Author Archives: Jelani Williams

Powerful January

When do pop culture, gender, and racial identity intersect? Here at Middlebury, J-term (January semester) injects life into the campus as students return refreshed from December break. J-term allows students to deviate from traditional academic courses and explore sections of academia outside of their comfort zone. This semester I took Performing Power as my final J-term class of senior year. In this course we explored the myriad dynamics of power as related to class, race, gender, etc. Following such, classes ranged from examining the power dynamics between female wrestlers to analyzing the role of performing masculinity in professional football. While the class was non-traditional, it still represented Middlebury as an institution that embraces all forms of academia whether in a laboratory or theater. Similarly, the class was composed of students from all four grades, three different countries, and several cities across the US. Each class was started by students performing a creative work that showed performing power in modern pop culture. As a neuroscience major this class was without a doubt outside of my comfort zone.  And yet that was the very reason each day was a refreshing and challenging endeavor to explore my creative side. In essence the class represents the very reason that J-term exists—to allow students to not just leave their comfort zones, but instead go flying out of it. Ending my final J-term with a class that was unlike my previous experiences has allowed me to come full circle in terms of my academic experiences at Middlebury.

As J-term comes to an end one can sense the changes in the student body. Dining halls slowly empty, tearful goodbyes are said to graduating Febs, and professors begin to prepare their Spring lesson plans. It is certainly a period of change—change that resonates through the whole school.

Worms, Nematodes, and Everything in Between.

“Ok only four more” I replied to my lab partner. “Great these worms are really coming along”. This exchange between my laboratory partner and me  was one of several that we’ve had over the last few weeks. We were examining C. elegans, which is pretty much the scientific name for a type of worm. Each lab period we would examine these 1mm nematodes under a high power microscope to observe whether blocking the expression of certain genes would affect their biological clocks. While this post is starting to sound  more like a lab report than a blog post, this exchange reflects the heart of sciences at Middlebury: collaborative, first-hand experiences that are rooted in research and laboratory exercises. Watching worms wriggle in a small plate might not overtly scream excitement (and after three weeks of it, excitement was the last word to use), but more than anything it gave me a personal and intricate look into genetic processes that I had only read in textbooks. Working with a partner also allowed us to gain confidence in each other and foster a friendship from staring at worms in a microscope for hours. For me, experiences like this reaffirmed my love for the sciences. Animal Physiology has been more than a class in which we simply read out of a textbook, but instead taking an in-depth and first-hand look at the actual things we study. This theme resonates in all Middlebury classes and shows the deep commitment of the faculty to developing the education of the student. Sitting in lab that day and counting how many times a worm defecated was certainly monotonous, but doing it with my lab partner while my professor’s electro/alternative music played in the background made it all the more rewarding.

Autumn’s Creed.

          October is always a particularly interesting time at Middlebury. The month brings a luscious autumn landscape in which the leaves display a spectrum of colors from deep gold to bright red. These seasonal changes are not limited to the trees however, as October brings a shift of mindset to the students as well. Perhaps the most readily apparent change can be summed up into one crucial word: midterms. Yes, the beautiful fall foliage also brings with it exams that will challenge your understanding of your courses and certainly heighten your stress levels. Not to worry though, as I will graciously provide my personal 7 steps to a productive midterm season:

1. Organize, Organize, And Organize. Plan out every day of midterm season down to when you anticipate procrastination or bathroom breaks

2. Ditch the coffee. Tea is a great alternative that won’t make you hit a crash in your library carousel.

3. APPLE CIDER. It’s October, enough said.

4. Print and then print some more.  Reading on a computer screen will dull your eye vision quicker than that coffee will make you crash.

5. Study groups make it easy for me and you. Like driving in a car, pool your knowledge. It’ll make the test much easier to observe what you know.

6. Don’t stop ’till you write enough. Papers won’t write themselves. Write until you can’t write anymore. Better to get your ideas out even if it’s nothing more than a stream of askjksj ajkjkjs.  

7. Breathe. Then breathe again. Plus drink some more cider.

              These tips are a culmination of my personal exam experiences as well as ways in which I have learned to deal with stress over my four years. October is more than simply mid-term season however, as it allows brings two important events: Fall family weekend and Homecoming weekend.  Each are significant times for you to share your Middlebury perspective with both parents and alumni. For me this is one of my favorite times of the year as you can stop outside of the somewhat monotonous bubble of school, dinner, homework, repeat. When the families visit each year not only are you provided with a sudden sense of homeliness and familiarity, but also a chance to gain perspective into the important people in your friend’s lives. Similarly, homecoming weekend brings a slew of alumni, all eager to reflect upon their time at Middlebury. I often use homecoming weekend to ask alumni “what would they have done differently” Along with networking, seeing how an alumnus would reevaluate their experiences provides an important moment of introspection for you as a current student. These are all crucial events that makes the month of October a time of seasonal and personal change. So remember, whenever you’re feeling stressed at the height of exam week, drink some cider.

Falling Into Things

Swallowing a deep breath of air, I emerged from the lake still tangled in a messy dance with the capsized kayak. The water was still surging into new pockets and crevices against my skin as a gentle reminder of my plummeting into Dunmore mere seconds ago…

Arriving on Middlebury’s campus on a humid day in September, I felt overcome with joy, anxiety, and general excitement. That day being the start of my senior year, I certainly wasn’t new to feeling the range of emotions that accompanies the onset of a new year. Yet still, the thrill of the first day routine never ceases to conjure the dormant enthusiasm that lay dominant in those three long summer months. This thrill was suddenly removed when I was faced with the task of moving my two carloads of stuff (not all quite necessary) up the two flights of stairs to my new dormitory. Seven trips to the car later and my unpacking were complete. After saying a hurried goodbye to my parents, I laid on my new bed and took a quick glance around my room. The stuff that occupied the surfaces of the polished wood furniture seemed to almost reflect my journey here at Middlebury. On my bookshelf was my favorite textbook from Animal Behavior, its spine worn with damage from crinkling papers and frantic highlighting. The emblem of my organization, Distinguished Men of Color, was posted just above the bookshelf. Its gold and blue colors gleamed with the words activism, community, and unity. Just under the poster stood my black refrigerator, covered in stickers that ranged from Wonnacott Commons to Noonie’s Deli. Even the cleats from my old Quidditch days were inconspicuously placed against my blue shag carpet, as if at any second they would animate themselves to go seek out the newest ‘snitch’. For me these things were not simply reminders of events and moments of mine at Middlebury, but rather physical markers of my journey to adulthood over the past four years. All the emotions, stress, happiness, and struggles were folded within the lines of my animal behavior textbook or snuggled within the words of the DMC poster.  Moving in wasn’t just coming back, but instead continuing the thrilling journey that started on this campus four years ago.

Beyond moving in, first week jitters can seem abundant, greeting old friends and making new ones, reestablishing that intimate bond with your homework, and even remembering which building hosts which class are all endeavors that come with the process of returning to Middlebury’s campus. As I enter my senior year however, all of these tasks felt a little more comfortable. A sense of belonging to this campus certainly accompanies all students at Middlebury. Even as a senior, new experiences still await you. For me this included my first time kayaking on the beautiful lake Dunmore—a site only 15 minutes away from campus and a favorite retreat for seniors.  On that day, as I entered the kayak, I couldn’t help but feel nervous and excited even after experiencing my first capsizing. Even so, after a few strokes in the water it actually became pleasant—just like the sense of anxiety that comes with arriving back on campus.