Trust Us: We Can Handle It

By Guest Contributor

Here at Middlebury, we live by an extensive set of rules. Some are necessary to maintain our safety, but many are superfluous and actively undermine our autonomy as students. A student body that lacks agency also lacks community standards. I simply propose that we deserve more trust. The presence of a doubtful watchdog inherently creates an antagonistic relationship.  Only through an environment of mutual trust — and it must go both ways — can we truly thrive as a community. If the expectations for the student body were set higher, I have no doubt that we rise to the occasion. As it stands, we act like children because we are treated as such.

I have had this feeling since arriving here and have heard it from many mouths, but I am compelled to express it only now. A good friend of mine told a surprising story about the 100 Days party that broke my camel’s back (to read his full story, check out middbeat.org, a student-run blog). Fed up with the level of control imposed upon our senior class at a party organized in our honor, he purposely and impulsively broke a rule and was booted from the building. To be fair, he was acting like a drunken fool, but sober reflection has shown him the error of his ways.

The rule he broke – no water on the dance floor — is entirely justified and necessary for maintaining safety. Three people went to the hospital after slipping on the wet dance floor at the 200 Days party. His actions, however, were motivated by the generally draconian enforcement of rules that undermined trust. For example, I watched a reasonably sober friend be kicked out for drunkenness after tripping while removing her high heels.  This is fairly characteristic of many experiences with Public Safety. The music is always too loud; there are always too many minors; the punch gets dumped down the drain; I can’t drink a beer on my own porch. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time at the party, especially while consuming the free food and booze provided by our generous buddies in the Administration.  However, I would have liked to enjoy my beer in the space between the Grille and the Social Space. I would have liked to step outside briefly for a breath of fresh air.

Neither of these things were allowed, but why? Are there significantly more risks associated with trusting us to make appropriate decisions about alcohol on our own? If given the opportunity, would we take advantage of these simple freedoms to our own detriment? Personally, I have more trust in us.

Call me an optimist, but a policy of trust seems to work elsewhere. Take Haverford College as an example.  Here’s an excerpt from their Honor Code:  “As Haverford students, we seek an environment in which members of a diverse community can live together, interact and learn from one another in ways that protect both personal freedom and community standards…We uphold the Code by engaging with the values upon which our community depends: mutual trust, concern, and respect for oneself, one another and the community.”

An institution renowned for the strength and pervasive nature of its honor code, Haverford holds a trusting policy toward alcohol—students are held to a higher standard, responsible for monitoring their own consumption and intervention only occurs when students ask for help. The result is a happier and safer environment not only for drinking, but also for social life in general. Granted, this claim is based solely on anecdotal evidence from friends.

While I work on gathering some empirical evidence to prove this point, let’s try imagining a Middlebury with this kind of trust. Students should have more autonomy to make personal decisions and hold more agency regarding their social life. At the very least, it would be nice to know the reason behind the rule, just as you might tell a child, “Don’t hit because hitting isn’t nice.” Administrative intervention should only occur where there is an immediate and preventable threat to safety. I recognize that, to some, this may seem like a pretty bold proposition. Indeed, if taken literally, it has some huge implications for the College’s policies.

Rather than paint that whole picture right now, I want to imagine a 100 Days party that follows these guidelines. We are allowed to exit and re-enter the party. Some may take this opportunity for over-consumption of alcohol (they probably did anyway) while others simply take a break for fresh air, a cigarette or healthy consumption of alcohol in a different location. We are allowed to exit the Grille and be in the gallery with alcoholic beverages to maximize the area for socializing while consuming. We are still not allowed to take drinks onto the dance floor as this poses an immediate and preventable threat to safety. Everyone has a better time and rises to the expectation that we will act like adults.

It sounds reasonable to me, but is it feasible? That is a question to which I have no answer, so I would like to pose it to you. After hearing my friend’s story, I suppressed my initial instinct to write a wordy and confrontational email to someone important (hopefully you’re reading this now) and opted to try and start a conversation instead. I have heard countless people express frustration about this issue, and I think it’s time to do something about it. This will start with a conversation, whether it be late at night among friends or in the next Board of Trustees meeting. Read the full story on middbeat and comment—hopefully such a forum can help serve as a venue to begin considering this idea:

Do we deserve more trust?  Does a lack of autonomy inhibit the development of strong community standards?

JEREMY KALLAN ’14 is from Washington, D.C.

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