Who Do We Think We Are?

By Fritz Parker

 I’m writing this op-ed to express my support for the recently announced tailgating policy, but I’m going to start with a slightly different chord: I love tailgating.

Don’t believe me? I once drove from D.C. to New Orleans to attend a tailgate (it was awesome). I have tailgated at schools up and down the east coast, and attended several tailgates in my three-plus years at Middlebury (not quite as awesome).

The point I’m trying to make is that my position is not one of naiveté, disgust or moral superiority. My position is not that tailgates — or the behaviors that tend to occur at tailgates — are in any way bad. They’re not. What they are, however, is out of sync with the most positive aspects of the culture here at Middlebury, and that is why I think the policy change is a good move by the administration.

Let’s face it: Middlebury just is not a tailgating school. Where else on our campus do you see institutionally sanctioned events at which students drink during the day on school property in full view of Public Safety? You don’t. But it’s not really the drinking bit that is so incongruous with our culture here; I think it goes much deeper than that.

Here is my theory for why Middlebury students are so incensed by the policy change: we are so used to living vicariously through our friends at larger, more tailgate-friendly schools that we have forgotten where we really are.

The tailgate was a unique opportunity to pretend like you didn’t attend a small, academic liberal-arts college in rural Vermont, to pretend that you had accepted that admissions offer from UVA or Michigan instead of the one from Middlebury. We as a campus community are tremendously self-conscious of the fact that we don’t have as much fun as our colleagues at many other schools do. That’s why we cling so desperately to the tailgates: they were our lifeline to a cultural idea of ‘college’ that many of us — myself included — are deeply fearful we are missing out on.

I can only do so much to assuage this fear. It is pretty undeniable that we all gave up the opportunity to do a certain subset of things — join sanctioned Greek life, hang out at a real college bar or, yes, be a tailgate king/queen — when we decided to come to school here. No matter how many first-years your friend manages to pack into his Atwater suite, Middlebury will never appear on a list of top party schools.

What I can do is reassure you that the tradeoff is worth it. There are so many opportunities that we have here that our friends at other schools don’t have. Just in the realm of athletics (I am the sports editor, after all), so many of us who compete on the fields, courts, tracks and pools of Middlebury probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so at other schools. We would be tailgaters.

I insist that this message is not limited to athletics: think about the opportunities in research, scholarship, activism or any of the other areas in which Middlebury students succeed. These opportunities don’t exist by accident; they begin with the fact that we have faculty and administrators here who care enough about us students to hold us accountable for the culture that we choose to create. That is where the new policy comes from.

I think the SGA and Campus editorial board are dead-on in asking for more administrative transparency in matters like this. The policy was not brought about in the best way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to have a positive impact on the student body.

So what are you going to do on the afternoon of Oct. 18? Go volunteer in the community, or hike Camel’s Hump or do any of the other things that you would have been missing out on at the tailgate. Or you can come down to Alumni Stadium to watch Middlebury take on Bates. I’ll be there.

Artwork by NOLAN ELLSWORTH

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