What makes us Middlebury?

By BAISHAKHI TAYLOR

ELLIE EBERLEE

This recurring column will feature updates from SLG. This week’s column comes from Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Baishakhi Taylor.

What makes us Middlebury? What is it? For the last four years I’ve felt it and I know it. It’s not a single thing or a special event or basketball (which was the case at the institution where I went to school) or even the incredible beauty of our surroundings here. To me, what makes us Middlebury is our relation to each other, which can grow over four years and often lasts a lifetime. What makes us Middlebury is how we live together in times of challenge and times of celebration. How we will live together moving forward must reflect the best of our past traditions while evolving to acknowledge the realities of the present and our hopes for Middlebury’s future. 

Today, I write to all of you about the process of How We Will Live Together (HWWLT), the comprehensive review of Middlebury’s residential experience with the goals of: 

– Helping us understand one of the major systems that influences our community 

– Identifying how this system contributes to what is uniquely Middlebury – Committing to grow in areas where we need to evolve 

I want to thank our Community Council for raising this question —how will we live together? — and for reminding me that this is a question we should ask ourselves earnestly and often. In spring 2018 a group of students, staff, and faculty, led by Professor Rob Moeller and Dean Derek Doucet, took a deep dive to answer this question through surveys, focus groups, and interviews with members of the community. This was immediately followed by an external review led by four colleagues from: Carleton College, Connecticut College, Kenyon College and Rice University. The final recommendations describe a pathway to living and growing together in the 21st century. 

Our students (you) have told us and we have heard clearly that you want to live in close community; appreciate the support of your student residential life staff and deans; seek a more engaged, connective, and fun social life. Recommendations to improve and build on our strengths for the future include maintaining first year student residential communities and the four-year student relationship with deans; centralizing residential life into one office to increase communication and support. The final set of recommendations also emphasizes our need for providing consistent and professional support for student staff including raising their compensation. 

We also heard your concerns about growing need for support, equitable access to programming, and resources across the residential system that extends beyond the first year. Space dedicated to students or lack of it, also plays an important role in our shared experience. While we might not have a perfect answer, we can only begin to address them through acknowledgement and change. As we develop the plans for a new student center and a new residential hall in relation to Battell renovations, your feedback and input will be essential. 

Lastly, we have heard students’ call for engaged learning experiences and supportive academic relationships both within and outside of the classroom. Recent Gallup data from 2019 confirm what you have told us. You are looking for mentorship, research and capstone projects, and experiential learning opportunities, including internships. We are committed to supporting all of you and keep your aspirations at the heart of Middlebury. While no changes are being made to our first-year seminar program, including housing first-year seminar classmates together in community, we are asking our faculty colleagues to reimagine and assess some of the ways we have learned together in the past. Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Sujata Moorti will be engaging faculty during the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year to explore ways for faculty to engage with students outside of the classroom. Community Council will have open sessions to gather students’ ideas on their expectations and interest in faculty engagement. 

In my time here I have come to realize that what makes us Middlebury is us, and our ability to ask questions that matter, to adapt, and evolve in ways that bring us closer and enable a community to thrive. We are and have always been a dynamic institution that evolved and grew to meet the needs of our students. On the path ahead we will nurture a living-learning community based on the best of our traditions and the best work we can do to ascertain what we aspire to become in the future. This is how we will live together, now.

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