. I arrived on campus sophomore year as one of two students wearing a kippah because without it I felt unable to share with others the language that helped shape my worldview. I wanted peers to ask me why I wore it and for that to be an entry-point into conversations that would allow us to share our personal beliefs and ideals on our own terms. At the same time, I dreaded the possibility that my choice might exclude me from the “language” of our campus: What if I was left out of what it meant to be attractive? What if my outward religiosity implied that I was something less than a critical thinker? What if I was known on campus as “the kid with the funny hat” and then left at that?

I’m acutely aware that this particular identity-marker is unique in that I can choose when to take off my kippah or when to put on a hat instead. Yet despite the benefits of this unusual flexibility, wearing a kippah has attuned me to a tension felt by so many on our campus: on the one hand, we desire for our identity to be acknowledged and respected in its distinctiveness, and, on the other hand, we fear being marginalized by the kinds of conversations and social codes that pervade our community.

Let me explain by returning to the anecdote at the table in Proctor. Though it was nothing more than a miscommunication, I think my friend responded so passionately in my defense because the phrase “funny hat” seemed so overtly demeaning. I’m proud to have friends who speak out in response to perceived intolerance, but it seems to me that much of the normative exclusion that happens on campus is a different kind of intolerance altogether—decidedly more hidden and subtle. When we speak about going out to dinner, our spring-break plans, or the comprehensive fee, do we consider the financial backgrounds of those listening to us? When we discuss romantic pursuits, does the language we use exclude those who don’t fit into our assumptions about categories like sexual orientation, gender, or level of sexual activity? When we make plans to go to a party, how often do we overlook the students who silently struggle with the culture of alcohol or the repressed but not uncommon danger of sexual assault?

Since this post is about language, I’ll be very clear in naming what I’m talking about: privilege. The privilege conferred by class, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion is not only manifest when someone is actively discriminated against, but also when people fail to think critically about the power of their language.

But our privilege does not have to be damaging. My decision to wear my self-selected identity on my sleeve (or rather, on top of my head) is, in every sense of the word, a privilege, and it has given me countless opportunities to share a medium that has shaped how I speak about the world. For every time I’ve been nervous about being typecast, I’ve had two or three conversations that have left me feeling validated and have given my peers the space to feel the same.

Perhaps what we as a community need is not to prepare our tolerant, liberal selves for the next time someone makes a discriminatory remark, but rather to work on cultivating an atmosphere in which our multilayered identities are out on the table, along with the privilege and the struggle that come with them. Perhaps we need to give voice to those who feel excluded in our community. And most importantly, perhaps we need to celebrate our power by shaping collective language and striving to listen to the narratives of others in the co-creation of that language.

And if anyone is interested in wearing a kippah, I have a few extras in my room… 

—Jacob Udell ’12



Our Beloved Community

Dear Readers,

In recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I have asked Jennifer Herrera, special assistant to the dean of the College and senior adviser for diversity initiatives, to be our guest blogger. Jennifer has an interesting story to tell about how active community engagement awakened in her. As always, we look forward to hearing your comments.

–Shirley M. Collado

Since we are in the midst of our annual celebration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I’ve been thinking about what it means to be actively engaged in critical issues, and what it means to actively pursue Dr. King’s philosophy of the “beloved community.” I don’t have a scholarly answer. I can only attempt to answer through my own personal evolution and understanding.

I never used to consider myself an activist—or diversity “worker,” social justice advocate, an ally, or even a feminist for that matter. These labels have become attached to me by virtue of my work at Middlebury, growing up in a queer family, raising a multiethnic child in a predominantly white environment, and my personal interests.

As a young person, I wasn’t socially conscious; I was not involved in political, social, or community action. I remember once seeing people marching the streets in my predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, near the Columbia University campus, protesting against Apartheid in South Africa. I was 13 and couldn’t relate to the plight of black South Africans from where I stood on 121st Street and Amsterdam. At the time, I didn’t understand why I should be concerned about what was happening with people I didn’t know or who were so far away. I didn’t realize that the same racism and oppression they were experiencing was similar to what had been happening in my own country for nearly 400 years.

It wasn’t until I attended college that I learned the importance of using one’s privilege to advocate for the underprivileged, the importance of giving a voice to the silenced. I learned that social injustice anywhere diminishes us all. And yet, although I knew these things, I didn’t actively engage myself. Not until much later.

I first came to Middlebury in 2002 from Penn State University, where I had worked in events management and marketing. Middlebury is nothing like Penn State—a place so big, compartmentalized, and hierarchical, with an unapproachable administration—and Middlebury’s differences awakened a hope I hadn’t experienced before. Don’t get me wrong, Middlebury is not perfect, but I have witnessed significant, positive institutional changes in my eight years here.

I see Middlebury as sincerely striving to become what Dr. King called the “beloved community,” because this institution values inclusion, encourages collaboration and coalition building, and empowers all of us to become our best selves. The Middlebury I know is not afraid to be challenged about its weaknesses, to learn from its mistakes. It shows potential for evolving into a fully integrated community.

Here at Middlebury, I have been blessed with having the opportunity to make a difference on many levels. I have been able to work closely with students, faculty, staff, and administrators on issues and projects that shape the College community—to use the privilege that comes from my administrative role to help students in need. I found my activist voice here. (And I learned that my voice mattered when students nominated and chose me for the Staff Feminist of the Year Award in 2006.)

I understand now what I did not understand many years ago: The dream of a beloved community will stay in the realm of slumber unless we each engage our talents and voices to improve the status quo. And while collaboration among all of us is the only way to make lasting change, we still have to take some lumps or put stress on the pressure points along the way. Taking action will lead to the world Dr. King envisioned.

Do you agree with me about what a beloved community is? Do you see Middlebury the way I do, or do you see it differently? Do you feel empowered to create the change you believe in?

Today, I would like to discuss a dilemma created by cyber-communication (and, yes, it is ironic that I am writing about this topic in a blog). Like many people, I text, post on Facebook, and use other cyber-tools because they are easy, fun, and help me stay connected. But I’ve been thinking about what is lost in the process.

Our campus provides an amazing opportunity—which most students will not come across again—to live among a completely diverse group of people in a safe environment and to get to know them on the most personal level. This unique experience is at the heart of a Middlebury education.

But, as I walk about campus, I see something that worries me. Many students are so profoundly connected online that I fear they are disconnected from life right here.

I often see students glued to their cell phones, disregarding people in the same room. I see students with laptop lives, perpetually Facebooking, tweeting, scanning YouTube, weblogs, podcasts, and wikis. The face-to-face conversation, the hand-written note, and the reassuring touch have given way to the casual, distant interaction that sometimes comes with living life virtually.

If you are living your day more online than in person, you are missing one of the greatest aspects of your Middlebury experience. We want our students to relate face to face, to learn how to resolve differences, to debate and argue with one another in constructive and challenging ways. We want you to ask your friends and acquaintances, “How are you?” and really listen to them—really see them, learn from them.

Computer-based media, by their design, convince us that we are “plugged in,” when actually we may be “checked out.” As we have seen in national examples and tragedies, some people will confess the most intimate details about their lives online, but they do not know how to open up to their friends, and they risk difficult experiences being overlooked. And people witnessing these online confessions often give them only a passing glance—the words become lost in the beehive-like noise, the fast and furious casualness of it all. No one’s paying attention.

I worry that this may be the first generation without sufficient experience in making human connections, that we are encouraging the development of individuals who will not know how to talk directly to each other and resolve conflict across human lines. We may run the risk of simply becoming observers, passive non-participants in our own lives. I worry that technology, to some extent, is pacifying and paralyzing us.

Although I benefit from the advances of technology and use it quite a bit, I still love a hand-written note, a visit, or a phone call. And I hope that we can all strive to make personal interaction the norm in our lives, not the exception.

I am urging students to take regular breaks from their virtual worlds, to seek out directly the people on campus. I don’t want you to have a transactional experience with your education here. Be a part of the process, not observers of it. And perhaps you will end up listening to someone who really needs you to pay attention. Most importantly, I know that this type of real connection will enhance your Middlebury education.

If we lost electricity for a week and our campus were disconnected from technology, I wonder what it would be like. What would your interactions look like? How would you push yourself to communicate? How would you get your work done?

But why wait for a power outage before you disconnect? Try it. Tell me how it went.

Dear Readers,

I have the honor of serving as co-chair of Community Council with Raymond Queliz. I have asked him to write this week’s post about student leadership on campus and ways in which students can shape the future of the College. As co-chair of Community Council, president of KDR, a member of Student Government, and a Posse Scholar, Ray brings a significant point of view to this topic. I look forward to hearing your comments.

—Shirley M. Collado

There are so many different ways to lead at Middlebury. There are social house presidents, treasurers, and social chairs, for example. There are the Pan Caribbean Student Organization presidents, Tavern members, Sexual Assault Oversight Committee members and Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity Advisory Board members, the Middlebury College orchestra and Juntos members, Sunday Night Group members, GlobeMed members, writers for The Campus, Residential Sustainability coordinators, residential advisers, Middlebury Open Queer Alliance members, Middlebury College Activities Board members, and College Republican members. And the list goes on, including sports-team captains, a cappella group directors, Dolci chefs, and ISO members. This is just a sampling of the variety that student representatives bring to Community Council.

While Community Council is composed of students, faculty, staff, and administrators, I believe I speak for the student voice when I say that Middlebury has changed drastically throughout the last couple of years. As I step into my position as Community Council co-chair, I often ask myself, why are all of us here at Middlebury—what brings us here?

Throughout my first 10 weeks as co-chair, my question has been answered in several ways. Overwhelmingly, students agree that diversity initiatives need to be instated, social life needs to be improved without fear of getting penalized, respect must always be maintained, and more accountability needs to be placed on the student.

My concern lies with the fact that academics have risen to a higher level of importance than maintaining a positive social life. I feel that other issues—racial diversity, gender equity, all-gender housing, environmental friendliness, social houses, awareness of Honor Codes, and parties—are of equal importance. In Community Council, we evaluate the issues we face in the community every day, and we try to improve the quality of student life on campus.

Community Council members are leaders who carry the burden of representing their respective voices. I urge all students to speak up about an issue that they are passionate about. Why silence yourself when we are available to listen as a representative body of the community as a whole? In order to better understand where we are going in terms of student life, it is essential to pose the questions: What should student life look like? What can be done to ensure that non-academic endeavors are equally as important as the classroom?

—Raymond Queliz ’11

Today, I am writing about plates. It seems almost comical that this is the subject of my post, but since pilfered dishes have been a major topic of discussion throughout campus lately, I’d like to bring up an aspect of this issue that has not received much attention.

We’ve talked about the extremely high cost of replacing dishes, the hundreds and thousands of missing plates, and the efforts undertaken by Community Council, Student Government, and the administration to resolve the problem. But there has been less discussion about what this situation says about our students. I believe it’s not a plate problem, but an issue of privilege.

It is one thing for students to be unconcerned about costs, but it’s quite a different matter to be unconcerned about people—and the message that this behavior sends is, “This is really convenient for me, and I don’t care who has to deal with it. I don’t care if other people have to clean up after me.”

We are approaching a holiday in which people in this country and around the world don’t have enough food to eat and are trying to find a warm place to live. Yet, here at Middlebury, we live in an incredibly privileged environment that is beautiful and pristine. I am sure that everyone among us is thankful for this environment. It takes a lot of hard work to create and maintain it—work that scores of staff members put in on our behalf every day.

They move through campus, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, keeping lights running, mopping floors, scrubbing toilets, and thinking about how to make our campus safe and clean. When they have to contend with ant infestations from food-caked dishes left in dorms, or with picking up dirty plates piled in bathrooms, or with hauling large boxes full of filthy dishes down flights of stairs, or with soaking and then hand scrubbing them, I imagine that they can’t help but feel undervalued—or worse, unseen. They are being forced to do work that is incredibly menial and unpleasant because of thoughtless behavior.

I would like to call students to action to think more critically about the human face behind the dish problem. Think about what it says about us as a community when these small acts of thoughtlessness create a collective problem that impacts all of us in a negative way. This thoughtlessness speaks volumes about what kind of people our students are going to be when they leave this institution.

As we pause with family and friends this Thanksgiving to reflect on the many blessings we enjoy, please take time to see—really see—the people here who make our campus a haven of calm and beauty. Perhaps, even, ask yourself how you can show your appreciation for their efforts.

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