Observations of an Outsider


Middlebury College is a truly strange and absurd place when it comes to campus politics. To the outside world — including potential students abroad, first-year and transfer students — Middlebury is marketed as this progressive, liberal, environmentally-friendly, socially-aware place. And once you get here, it is very easy to continue to believe in this image — to just get wrapped up in school and the beautiful surroundings and ignore everything else that is going on around you. I had heard people say that Middlebury College is a bubble, and yes, it truly is.

Obviously, the college and its administration don’t exactly make it easy to engage with politics on campus. My first weeks here were pure, ignorant bliss; the Early Arrival Orientation and the Exchange/Transfer MiddView were completely apolitical. I had heard about the Charles Murray protests back home but I did not understand what they actually meant for the college community. I came here and no one told me much; it was just a “thing” that happened last spring, talked about like Voldemort is talked about by wizards in the Harry Potter universe.

And in the past few weeks it has become even more evident to me that students cannot rely on the college to address issues and to mobilize against racism. Cryptic emails are being sent out days after things actually happen — and can only be decoded when you read the Campus or the WRMC blog. The college is incredibly good at hiding everything under a mantle of rural-environmentally-friendly-progressive-granola-bliss and makes it very easy for students not to engage.

However, there must be something seriously wrong with a community if several blatantly racist incidents transpire on and around campus and new students still don’t know what is happening, are just going on with their lives, and are not aware or not willing to engage. I just don’t understand why more people are not angry and shocked, and why it is so easy for the white majority of this campus not to care or not to know. When you choose to study at a college like Middlebury for four years, shouldn’t you be aware that it is your responsibility to care and engage?

We were literally walking by huge posters titled WANTED: ADDIS FOR THE CRIME OF BEING BLACK AT MIDDLEBURY for several days in the dining hall. The Campus is full of articles and opinion pieces about racial profiling and other racist incidents. And yet, I don’t hear anyone talking about it in the dining halls. And when several buildings were sprayed with graffiti, my exchange student friends were still surprised that there are people here who are so unhappy, frustrated and angry that they would do something like that.

The fact, though, is that not everyone is privileged enough to not know. If you experience racism, classism and discrimination, it is impossible to continue living in happy ignorance and shy away from subjects that make you uncomfortable. It must be so frustrating to go to this college for four years, continuously surrounded by people who are just not willing to pop their own bubble of bliss.

As one of my friends said, some people will leave this institution as educated liberals without having had to engage with racism and their own privilege even once because this campus is so white and so apolitical.  I chose Middlebury for my exchange because I wanted to go to a university that leads progressive political discourses and because I wanted a “Stückchen heile Welt” — a small piece of an intact world for a year. It didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t really have both at the same time. People, who have chosen to go to this college to receive a liberal education, should realize this too.