Community Council Co-Chair Outlines Goals for Upcoming Year


Wonnacott community assistant Kyle Wright ’19.5


This week The Campus sat down with Kyle Wright ’19.5, Student Co-Chair of Community Council for the fall semester. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Middlebury Campus (MC): What are your main goals for the upcoming year as co-chair?

Kyle Wright (KW): The biggest things that I focused on in the platform were inclusivity and community building as an umbrella to be able to discuss and tackle various issues prevalent on campus right now. A lot of that includes financial sustainability, transparency and accountability. Environmental sustainability is also a big factor.

With the events that happened last spring, there are conversations that need to be addressed. This year, I’m finally seeing that platform become more tangible. A complicated discussion has also fallen onto my plate: the administration is hoping Community Council will do a comprehensive review of the commons system, how effective it’s been, whether it’s been realized in the way the original establishers of that system thought it would be implemented and whether it makes sense to go forward with any emendations to the system.

MC: What do you view as Community Council’s main strengths as a body? Where has it failed?

KW: My understanding is that Community Council has been an ambiguous body for a long time and has had strong suits based on the co-chair and the student, faculty and staff members that are involved. Those typically tend to lean towards this recommendation process that has been increasingly solidified over the past year, and having Community Council be less of a legislative body and more of a community forum, able to deliberate over issues in a way that SGA, staff council and faculty council don’t.

MC: What role do you envision for Community Council in the ongoing aftermath of the Charles Murray event?

KW: I think a lot of people are looking to Community Council as the only forum that can tackle the discussion of not just what happened on March 2, but why it happened, because a lot of people appreciate that it wasn’t just about Murray. So how do we engage people in conversation to get to the root of not only the how, but the why surrounding the feelings, tensions, emotions and opinions of a variety of community members who need to be brought into that conversation? What created that environment, what went unsaid prior to that explosive demonstration on March 2, and how do we find ways to be vulnerable surrounding our individual roles in that?

How do we find ways to engage each other in dialogue after we were involved in events and actions that hurt other members of this community? How do we implement restorative practices across the institution, and support the administration in doing that? That’s the first step, which means reaching out to groups who aren’t necessarily active on campus, or who probably wouldn’t apply for Community Council. We’re going to have uncomfortable and at times extremely unproductive conversations. Whether people like it or not, that needs to be done, because we need to get to a place of understanding before moving forward.

Step two is to figure out a concrete series of mechanisms through which we can move forward and get to a place where this won’t happen again. That looks like hosting more events and bringing different groups together in spaces that will create a better sense of social community. In my opinion, a lot of the divides that resulted in the demonstration in March stemmed from the fact that we don’t interact enough, so events like that are the primary focus. Working with different clubs and groups on campus to understand their needs is also extremely important. I’m toying around with the idea of assigning community councilors to be liaisons to groups on campus and bring those voices to the table without having to fill our room with 40 or 50 people at a time, which isn’t feasible.

MC: In the Campus article that ran after your election win in the spring, you stressed your desire to promote “micro-conversation and critical self-reflection” as approaches to community building, as opposed to “rhetoric and confrontational free speech.” How do you hope to create spaces for these types of interactions?

KW: The majority of my work is going to be reaching out to constituencies and making sure there are lines of communication to get people there in the first place. The majority of the work implementing those events and mechanisms will go to Tina Brook in the spring.

That said, there are some integral mechanisms. I’d love to put together a series of reports that focus on issues that people want to know about. I want to work with people who are invested in this community and people who are not necessarily invested. I don’t want to put an idea out there that is just coming out of my head. I want to see what’s relevant for groups on campus and what’s going to help them participate more fully in these conversations.

A big part of this is coalitional resilience, which I’ve talked about relatively constantly since March 2. It’s the idea that rhetorical resilience isn’t necessarily enough. It’s a great theory and Laurie Patton put a lot of work, passion and time into her theorizations and conversations surrounding it. But if March 2 showed us one thing it’s that rhetorical resilience doesn’t take into account the lived experiences and traumas that can be dredged up by rhetoric. So for me it’s about allowing people to have hard conversations and then step back into safe spaces in order to recharge.

MC: Moving from SGA to CC, you’ve gone from working separately from administrators to working alongside them. How do you feel about that new collaboration?

KW: I have a terrific working relationship with Laurie Patton, Katy Smith Abbott, Baishakhi Taylor and [Associate Dean of Students] Doug Adams, so it’s easier for me to step into those spaces. Other students don’t necessarily have that luxury, so making sure that they do is a big focus. A huge part of that includes the administration owning up to things that a lot of us don’t want to talk about. That includes the fact that a lot of the student protesters sanctioned after March 2 were [sanctioned] in a way that was deeply isolating and targeting to those students. Many of them only had a few weeks left on campus and left Middlebury with memories of being, in essence, prosecuted by investigators, and having to prove themselves innocent prior to being assumed so. An entire other degree of damage was done in those weeks following the Murray protest.

Being able to own what we participated in so long as that’s safe to do, not going at each other’s throats for our political leanings or individual beliefs and stepping into a space where we can seek to understand and not critique is key. I think the most important thing we can do is reach out in ways that are uncomfortable. People need to have safe spaces. They allow participation in difficult discussions. But I think this community still has the power to have transformative conversations. This is a hard time for our college community, but I have faith that we’re going to be able to come out of it better than when we went in.