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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.


9 Responses to “Empanadas, Burritos, and Home”

  1. Rhiya Trivedi says:

    I respectfully disagree. While I am currently working on a longer piece that articulates this idea further, I’ll say this now:

    Middlebury is more diverse in numbers, yes, than it was 6 years ago. And diversity is not just a thing of cognitive factors; of race and sex and and class (which isn’t always cognitive anyway). It is a thing of experience and perspective and worldview.

    But Middlebury as an institution does very little of the necessary work that Manny talks about here. They are not interested in discomfort as far as I am concerned.

    Because it would be uncomfortable to have conversations about the gross privilege and entitlement that underlies dorm damage and dish stealing. It would be uncomfortable to truly question why students call Public Safety regarding non-white guests in our community and why Public Safety calls the police in turn. It would be uncomfortable to admit openly that we have a problem with substance abuse and sexual harassment and gender biases and ability-based discrimination and that most professors completely lack the sensitivity necessary to tease out when their students are being silenced or marginalized by others.

    Admitting it might threaten our standing as one of the best. It might suggest that building a community is not some calculus of recruitment; but that radical inclusion and an honouring of perspective are things to be aspired to over time, not just written about in a mission statement.

    This is not a community. It is a spatially constrained campus, with several communities co-existing (only sometimes peacefully) within it. I happen to be a big fan of the one I roll in on most days, but that doesn’t mean I don’t lament everyday the absence of a larger one. It takes work, and I’m willing to do it. But I’m not convinced that Middlebury as an institution is.

  2. Rhiya Trivedi says:

    I should add that if anyone is reading this, and interested in a concrete manifestation of the kind of work and intentional discomfort I’m talking about, please get in touch. A group of about 30 super dynamic students are currently working on making time and a safe place for students to truly engage in topics we’ve been talking about for years. rtrivedi@middlebury.edu. Just let me know.

  3. Hudson Cavanagh says:

    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with Rhiya on her description of Middlebury as not a community. I think the extent to which we are a community is often overstated in flowery language intended for prospective students, alums and basically anybody on the outside, language many students echo because it legitimizes their institution and therefore themselves, but that language does actually get at something very real.

    While there are certainly a lot of communities co-existing, I know I see intersections of those groups in the people that I consider my friends and I imagine that is the case for others as well even if they do not realize it. The institutional priority on promoting diversity that has been developing organically as a combination of the students, administrators, staff and professors this campus attracts and broader social movements in education is a just one. In terms of diversity, I think Middlebury is pretty good and the fact that so many of us, with so many different backgrounds, can comfortably use the word “home” to describe Middlebury – I do – is a testament to how far we’ve come, even if there are many who do not feel that way at all.

    Sometimes it makes me want to kick a wall with how much better Middlebury can be, and I believe will be (dorm damage humor – too soon?). I want to reiterate what Rhiya said about the group of 30ish dynamic students working on creating a safe environment where we ALL can talk about these topics, plus other things that factionalize and challenge our campus. We believe its absolutely necessary to take the next step as a community, and hope anybody interested in supporting it or working with us will reach out to Rhiya or me hcavanagh@middlebury.edu, even if you might not agree with the specifics of what either of us have said.

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