Resting on Our Lauries

By Middlebury Campus

On Sunday, Middlebury College officially inaugurated its first female president. We celebrated the occasion with fireworks, panel discussions like “Race, Gender and Inequality” and a “Nobly Served: Leading Women of Middlebury College” exhibit put together by Special Collections. In her inaugural address, President Patton stated that, “diversity is not a problem to be solved, but an everyday ethic to be cultivated and lived and made richer and more vibrant.” We at the Campus couldn’t agree more with our new president. Therefore, we feel it is important to acknowledge that Middlebury still has a long way to go in living up to the ideal of diversity.

Our faculty is one area that could benefit from an increased commitment to diversity. During the 2015-2016 academic year, there were only eight males and two females who identified as African American on our teaching faculty of 324. Of that group, only four men are tenured and none of the women. Additionally, peruse departmental websites and you will see that male professors far outnumber female professors in physics, computer science and mathematics. To be clear, these disparities are products of national trends and not factors unique to Middlebury College. But even in areas over which the College has more control, we are not doing all that we can to make Middlebury an inclusive community.

The upcoming Ridgeline townhouse complexes exemplify this dynamic. Our soon-to-be-built spaces present us with an opportunity to demonstrate our values of inclusion and accessibility. But through our partnership with Kirchoff Campus Properties, we have forfeited that opportunity. As of now, only four of the 16 townhouse units and three of the 16 suites in the residence hall will be wheelchair accessible. While these buildings will satisfy all necessary legal requirements, they do not adequately express our values toward diverse community members, including those with mobility impairments. In our praises for inclusivity and diversity, it is not enough to value accessibility in the abstract. If we as a community truly value accessibility, all of our members should be able to access all the new spaces we create, not just able-bodied members.

Unfortunately, we noticed the same kind of hypocrisy on display at inauguration events this past weekend. Though the College spent approximately $10,000 converting two single-gender, multi-stall restrooms in the McCullough Student Center into gender-neutral facilities in 2012, those restrooms were relabeled “Men’s Bathroom” and “Women’s Bathroom” over the weekend. Again opposing our espousal of diversity, this reversion suggests that we value inclusion of all gender identities only when it is convenient and not when it might make our inauguration guests uncomfortable.

As President Patton stated in her inaugural address, however, Middlebury College has come a long way over the past 215 years. And often these changes were for the better, as they made our community more inclusive. For example, the College launched the Creating Connections Consortium (C3) in 2012, which sought to recruit more faculty from historically underrepresented backgrounds. This prioritization of diversity is the standard we wish to see continue in the new administration. We welcome you, President Patton. We are excited about the step forward that your being the first female president represents. Beyond that, we support your ideas – especially your campaign to improve our campus’s resilience and to make diversity an everyday principle. We request, however, that as our new leader you keep us on track. Ground your “arguments for the sake of heaven” in reality. Let us not falter in our efforts to be an inclusive campus; rather, guide us by adhering to such values and keep progress alive.

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