Tag Archives: Spring 2016

Pursuits: First Impressions


Nick Temple ’99, Founder of Wild Card

We live in the golden age of the movie trailer, where every tiny revelation of a would-be blockbuster has the potential to go viral. That first teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Forty million views in just three days. And when the trailer for Deadpool debuted on Conan, Ryan Reynolds’ potty-mouthed mercenary character rode the ensuing buzz to a $132-million opening in February, a record for an R-rated film.

Last winter, another movie about a uniformed marksman—American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle—became every studio executive’s dream: a “four-quadrant film” that connects with men, women, and the over- and under-25 audience, boosted by an edge-of-your-seat trailer. “They didn’t sell it as a war movie,” says Nick Temple ’99. “They sold it as a story about a man in an incredibly difficult situation.”

Temple’s advertising agency, Wild Card, worked on the campaigns for both American Sniper and Deadpool—as well as The Martian, Jurassic World, Black Mass, and a host of forthcoming releases that barely fits on a single whiteboard in his Culver City, California, office. By his measure, there are as many as 70 trailer shops in the business, but maybe seven “wind up doing the lion’s share of the big movies”—Wild Card among them.

Growing up in Chatham, New Jersey, the U.K.-born Temple majored in German with a minor in film studies at Middlebury. He got his first exposure to feature filmmaking through an internship on the Rutland set of Icebreaker (basically Die Hard at a ski lodge). Temple shot some short films on video for his classes, a process he found enjoyable, “but ultimately what I loved was the editing and assembly of it.”

After college, Temple drove across the country with a friend, picked up some odd jobs with film crews around Los Angeles, and finally scored steady work at a postproduction house in Burbank. “I took a job running tapes around town—you get the lay of the land that way,” he recalls. “And at night I was bothering people in their edit bays.”

In short order, Temple went from runner to managing runners to assistant editor to junior editor. He jumped over to Trailer Park, the world’s largest entertainment marketing agency, as an editor in 2003, and there his career took flight. Temple cut a Super Bowl commercial for Steven Spielberg’s 2005 War of the Worlds starring Tom Cruise, which spawned ongoing relationships with both Spielberg (he’s worked on all of his films ever since) and Cruise (most notably the Mission: Impossible franchise). And the connections “tree-branched out from there,” says Temple, who got the entrepreneurial bug in 2007.

Wild Card was founded as an LLC with two partners, a couple of edit bays, and 1,400 square feet of office space in Burbank. (Temple later bought out his partners and is now the company’s sole owner.) Since moving to a 7,500-square-foot office in Culver City in 2010, Wild Card has nearly tripled its space and quintupled its staff. “There’s a threshold:  how do you sustain a creative culture without compromising your work?” says Temple, who still cuts anywhere from five to eight trailers a year himself.

Just a few short years ago, a brilliant marketing campaign would guarantee a solid opening weekend for even a stinker but now, with social media, if a movie is bad, the word gets out after Friday’s matinees. Conversely, positive word of mouth can propel a hit like The Martian to a final gross of $228 million domestically—four times its opening weekend numbers.

But it all starts with that first impression of the trailer. Temple still likes to get out to the multiplex with his wife, Alison. “When we used to go to the movies I’d want to watch all the trailers and gauge people’s reactions,” Temple says. “Now with two girls, ages three and five, we’re lucky if we get to the theater on time. And more often than not, it’s Alvin and the Chipmunks.”

Road Taken: Food Matters


It’s not hard to imagine, I’m sure: Middlebury College in the late 1970s, back-to-the-land students in a back-to-the-land state at an institution that hadn’t quite gotten the memo on what we were
interested in and why. For instance, unlike today, when sustainability is not just an ethic to study but also one to live by, our dining halls had not yet discovered 
whole grains or local produce. So a bunch of us did what free-living students do—we abandoned the meal plan and decided to feed ourselves.

We set up shop at Weybridge House, where many of us lived, laying claim to the kitchen. The Middlebury Co-op—at the time entirely based on pre-orders and bulk-food purchasing—became our primary food source. Each month we sat around the big, round dining room table to determine our needs for the next four weeks.

The Co-op was situated in the old railroad station on the northern edge of town, lending an impression that our food had just been unloaded directly from freight cars. Every 30 days we dragged home sacks of grains and beans, nuts and dried fruits; we procured monster blocks of  Vermont cheddar and a most memorable 40-pound bucket of peanut butter with oil swirling on the top. For vegetables, we went to local “pick-your-own” farms, and stored root crops in the Weybridge basement alongside our home-brewed beer. (The beer was legal by state and College law at the time, or at least we convinced ourselves that this was true.) We baked our own bread, made yogurt by the gallon, sprouted everything possible, and, even once, attempted to make tofu.

We got by on $10 a week, per person, not including ice cream and the whole pig we once roasted in the forest by Bread Loaf. Each member contributed to the account and was assigned a night to cook. We had a daily lineup of dinner guests, mostly fellow students seeking momentary refuge from food on the hill. (I think they also enjoyed the candles, wooden bowls, chopsticks, beards, and long hair.) Sundays, however, were reserved for honored guests. Parents came, as did professors and College administrators. Dean Erica Wonnacott—with whom one of us was too often in some kind of negotiation—was a frequent guest; even President Olin Robison paid us a visit.

The College dining policy was to reimburse off-meal-plan students at 50 percent of their cost, which was $12.50 a week. However, with a doctor’s excuse, one could receive the full $25.00. Some of our pediatricians from home were willing to affirm our newfound dietary restrictions; others were not. I vividly remember the satisfaction of sharing my signed excuse letter at the dinner table. To this day, I imagine ours was the only U.S. bank account to have had the registered name “The Doctor’s Excuse”; I believe I still have a canceled check squirreled away somewhere in my attic.

A not-insignificant legacy of our group is that one of us, Richard “Wiz” Wiswall ’79, became an organic vegetable farmer; to this day, he owns and sinks his hands into the rich soils of Cate Farm in Plainfield, Vermont. Another legacy—I’d like to think, anyway—is that today’s Middlebury student is supported by a far better health-aligned dining service. No doctor’s excuse required.

Larry Childs ’81 is a senior trainer and consultant with Project Adventure, an international nonprofit organization that focuses on experiential education.

Editor’s Note: The Conversation

ed note_CMYKuIt was nearly a year ago when I reached out to Dena Simmons ’05—a beautiful writer and fiercely intelligent young woman who works at the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale—to see if she would be interested in writing a feature essay on what it means to confront racism in America today.

For our fall 2015 issue, I wanted Dena to draw on both her own life experiences and those experiences lived by the students, teachers, and activists she’s encountered in her career. “I want this essay to speak to every reader,” I said, “and to be clear that this is an issue that involves all of us.”

The resulting work was her brilliant “We Cannot Afford to Walk Away,” whose title is drawn from this passage in the essay: We cannot afford to walk away, to turn off our screens, and to carry on with our comfortable lives. None of us, especially those in power, have the right to be comfortable. It’s through discomfort we learn and transform most. Questioning, challenging, and curbing racial injustices is everyone’s job.

A few weeks after we published Dena’s essay, Middlebury held the first of three campus gatherings in which issues of race, inclusivity, institutional history, free speech, and cultural appropriation were talked about, wrestled with, and argued over; tears of anguish and tears of frustration were shed. And while the catalyst for the meetings was one incident, it became clear to all that we were talking about more than an isolated occurrence. Questioning, challenging, and curbing racial injustices is everyone’s job.

For this issue’s cover story, we hired a dear friend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer John H. White, to help us continue the conversation that began with Dena’s essay. While on campus he spoke to a crowded Wilson Hall, and among his inspirational words of wisdom was the affirmation that we all strive to “recognize the somebody-ness of everybody.” It is what we must do if we are to learn and transform and become a community where, as Laurie Patton has so eloquently stated, inclusivity is not a problem to solve but an everyday ethic.

Old Chapel: The Next Level of Discussion

LaurieWEBThis has been a year of uncomfortable conversations on campus. And that makes me comfortable.

This year, the administration, the student body, and campus as a whole had some difficult conversations with each other. We talked, sometimes calmly, sometimes heatedly, sometimes quietly, and sometimes loudly, about diversity and inclusivity, and what that means and should mean at Middlebury in 2016.

These conversations at times have been painful for those in the center of them, and for those who were closer to the edges, listening in. We heard truths, and sorrow, and impatience. We heard hopes, and fears, and dreams, and frustrations. And we heard moments of real engagement and possibility.

Why does this make me comfortable? Because these are important conversations, and our ability to have them reveals our strength as a community. We all, from time to time, must speak uncomfortable truths to one another. That is what it means to have “arguments for the sake of heaven,” as I mentioned in my inaugural address. These are discussions worth having. Part of the nature of a college campus, and certainly a campus such as Middlebury, is that a free exchange of ideas is not only expected but encouraged. Uncomfortable truths are a matter of course. Professors present ideas to their students that make them uncomfortable. Students in turn can present ideas to professors that make them uncomfortable. Students can also wrestle with  course material, or class discussions, or campus events, or with each other. Staff have also played critical roles in these tough conversations.

But  discomfort is not a reason to avoid free expression, even when it comes to expressing thoughts and ideas and beliefs about  inclusivity. Supporting free speech and supporting inclusivity in our language, our conversations, and our actions are not goals that are at odds with each other. In fact, they are helpful complements to each other. Supporting both allows us to take our discussions to the next level, where we can make mistakes without fear because we want to become more aware than we are today. We want to be stronger. We want to do better.

Diversity and inclusivity are not “problems” that we’re going to “solve.” They are part of an ethos that we need to hold up every day, even if we might fail to fulfill that ethos on a regular basis. They’re values that we live by. They are values for us to talk about, and consider, and embrace, as we grow in our understanding of what they mean today—at Middlebury and in the wider world.

There are many ways to have these conversations. We talk in person, one on one, in groups, in meetings, in symposium. We talk on the phone, through text and email. We put our names, our voices, our faces to our words. We humanize them. We own them.

But we must be more mindful, I believe, about our conversations when we talk through social media, which has an ever-increasing multitude of channels for us to communicate though. There are so many ways to speak one’s opinions. But there are also so many ways to be silenced. Tap a few keys and you can shut down a conversation you disagree with, or mute a voice you don’t like, or send a message of shame without ever having to own your words. The worst conversation is the conversation that isn’t allowed to be. My rule for us is: Face-to-face conversation first. Social media second.

We have had uncomfortable conversations, and we will keep on having them. And we’re bringing our conversations to the next level: The Alliance for an Inclusive Middlebury is planning a spring conference titled “Activists, Allies, and Accomplices: Responses to Racism Today.” The conference will consider contemporary responses to racism and examine historical precedents. Middlebury students will discuss white ally-ship and student activists from other colleges will discuss their experiences this last year and the issues they faced. Rinku Sen, the editor of Colorlines, will be the keynote speaker and Rashawn Ray, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, will discuss racial uplift through activism and social policy. JusTalks will be working with every incoming student next year in workshops helping them live in community while developing the crucial skills of engaging with real differences.

Yes, some of our conversations have made  us uncomfortable this year, but I’m comfortable that we’re having them. I’m comfortable knowing that we are learning from our mistakes, and we’re holding each other accountable—to own our words, to push us to the next level of inclusive excellence. We have so much we can learn from each other—as long as we keep talking, and keep listening.

Patton can be reached at president@middlebury.edu.

Let’s Talk About Race


(Front Row) Shuba Maniram ’17, (Second Row) Molly McShane ’16, Nia Robinson ’19, Charles Rainey ’19, (Back Row) Debanjan Roychoudhury ’16, Claudia Huerta ’18

As racial conflict unfolds on college campuses across the country, Middlebury wrestles with tensions of its own.

Last fall, the Black Student Union at Middlebury organized a solidarity blackout in support of Black students at Middlebury and on other campuses around the United States. A photograph taken in front of Carr Hall shows hundreds of Middlebury students gathered on an unseasonably warm November evening. By designed necessity (“It is essential we center Black bodies and experiences in this movement,” the BSU wrote on its Facebook page), persons identifying as Black stood in the front; behind them stood white students, faculty, staff.

Two weeks later, the Middlebury community would be looking inward after an incident in a College dining hall. A white first-year student had worn a sombrero to dinner and when asked by a fellow student, a Latino senior, why she had chosen to wear it, her frivolous answer was too difficult for him to ignore. His attempt to explain how her actions were hurtful to him—that within the current context she was appropriating a culture, his culture—were met, those present say, with indifference. The resulting argument spilled over and ignited on social media, particularly the anonymous forum Yik Yak, and though students were leaving the following week for Thanksgiving break, the College administration arranged a pair of town hall-style forums—immediately before and immediately after the break—to discuss the issues of cultural appropriation, community standards, freedom of expression, and what it means to be an inclusive community. By the second forum—a capacity event in Dana

Auditorium, with scores of people turned away—it was clear that while the dining hall incident may have been the spark that ignited the discussions, there were broader, deeper, and far more entrenched issues to deal with. On December 11, a third forum was held in Mead Chapel. And while the gathering opened with a tearful apology from the first-year student who had worn the sombrero, the rest of the 90-minute conversation moved beyond any one incident and spoke to those broader, deeper, and more entrenched issues, feelings, and states of mind and being.

For some people in attendance at any of the events, hearing about racial (and sexist, homophobic, and ethnic) offenses, both explicit and implicit, on the campus was a revelation, as was the pain, frustration, and anger expressed by students of color. No less palpable were the exhausted, at times defiant, statements from students of color that it should not be their sole responsibility to educate their classmates (or professors) on why they were hurt, why they were angry, why they were aggrieved.

Claudia Huerta, a sophomore from Manhattan, says that the town hall gatherings frightened her. “They opened my eyes to the realization that a lot of people on this campus had not been having these conversations. And it scares me because I think I took it for granted that people were talking about these things.”

An academic year that began with Middlebury’s new president expressing the fervent desire that the community consider diversity and inclusivity not as problems to be solved but as an everyday ethic, a way of living our lives, had found the College entering 2016 with a renewed focus on what it would take to turn that aspiration into reality.


The racial tensions that exist at Middlebury are not occurring in a vacuum. Across the country, college and university campuses are home to protests, sit-ins, and demands for change led by students of color. For every situation that has captured the nation’s attention—Missouri, Yale, Princeton—many more unfold weekly.

To better understand what is happening at Middlebury, I spoke to dozens of people—students, faculty, administrators, staff. The students of color I interviewed expressed varying degrees of satisfaction with the College, but to a person they spoke to the difficulties, the challenges of being a minority in a very white state and at a largely homogenous institution. (While the percentage of American students of color at Middlebury has steadily increased over the years to 24 percent of the student body, that still means that for these students more than three-quarters of their peers—and a far greater percentage of the faculty—don’t look like them, haven’t experienced life as they have, and often are unaware of what this can mean.)

Shuba Maniram, a junior at Middlebury, grew up in the South Bronx, the child of immigrants from Trinidad. Neither of her parents went to college, so the idea of going away to school wasn’t on her radar growing up, but when she was in sixth grade her teacher outfitted the entire class with T-shirts that read “College Student” on the front and “Class of 2017” on the back.

This teacher was Dena Simmons ’05 (see p. 11), and the following year, Simmons brought Maniram and the rest of the class to visit Middlebury. (“Without Dena I wouldn’t be here,” Maniram says. “And by here I mean college as much as I mean Middlebury.”) Simmons continued to mentor Maniram throughout high school. They shared similar upbringings, and Simmons constantly challenged Maniram to push herself, to imagine a place beyond what was comfortable. When she was accepted to Middlebury, Maniram says the demographics of Vermont and Middlebury worried her, but she idolized Simmons and felt that she had her example to live up to.

But she wasn’t prepared for what awaited her. It wasn’t just the terminology and mechanics of higher education that baffled her (see p. 44); she couldn’t relate to many of her new classmates, nor they to her.

“I vividly remember a moment early in my freshman year when a couple of white girls came up to me and another student of color in the dorms and asked us to show them how to twerk. We said no, so they proceeded to twerk and laugh in front of us. And that was my introduction to what I would come to face at Middlebury.

“And I feel like that moment is symbolic. I didn’t know what microaggressions were—I had never heard the term and wouldn’t have understood the concept then—but that was the first of many times when people made assumptions about me because of what I looked like.”

Maniram and all of the students of color I spoke to say that these assumptions are insulting and invalidating and have not been limited to the dorms, dining halls, or social spaces; for many, the worst microaggressions come in the classroom, when peers or faculty have turned to the one Black person in the room when topics such as slavery, poverty, or urban blight are being discussed. Sometimes the person is explicitly asked to explain a culture; often it’s just a look, a sideways glance that is subtle but no less implicit.   

“Differences in race and class can reinforce alienation, not just here, but anywhere,” says Roberto Lint Sagarena, an associate professor of American studies and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. “But race can compound this feeling, because often it’s a visual difference; it almost becomes exponential in terms of feelings of alienation. And this sets a tone so that students are sensitized to microaggressions. You’re already feeling out of place, like you might not belong, so these slights become magnified. And that increases that sense of pain. A look that might or might not have been something racist or problematic can be interpreted that way.”        

First-year student Nia Robinson came to Middlebury because she wanted to be around students who had experienced life differently than she had. A Posse scholar from Chicago, Robinson attended a high school with twice as many students as Middlebury. She has two younger half-siblings, and she says that when she would go places with them in Chicago, she’d often be mistaken for a nanny; her stepfather is white. So, she says, she was under no illusions that going to a school in rural Vermont wouldn’t be a challenge; yet she says now she can’t think of a day when she hasn’t questioned why she’s here. “I’m having such a disconnect because I feel like people aren’t willing to work to understand other people. There are a lot of people here who don’t understand me, and it’s not because I’m a complicated person,” she says. “It’s because we don’t have those conversations. I care a lot about Middlebury, and some days it feels like most people don’t care enough to at least try and understand why a segment of this student body is unhappy. 

“But at the same time, I understand that not everyone is having my experience, and for some people, Middlebury is perfect. They think, ‘We don’t have to make it better. It’s great.’”


At the conclusion of the third town hall meeting in December, President Laurie Patton stood at the front of Mead Chapel and addressed the community. “I have seen remarkable intentionality and thoughtfulness in this conversation—and I have also seen ways in which we could improve both in our mindfulness of each other, as well as our hopes for the future.”

She then stated five guiding principles that she hoped would help the community to move forward. “We must make sure that no single group bears the burden of difference, but that we all aspire to inclusivity—those of us who are not part of historically underrepresented groups need to stand in alliance with those who are; we need to not be afraid to make mistakes and engage with others; I want us to have an open and complex understanding of free speech—free speech is not the opposite of inclusivity; the very way we create a more inclusive community is by exercising free speech and continuing to create understanding even in the midst of tension-filled conversations; [there needs to be] on-going reflection about structural bias. We have been talking about structural issues in which racism and other forms of exclusivity are built into our systems. I think this is the biggest challenge for all of us.”

When Patton talks about inclusivity, she’s addressing a very important distinction with diversity. Roberto Lint Sagarena says, “Diversifying our student bodies doesn’t necessarily do away with issues of difference and the challenges that come with them—being on campus doesn’t automatically make you feel like you’re a part of campus. So how does campus culture change to reflect a pluralism in the student body? Is it a matter of simple assimilation and everybody becomes a part of the same? Or is it an acceptance of difference and a respect for difference, where one can have an affinity group and be with one’s own, but also move beyond that and be accepted by all?”

Leslie Harris, an associate professor of history and African American studies at Emory University, says that these issues are not new, and that she’s struck by the similarities in student demands today and the demands at the dawn of higher education integration 50 years ago.

She points out that many segments of society in the United States have aggressively resegregated and that when students arrive at college they are coming to live in a community that, by design, is just as aggressive in its integration. And there are more students—approximately 14 million 18-24 year olds are in baccalaureate programs now, compared to 2 million in 1949—which means more students from diverse backgrounds. “And you can’t just add and stir,” she says. “It’s the work of institutions to think through what it means for all of these people to come together. You have to be flexible—flexible but strong.” 

Katy Smith Abbott, the dean of the College, agrees. Throughout last summer and into the fall, she worked with Miguel Fernandez, Middlebury’s chief diversity officer, and Andi Lloyd, vice president for academic affairs, on an initiative that would help students become more resilient, and she says that it’s dawned on her that these same lessons can be applied to the institution.

“We should hold ourselves institutionally to the same standard,” she says. “What does it mean to be an excellent institution with a deep history and many traditions, some of which are not that great, and to say, ‘You know what? We can be excellent and we can still move from our original shape to something new.’”

“Racism in this country has been very creative,” says senior Debanjan Roychoudhury. “It’s been very willing to change and adapt, so we need to be similarly willing to adapt and be very creative in how we address these issues. That’s who we are! Let’s use our creativity to fundamentally shape the way we think about inclusion.”

Already this year, Patton and the administration have implemented a number of programs and initiatives that she feels will make Middlebury a more inclusive place. She’s engaged a pair of consultant groups to lead diversity workshops with offices that interact most closely with students and to assist in recruiting a diverse faculty applicant pool; she’s facilitated discussions between the Board of Trustees and African American studies scholars (including Leslie Harris), who specialize in structural bias; she’s directed the Athletics Department and the Department of Public Safety to examine inclusive practices in their respective areas; she’s approved the hiring of two full-time counseling fellows for the health center; and she created a new organization (Alliance for an Inclusive Middlebury) of faculty, students, and staff, who are charged with proposing policies and creating spaces across campus to “make sure we are as inclusive as possible in all facets of our lives together.” And Patton and other administrators and faculty  have been spending many hours meeting with students individually and in groups.

During a conversation with Katy Smith Abbott, I remark that the College has begun to address these issues in a far more rapid manner than is typical in higher education, when institutional change is often tracked in geologic time.

She pauses.

“I think it depends on who you’re talking to. I would say yes, that’s the way it feels to me. I think that’s the way it feels for others who work in student life and work in administrative roles where we’re focusing, daily, on tangible programmatic or policy or institutional change,” she says.

“The tension for me is that I’ve heard very consistently from students —all different voices—saying that the College isn’t doing enough. That’s the piece I struggle with. It’s very real for them. Their experience is absolutely genuine and authentic. And what we’re doing is not visible. Somehow it doesn’t feel like change.”


Tiff Chang is one student who feels that Middlebury is neither moving fast enough—nor far enough. Chang, a junior Feb from Marin County, California, says that during most of her first year at Middlebury, she was one of those students who thrived. But then, she says, she began to understand that other students were having very different experiences. She points to a collision of events that affected her thinking—national news coverage of Ferguson and her subsequent participation in the Middlebury Ferguson Action Group; friends leaving the College, citing structural oppression; her experience “with queer marginalization on campus and existing as a queer woman of color in student government.” She adds, “And, basically, finding out how deeply imbedded these systems are in all of us.”

She found the town hall meetings to be not only unproductive but a perpetuation of the racism and alienation that students of color were already experiencing on campus. She says there needed to be apologies on both the institutional and personal level, and that the meetings, as constructed, created a space that did not recognize that students of color have different needs than white students. 

She quickly acknowledges that the efforts of Patton and the College are sincere, that Patton cares deeply about the issues, and that people are working really hard to implement change. But to her, the efforts are inadequate. She urges Middlebury to think beyond “one-off items like panels and lectures that serve a self-selected audience, and consider systems-based change.” For instance, she wants the College to hold a mandatory annual retreat for faculty and staff that addresses issues of social justice, cultural competency, new teaching pedagogy, slow learning, and more.

Chang, who has been a co-chair of Middlebury’s Community Council this year, has spoken passionately and publicly about these issues that are clearly very important to her, and she says that if the College embraced “a really deep, committed understanding of inclusivity” it could distinguish itself from its peers. “Inclusivity is the new sustainability,” she says. “Let’s employ forward-thinking policies and practices around inclusivity and lead by example.”

It’s hard to argue with the goal, but some whom I’ve talked to worry that there’s not room to disagree about how to set that example, and that rhetoric on campus has quickly moved into a binary “us vs. them” construct. Said one student of color whom I talked to: “I am so relieved that we are moving beyond any one incident and are addressing bigger issues, but I worry that too often experiences are becoming generalized, that people are being put into categories—‘all of you’ or ‘all of us.’ I recognize that a lot of the entrenched problems on this campus are the legacy of systemic oppression, but one of the things I struggle with is how to express solidarity with a group of people, my people, while still expressing myself as an individual.”

This student added: “I think a lot of what’s troubling to a number of students of color is that we’re afraid to throw each other under the bus by saying something wrong because you want to stand in solidarity. But the truth is, it’s impossible to agree on all of these things.” 


Fear is a word that has come up again and again in my conversations. There’s the fear of being subjected to further racist insults, be they implicit or explicit. (Nia Robinson speaks of returning to her hall one night to find the word “Negroes” written multiple times on a dry-erase board attached to a friend’s door.) And if you’re white there is the fear of saying the wrong thing, of being branded a racist. “Being called a racist is so powerful,” says Miguel Fernandez. “It shuts everything down, the conversation stops. All of a sudden you’re not talking about whatever offended the person of color. You’re arguing about whether someone is or isn’t a racist.”

One white student I spoke to says that she has put herself out there, and she’s been burned; burned to the point she was hesitant to talk to me for this story; she says she’s unlikely to engage with these issues publicly anymore—at least not at Middlebury.

“I recognize that the pain of people in this community is very real, I recognize that the anger is real,” she says. “The sentiments are honest and heartfelt, but I’ve found that it’s too difficult to have constructive conversations because the passion is too great, the anger is too great. I’ve found that too often we each focus on the righteousness of our side of the argument, and then we’re not focusing on the argument itself.”

As an example she points to a series of episodes involving the student newspaper, the Middlebury Campus. In February, a collection of cultural organizations sent an email to the student body calling on the Campus to make amends for “continuously publish[ing] articles that have both subtly and explicitly reinforced the marginalization of several groups” at Middlebury. The letter specifically condemned the decision to publish several op-eds, which contained views that the letter writers felt “actively harm[ed] and systematically silenc[ed] minority groups at the College.”

In response, the Campus editors penned a pair of op-eds (“A Paper for the People” and “A More Inclusive Campus”) in which they defended their decision (and right) to publish opinion pieces—in these cases contributed pieces—that run the risk of offending readers as long as standard journalistic guidelines were enforced. The editors also acknowledged that the paper “suffers acutely from a lack of racially diverse voices” and vowed to find ways to make the newspaper more reflective of the entire community. (Full disclosure: I serve as an advisor to the Campus.)

This issue with the Campus does seem to illustrate a troubling point, perhaps the one opinion shared by most: students are feeling pushed toward silence. There’s the young woman and others who fear the consequences of expressing challenging opinions, and there are the organizations who believe such expression, as it was conducted, systematically silences minority groups.

One student suggests—and others agree—that 90 percent of the student body is not engaging in substantive conversations about race. She says that about 10 percent of the student body could be described as activists when it comes to racial discourse. About 30 percent don’t think about the issue at all. And then there’s 60 percent who are very aware of the tension on campus, but are loathe to speak, at least on any meaningful level; the risk is too great.

So a result can be silence that is just as uncomfortable and perhaps just as damaging. And this worries Nia Robinson. “I know that there are a lot of people who either have good intentions or they empathize with students of color, but they’re not being vocal about it,” she says. “And I so badly want them to speak up because I’m sure they have thoughts and ideas that are completely different from mine, ideas that will challenge me, and that’s a good thing. I come back to a quote from the writer Audre Lorde—‘Your silence will never save you.’”

Shuba Maniram says that she’s found she can have better conversations if she starts by expressing how a statement made her feel, “because somebody may know what it means to be hurt.” (Or at least that’s the hope: See Debanjan Roychoudhury on p. 40) “If I can get you to focus more on how you’ve made me feel instead of characterizing you in a certain way, then our conversation has a relational aspect. If it goes the other way, that’s when people silence themselves.” But sometimes—often, for many—the burden of these conversations is too great. It’s what Patton referred to when she said, “We must make sure that no single group bears the burden of difference.”

“Yeah, there are times when I have to step back,” admits Maniram. “Ultimately, I’m not here to teach people how to be a better person in the world. I’m here to learn. I’m here to get an education; it shouldn’t be on me to always be educating others.”

Anna Iglitzin agrees. A junior Feb from Seattle, Iglitzin is part of a cohort of white students who have formed an allyship group. They’ve struggled to come up with a name for their effort—“Whites Against Racism” had been mentioned, but some disliked the militarism of the acronym so they’ve settled on “Wonderbread: White Students for Racial Justice.” They write op-eds for the Campus, addressing issues of “white privilege, written by white students, predominately for white students,” and they hold regular gatherings, where they attempt to engage previously reticent people in uncomfortable conversations. The thinking is that white students will feel less vulnerable expressing their feelings, their confusion, to their white peers; they’ll be more apt to ask questions if they’re not consumed by fear of upsetting someone.

Iglitzin readily admits it’s an imperfect solution. She worries that she’s helped create a homogenous group on campus attempting to educate others in the homogeny about issues she’s never experienced. She’s also worried that she’ll get something wrong, that she’ll incorrectly interpret something that has been told to her by a student of color, that she’ll inadvertently perpetuate stereotypes. But she and others in the group also understand that if this is what it takes to get conversations started and if this effort helps people who are exhausted, who can no longer bear the burden of explanation alone, then it has to be done.

“But success,” says Iglitzin, “is when those people who do talk to us then venture outside of our circle to engage people who don’t look like us.”

Roberto Lint Sagarena shares a similar sentiment when talking about Middlebury’s new multicultural center. On a blustery April day I sat in Sagarena’s office in Carr Hall, home to both the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Anderson Freeman Resource Center (AFC). The latter, which Sagarena also directs, was proposed by students who felt that the College was lacking a venue that specifically supported students from historically underrepresented or marginalized communities; it opened this year, an occurrence Sagarena wryly calls “fortuitous.”

Sagarena says, and students concur, that the AFC has helped demystify the collegiate process by bringing in writing tutors, counselors from the health center, and counselors from the Center for Careers and Internships to meet with students in Carr Hall; not as a substitute for, say, visiting a writing tutor in the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research, but as a way of letting students know these resources exist.

And the AFC is a space where alienated students can be themselves. “And that’s great,” says Sagarena. “But it needs to build up to something. I want the Center to serve as a home base for previously alienated students who can then take ownership of the rest of the campus. There needs to be a circulation to the Center; we need to be able to help students expand beyond the AFC, and we need to be able to bring in students who would have never thought about what it means to come from a historically underrepresented community.”

Not long after I talked to Sagarena, the College announced that a popular student-run program called JusTalks would become mandatory for incoming first-year students, beginning next year. I spent a good deal of time talking with Molly McShane, a senior, about JusTalks, which was founded four years ago to provide students with the tools and opportunities to hold conversations about difficult topics.

McShane, who is white, attended the National Cathedral School, an all-girls school in Washington, D.C. She discovered JusTalks as a sophomore at Middlebury, a time when she was struggling to connect with other students who found value and community in conversations about identity and power. JusTalks was her answer—she was able to give voice to her experiences (and learned from listening to others’); she also found a community who shared her interest in talking about difficult subjects. She says that the small group settings build up trust and help foster deeper, more challenging—and also more affirming— conversations over time.      

Next year, every first-year student will participate in a JusTalks daylong event during either winter term or spring semester. “Setting the framework in a student’s first year builds a foundation,” says McShane. “It’s a way of saying to every new student, ‘These are the conversations we have and this is the way we treat each other.’”

Adds Smith Abbott: “It can be a space where people don’t have to fear saying the wrong thing as they ask questions and sort through their feelings.”

On this point, I press her about how Middlebury’s faculty can be brought into these discussions. She agrees with the sentiment that for many students of color, the “single most urgent place where they need to see change is in the classroom.” Diversifying the faculty is a work-in-progress, but it’s also the change that will happen the most slowly. So the challenge becomes this: How do you have an impact now?

“As an institution, we need to provide our faculty with opportunities to have the conversation—Why is this important? What kind of discomfort is acceptable and what is not?” she says. “We need to make the resources available for people to have those conversations and, ultimately, to learn, to deepen their skills as classroom facilitators.

“Because they weren’t trained for this,” she adds “and being vulnerable, allowing oneself to be wrong in a space where they are supposed to be the educator is really, really hard.” (More faculty training in this area is another of Patton’s initiatives.)

A year ago, Miguel Fernandez met with department chairs to talk about diversifying the faculty, and he says he was largely met with push back, specifically with how he was defining diversity. The professors asked about expanding the definition to include diversity of religion, diversity of thought. All important, Fernandez told them. But he specifically wanted to talk about the urgent need to increase racial diversity.

“It was different this year,” he says. “I think a large percentage of faculty have found themselves in uncomfortable situations, and they’re looking for the tools to help them navigate this new terrain.”

I have had faculty describe this feeling as being “unmoored,” that at any moment, in teaching their material, they could be treading into quicksand. And many of these faculty members express confusion and dismay about the situation—they say they were once activists themselves and are empathetic to the students’ feelings, yet they find themselves being described as part of the problem.    

Smith Abbott is not surprised to hear this. “People care, they’re curious, they’re worried.” She notes the increase in attendance at voluntary workshops and discussion groups, but she also points out that “students rightly say, ‘It’s not everyone yet.’ And we’re trying to figure that out.”


On a sunny Friday afternoon, I met Charles Rainey for lunch at a Thai restaurant in town. It was a few days before elections for the 2016–17 Student Government Association (SGA), and Rainey was one of four students running for president—the only rising sophomore. As a first-year senator, Rainey has been a presence on the SGA (see p. 43), and he was running on a platform—“a movement,” he calls it—that could upend the very role of student government at Middlebury.

The oldest of five children, Rainey grew up in suburban Atlanta. He attended predominately Black schools and says there was a lot of empowerment in his community, but also a lot of prejudice that existed just beyond his neighborhood. He says that being Black is not monolithic—“there’s not one Black experience”—but his life experience has helped him understand what it’s like to be marginalized.

At lunch, he’s in campaign mode, even though I have no vote and this story will be published after the election. “But this is a movement,” he reminds me with a smile. “Not just an election.”

He says the SGA can’t afford “for another year to go by where conversations are not centered on issues concerning inclusivity.” The SGA must represent all students, not just some, and he believes that not everyone is being represented. But he’s encountered resistance, both as a senator and in his campaign, primarily by people who feel that it’s not the role of student government to debate these issues. And this deeply troubles him. (He describes the focus on issues such as dining hall hours as “inconsequential.”)

To our lunch he wore a T-shirt that bears a Desmond Tutu quote: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice then you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” To Rainey, “the SGA has been largely neutral on matters of inclusion and social justice; people have taken a stance that the SGA shouldn’t get involved in these issues. You know what I think about that.”

He has an extensive list of policy proposals—better integrating JusTalks into the first-year experience; the creation of a peer-mentoring program called MiddSibs, in which juniors and seniors are paired up with sophomores and freshmen to form a support network based on shared interests, identities, or backgrounds; mandatory inclusivity training for residential life staff and faculty. While some of the ideas hold more practical promise than others, the point is that Rainey wants to keep the campus’s focus on these issues, wants to keep the pressure on decision makers, and he thinks it should be SGA’s responsibility to do so. 

Katy Smith Abbott says that Rainey’s campaign is pushing the student body to question what their government should be. “Are students eager for somebody who really wants to use that office and that student body to push for change in an activist spirit, or do they want it to continue as it has—as a more traditional, if you will, governing body?”

Rainey lost the election, coming in third place. Karina Toy—an Asian American who touted support for a student leadership retreat, more parking spaces for students, and greater SGA transparency—won. During her campaign she agreed with Rainey that inclusivity was an important issue. She said she was supportive of efforts to build a more inclusive community, but she expressed skepticism at how influential the SGA could be.


At the photo shoot for this story, Debanjan Roychoudhury gazed out the large floor-to-ceiling windows in the Axinn Center and watched Rainey jog across the quad, a late arrival to the shoot. To nobody in particular, he said, “Man, he’s gonna burn out.” Roychoudhury would know better than anyone; a few years ago, he was in the same place.

“My sophomore year, I raged against everything,” the senior from Queens tells me one morning while we sat at a table in Crossroads Café. He arrived at Middlebury as an enthusiastic first-year, excited about being in a new place among new people and eager to be involved in as many activities as he could handle. He threw himself into his classwork, joined a number of cultural organizations, and volunteered in the community. He was optimistic, he says, convinced that Middlebury was a place where he could grow and become part of a community that was already becoming special to him. Those feelings didn’t last.

He describes a wave of events that buffeted his optimism. There was the hateful, misogynistic, homophobic letter mailed to a student on campus; there was the time he was at a Halloween party and asked if he was dressed as a basketball player (the six foot four Roychoudhury wasn’t wearing a costume, “though I felt like I had one put on me right then”); there was the time a white student assumed he must love the rapper Jay-Z, presumably because Roychoudhury has dark skin and was wearing a knit Yankees cap, attire favored by the artist; there was the time he attended a campus discussion centered on the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a Michigan law banning the use of racial criteria in college admissions, and he heard a faculty member say that now Black students at Michigan would know they deserved to be there.

“So it became my job to prove to people that I was smart enough to be here, that I was earning my scholarship, that I had earned my place,” he says. “And I fought like hell to prove that.” What felled him, he says, was intransigence. He felt as though he and others were pushing and pushing to talk about these issues and no one was listening; the AFC was two years away from opening, and Roychoudhury felt like he was drifting away. Burnout followed, the burnout he worries about for Charles Rainey. He focused on getting by—getting by and getting out.

Now, though, he feels differently. “I woke up one day and realized that none of this has defeated me. As a student of color, I belong here just as much as anyone else; this is my school just as much as it’s anyone else’s.”

I asked him what prompted this realization, and he thought for a minute. “Maybe it’s as simple as honoring people like Martin Henry Freeman and Marianne Anderson,” he says, gesturing to his backpack which features button pins with the likenesses of the two Middlebury alums, students of color who graduated in the late 1800s and went on to exemplary careers in education.

“Nothing gives me more pride than thinking about what they accomplished. And they are Middlebury,” he says. “Now think about what life was like for them, think about their norm. My grandparents lived under colonial rule. Compare their norm to mine; compare Freeman’s and Anderson’s norm to mine. It’s different, right? It’s better, right? Change is happening if we keep working, if we come together. Sometimes it’s hard to see, but it is.”

Roychoudhury stands up from the table and says he needs to get to class, but he has one last thing he wants to tell me.

“Did you know that when Martin Henry Freeman walked at graduation, the other students held back? They wouldn’t walk with him. And then one guy stepped forward and linked arms with him, and they walked side-by-side in the procession. When we look back on this moment—and I believe it’s a big chapter in our story, and we will be looking back on it—who is going to stand and link arms and walk with their brothers and sisters?”  

Stand and Deliver


Rana Abdelhamid ’15 has learned to stare down bigotry and xenophobia. And now she’s teaching a generation of American women to do the same.

In an elementary school classroom on the third floor of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, Rana Abdelhamid ’15 is teaching a group of women how to yell. It’s not an easy task. Abdelhamid demonstrates the self-defense move again. She settles into a fighting stance, her right foot back, her left leg bent slightly. She raises her fists in front of her face, which is framed with a royal blue headscarf. Twisting at the waist, she launches a powerful punch with a loud, sharp “KI-YAH!”

“On my count,” she says, urging the nine women in front of her to try. The women are part of a daylong workshop hosted by WISE—the Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment—an organization Abdelhamid founded six years ago, when she was just 17 years old. WISE teaches self-defense, leadership, and social entrepreneurship skills to Muslim women, a task that has grown even more urgent for Abdelhamid, now 23, in the face of a spike in hate crimes against Muslims and increasingly strident anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“One,” Abdelhamid shouts, and the room dissolves into embarrassed giggles. Only one student yells without any self-consciousness: six-year-old Kenza, in her heart-print dress and pink-and-white-striped headscarf, who is attending the workshop with her mother.

“This is important,” Abdelhamid says, gathering the women around her. They range in age from teens to 40-somethings. Some wear hijabs, the traditional Muslim headscarf; others don’t. “As women, we’re told not to be loud,” she says. “We are programmed to be respectful, to be nice, to smile. We giggle, even when we are threatened. I needed to use these self-defense skills once,” she tells the class. “But I didn’t have the confidence to use them.”


“I felt a tug at my hijab,” Abdelhamid begins. She has told this story many times in the last seven years; it has lost none of its power in the retelling. Abdelhamid’s animated features still as she recalls walking alone down a New York City street. A man approached her from behind and tried to rip off her hijab. “I remember the hate in his eyes. I felt very vulnerable and very alone,” she says.

The physical fear came first. Her attacker was enormous in the eyes of the petite 16-year-old. She ran. When she was safe, she locked herself in a bathroom and cried. Then came another, bigger fear, an uncertainty about her place in American society: “Why do people see Muslims in this light? Does everyone see me this way? Why does this happen?”

Abdelhamid knew such discrimination and hatred existed. She had been an eight-year-old Muslim-American New Yorker on 9/11 and had seen the attacks and suspicion the Muslim community endured in its wake. At 16, she had just begun wearing the hijab, a personal expression of her culture and religion that also made her a visible target for those who misunderstood her faith. She did not know how to counteract that hate, but she did know how to defend herself.

From the age of seven, Abdelhamid had studied Shotokan karate. Her parents had enrolled their shy daughter in the class to give her the confidence she needed to stand up for herself in the sometimes-chaotic environment of her New York City public school. In the aftermath of her attack, Abdelhamid embraced karate as a tool of self-empowerment and of self-defense; today she holds a black belt.

Karate made Abdelhamid feel less vulnerable, but she still felt alone. She wondered: were other Muslim girls facing the same issues? As a teenager, Abdelhamid was preternaturally attuned to the importance of community. Her mother is a human rights activist and from a young age, Abdelhamid had seen the impact of domestic violence in her community in New York, where she was born, and in Alexandria, Egypt, where her parents grew up. When she was attacked, Abdelhamid had been walking to her volunteer job at a domestic violence shelter.

Those two pieces—self-defense and community building—formed the foundation blocks of WISE, an organization that began with a very personal goal: to help one teenage girl heal.

The idea of a 16-year-old girl teaching self-defense to her peers was not well received at first. Abdelhamid remembers pitching the project to an imam at a Queens community center: “He laughed.” He explained that the center already had classes for Muslim women; they were all religious education classes. “I learned later that after I left he actually ripped up my poster,” she says. The rejection only emboldened her—that “activist spark,” she says now. She was determined to strengthen her argument. She began researching other organizations, gathering data, and seeking out mentors and allies.

Her perseverance paid off. The first WISE course was held the summer of 2010 in Brooklyn. Abdelhamid was nervous as her father drove her to the class; she had never done anything like this before. More than a dozen teenaged girls attended, and Abdelhamid says, “it was that sisterhood that I have always wanted to find.”

That first eight-week workshop combined self-defense training with conversation; the girls had a safe space to share their experiences of being Muslim women in New York. For Abdelhamid, the self-defense portion of the class is key. It attracts a wide variety of women—those who wear the hijab and those who do not; those who have identified as Muslims throughout their lives and those new to the faith; those who consider themselves feminist and those who do not—which makes the conversations among the women richer. “We have debates in the class and opportunity for learning,” Abdelhamid says. “It has definitely challenged my assumptions and my beliefs.”

At the end of the workshop, Abdelhamid thought that she was done—“I felt better,” she recalls thinking. Then she got a phone call from one of the girls in the class. The girl was in tears. She had been on a New York City bus. “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” the bus driver had demanded as she fumbled with her Metro Card. “Because of the class, I knew how to respond,” the girl told Abdelhamid. She recorded the bus number and knew there were people she could ask for help. “How do we keep this going?” she asked.

“That was the moment for me,” says Abdelhamid. “This is not about me. It’s not about me at all.’”



Google ‘images of Muslim women,’” Abdelhamid says. “I can actually do it for you right now.” She reaches for her smartphone and quickly scans through a dozen or so text messages before entering the search term. Of the first 20 pictures that appear, only three show women in hair-covering hijabs. The other 17 photos are of women in black niqabs, a face-covering veil, or black burqas, a full-body veil.

On this day in late March, Abdelhamid sits in a coffee shop in Cambridge. She is dressed stylishly in a long, bell-shaped black skirt, brown boots, and a patterned shawl, which she gathers in her lap. Her personal style is on display in every detail, from her chunky rings and her penciled eyebrows to her hijab. Today it’s a burgundy scarf—a complement to her lipstick—tied closely to her head in a style she likes to call “the urban turban.” “This is not what I look like,” she says, gesturing to the dominant image of Muslim women displayed on her phone. “We are trying to diversify and elevate the narrative.”

WISE began as a self-empowerment effort—first for Abdelhamid and then for the 500 women who have participated in WISE’s programs to date. The organization now has volunteer-staffed chapters in six cities in the U.S. and Europe; some workshops last a couple of hours, while some last months. The media has embraced WISE—at the recent Boston workshop, two camera crews filmed the self-defense class—and slowly, so have Muslim organizations that formerly laughed at the concept. Once a premed student turned international politics and economics major, Abdelhamid is now pursuing a master’s in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and hopes to turn WISE into a full-time job upon graduation.

As WISE’s profile has grown, it has also become a platform for educating the public about Muslim women. It’s a path Abdelhamid treads cautiously; she does not want to be seen as a spokeswoman for some 800 million Muslim women. But neither can she stay silent.

When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States; when his Republican rival Ted Cruz suggested patrolling Muslim neighborhoods; when ISIS was connected to attacks in Paris, Brussels, and San Bernardino, Abdelhamid’s phone rang. “I get messages all the time, after every attack, from Muslim girls who want to know: I am wearing the hijab. Should I take it off?”

Abdelhamid tells the callers that taking the hijab off is as personal a decision as putting it on, that each woman must make a decision with regard to her safety and stress levels. Abdelhamid has made her choice: “I am defiant. I am going to wear it and I am going to be proud.”


As she works to expand WISE, Abdelhamid has introduced a new project: Hijabis of New York. Inspired by the popular Humans of New York blog, Hijabis of New York documents the experiences of women who wear the hijab—in New York and in cities around the world—with a portrait and a one-question interview.

For Abdelhamid, the Hijabis of New York is a digital version of what she calls the “hijabi nod,” that brief moment of recognition and connection between two women wearing hijabs as they pass each other on the street. The project showcases the diversity of women who choose to wear the hijab, even as it builds a virtual community among them.

The questions Abdelhamid and the project’s other photographers pose to these women on the street are thought provoking. She blanches at answering one herself: “What are you struggling with at the moment?”

On the blog, struggle is a common theme. “With staying true to myself and being who I want to be,” says one woman in a hijab painted with watercolor pastels. “Lately, I’ve been struggling with my faith,” admits another in a royal purple hijab.

Abdelhamid pauses, starts, stops. She’s struggling with the same things her classmates are: balancing her class work with her social life; finding her own identity in her 20s; realizing her big ambitions.

She starts again: “I’m really struggling with the hateful rhetoric. It’s hard. I really, really feel American. I feel very proud to be American, and then when I read these things…it makes you feel very vulnerable. It makes you feel like a second-class citizen. These are things that I’m grappling with and that’s hard because I’m leading an organization that is teaching people not to feel that way.”

The Gospel According to Ted


How Ted King ’05 and his entrepreneurial cohort of outdoor enthusiasts seek to upend the market for athletic fuel.

Strapping on her skis and moving slowly—by her standards—through a warm-up at Lake Placid’s Nordic Center, Heather Mooney ’15 does one lap around the stadium, then another, and finally heads out with her teammates for an abbreviated jaunt through the woods. It’s two days before the 2015 NCAA Ski Championships, and Mooney is exhausted. She’s battling a cold, which is sapping her energy at just the wrong time, and she doesn’t have the luxury of taking it easy. She’s running low in another department, as well.

“I have one more,” she says, opening a pouch on her blue waist belt and pulling out a packet of maple syrup. “We have one last late-day race, so the timing worked out perfectly.” Marketed as an “all-natural athletic fuel” under the label UnTapped, this particular packet of pure maple syrup is no homespun remedy but a relatively new product being touted as a natural alternative to synthetic sports gels. The founder of the company and self-professed maple syrup proselytizer—“I’ve been preaching the gospel of maple syrup for years”—is Ted King ’05, a cyclist who competed professionally for nearly a decade.

A native New Englander (a rarity in professional cycling), King earned a quirky reputation on the cycling circuit for being the “syrup guy,” never failing to pack a couple of gallons of the sweet stuff and always having some on hand at mealtime. “It’s not commonplace in Europe,” he says, and what is available tends to be the corn-syrup-based alternatives, which King dismisses as fake syrup. But it wasn’t until a training ride in 2012 that King realized maple syrup’s potential as an energy supplement.

The previous summer, King and fellow pro cyclist Tim Johnson had successfully cycled the length of Vermont’s Route 100—dubbed “200 on 100” for the 200-mile trek—and had set their sights on another 200-mile ride: from Burlington, Vermont, to Portland, Maine. In advance of the new challenge, playfully called “200 not on 100,” King and Johnson got the word out about the ride and as they pedaled across northern New England, they were greeted by cheering crowds along the way. As they neared the halfway point, while zipping along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, they encountered a man waiting on the side of the road—with gift baskets for each rider.

Among various sundries, such as a 16-oz. can of beer, was a mini-container of maple syrup. In an attempt to replace at least some of the 1,000 calories per hour they were burning—and stay sober—they downed the syrup.

“That was probably the first time I really, truly chugged maple syrup on a ride,” says King. The performance benefits seemed clear, he adds, citing a noticeable energy boost. Why not try and replicate it? King began stopping at mom-and-pop syrup stands along his bike routes, buying novelty-size nips and tucking them in his jersey.

“It wasn’t the safest thing in the world,” he says of the glass vials that would surely shatter during a fall. So, aiming to avoid maiming, he started looking for alternative packaging. At farmers’ markets he would show syrup makers his traditional energy gels and ask if they could get their product into a similarly manageable form. He was met with stares of confusion and sent on his merry way. For more than a year, no one seemed to take him seriously. Then King pitched the idea to Andrew Gardner, a friend and amateur cyclist.

At the time, Gardner was the Nordic ski coach at Middlebury, and he had his own syrup stories. Vermont ski racing has more than its fair share of traditions, one of which involves handing out jugs of syrup as podium prizes. “I saw the winners from Saturday’s race chugging maple syrup and then skiing long distances on Sunday,” Gardner says, an observation seconded by Heather Mooney. “Chugging syrup is definitely a thing,” she confirms, especially on the men’s side. It’s a practice that Gardner had noticed but had never really thought about—until King approached him with his crazy idea.


Andrew Gardner was not only enthusiastic about King’s idea; he proved adept at solving several of the logistical problems King had encountered, such as sourcing the syrup itself. He introduced King to Roger Brown, Doug Brown, Tim Kelley, and Jimmy Cochran—first cousins who are descended from Vermont skiing royalty. The Skiing Cochrans, as the family is known, have competed internationally for two generations. The four offspring of patriarch Mickey all skied in Winter Olympics (daughter Barbara Ann won gold in 1972), while the next generation has placed six family members on the U.S. ski team. Mickey and his wife, Ginny, also built a small ski area on their property in Richmond, Vermont. Now operated as a nonprofit, this literal mom-and-pop ski hill, with its three lifts and eight slopes, is a bucolic hive of family activity each winter. It is also surrounded by 20,000 maple trees, and in 2010, four of Mickey and Ginny’s 10 grandchildren started tapping the trees and opened a sugarhouse that would produce their signature Slopeside Syrup.

The Cochran cousins loved the idea of syrup-as-energy-fuel, and with King and Gardner, the cohort began scouring the country to find a partner who could package Slopeside’s product in small, on-the-go packets. (The supplier remains a closely guarded secret, says King.)

Next, they turned to crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, where they crafted a campaign that was less a charity plea and more a pre-order system. (“We really wanted this to be a proof of concept,” explains Gardner.) The initial ask was $35,000, and in the days before the launch, King was approving drafts of the site while lying face down on a massage table between stages of the Tour de France.

The campaign blew past its goal, raising more than $50,000, which would fund production of 100,000 packets—though the fledgling company soon learned that there was greater demand for UnTapped than they had anticipated, particularly as customers kept finding new uses for the product. “We’ve heard of expectant mothers using it in labor,” says King. Paramedics have also used UnTapped to treat diabetes, and people report taking it along to diners so they don’t have to use “artificial” brands on their pancakes and waffles.

Naturally, the UnTapped team swears by its product. “It offers the same nutritional benefits found in the very calculated, heavily supplemented stuff, but maple syrup is entirely natural,” King says, citing a laundry list of resulting benefits: antioxidants, low glycemic index (54), and high magnesium content, to name a few. For others though, the jury is still out. Burlington-based nutritionist Kimberly Evans, for instance, loves the idea of UnTapped and even bought it as a stocking stuffer for her partner last Christmas, but she isn’t fully convinced by the science. “I would really have to see some evidence-based research for me to be comfortable recommending maple syrup,” she says. Nonetheless, UnTapped has been flying off the shelves.

According to Gardner, UnTapped is doing well financially, though not to the degree that he, King, or the Cochrans can forgo any other source of income. And there’s still the risk of falling victim to the fad-prone natural foods industry. “We don’t want to become a stop on the trendy-sport highway,” he cautions, conceding that there is a bit of a novelty aura to the product. At least for now, though, the UnTapped upswing continues. You can find it for sale in L.L.Bean stores, and Olympic distance runner Ruben Sanca is the latest endurance athlete to endorse the product. “We’re an actual, legitimate business,” says Gardner. “It’s still one of these things where I turn around and say, this is crazy.”