My Identity and Navigating Middlebury

By MADISON JEANPHILIPPE

***While these are my experiences and personal feelings, I would like to establish that these are not necessarily the feelings of the identities I represent. These are a result of the intersectionality of all of my identities, only a few of them being previously mentioned.***

Being at Middlebury has been a double-edged sword: I learn more about myself and my identity at the cost of understanding how that same identity works against me on a greater scale. I have lived my entire life in New York — a place with relatively high diversity of culture, race, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, etc. With so many people who have unique identities, I never really had to question my own identity and/or whether or not I belonged. While systematic oppression exists in New York, I never really felt as isolated or as othered in ways I have experienced at Middlebury. Thinking about my identity and who I am is an integral part of navigating the Middlebury bubble. Someone recently phrased my experience here very well by referring to it as “becoming comfortable with discomfort.” The phrase deeply resonated with me, as it is puts into words how it feels trying to navigate the place I am supposed to call home for now. Depending on the person and their unique intersectional identity, the word “Middlebury” will evoke a wide range of emotions and experiences — ranging from devastating and isolating experiences to moments of self-discovery and appreciation — but of course, I can only speak to how my own intersectional identity has shaped my time at Midd.

Throughout my two years, I was constantly reminded of who I am and how that affects my experience. My sexuality is a part of me that I have been forced to recognize, which before I had constantly tried to repress. It was on this campus that I finally realized that there are people who will accept me for being queer — and honestly, it was on this campus that I learned what queer really means. By the same token, it was also on this campus that I understood and continue to feel the social byproducts of being queer. I can more pronouncedly notice when I feel out of place due to masculine/heteronormative spaces, like parties characterized by the “bro” culture. I constantly feel the need to dial down my queerness out of the fear of making others uncomfortable or reminding them that I am, in fact, different. This, in turn, makes me feel othered, and progresses to feeling like a defining factor of my being. Whether it’s the way I dance at parties (and with whom) or the way I carry myself, I know that I do not fit the mold. I stand out.

Relative to a large majority of my peers, I also feel that my lower socioeconomic background stands out. Actually, it still is shocking today to think there are people from the top one percent attending the same school as I do. Driving in the student parking lots serves as a perfect example of the way I think about my social class. I drive a small, relatively inexpensive car which clearly differs from many in the parking lots — these include Mercedes, Range Rovers, BMWs and many newer model cars. Even most of my professors do not have these types of luxury cars. Seeing these cars reminds me of where I stand, and also makes me acknowledge that even having a car is a privilege. While some of my peers who own these cars don’t often outwardly display their wealth, it is a presence that I feel. I can’t afford to take a gap year in a different country, or travel the world, or go on an expensive (and brief) vacation or own a fancy car.

Lastly, being a person of color is another identity that plays a significant role in how I navigate campus. We are all well aware that Middlebury is a predominately white institution (PWI) where there are not only few people of color, but also various aspects of whiteness ingrained in the fabric of its existence. I personally feel so isolated at times, that it feels as if I wasn’t meant to be in this space in the first place. While my peers don’t often make blatant attempts to “other” someone, smaller aspects and experiences, such as microaggressions, make spaces inaccessible and undesirable to me. There are plenty of instances where a once smiling face, while looking at their other peers in the dining hall, will quickly become expressionless. Or even when you hold the door for someone, and neither a thank you nor an attempt to reciprocate the gesture by holding the other door is given. Maybe even an “accidental” bump from someone else while walking somewhere is a more fitting example. Lastly, who can forget the occasional controversial speaker whose area of study is to explore how people of color are somehow inferior — this one still boggles my mind. While I sometimes feel out of place, I have worked hard to learn that this space is as much mine as anyone else’s; I have earned my spot here, and I deserve to be happy and respected.

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1 Comment

One Response to “My Identity and Navigating Middlebury”

  1. Katrina Spencer on April 19th, 2018 12:03 am

    Thank you for your testimony, Madison. If you ever have a free hour, I think you should listen to Barbara Ofosu-Somuah’s recorded interview held in Special Collections. It will be worth your while.




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My Identity and Navigating Middlebury