Imagine: You are a prospective student wandering the campus late last Thursday afternoon. Having marveled at the sheer scale of the Ross complex, peeked in through the narrow windows of Atwater dining hall and pestered your parents into buying you your first white-and-navy Varsity sweatshirt (as well as, of course, one for your younger sibling), you arrive at Chapel quad.
What you find there leaves an impression more vivid than any admissions pamphlet ever could.
There, long rows of tables extend out from McCullough Student Center, plastered with brightly-colored signs spelling out the names of different student organizations, covered in free candy. These tables stay in place for two hours, tittering in the mid-September wind as droves of socially-conscious freshmen straggle by. Every so often, one brave individual in Birkenstocks stops to talk to an upperclassman on the other side of the table, copying their email onto a sign-up sheet and snag a mini Snickers bar. Whatever you thought you knew about Middlebury College before, you will likely leave having made the following conclusion: To become a Middlebury student is to become involved.
As last Thursday’s Student Activities Fair illustrated, club culture is front and center at Middlebury. Back in high school, clubs were often fodder for our college applications, distilled to one-liners on our resumes or a singular talking point during an alumni interview. Here, they mean so much more. Let us explain.
For the first time in a long time, first years are given a moment to pause and reconsider their previous commitments and future aspirations. A number of us on the editorial board reflected on the many motivations for joining clubs in high school — fleshing out your Common App, for instance, or acquiescing to overbearing parents who are eager to fulfill their vicarious varsity football fantasies.
One editor vividly characterized her own arrival at college as a kind of “self-shedding:” gone were any perceived obligations to play the violin (as, at that point, she had for some 12 years) or dance ballet. Instead, she was free to follow her own, more up-to-date instincts and interests. To that end, we encourage you, first-years, to reflect on your own passions, and let current curiosities guide your extracurricular exploration. Do not be dissuaded by self-doubt, or any perceived lack of experience. One editor remembers starting out at The Campus by writing a regular film column — without “any knowledge about anything related to film whatsoever.” (“It worked out, didn’t it?” she laughed. A true case of “fake it ’till you make it.”)
Sophomores and juniors, conversations about joining clubs hold equal importance for you. Often, organizations form the crux of students’ social lives at Middlebury. One member of the editorial board, for instance, joined club tennis during her sophomore year. She said that, for her, “the importance of the actual tennis component was secondary.” She averred that the club could be about origami or roller-blading, but that at its core what was important to her was the continuity and security that comes from knowing a group of people for over two years.
The social benefits of being involved assume even greater importance in light of recent on-campus conversations about mental health. In an op-ed published over the summer, Arthur Martins ’22.5 alluded to the unique potential for isolation on a secluded college campus like Middlebury, or the often devastating burden that comes from trying to “figure out how to make sense of our experiences alone.” As many students know, this isolation assumes physical as well as emotional forms. In a place which regularly demands hours and hours of solitary studying — be it in dimly-lit thesis carrels among the furthest reaches of the Davis Upper Mezzanine or couches hidden on the fifth floor of BiHall — Middlebury students spend unavoidable amounts of time alone with their thoughts and textbooks.
Alternatively, participation in student orgs is an easy and effective way to engage with other people. For some, participating in an a capella group or improv troupe might be merely something different to do on a Tuesday night. But for others, when the sun begins to set around 4:15 p.m. and students find themselves sagging beneath an all-too-familiar February melancholy, an opportunity to leave the GIS lab and enter a vibrant room full of their peers forms nothing short of a lifeline. Many clubs, like Model UN and frisbee, even go so far as to eat dinner together. Aw!
Juniors abroad: ¡Escuchen! Vous pouvez rejoindre des clubs partout dans le monde. One member of the editorial board reflects that, had it not been for the “uniquely un-athletic” context of Oxford University, she would never have considered joining a women’s soccer team. Only among the “panting and pasty British” — her team’s goalkeeper, for instance, regularly smoked to relax while the opposing team took penalty shots — did she discover her own, somewhat athletic stride. Another editor identifies her choir as the “most valuable part” of her five months in Argentina.
And despite what you’ve heard, seniors, upperclassmen may even benefit the most from extracurricular activities. For instance, one board member talked about how various clubs helped him narrow down his career goals. We don’t have consulting or law classes, but we do have Middlebury Consulting Group and Middlebury Law. Take it from us: meeting late-night deadlines in The Campus office feels as real-life as it gets.
The benefits of getting involved at Middlebury extend well beyond freshman year. Even at a basic level, extracurriculars give students a chance to excel outside of Twilight seminar rooms; at an institution that places so much stress on academic achievement, this can provide a crucial well of confidence and identity for many members of the community.
If that doesn’t convince you, take it from the editor who pointed out that the stakes are “fairly freakin’ low”. If the walk to the ceramics studio turns out to be too long on a weeknight, or you stop attending Quidditch practices once it begins to get colder, do not fret. There will be another semester, and a fresh set of sign-up sheets to go with it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Photos courtesy of Shirley Mao and Benjy Renton for the Campus.