View From Old Chapel

By Laurie Patton

I will be writing at further length on these concerns in future issues, but I thank The Campus for the opportunity to comment now.

It has been a truly difficult few weeks, with the attacks in Beirut and Paris coming right after the student protests at Yale and Missouri around racial prejudice and campus climates.

The issues of race and diversity that have been such a painful part of our campuses nationwide are also with us at Middlebury. I am so glad that students were able to express their solidarity with other student activists in the Campus BlackOut last week. I am equally glad that we as a community had a chance to participate in a contemplative vigil this past Monday. We also had students, faculty, and staff colleagues participating in the Creating Connections Consortium (C3) Summit, a gathering for the Mellon-funded initiative led by Middlebury in partnership with Bates, Williams, Connecticut College, Berkeley, Columbia, University of Michigan, University of Chicago and other affiliated schools. The C3 initiative focuses on transforming educational institutions to support full participation by students and faculty of color. Lots of good work, and huge amounts more to do!

As I reflect on what has happened nationwide, and what we still need to do at Middlebury, I want to remind us of two principles: 1) community ownership of all forms of difference and 2) diversity as an everyday ethic to be lived. As we collectively own and reflect on the questions of diversity and difference, we need to make sure that everyone bears the work of diversity on our campus, not just any single group. We need to develop partnerships across racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, religious, disabled/non-disabled status, and socioeconomic differences, just to name a few among many. Those who are in a majority need to create alliances with those who are not. I invite your thoughts on this topic and I look forward to hearing your ideas about how these partnerships might be developed organically without being forced.

In addition, all of us need to take on the responsibility of having difficult conversations on an everyday basis—in our classrooms, in the dining halls, and in the dorms. Just the other day I used a term that I thought was current and turned out to be outdated, and the person I was talking to corrected me, and then told me about the new terms being used and why these new terms were introduced. And I was so grateful for the correction. We didn’t feel that we were accusing each other of anything; we were just working together to understand. This kind of open engagement has to be present in our everyday interactions, and it should be constructive, helpful, and honest. That’s a challenging combination of traits to strive for in any conversation, but one I think we can reach for as a Middlebury community.

We will be working this year on better faculty, staff, and student development in this area. Stay tuned. I know Middlebury folks can all contribute to making a truly diverse and open community.