Sit Down Now, Stand Up Soon

By Guest Contributor

 Ever since the new tailgating policy was announced, we’ve been outraged. Outraged at the outrage. In MiddBeat’s coverage and subsequent online comments and Jack Dolan’s op-ed on the Campus’ website, there are several troubling trends that demand discussion.

The more dangerous of these tendencies is the way in which the ban’s opponents have appropriated the language of social movements, social justice and human rights. Middbeat’s unabashedly slanted reporting (paragraph three kicks off with “‘What. The. F***?’”) barely avoids using the words “right” and “liberty” to describe what’s at stake. A commenter, “Jenny”, wrote: “I’m starting to feel like I’m living in a police state in Middlebury.”

The subsequent calls-to-action—which were soon echoed by countless current and former students in the comments section underneath—included suggestions of withholding donations and signing petitions. Of protesting, in other words, an injustice. To use this language when what’s at stake is being able to binge drink at a particular time on a patch of privately-owned grass is to dilute the potency of words and ideas that are needed to fight real injustice — some of which is alive and well at Middlebury.

If Middlebury were a place free from significant social issues, the current attempts to reverse the new tailgating restrictions could be seen as clumsy beginners’ attempt to make change. In the presence of true inequity, however, the vocabulary of social change and resisting institutional power deserves to be used with discretion and only after deep consideration. What are these real issues? Middbeat jogs our weak institutional memory in a poll it recently posted on its site: “What’s the most pressing issue on Middlebury’s campus right now?” “The new tailgating policy” tops the recorded responses, with more than double the votes of any other option. Ranked lower in the poll are many of the most pressing and significant issues that the College has faced since we matriculated in 2010: the distressingly ethnocentric AAL requirement, administrative resistance to divestment and the hate crime constituted by the specific threat of sexual violence against a queer student. Those are the issues that demand action, that merit dozens upon dozens of online comments, that might justify civil disobedience. Those are “What Middlebury Should Never Forget,” as Celeste Allen reminded us in her op-ed last week.

Should the administration have engaged students and/or the SGA before instituting the ban? Yes. Are there questions about social life and alcohol that need discussion? Certainly. But it is distressing to watch (granted, from afar, as recent alumni) students rally behind their “right” to tailgate while so many more critical movements — ones regarding students’ physical safety, even — have struggled to get traction. So should it make us think about our priorities? Yes. And Dolan’s final exhortation — “Fight for your right to party”? Partying is not a right. It should be one of the last things we fight for.

When acts reeking of entitlement (thousands of missing dishes, public intoxication, underage drinking, property destruction) are met with administrative response, students have reacted as if a slap on the wrist was a slap in the face, as if students are entitled to do whatever they want, wherever they want.

Students with various minority identities have long described their inability to feel comfortable or “at home” at Middlebury. Now, we’re seeing one of the rare times where the “traditional” — as in, “of the majority,” not as in “rightfully revered” — MiddKid feels threatened; this issue has hit at the heart of the most comfortable and comforted segment of the student body: an athletic, mostly-white, predominantly upper-class group.

When “David” comments on Middbeat, “Tailgates are one of the only places where everyone at the school is invited to come together and have a good time,” he’s both wrong and missing the point. Certainly, there’s no de jure segregation, no entry fees, no secret invitations. But to say that a relatively small, “kind of fratty” (as I heard someone describe it), drunken crowd is representative of the Middlebury community has dangerous implications.

To think that the tailgate really is a safe and comfortable space for anyone is myopic. There are certainly students at Middlebury who like to party and want to attend a tailgate, but do not feel like it is a space for “people like them” because they do not meet the identity-based requirements to be “traditional” MiddKid. There’s a difference between being “invited” and feeling welcome.

Perhaps what concerns us most is the dangerously skewed perspective made evident in that comment from “David.” If tailgating students look around at their fellow revelers and think they’re seeing the full spectrum of Middlebury’s diversity, then they are blind to the presence and, consequently, the struggles of many other non-“traditional” groups of students at Middlebury.

How convenient, then, that narrow-minded perspective is. For if we’re all just part of the tailgate crowd, then our “right to party” is indeed the only “right” that demands our indignation. So how might current students move forward? Learn about the social justice movements happening on campus and don’t just speak up when you feel attacked, be an ally to those who are less comfortable than you at Midd. Fellow alumni: our voices are powerful. Don’t go hoarse over beers in a parking lot.

IAN STEWART ’14 lives in Washington, D.C.

CAILEY CRON ‘13.5 lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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