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My guest blogger today is Kemi Fuentes-George, a new member of our faculty, who teaches environmental studies and political science. He tells a very personal story about identity, which I personally connect with. I want to thank him for his honesty as a newcomer to campus, and I am very excited that he is a member of our faculty.
 —Shirley M. Collado

As a Caribbean immigrant living in New England, my thoughts turn naturally to issues of diversity. We have a sense that it matters, but how?  So I decided to think about diversity from my current position of a faculty member, as well as what it meant to me as a student, lo, these many years ago. Continue Reading »

Dear Readers,

My guest blogger today is Taylor Shepard ’12. Taylor has served as SGA press secretary, working closely with many campus groups and LIS to improve communication on campus. She has some interesting observations about the way we get information out and what might be holding people back from changing old patterns. We would love to hear what you think about this topic. Please weigh in with your comments.

—Shirley M. Collado Continue Reading »

My guest blogger this week is Ellen McKay, the program coordinator for the Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life. Ellen works closely with students on a wide range of projects related to spiritual and social life on campus. When we think about diversity, matters of faith can sometimes be overlooked, and Ellen’s post highlights just how important they are to many students.

—Shirley M. Collado Continue Reading »

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.)


Fitting In

Dear Readers,

 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!!”
(Awkward pause)
“How’s it going?”
____: “Good! How about you?”
Stanis: “Good!”
(Awkward pause)
“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.)


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,

An old Eskimo adage offers the following blessing: “May you have warmth in your igloo, oil in your lamp, and peace in your heart!”

That is my wish for the members of our community as we prepare to spend time with family and loved ones this holiday season—that we each find warmth, light, and serenity along the way.

Wishing you a safe and joyous winter break, I look forward to seeing you again in 2012.

Shirley M. Collado


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.


Dear Readers, 

I asked Tara Affolter, visiting assistant professor of education studies, and Hector Vila, assistant professor of writing, to share with us their philosophy about advising students. In this week’s post, Tara and Hector discuss their role as advisers—of the whole student. They provide an enlightening viewpoint. Please chime in with your comments and observations.
—Shirley M. Collado 

Def. Advising. To advise. To counsel, to suggest and give guidance, personal and professional.

“I’m useless.  I don’t know,” said the student.  “I’m feeling lost. Can we talk?”

“Do I have to take a science course, I’m terrible in science?”

“I don’t know what to major in—and everyone I know is either a joint major or a double major.  I’m scared.”

“I can’t seem to fit in. I’m so depressed.”

“If I ask for help, I will have failed.”

The classic notion of the liberal arts requires that we examine the proximity of the teacher to the student. The liberal arts suggest a kind of intimacy existing between the student, the teacher and the exchange of knowledge. Worried that a student may be too reliant on the wisdom contained in books, Seneca in his Letters, says that, “It is one thing to remember, another to know. To remember is to safeguard something entrusted to memory. But to know is to make each thing one’s own, not to depend on the text and always look back to the teacher.”

Seneca provides several challenges to us: we must examine our relations and proximities to our students; that we then likewise describe the context in which the liberal arts are expressed; and that we try to learn about our students’ implicit scholarship in pop music, sports, fashion, and media so as to better understand how to create a dialog between us that is creative, positive, and safe.

When a student first presents herself to us during the extraordinarily short initial advising meeting, at the first FYSE face-to-face, we have but 25 minutes to decide whether we will see the entire student or whether we will be concerned with the students solely from the shoulders up—her academic life solely.  Working to see the entire student is the only possible method by which to ascertain what the student has made her own, as Seneca suggests.  It’s the first requirement of a liberal arts education.

Students are perplexed by many things—the nature of our tightly compressed world, its complexities and future; the nature of the idiosyncratic academy requiring that students enter into and comply with academic literacies that, in their minds, may or may not have anything to do with the world as they experience it; and their evolving identities as they come into close contact with challenging social moments.

Advisers help students navigate these murky waters and invite students to explore. This takes time—and patience.  It requires that we ask difficult questions—why do you feel lost?  Why is it important what other kids are doing?  When did you start feeling like this about science?

This line of questioning brings us closer to our students. It is an essential component of the liberal arts. It enables the student and the teacher to learn together.




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