Trace the Problem to the Source

By Guest Contributor

It is a joy to live in a home rather than a dorm. Whether coming back from the library to find your friends catching up in the living room or simply returning after a hectic day to water your plants, off-campus life is a source of strength and often tranquility in the craziness of life at Middlebury College. It is also a place where we can enjoy parties with friends and do so responsibly; balancing community awareness and personal happiness at home is one of the main reasons that it feels like preparation for that nebulous thing lurking out there in the future called “real life.”

Whether selecting a college major, renting a house or deciding whether or not to wear underwear to class, we are at an age where we want to be treated as adults, to be given agency and to be allowed to make our own choices for better or for worse, even if that means suffering the consequences.  At Middlebury, it can feel like opportunities to do so are few and far between. So when more students were allowed to live in town this year, it seemed like a nod from the administration, a tentative step toward autonomy for a few more students. 

But after the past few weekends, with bumping bass, smashed pumpkins and yelling students on the loose, it’s looking like offering such agency was a mistake. Our administrators, but more importantly, our neighbors in town, see the increase in off-campus parties as a failure on the students’ part to act responsibly. 

Dear neighbors and community members: you are right. This behavior is disruptive, disrespectful and completely inappropriate. 

Dear College: what has not been discussed thus far is that partying off-campus is a direct result of certain policy decisions that have been made on-campus. Not to beat a dead horse, but it is no coincidence that the ban on alcohol at tailgates coincided with a number of disruptive, destructive and alcohol-laden gatherings in the town over Homecoming weekend. More hoops for would-be partiers on-campus means that off-campus houses look more and more appealing as potential sites for the kind of gatherings that should be held on college grounds. 

We wanted to move off-campus to have a more meaningful relationship with the community, get away from dining hall food, avoid the indignity of unexpected “fire inspections” and clean our own kitchens.  Recently, it appears as if some of the other students seeking to live off-campus are doing so because they want to throw big parties and feel suffocated in attempts to do so in college spaces.

This is not to say that massive ragers are ideal.  But dumping the “problem” of parties into the community’s lap is unfair to the townspeople and the students, and remarkably short-sighted: it perpetuates what the Res Life staff has referred to as the “Whack-A-Mole” approach to social life policy by making the prospect and the reality of hosting a party on-campus so frustrating that students feel forced to look to off-campus friends and acquaintances to play host.  Do we want to be associated with an institution that views the social scene on its own campus as a game of Whack-A-Mole, squashing social interactions as soon as they occur? 

 Recently, the College has placed the blame on students for acting predictably (albeit inappropriately) in a situation that the administration has created. The conversation is currently centered on student irresponsibility, rather than the push factors that are causing such behavior. 

We’d like to argue that the logic for keeping — nay, encouraging — student parties on-campus is obvious and plentiful.  First and foremost is the matter of student safety.  We can all agree that drunk driving or even walking around on busy streets after having enjoyed a few drinks is dangerous. Also, there is a well-established support system on-campus, in the form of residential life, peer support and services at the health center. If you find yourself a few blocks away without your friends, there is unlikely to be a familiar face that knows how to get you back to Gifford. 

Furthermore, Middlebury police respond to noise complaints and other issues in town, whereas playing music too loudly in a dorm is likely to result in nothing more than a chat with a Public Safety officer.  One of the most frustrating aspects of this situation is that an increasing number of students would rather interact with the Middlebury police, who are consistently reasonable and respectful, than with Public Safety.  To be clear, Public Safety officers are generally polite and courteous, but the policies they enforce undermine any sense of community and encourage an “us versus them” mentality.  Regardless, having the members of the town police force responding to calls about college students does not look good for the college. 

The institution is currently undergoing a process of rebranding, and policy changes regarding alcohol and partying are aimed at polishing our image. But shouldn’t we be more focused on the content of our identity, rather than our appearance? If we move forward with integrity to make informed policy decisions, focusing on who we are rather than who we appear to be, then our image will take care of itself.

Failure by the Administration to recognize the fact that imposing increasingly stringent drinking policies won’t stop students from doing so has now begun to affect those outside of our sphere. It is high time the administration reflected on the social life culture that Middlebury’s policies foster and considered the ways in which we might change our perspective and our goals to support a healthier, more respectful drinking culture.

LAURA STROM ‘14.5 is from Lopez Island, Wash.

MADISON STEBBINS ‘14.5 is from Silver Spring, Md.