Once again, I would like to syndicate a timely blog post that has generated much discussion on an oft-recurring subject at Middlebury: dish theft. Dean Shirley Collado examines the matter from the perspective of privilege and invites you to join the conversation. If you wish to comment, please click the above title to visit the post at its original source. -Tim
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.
I asked Natasha Chang to share with us part of her story, and to talk about why she decided to do her work as a faculty member and Commons dean. In this week’s post, Natasha shares her experience about finding a sense of identity and provides a very personal and enlightening viewpoint. As always, I welcome your comments and observations.
—Shirley M. Collado
This year, as I took up my new position as dean of Brainerd Commons, I was very aware of embarking on yet another hybrid endeavor in my life, that is assuming the dual roles of Commons dean and professor.
I’ve always defined myself in hybrid or multiple terms throughout my life. As a child I straddled three cultures simultaneously—Serbian, Korean, and American—experiencing them as an insider and an outsider, never fully being part of any world, yet never fully being able to disassociate myself. I’ve always expressed myself and found my identity reflected in a variety of languages: the accented and idiosyncratic English of my two first-generation immigrant parents; the American slang of the kids I grew up with; my mother’s Serbian that she passed down to me; my father’s Korean that still remains a mystery to me; and my passion, Italian, the language that became my love and my life’s work.
At one time, I desperately wanted to belong simply and fully to only one culture, to identify unequivocally with a single group, to feel like a full-fledged citizen rather than a masquerader, and to be able to respond to the question “Where are you from?” without embarking on a complex explanation. What I have learned over the years, however, is that multiplicity, hybridity, and difference are positions of unique strength and power. My background has taught me to be attuned to multiple perspectives, to be comfortable not “knowing it all,” to seek compromise between even the most divergent of positions, to reserve judgment based on appearance, and to have faith in my own values.
Returning to my current combined role of Commons dean and faculty member, I can say without a doubt that I’ve found my hybrid line of work personally satisfying since it allows me to advise students, give support, and provide guidance, while at the same time continuing to teach in the classroom and pursue my ongoing research projects. In other words, it allows me to productively dialogue with and bridge two campus cultures: the academic culture and the culture of residential life.
But there is a larger and more important point to be made here. In my eyes, the hybrid position I occupy represents but one example of the strength diversity can bring to our community. By diversity, I mean diversity broadly defined. I am speaking not only of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and—well, you fill in the blank—but of the many overlapping and complex ways in which we find our identity. Taking inspiration from the recent Midd OUT day, in which the organizers thoughtfully engaged the common phrase “coming out,” I’d like to suggest that we actively think about what diversity means here at Middlebury. As I see it, diversity is not an issue that belongs only to other people; it is an issue that is relevant to everyone, period. This year—my first in a new job—I’ve set a challenge for myself that I’d like to pass on to each of you: to identify events (talks, meetings, conferences, classes, groups, etc.) that are a bit out of my comfort zone, and then immerse myself. I’ve had a great year of learning so far, and I hope you do too.
—Natasha V. Chang
Dean of Brainerd Commons