Introduction: The Spirit of the Times
May 2, 2019
“Would you support the construction of a swirly slide inside the Great Hall of Bicentennial Hall? We’re talking a 6-story curling slide that has entry points on all floors and ends on the second floor, open for use after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all weekend, or whatever else we can secure as a compromise.”
This was our favorite suggested question for the Zeitgeist survey — and one of over one hundred questions that were submitted when we solicited feedback from students. While Zeitgeist began as a project aiming to bridge the realms of data analysis and journalism, we also saw it as an opportunity to seek community input to investigate the underlying narratives at Middlebury.
What are cultures that students participate in but do not enjoy? How often do students feel lonely? How many sexual partners does the average Middlebury student have? Are students aware of the mental health resources on campus?
Of course, we also wanted to use this opportunity to explore and potentially dispel prominent stereotypes at Middlebury. Are Economics majors truly “socially liberal” and “fiscally conservative?” Do athletes have different dining hall preferences than non-athletes? Are conservative students less likely to express their views in class?
Above all, we were surprised to find that students wanted to learn more about feelings of belonging at Middlebury. In a campus climate where questions about differences, otherness and acceptance do not easily percolate into discussions, the deluge of feedback, centered around the theme of belonging, reflects a collective will to understand what tethers us to each other and our shared Middlebury identity.
With the concept of belonging at the axis, we asked about feeling deserving, about loneliness and about the concept of “otherness.” Our analysis also seeks to illustrate how these shared sentiments may diverge disproportionately in demographics of race, sexual orientation and political views.
The definition of Zeitgeist is “the defining spirit of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” This year, we believe that the defining theme of our survey is “belonging.”
1,202 Respond to First-ever Zeitgeist Survey
The Campus’ inaugural Zeitgeist survey saw enthusiastic participation from the student body. 46.57% of actively-enrolled Middlebury College undergraduate students completed The Campus’ first-ever survey.
The survey’s 1,202 respondents were divided roughly equally among classes. The junior class, including the classes of 2020 and 2020.5, had the fewest number of students represented in the survey, under 22%. This may be attributed to the high volume of students abroad.
Over 70% of respondents identified as white. The next largest bloc of respondents, over 11% of the total, identified as Asian. 6.5% of respondents identified as Hispanic or Latinx, and around 3.5% of respondents identified as black; under 7% of respondents labeled themselves as biracial or multiracial.
A quarter of respondents identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ). Cisgender female students were almost twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ or questioning as cisgender male students.
While some figures in the Zeitgeist survey sample size are relatively representative of the share of alike students in Middlebury’s entire population, a skew was present in terms of gender. Notably, more respondents were female than male. Short of 40% of respondents identified themselves as cisgender males when completing the survey, while about 58% of respondents identified as cisgender females. The remaining students either did not identify with either gender or chose not to respond to the question. In reality, the split between cisgender males and females at Middlebury is closer to 50% on both sides. This may introduce skew in our results.
Current demographic figures can be expected to change as the student body becomes more diverse. In a Campus article published in February, the Admissions Office reported a record number of applicants of color while reviewing applications for the Class of 2023. The numbers of first-generation students and students of color admitted have also been gradually rising, as has the share of students on need-based financial aid per year.
Alone Together at Middlebury
More than 200 students answered the question: “What makes you feel othered at Middlebury?” Responses addressed socio-economic status, race and ethnicity, athletics, sexuality and other subjects, shedding light on the ways in which cultures and demographics at the college impact students’ sense of belonging.
Roughly one in three students feel othered at Middlebury.
Highlighting certain demographics paints a clearer picture of who feels othered at the college. Students of color, recipients of financial aid, members of the LGBT community, those who feel their political views diverge from the norm and others whose identities do not match the dominant demographics of the college were more likely to report sentiments of otherness.
Money was the most commonly cited cause of feeling othered at Middlebury. Respondents who indicated feeling othered expressed frustrations with the high level of wealth on campus, the challenges faced by first-generation students and other financial factors. 45% of respondents indicated receiving need-based financial aid. 30% of the written responses explaining why students feel othered at Middlebury attribute these feelings to socioeconomic status.
The influence of wealth on campus culture is not surprising; data from 2017 showed that Middlebury had a greater proportion of students from the top one percent than most other schools in the country. 76% of students came from families with household incomes in the top 20%, according to the 2017 study.
“The tremendous wealth of the students here makes it easy to feel like an outsider,” one respondent wrote.
Another student wrote that their feeling of otherness stems from the fact that they did not come from a privileged background like many of their peers. “I have to work twice as hard to get half of what is given to these people.”
65% of respondents who chose to write about feeling othered indicated receiving financial aid. This is disproportionately large compared to the 45 % of total respondents who said they received financial aid. Many students cited not graduating from private high schools as the reason they feel isolated by wealth culture. Dozens more described not being able to take part in the same activities as wealthier students, which has led to feelings of social exclusion.
Roughly half of those who receive need-based financial aid feel othered at Middlebury, while only 20% of those who do not receive aid feel the same way.
Equally striking is the relationship between race and otherness at Middlebury. Of all racial groups, white students were the only group in which respondents did not overwhelmingly report feelings of otherness.
A campus climate assessment released last week by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion revealed that only nine percent of students of color believe Middlebury is inclusive to members of their race.
Of the 78 respondents who cited race or ethnicity as an othering factor, more than half described not fitting into the white majority as the primary cause. The other students who mentioned race listed it alongside additional reasons, most commonly socioeconomic status, gender and the many challenges posed by the college’s social and academic environment.
“Middlebury’s whiteness and affluence makes me feel othered,” one student wrote. “De facto segregation everywhere I go,” another said.
“Sometimes I become a token in class. When I speak, I feel I have to do so in a way that validates my intelligence,” a third student said.
A student identifying as Latino wrote, “Sometimes I feel dumb when I forget to code switch to the white man’s vernacular and they look at me as if I am speaking a foreign language.”
Another student, who specified being a white-skinned Latino, said, “I fear that my skin will make people identify me solely as a white person … I have had negative comments addressed to me based off my skin color, or people laughing at me because of the way I pronounce my name.”
“I am white but I am international,” one student said. “I don’t fit in with the American majority at all but am often labelled that way because I am white.”
Sexual orientation also factored into feelings of otherness.
“Middlebury is a very heteronormative space,” one respondent who identifies as lesbian said.
Others mentioned feeling isolated from the queer community on campus: one student attributed feelings of otherness to “not fitting stereotypes of the LGBTQ+ community.”
The SGA’s Thirteen Proposals for Community Healing, developed by the student body and sent to the administration following the cancellation of Legutko’s lecture, aim to enhance students’ say in administrative decisions and expand inclusive spaces on campus.
Students who do not identify as cisgender overwhelmingly report feeling othered on campus. “Middlebury fosters a sometimes hostile environment for non-binary individuals,” one student said “I feel pressure to “dress straight” and accommodate the outdoorsy — and hyper masculine — campus culture.”
Students on both ends of the political spectrum described Middlebury as hostile and unforgiving toward people whose views do not align with the norm.
“If you express an opinion that does not align with the majority,” one wrote, “then somehow, they will come after you.”
Another respondent said that the same students who “pride themselves on being liberal and open … are often the most judgmental.”
Many students indicated that Middlebury lacked spaces for discourse where dissenting opinions could be shared and respected.
“I don’t like to ignore another person’s opinion just because I don’t agree with it,” said another. “I prefer to address it and find out where we differ in opinion and why. Many students here don’t seem used to that. They are very scared of having a different view and stating their reasons.”
As one student put it, “I’m too woke for some and not woke enough for others.”
While several religious students said they feel alienated because of their religious beliefs, most said they felt othered for being religious, rather than their religion itself.
More than 70% of respondents reported feeling lonely at least once a week. Almost 20 percent said they feel lonely every day.
Students who feel othered also report higher occurrences of loneliness: 28% are lonely every day — almost twice as likely as the 16% of students who do not feel othered. Among the less than 7%of students who said they never felt lonely, three-quarters said they did not feel othered at Middlebury.
Loneliness appears frequently in written responses, too, often alongside mentions of cliquiness, frustration about not being outdoorsy or “crunchy” enough and dissimilarity of interests compared to peers, especially regarding weekend activities such as campus drinking and hookup culture.
One student described feeling pressure to never feel lonely. Another said that when they chose not to express traditional femininity or engage with the party scene, they were treated like an outsider.
“I don’t hang out with friends or party often,” wrote another. “This is fine literally anywhere else in the world, but I feel lonely and abnormal at Midd.”
A student who does not drink said the decision “makes it challenging to find friends and meet new people, so I spend most of my weekends alone.”
19 comments reported feelings of cliquiness in relation to the divide between athletes and non-athletes.
One former athlete said that their otherness stemmed from not being a varsity athlete anymore. A non-athlete said student athlete culture left them feeling ostracized by varsity teams.
Another student said being involved in athletics is incompatible with being a minority. “These two identities cannot be expressed at the same time,” they wrote.
Though mental health only appears in a handful of written responses, knowledge about on-campus mental health support systems corresponds to feelings of otherness. Nearly all respondents said they would know where to go for mental health services. But almost half of the respondents who disagreed, and the majority of those who strongly disagreed, said they felt othered at Middlebury.
Mental health was not named by any students as their sole cause of othering, but was listed in several responses, including one that said the issue was with their “decision to prioritize mental health over academic success.”
Nearly all students feel like they deserve to be at Middlebury — despite the prevalence of feeling othered, roughly 90% of students agree that they have earned their place at the college.
According to respondents, Middlebury’s culture and demographics contribute significantly to the sense of otherness felt by minority groups on campus.
“There are very few spaces at Middlebury where students of color feel welcome,” one student wrote. “Yes, the [Anderson Freeman Center] exists, but if that is the only space dedicated to diversity at Midd, then we need to do better.”
A few students wrote that “everything” about the college culture and community makes them feel othered. “My identity in all spectrums,” one of these students wrote.
“This world wasn’t made for me,” said another.
The Academics-Social Life-Sleep Trilemma
DINING HALL: OVERALL
The dining hall debate has long served as a campus identifier — are you a Proc person or a Ross person? — accompanied by silent judgement from both sides. In the end, more students favor Middlebury’s oldest, coziest dining hall, according to Zeitgeist results.
With nearly 40% of the vote, Proctor Dining Hall was crowned the favorite among the student population, and Ross wasn’t even in second place. Atwater Dining Hall polled second with 33% favorability, while Ross lagged behind with approximately 27%.
So what is it about Proctor? Maybe not the food. Although it’s popular for its well-utilized panini presses and consistent fare, Ross menus are usually more expansive and students often quip that Atwater’s are “fancier.” Out of the three, Proctor is even ranked last on the college review site “Niche” in the category of Middlebury’s “best on-campus food options.” On the other hand, Proctor boasts the shortest lines, low ceilings and a diverse range of seating choices from the lounge to the booth room, giving it an intimacy that Ross and Atwater might lack. Proctor is the welcoming space you can walk into in pajamas after a night out. The meat of the matter is that Proctor simply doesn’t judge. (And it will be served with kettle chips.)
DINING HALL: ATHLETES VS NARPS
In contrast to results showing students’ overall preference for Proctor, varsity athletes opted for Atwater 40% of the time, They diverged from their non-athlete peers to rank Proctor second (and Ross last, again). Atwater, Middlebury’s newest dining hall, was constructed in conjunction with the notoriously sports team-populated Atwater suites, providing them with a convenient stop at perhaps the campus’ most upscale stop for breakfast and lunch. It also exclusively offers round tables that allow for larger groups.
DINING HALL: CLASSES
While first-years prefer Proctor slightly more than upperclassmen at 43% favorability, Middlebury’s oldest dining hall retains a remarkably consistent 38% of votes among sophomores, juniors and seniors. Ross Dining Hall loses favor as students grow older. Atwater picks up the loyalty that Ross loses. This leaves seniors as the only class that prefers Atwater. Ross tallies less than 20% of favorability amongst seniors. Ross Dining is often favored by those who conveniently live in the Ross dormitories, which contains less housing for seniors than for other classes. This may explain the eight-point drop between junior and senior Ross favorability, and why it’s most popular among first-years.
GRADES / SLEEP / SOCIAL LIFE
The “work hard, play hard” attitude is ingrained in Middlebury students before we even arrive on campus. As it turns out, it’s more than a stereotype — data tells us the same story. When asked to choose two of three options out of good grades, sleep and social life, Middlebury students chose good grades three quarters of the time, usually paired with social life. Although the overwhelming focus on good grades may reflect well on Middlebury students’ academic integrity, it’s troubling when paired with low prioritization of sleep. This high-stress, no-rest duo can easily jeopardize students’ mental and physical health, which is particularly concerning when accompanied by Middlebury’s “busy-ness” culture, documented below.
UNENJOYABLE CULTURES: GENERAL
The “busy-ness” game is one that’s all too familiar to Middlebury students. From loudly complaining about upcoming problem sets at lunch to half-bragging about hours logged at Davis, more than 40% of students reported participating in “busy-ness” culture, even though they don’t enjoy it. Defined as a competition to appear busy that often comes at the expense of mental or physical health, “busy-ness” pervades Middlebury and has the capacity to push students beyond their means in an effort to be perceived as productive. Middlebury’s infamous hook-up scene also tops the list, with 235 students, or 16%, participating despite not enjoying it. This culture is often paired with drinking, in which 15% of students report partaking despite disliking it. These statistics reflect a social pressure that informs choices that are meant to be personal, which has the potential to foster unhealthy or dangerous relationships to sex and alcohol.
UNENJOYABLE CULTURES: CLASS
“Busy-ness” culture is reported at above 40% even for first-years, but the bad news is that it doesn’t really get better. In fact, its prevalence steadily increases as students get older. The classes of 2019 and 2019.5 reported almost 50% participation, perhaps as a result of increased pressure to complete graduation requirements, boost resumes and find careers. On the bright side, participation in unwanted “brand-name apparel” culture steadily decreases in an ascent through the class years, tallying at 14% in the class of 2022 and 2022.5 and dropping to around 9% among seniors.
Drinking, drug and hook-up culture all remained relatively consistent across the grades, as did a pressure to appear “outdoorsy,” which consistently polled below 10%.
10 PAST TEXTS
In a question asking students to count how many of their past 10 texts were with someone of their own race, it was found that white students’ texting habits tended to be far more insular within their own race. More than 85% of white students reported that more than half of their past 10 texts were solely with other white people, with a majority reporting that eight, nine or all 10 texts were exchanged within their race. Non-white students, on the other hand, most commonly reported that zero, one or two of their past 10 texts were exchanged with people of their race. Middlebury’s student body, for reference, is approximately 64% white. These statistics are also useful in displaying how “othering” takes place at Middlebury, leading non-white students to feel removed from the mainstream campus community at a predominantly white school.
Vast Majority of Students Prefer Relationships
Movies, television shows and popular music frequently glorify hook-up culture, especially on college campuses. While Zeitgeist reveals that hook-up culture is a large part of college life for many Middlebury students, it is not what they prefer.
When asked what campus cultures students participate in that they do not enjoy, hook-up culture was identified second, only after a culture of “busyness.” Hook-up culture outpaced drinking and outdoorsy-ness, among other aspects of life at Middlebury.
In the past twelve months, the majority of respondents have had consensual sexual relations with one-to-three partners. A little over 8% have had more than seven sexual partners in the past year.
Many students responded that they do not prefer hook-up culture. Over 87 percent of respondents indicated a preference for a romantic relationship, while only 6.96 percent favor hook-ups. These proportions remained relatively consistent across demographic markers including gender and sexual orientation.
This data corroborates a thesis published in 2015 by Leah Marie Fessler ’15 for the English and American Literatures Department. The thesis, titled “Can She Really ‘Play That Game Too’?” explores romantic and sexual culture at Middlebury, focusing on women’s experiences with hook-up culture.
Fessler used anecdotal evidence, data collected through an online survey and other forms of data such as Yik-Yak posts to conclude that female students at Middlebury almost always desired committed and consistent romantic relationships.
“Call it anti-feminist (which I’ll soon explain it’s not), call it old-fashioned (which sure, it is), call it dependent (which it may be) call it whatever you want,” Fessler wrote, “But I’d be so bold to respond: Call it true.”
Hook-up culture is glorified, Fessler explains, and students cite a number of reasons for participating. Fessler recognizes that some might criticize as anti-feminist her claim that hook-up culture is not compatible with females. But she argues that “by actively subscribing to male’s preferred sexual behavior… women ironically bolster, rather that react against male dominance.”
Zeitgeist results demonstrate that not much has changed since Fessler graduated four years ago. Students are still widely participating in a culture of hook-ups, while they would prefer romantic relationships. But, Zeitgeist data suggests that this is not only true for females at Middlebury and rather holds true across student respondents.
One Third of Respondents Broke the Honor Code
Students overwhelmingly supported the statement that “it’s possible to do well academically without cheating at Middlebury.” Nearly nine in 10 respondents agreed to some degree with the prospect of succeeding without cheating. Still, over 35% of respondents also admitted to having broken the honor code, and 57% said they have never broken it.
There was an overwhelming skew towards STEM-oriented classes when students identified their hardest class they have taken at Middlebury. Mathematics was most frequently listed as the hardest department students have taken a class in; the Computer Science, Political Science and Chemistry departments were also named by more than 10% of total respondents. Traditional humanities courses were less frequently perceived as difficult.
The Zeitgeist survey also looked beyond students’ academic qualms and into issues they may face in the classroom. Students were asked how many times in any given week they feel they are unable to express their opinions. As a whole, roughly one in seven respondents reported feeling unable to speak freely more than three times in a given week; over half of respondents reported withholding their opinions one to three times a week.
Students who identified as social conservatives reported dramatic differences in their willingness to express opinions in class. 48% of social conservatives withhold their opinions four or more times during an average week, compared to 14.5% of the student body as a whole. Most saliently, 17% of social conservatives reported withholding their opinion more than 10 times a week, compared to a mere 2% of the overall population.
Given the Choice, 80% of Students Would Choose Midd Again
Zeitgeist results show that roughly 80 percent of students would enroll at Middlebury again if given the choice. On average, students of color are 15 percent less likely to express that sentiment than their peers.
The “Campus Climate Assessment” released last week by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion showed that more than one-third of students disagreed with the statement that the college creates a positive atmosphere that promotes diversity among staff and students.
“There is such an emphasis on quantity, how many people come and get in from this background or the other, without actually looking at quality in terms of financial aid that is provided to students,” said an student anonymously in the report. “There needs to be more serious thought in how to measure the quality of their diversity instead of just the quantity as quantity are just numbers on a website.”
Another potential source of student dissatisfaction is the lack of suicide prevention services and other mental health services provided to students by Parton Center for Health and Wellness. Earlier this year, The Campus received an anonymous message that shed light on the lack of counselors at Parton and the difficulty that exists with getting an appointment. Parton will be addressing this shortage in the coming Fall with the JED program that will restructure the counseling center’s hours to increase student access.
The Commons system proved to be another area of student discontent, with only roughly half of students in the Zeitgeist survey expressing satisfaction. The college’s recent How We Will Live Together project, which aims to reimagine the system, found that this discontent stems from the lack of interclass interaction that creates an isolating environment, especially for Febs, who are often placed into upperclassman housing.
Zeitgeist data also revealed that students lack confidence in the decisions made by college administrators. Along a similar vein, less than half of Middlebury students expressed satisfaction with President Laurie L. Patton. Controversy surrounding guest speakers including Charles Murray and Ryszard Legutko has characterized Patton’s career at Middlebury College, although sentiments from the recent controversy are not factored into the survey results.
Of all categories asked, students appeared to feel the most indifferent towards the SGA. Roughly 35% of students reported neither feeling satisfied nor dissatisfied — the highest proportion of neutral views in the series.
STUDENTS SATISFIED WITH DIVESTMENT, CCI, DINING HALLS
By contrast, students expressed strong levels of satisfaction for the February vote by the board of trustees to divest from fossil fuels and enact the Energy2028 plan — the culmination of years of student advocacy.
This divestment decision was triggered by a student-wide referendum sponsored by the SGA last April, in which 79% of students expressed support for divestment. A faculty resolution in November passed with over 90% support.
More than half of Middlebury students are pleased with the Center for Careers and Internships, which provides resources from resume building to LinkedIn professional headshot events to break trips to Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
Over two-thirds of students expressed satisfaction with dining services, undoubtedly a major factor in student happiness at Middlebury. Dining halls sported the second highest level of satisfaction in the series, trailing closely behind Divestment efforts.
*Editor’s Note: These approval ratings were submitted before the Legutko controversy and reflect students’ opinions before those events.
Student Athletes Overrepresented in Economics, Psychology, Neuroscience
Campus lore suggests that varsity athletes at Middlebury are socially liberal, fiscally conservative economics majors. Some stereotypes surrounding varsity athletes are rooted in truth. Zeitgeist reveals, however, that the stereotypical image of a Middlebury athlete is not indicative of athletes as a whole.
When comparing social and fiscal views, most students in general, varsity athletes included, reported being socially and fiscally liberal. For both student athletes and the general student body, individuals’ social and fiscal values went hand in hand
In line with conventional belief, athletes demonstrated a slightly stronger likelihood of holding socially liberal and fiscally conservative values, as evidenced by the bigger size of the dots in the upper left quadrant of the varsity athlete political spectrum graph. However, the range of political values remained mostly consistent between varsity athletes and the overall population sample.
While 16% of Zeitgeist survey participants were varsity athletes, they are represented disportionately in certain majors. Athletes made up 30% of surveyed economics majors. Additionally, 21% of all neuroscience majors and 23% of all psychology majors were varsity athletes.
Another stereotype about athletes is that they may have more sexual partners than non-athletes. Both groups of students most commonly engaged in consensual sexual activity in the last 12 months with one to three partners, with 53% of athletes and 55% of non-athletes falling into this category. However, 23% of athletes had 4-6 partners compared to 13% of non-athletes.
11% of varsity athletes reported being on financial aid, while 21% of non-athletes were on financial aid. This disparity in financial-aid recipients could reflect the expenses involved in nurturing athletic talent over an athlete’s career. Varsity athletes who are playing at the Division III level likely practiced their sport via private lessons or through a traveling club, both of which can be costly ventures.
One in five non-athletes feel lonely once a day, while one in 10 athletes feel lonely once a day. Research has shown that there is an loneliness epidemic on college campus in today’s age of social media, especially during a student’s first year. Many athletes seem to forge strong bonds with their teammates, which could be why athletes are slightly less likely to feel lonely.
General student population preferences were fairly evenly split between Proctor, Atwater and Ross Dining Halls, with 39% of the student body preferring Proctor. Varsity athletes were slightly more likely to opt to go to Atwater, which captured 39% of varsity athletes’ top choice.
Economics Majors Are Indeed “Socially Liberal,” “Fiscally Conservative”
2020 ELECTION PREFERENCES: TRUMP
It is no secret that President Trump is not particularly popular among Middlebury’s student body — the Zeitgeist poll shows that less than 3% of students approve of the way he’s handling office. On the other end, Trump’s campus disapproval rating hovers north of 90% — compared to 41% nationally — while around 4% of students describe themselves as neutral.
There are quite a few factors that could explain these results. Middlebury College can be somewhat self-selecting in terms of ideology, often attracting students with its environmental programs and reputation for liberal student activism. Then there is the phenomenon known as “social desirability bias,” in which survey respondents may underreport opinions deemed socially unacceptable. Although the existence of social desirability bias cannot be proven here, 51 students reported themselves to be “neutral” and 23 chose “I prefer not to answer,” indicating that there may be some undisclosed ideological tendencies among a student body that is not always particularly open to conservatism.
2020 ELECTION PREFERENCES: TRUMP BY SOCIAL AND FISCAL VIEWS
As expected, there is a strong correlation between students identifying as socially liberal and disapproving of the Trump administration. This is also by far the most popular pair of stances. Even among the 45 students who identified as socially conservative, only 18 approved of the job President Trump is doing in office.
Overall, there were many more students who identified as fiscally conservative — 207 respondents — yet only 25 of them approved of Trump. By the numbers, most of these fiscally conservative students identified as socially neutral or liberal. Nationally, voters with this combination of views tended to swing right and vote Trump in 2016, so why do Middlebury students not reflect the same trends?
It could be that Middlebury students feel much more strongly about their social views. Almost 400 respondents identified as the most liberal possible option when asked their social views, whereas less than half that number identified themselves as the most liberal fiscally, instead opting for more center-left gradations. Because of this difference, some students’ support for President Trump’s economic policies may be outweighed by their disapproval of his social conservatism.
2020 ELECTION PREFERENCES: DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES
With many months left before the Democratic primary and a historically large pool of diverse candidates, Middlebury students can’t be blamed for favoring the option “I prefer not to answer.” The first-choice candidate, however, is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a predictable choice for Middlebury and one that mirrors national polls. (Or, really, mirrors polls as closely as it can, given that former Vice President Joe Biden, who has topped recent primary polls after entering the race, was excluded from the Zeitgeist survey due to his late announcement. Nationally, Sen. Sanders currently polls second.)
The next choice for Middlebury students, California Senator Kamala Harris, also mirrors some national trends. Some nationwide polls show Sen. Harris to be neck-in-neck with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg for third place. However, Middlebury students chose Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke before Buttigieg, who came in fifth. Again, this may be attributed to the timing of the survey, as Buttigieg’s popularity saw a spike after the survey was closed. Besides these top five candidates, none won more than 5% of the student body.
FINANCIAL AID RECIPIENTS: SOCIAL VS. FISCAL
Like other campus groups, financial aid recipients were further left on the social scale than on the fiscal one. Still, the majority of financial aid recipients considered themselves to be fiscally liberal. Overall, the most common response among this group was the most liberal possible option in both categories.
VARSITY ATHLETES: SOCIAL VS. FISCAL
Following school trends, Varsity athletes pretty consistently tended toward the left side of the political scale in terms of social views. There was greater variability in response to fiscal ideology, though a considerable majority still mostly identified as fiscally liberal. However, a greater percentage of athletes identified as fiscally conservative than the overall campus. Overall, however, athletes still tended toward liberalism.
ECONOMICS MAJORS: SOCIAL VS. FISCAL / TRUMP APPROVAL
Although most Middlebury students identified as fiscally liberal, Economics majors were not so quick to swing left. Out of 112 respondents, the (slim) majority of Economics students identified as fiscally conservative at 58 tallies, as compared to 50 who consider themselves fiscally liberal. This contrasts strikingly against the general student body, confirming the common quip that Economics majors are socially liberal but fiscally conservative. Regardless, Zeitgeist data has shown that there is not a correlation between Middlebury students’ fiscal conservatism and support for President Trump.
*Editor’s Note: During the period in which the survey was open to responses, Joe Biden had not yet declared his candidacy for president.
Bowdoin, Tufts and Colby Emerge as Most Common Overlaps
Highly educated, environmentally conscious and athletic are some of the adjectives that students at Middlebury commonly use to describe their fellow peers.
This data can be found at Unigo, a website for high school applicants to review college profiles, statistics and scholarships used by over 1.6 million students across the world. The website also showed that these are the same adjectives that students at Bowdoin College, Tufts University and Colby College use to describe their peers.
So it is no surprise that the Zeitgeist survey revealed that Bowdoin, Tufts and Colby were among the three top institutions over which students chose Middlebury.
LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION
Almost half of the overlap institutions are identified as liberal arts schools. Furthermore, 27% of institutions were one of the eleven schools in the NESCAC, of which Middlebury is a part.
CLOSE ENOUGH TO VISIT HOME ON BREAKS BUT NOT WEEKENDS
High school students wonder how far too far is for college and for Middlebury students from the Northeast, Middlebury is the ideal distance: close enough to go home for breaks, but not for weekends.
According to the latest college profile in Fall 2018 by Middlebury’s Office of Assessment and Institutional Research, 16% of students hail from New York, with Massachusetts trailing close behind with 14% of students. In-state colleges offer shorter commutes, which may be reflected in the locations of the schools many students applied to. More than half of students, 61%, hailed from the Northeast.
One in Eight Students Experienced Sexual Assault
Approximately one in six women has been a victim of sexual assault on Middlebury’s campus or during a Middlebury program, according to Zeitgeist survey results. In total, 12% of respondents have been sexually assaulted. The survey reveals that female students are nearly five times more likely to be the victim of sexual assault than male students.
Furthermore, some students may be more likely to be victims of sexual assault or violence based on their sexual orientation. According to Zeitgeist, 22% of students who identified as homosexual, bisexual, or questioning reported being victims of sexual assault, more than twice as likely as the 9% of heterosexual students.
In recent years, sexual assault on college campuses has gained widespread attention across the nation. Student activists at Middlebury have used a variety of strategies to raise awareness surrounding sexual assault at Middlebury. Earlier this year, the student-run organization It Happens Here released The Map Project, a map of Middlebury’s campus that marks the location of an incidence of sexual assault or harassment with a red dot. The 2019 map, which used data collected anonymously from Middlebury students during fall of 2018, had a total of 108 red dots covering buildings of campus, with Battell and Atwater Halls being among the most reported sites.
IHH and Zeitgeist show the prevalence of sexual assault at Middlebury, but rates of official reporting remain low. Only 18 of the 144 total victims of sexual assault reported the incident.Of those who did report the incident, only 3 people reported that they were satisfied with how the college handled their case.
In order to combat campus sexual violence, the college implemented the Green Dot Violence Prevention Strategy in 2015. Green Dot is a program that trains students, faculty, and staff in bystander intervention to help prevent instances of power-based personal violence. The training, which has been included in orientation for first-years since the class of 2018.5, encourages students to be proactive in preventing sexual violence as bystanders.
Zeitgeist asked survey respondents to indicate if they had been a bystander of a “Red Dot event,” referring to suspicious instances of potential or actual sexual assault. The proportion of Red Dot bystanders increased by roughly 5% with each grade level, with 21% of seniors and senior febs having served as a bystander in a Red Dot event compared to 6% of the first-year class. The overall Red Dot bystander rate was 13.91%.
Over 70% of Students Feel Lonely At Least Once Every Week
As the school year moves into the home stretch of the spring semester, final exams, summer jobs and future plans loom on the horizon. It is a hectic time when the grinding, everyday stresses and anxieties begin to attack from all angles, further exacerbating mental health issues.
In recent years, college mental health issues have received increasing attention by the mental health community, the public and school administrators. Events like the series of suicides at New York University in 2004 received prominent media coverage, turning college student mental health issues into a pressing public health and policy concern.
On our own campus, over 70% of students said they feel lonely at least once in any given week. Tthe data also shows that students of color feel disproportionately lonely. A 2015 national survey found that although students of color have similar rates of mental illness in comparison to their white peers, they report higher rates of emotional distress in their first year and are half as likely to seek counseling services. Additionally, students of color report disproportionately higher rates of loneliness compared to their white counterparts. Stigma, reluctance to seek help for mental health needs, and cultural mistrust of mental health professionals may contribute to this disparity.
Simply providing counseling services doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. Mental health on college campuses is a notoriously complicated issue, with causes and effects that researchers are still trying to pin down. Schools have moved from solely working to expand access to treatment to a whole host of prevention initiatives, making their campus and students healthier and more resilient to prevent problems from arising in the first place.
In order to meet an increasing demand, colleges and universities across the country have begun to ramp up their services for undergrads in distress. Middlebury’s Parton Health Center has increased the number of counselors five-fold in the last 25 years. There are now seven counselors on staff and three interns, as opposed to two counselors in 1995. Parton now holds over 3,600 counseling sessions per year, and over 26% of the student body has interacted directly with a counselor in the last year.
On April 18, The Campus reported that Parton has joined a national program which helps schools improve their suicide prevention services as well as support for substance abuse and other mental health issues. The coming years may see changes in staffing within the counseling department, the availability of counseling to students who are abroad, the creation of support groups for mental health issues and the creation of a counseling app.
Even with the improvements in recent years, Zeitgeist results found that less than 50% of students are satisfied with Parton. Although a majority of students at the college agree they would know where to go to seek professional help for mental or emotional health, students have complained about the lack of counselors available to meet the growing demand for counseling services.
Parton’s website states a mission to “promote, enhance and support students’ emotional and interpersonal well-being within a safe, confidential environment.” To schedule an appointment, hear more about Parton’s services, or speak to a counselor call 802-443-5141.
The Campus solicited input for the 2019 Zeitgeist survey via an all-student email sent by The Campus on March 11, 2019. After consolidating student, faculty, and administrative input, members of the Zeitgeist team generated 31 survey questions as well as 9 demographic indicators.
The Campus distributed the survey an all-student email on the afternoon of April 2. Responses were open for 13 days, until midnight on April 15. Respondents followed an anonymous link to the questionnaire hosted on the Qualtrics platform. After completing the survey, respondents had the option to enter a raffle. The participants’ identifying information was recorded on a separate database from the survey and survey responses and raffles entries were not linked.
Respondents were asked to respond to a series of questions grouped into four general categories: Academics and Institution, Lifestyle, Sexual Health and Wellness, and Political Views. Only the demographic questions were mandatory, with the remainder of questions both optional and offering a “I prefer not to answer” option or equivalent (when applicable).
The survey data was stored on the Qualtrics platform and distributed to a small group of analysts via Google Drive. Sharing permissions for the Google Drive folder were deleted after the completion of data analysis.
All analysts were required to submit a short letter of intent and to go through a vigorous interview process. In order to protect the confidentiality of respondents, the number of analysts was purposely kept small. All analysts signed a confidentiality form agreeing to adhere to the best practices indicated below.
Analysts were required to indicate their potential areas of conflict of interest and exclude themselves from the analysis if those conflicts were significant. Data remained only on the devices of analysts and never shared externally, including the administration, other clubs, or academic departments.
After finishing analysis, the raw data was wiped from the personal devices of all analysts. Analysts were expected to keep findings confidential until official publication.
When analyzing the data, the team did not examine specific entries or attempt to extract the entirety of a respondent’s data, but worked with the data as a whole. In particular, analysts were made aware of deductive disclosure and barred from using demographic indicators to pin down the specific identities of respondents.
In total, 1201 students responded out of Middlebury’s undergraduate student population of 2579, making the response rate 46.57%. We did not disclose findings that we would not have shared had we found the opposite conclusion to be true. In order to protect the confidentiality of respondents, we have chosen not to disclose or report the responses of groups with 5 or fewer members in demographic breakdowns.
The findings were then compiled and published in the May 2 edition of The Campus. In total, 25 students were closely involved with the making of this year’s Zeitgeist.
We want to extend our gratitude to several individuals whose input, advice and help were critical in making this edition a success.
Special thanks to Director of Assessment and Institutional Research Adela Langrock for providing crucial insight during the survey creation process and suggesting auxiliary resources. We would also like to thank Professor Shawna Shapiro, Professor Robert Moeller, and Professor Lyford who advised us in the content and methods of creating the survey and conducting the analysis. In addition, we would like to thank Professor Michael Sheridan for reviewing and giving us feedback on our consent form and best practices.
This project was also made possible by the input and support of Dean of Students Baishakhi Taylor. We would like to express our gratitude for Executive Director of Food Operations Dan Detora for generously supporting the project by providing declining balance. We would like to thank Interim Associate Dean of Student Activities and Orientation Amanda Reinhardt for assisting us with financial logistics.
Director of Health and Wellness Barbara McCall’s suggestions and input were critical in forming survey questions regarding mental, sexual and physical health at Middlebury. Our sincere thanks go to Grace Vedock ’20 and Taite Shomo ’20.5 who helped shape and give context to our questions regarding sexual assault.
We would also like to thank Community Council Co-Chair John Gosselin ’20 for his continued support of this project.
We also want to express our appreciation for our leadership team, Will DiGravio ’19, Nick Garber ’19 and Rebecca Walker ’19, who have enthusiastically supported and contributed to this project.
Finally, this project would not have been possible without readers like you. We hope that you will continue to support Zeitgeist.