Taskforce Aims to Improve Community

By Isabelle Dietz

On Oct. 22 Dean of Students Katy Smith Abbott sent an all-student email inviting students to participate in the new Community Working Group. In her email, Smith Abbot explained that the decision to form this group ­— which will be comprised of students, faculty and staff — is a result of a recommendation from the 2011-2012 Task Force on Alcohol and Social Life, of which Smith Abbot served as co-chair. The group will consider a social honor code, a “Community Renewal program” and other topics dealing with community standards. Interested students were encouraged to reply with their name, class year and a brief explanation of why they hoped to participate.

According to Smith Abbott, many students have demonstrated interest in participating in the group. While the size and membership of the group has not yet been finalized, she hopes the group will begin meeting in early November.

The 2011-2012 Task Force on Alcohol and Social Life, which was convened in response to a 2010 alcohol survey administered by the College, submitted a final report with over 40 recommendations to the office of the president and the dean of students at the end of last year. The final report, which addresses alcohol use on campus and its effects on the community, can be accessed through Dean of the College Shirley Collado’s blog, One Dean’s View.

The “community” section of the final report begins, “Our work has suggested that the culture of drinking at Middlebury College is intimately tied to the strength of community within and among the students, faculty and staff. Consequently, fostering responsibility towards, and understanding of, other members of the community may be effective in mitigating excessive alcohol consumption and the linked negative behaviors.”

According to Smith Abbott, this perceived problem with the community, and not necessarily with alcohol, brought up an unexpected point for members of the Task Force.

“It was striking that it was a consistent theme, from first years to seniors,” said Smith Abbott. “It felt like a really critical piece to hold on to, to see what we might come up with as new or better approaches to what we’re doing.”

However, the Task Force was charged with dealing with problems arising from alcohol and its impact on the community, and didn’t have enough time to also look at problems with the community as a whole.

“It was as if we were dealing with the symptoms of the disease, but preventative measures also needed to be addressed,” said Brainerd Commons Residential Advisor Nial Rele ’12, who was a member of the Task Force last year. “In our conversations we realized we’d often talk about the larger problem of community building at Middlebury, and though we thought these were important discussions to have they didn’t relate directly with our charge.”

One of the ways the Task Force recommended dealing with this problem was by creating a Community Working Group as a space where students, staff and faculty could all come together to look specifically at community-building problems at the College.

The Task Force’s final report states, “The Task Force strongly recommends the implementation of a year-long working group including student, staff, and faculty that is focused on the question of Community and the viability of a social honor code or community renewal model”.

Some of the issues discussed within this group will coincide with those discussed in the Community Council, which deals with nonacademic community issues at Middlebury.

“I’m really excited for this group’s thoughts and input and to work in conjunction with them this year,” said recently elected co-chair of Community Council Barrett Smith ’13, who ran for his current position on a platform that included a proposed social honor code.

Students seemed interested in the idea of a social honor code, but wanted to hear more details before forming definite opinions.

“I support the idea of extending the honor code beyond academics into social life, but I don’t yet understand how the policy would be structured or implemented,” said Carolynn Johnson ’15.