Tag Archives: dean of the college

The Words We Use: An Audio Blog

Before Thanksgiving,  I wrote about the importance of actively engaging in meaningful, direct discussion. Then Anthony Perez came to see me, offering to share a recording of a conversation he had with a friend, Alan Sutton ’14, about the sensitive topic of sexuality. Anthony is a junior from Los Angeles and is majoring in Spanish and minoring in Portuguese. His actions—initiating this discussion and then sharing it with the campus community— take courage and resolve. I am pleased to include the recording here, and I want to thank Anthony and Alan for taking this important step. I hope this will encourage further dialogue across campus.
—Shirley M. Collado

The following dialogue has emerged from my genuine desire to understand how students on this campus consider non-heterosexual culture. I did not have any clear direction or pre-written questions when Alan Sutton, a junior here at Middlebury College, and I sat down to record a candid conversation about sexuality.

What immediately surfaced within the first few minutes of my interview with Sutton was a familiar reality for me: the difficulty that surrounds terminology and nomenclature within the non-heterosexual community. If you don’t currently identify as gay, bisexual, or lesbian then where do you stand? Even more intriguing to me was the question of how normative standards on this campus, and beyond this rural environment, foster a space for speech that is degrading to some.

This small clip is just the beginning in what I hope will be a continued conversation that tackles the necessary issue of creating a comfortable community for every student on campus. —Anthony Perez ’14

 

Let’s Connect: Say It and Own It

In the last 15 to 20 years, I’ve noticed that communication between people has become increasingly indirect. There’s been a steady erosion of interpersonal contact in favor of texting, tweeting, facebooking, and e-mailing. We can feel engaged and involved without having to “do” anything.

I remember a time when students couldn’t send me e-mail because e-mail wasn’t available; so they would come to my office or meet me somewhere in person. We would talk, resolve things, meet over a cup of coffee, and forge understanding. And when people needed to talk about something important, there were few options other than to engage with one another directly. It wasn’t possible to deliver messages indirectly the way it is now. And it wasn’t possible to be anonymous.

Is this a sea change?

This societal change has allowed people to avoid taking personal responsibility for conveying their ideas, opinions, and needs. It allows faceless, nameless posts in a universe of empty noise. And it sometimes encourages what I consider irresponsible or avoidant behavior: putting ideas out there without owning what you say. I’m concerned that a time may come when we won’t know any other way. The unfocused, hollow methods of communicating will become the norm, and people will not have the interpersonal skills they need to lead effective lives.

Beyond our communication style, we seem to be losing something else critically important—human connection.  A recent article in the Atlantic cited research showing that although people are highly networked today, they are lonelier than they’ve ever been.

Last week, a group of students came to the first Campus Open Forum to talk about sexual assault. These forums are hosted by Community Council, SGA, and the Office of the Dean of the College and are designed to provide an open space in which members of the campus community can honestly discuss student life topics of interest and any issue they wish to address. As I listened to the discussion, I realized that everyone there was longing for this type of personal interaction. They were there to be heard and to engage candidly with others. That’s the beauty of a residential campus like Middlebury: we can make these connections happen when we choose to.

Lots to talk about

There are many meaningful discussions underway on campus right now: how the endowment is invested, what activism is, sexual assault, quorums at faculty meetings, involvement in student government and other initiatives, faculty/staff-student-community relationships, finding venues for social life, and more. The College is committed to finding ways to encourage members of this community to come together for meaningful conversation and action.

Last year, I encouraged students to turn off their social media for one week to see what it is like. Needless to say, I received a great amount of resistance to this suggestion. But it’s not necessary to “go dark” in order to have face-to-face connections; it is necessary, however, to make these connections a priority instead of following the path of least resistance.

I hope that we can all get into the habit of asking ourselves whether we can hold a particular discussion in person instead of remotely, and I would like to encourage everyone to get involved in the many conversations underway on campus.

I’d love to hear what you think. Do you agree or disagree with me? Do you feel that we are living with more noise and less understanding? And are you willing to put yourself out there in order to have better connections with others on campus?

Other Places for Conversation

  • In addition to the Campus Open Forums, other great conversations happen weekly at the Fireside Chats, hosted by the Institutional Diversity Committee. These are informal discussions with a weekly theme that intersects with identity, diversity, community, or education and the Middlebury experience.
  • SGA holds open office hours each week in Crossroads Café.
  • Community Council holds open meetings on most Mondays at 4:30–5:45 p.m. in Axinn 220.
  • PALANA House hosts topic-based discussions two–three times per year called PALANA Uncensored.
  • Several student organizations are also having topic-based discussions during their weekly meetings.
  • Check Middlink for other upcoming conversations, and post any you’d like to host.
  • Middblog and The Campus offer opportunities for thoughtful discussion, and students are encouraged to submit opinion pieces that foster dialogue.
—Shirley M. Collado

 

 

 

Engaging with Middlebury

Our guest blogger today is Charles Arnowitz ’13, who I have the pleasure of working with in his role as the president of the SGA. —Shirley M. Collado

As Student Government Association president this year, I’ve dealt with campus issues that run the gamut—from student programming to funding to college governance to communications to the most mundane elements of student life. Across these diverse issue areas, I’ve found that one theme predominates: the need for student engagement with Middlebury as an institution.

Our campus is full of potential leaders and creative thinkers. I know. I’ve worked at the Admissions Office for four years and have observed for myself the new additions to the student body; moreover, I engage on a daily basis with friends and peers who rarely cease to amaze me. Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of being a student at Middlebury is how much I learn from those peers and how much my friends surprise and impress me.

Nonetheless, despite the quantity and quality of potential leaders here at Midd, our campus suffers from a lack of student engagement with institutional policy. In fairness, students are busy—we have challenging academics, usually a few extracurricular activities or a sport schedule to navigate, and social obligations as well. This is part of the lifestyle we choose when we choose Middlebury, and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

But while I know most of us are proud and grateful to spend four years here, few of us are fully satisfied with Middlebury institutionally—whether it is social life, endowment policy, academic policy, or anything in between, many students feel there are areas where Middlebury could improve.

To those students, I say: On a campus as small and as codependent as ours, engagement really matters. Pushing through the relevant institutional channels (and, occasionally, outside of those channels), individuals can have a lasting impact on College policy or student life. Our carbon neutrality initiative, Alcohol and Social Life Task Force, Middview, the new Pass-Fail option, and others are the products of student engagement with the institution. And yet, when the dean of the College announces a meeting to talk about alcohol use on campus, just 20 students show up. When the SGA has a meeting on something controversial that touches on all of our lives, only a handful of students will attend.

The administration and the Board of Trustees are not the enemy of student welfare—not only do they want student input, they often beg for it. Being busy is legitimate, but we all abdicate the right to complain when we don’t attempt to make our voices heard.

In conclusion, I encourage students to engage more actively with institutional policy by attending open meetings, providing feedback when requested, and making student viewpoints clear. We all have opinions on the issues that Old Chapel deals with. Sometimes, there will be student consensus around an issue; other times, a split will exist. But no one with power to change policy can act on our views if they don’t know they exist.

There are open SGA Senate meetings on Sundays at 7:00 p.m. and open Community Council meetings on Mondays at 4:30. The Office of the Dean of the College, Community Council, and the SGA will be pioneering a new Campus Forum event in an effort to encourage student input. We would love to hear from you.

—Charles Arnowitz ’13

Being in it rather than getting through it

Our guest blogger today is Jonathan Miller-Lane, associate professor of education studies and head of Wonnacott Commons. His post explores a challenge of trying to live “mindfully.”

If there is a reason why it is worth coming together at a residential liberal arts college in the Champlain Valley of Vermont, rather than, say, staying home and taking all your courses online, it might have something to do with the intellectual community that is made possible when we come together to learn, listen, talk, and share meals. However, at this time of year, in the heart of fall semester midterms, it is so easy to slip into the “Just let me get through this midterm / this day / this week and I’ll be fine” mind-set. Line ’em up, knock ’em down. Two weeks to break. Then one month, and Thanksgiving; two weeks, then winter break. Line ’em up, knock ’em down. We come all this distance, spend all this money, spend huge amounts of human energy to prepare and maintain an extraordinary physical environment and organize a complex series of courses and events, so that we can all say how little time we have for each other because we are all so busy, busy, busy. Huh? Yes, we live in a fast-paced digital world. But, as an educational community, do we have nothing to say regarding how we might reflect upon, interrogate, and engage this 24/7 lithium-battery-charged life?

We sometimes seem to be overly focused on performance at the expense of valuing the power of practice. Students perform papers, exams, presentations, etc. Professors perform lectures, office hours, etc. The idea that by coming together we might be practicing something sometimes seems to get lost in our communal efforts to demonstrate normative forms of academic competency. What would things look like if we were to value practice over performance? By practice, I mean something like when we say, “Doctors practice medicine.” Generally, hopefully, the idea that doctors “practice” medicine does not mean that when doctors see their morning patients they are practicing for the big game patients in the afternoon. We do not say that doctors “perform” medicine any more than teachers “perform” teaching.

I think when we say lawyers practice the law, or doctors practice medicine, we mean that there are a set of principles, a body of knowledge, prior experiences, and other elements that an individual brings to bear when addressing any individual case. Each moment is a moment when all these elements come together uniquely. Practice seems to emphasize engagement with another. Practice suggests a sense of reciprocity—there is listening involved. Performance, on the other hand, seems to emphasize presentation for another—listening is done primarily by the receiver.

Maybe, one reason we are too busy for each other is because we see no need for reciprocity. I mean, really, who has time for that? I have my normative academic performance in five minutes, tomorrow, next week. I have no time to be in this thing here, because I have to get ready for that next performance over there…

If the value of coming together lies in the potential that our communal engagement offers, can we imagine embodying practice? Would we allow ourselves greater intellectual risk-taking as a result? Is there a Way of being a student or a professor that is different from the mere performance of those roles? 

Footnote: The title for this reflection was, like practically every other good thing in my life, my wife Karen’s idea.