FINALS WEEK— where the most wonderful time of the year turns into the most stressful time of the year. A time where students across the country are up to their ears in work and sleep and sanity are at all time lows. While Middlebury is certainly no exception to this rule, it has been my experience that although stress is high during this time, that there is something about the collective culture here that makes everything a little more bearable. Here are some reasons I’ve come up with to explain what that has meant to me:
- Students are not competitive with each other: Contrary to the experience I had in high school, when everyone was competing for the same goal of getting into college, I truly find that while Middlebury students are quite competitive with themselves, we are not competitive with each other. None of my friends or classmates would ever ask me what my GPA was because they genuinely would not care. If someone did ask me about a specific grade, it would probably be because they wanted to see if I did something differently to receive a better or worse grade and not because they wanted to compete with me. I think a lot of this stems from the fact that unlike high school, college students choose a wider variety of paths. I think this is further strengthened at Middlebury because it is a Liberal Arts school where students are much more likely to be taking different types of classes, have different majors, and different aspirations than they would be if you went to a larger university where you were enrolled in a specific school or program.
- Collective Atmosphere: Since there isn’t much competition between students I find that the academic atmosphere is more collective. When you have a lot of work the chances are that others have a lot of work as well, which certainly fosters the “all in this together” atmosphere. This is only strengthened during finals when, due to Middlebury’s physical size, everyone studies in the same places.
- Supportive environment: Being with everyone is in the library with a lot of work strengthens the feeling of our collective identity as Midd kids. This collective identity, coupled with the fact that we aren’t trying to compete with each other, fosters a very supportive environment amongst students. It is very common in times like these to hear exchanges between students where they both talk about their long to do lists and then provide words of encouragement. When you have three papers to write in two days, hearing that someone else has three papers and an exam to complete in the same amount of time is comforting, because, in a strange way, you feel less alone.
Not Competitive–>Collective Atmosphere —> Supportive Environment.
I am certainly not trying to say there isn’t high stress at Middlebury, or, that we all sit around in a circle giving each other back massages and smiling during finals week. I think we all need to try to put less pressure on ourselves as individuals, to try harder to remember the bigger picture, why we are here and why we want to learn in the first place. What I am trying to say, is that in times of high academic stress it has been my experience that the students seem to really come together and support each other. As I go into my seventh finals period as a Middlebury student, I think I have finally realized how positively this supportive environment has effected my academic experience.
This past Thursday, I had the privilege of participating in a roundtable conversation with Mary Lou Finley. A primary organizer for the Chicago Freedom Movement (1965-1967), she worked closely with some of the leading civil rights activists of the era—from Martin Luther King, Jr. to James Bevel. She was just emerging from college then, but in decades in between she has continued to valiantly push for greater social and economic equality. Mary Lou is now a professor of sociology at Antioch University in Seattle; additionally, she leads trainings with various civil rights organizations.
Her years of organizing experience show. She greeted us with compassionate confidence, listened deeply, and offered humble reflections on the arc of race relations and social change in late 20th and early 21st century America. In what became a fluid conversation, students, faculty, and community members engaged in a moving discussion of the troubled times in which we find ourselves today.
Moments like Thursday night have proved essential over my four years at Middlebury. It is all too easy at times to let immersion into the thriving campus life here supplant engagement with the outside world. But it is essential to remember that they are not mutually exclusive. As a history major, I have come to understand the inseparable links between past and present, campus and (world) community.
Our beautiful campus may be far away from some of the sites we have seen mentioned in the news lately. But in its distance lies the root of the intense sense of community here. Here, where a group of committed citizens can so passionately and respectfully discuss avenues for making our world a better place. Here, where the lines between professor, student, and townsperson blur. Here, where we learn to engage.
In a period of strife and social conflict, college campuses should be spaces of engagement, of conversation, of introspection and outward-looking action.
Mary Lou reminded us Thursday night of the successes and the unfinished work of history. It is our role as students and citizens of the world to carry that work forward.