Panther Day: Midd in Two Forms
October 25, 2018
The first came in the form of Panther Day and a parade from the homecoming football game to the annual Harvest Festival, new college traditions aimed to bolster school spirit. The second came in the form of a protest, one calling for the college to increase support for survivors of sexual assault.
The Panther Day parade, last year’s winner of the New Traditions contest, began at Kirk Alumni Center on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and ended with a celebration at the Harvest Festival behind the Mahaney Center for the Arts (CFA).
Led by the Pep Band, participating student groups included the International Students Organization, The Mountain Club, Evolution Dance Crew, Feminist Action at Middlebury, Queer and Trans People of Color, Green Dot and the Student Government Association (SGA).
To encourage attendance, parade organizers offered $20 Amazon gift cards to the first students who arrived at the parade. The crowd was sparse for the Panther Day parade, but the Harvest Fest was brimming with students and alumni alike.
The parade and Harvest Fest festivities were followed by a reception at Kirk Alumni Center to mark the opening of an exhibit titled “The Continuity of Change: Living, Learning, and Standing Together.” Six student interns and college archivist Danielle Rougeau curated the exhibit in an effort to highlight the history of student activism at the college using photos and documents from Special Collections. A concert by the band Harsh Armadillo in Wilson Hall concluded the day.
“Panther Day desires to start a new tradition,” said Baishakhi Taylor, interim vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “In that sense it builds on Middlebury’s history. What we want Panther Day to become really is to savor the spirit of Middlebury as it has evolved and grown.”
The idea for Panther Day, one of more than 30 submitted proposals, came from junior students Emily Barnard, Ben Snow, Kate Zecca and Sophia Peluso. In an email earlier this year announcing the New Traditions contest, President Laurie Patton wrote that there was a significant desire to implement a new tradition at the college.
When asked how Panther Day may fulfill these hopes, Taylor emphasized the need for a new tradition that not only celebrates Middlebury’s spirit but also brings people together. Panther Day sought to be a unifying force for the student body.
“We wanted a tradition that everyone can be a part of,” Taylor said.
Dave Kloepfer, assistant director of student activities for programming and events, said the choice to make Panther Day the college’s newest tradition was rooted in its ability to allow for various forms of participation.
According to Taylor, the hope for Panther Day was to celebrate everything that makes Middlebury unique and special. She acknowledged that there have been few opportunities to celebrate the college lately.
“In a time that, like Isabel Wilkerson says, the country is dangerously fragmented, how do you create a tradition that is really focused towards not just celebrating the spirit of this community but bringing the campus together?” she said, referencing the college’s 2018 commencement speaker.
Student demonstrators dressed in all black with duct tape covering their mouths and raising signs which read, “We believe survivors, Midd should too” and “Green Dot is not enough,” met the participants of the first-ever Panther Day parade as they rounded the corner of the CFA front lawn.
The demonstrators stood shoulder to shoulder in protest of how the college handles cases of sexual assault and treats survivors.
“We organized this protest to focus on the way that Middlebury College has historically, through its reporting processes, not supported survivors of sexual assault in ways that we believe it should,” Taite Shomo ’20.5 said.
When asked what the college can do to improve how it treats survivors, Shomo stressed the value of implementing a judicial process that is not retraumatizing to victims and the use of restorative justice practices. Shomo’s critiques echoed concerns from students this past January, when a student posted a list on Facebook accusing 35 students of sexual misconduct.
After seeing the protest, Baishakhi Taylor, interim vice president for academic affairs and dean of students, recognized the protesters’ concerns.
“I think what they’re demonstrating, what the students are protesting is really important in this current national climate,” Taylor said. “It is really important that we give everyone a voice and listen carefully, and, to me, it’s very important to also engage in what the students want. If there are things that we can do better, we should look into trying to do better. So, I give them a lot of credit for working with us, for organizing, for demonstrating, and for letting us understand what’s important to them.”
According to Taylor, the protesters had as much right to be there as the participants in the parade.
“If everyone belongs here, students who are protesting here belong here just as much,” she said.
Christian Kummer ’22, another protester, also commented on their desire to call attention to the issue in broader terms.
“Sexual assault and rape is stigmatized, and often silenced, and this is a very public platform,” Kummer said. “I want people to be able to see that just because everything’s fun and we’re celebrating Midd that there are still issues that need to be combatted, especially around this topic and how it’s treated on campus.”
Kummer said although he was directly protesting the inefficacy of the college’s primary sexual education tool Green Dot, the protesters and the paraders weren’t entirely at odds with one another. In fact, participants in the parade also expressed support for the protesters.
“Yes, I love Middlebury, I love being a student here, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to have an education like this, but I think with the resources we have, we should be able to better help our students, better protect our students and support our students,” said Annie Blalock ’20.5, the head of Feminist Action at Middlebury (FAM).
“We were here representing FAM, but we were here representing FAM to show our support for that protest,” Blalock added.
Spencer Royston ’21, a participant in the Atwater Commons group who marched in the parade, was grateful for the demonstration.
“It was very meaningful because we were all parading, being loud and everything, and it was important to remember that there are things that aren’t so great on our campus and also in the nation,” he said. “And so that was just a striking reminder that it’s not all trumpets and drums, that we need to be silent every once in awhile and think about it. I also think that it was well done, like it wasn’t obtrusive in any way.”