Community-building amid coronavirus cancelations

By SOPHIA MCDERMOTT-HUGHES

Students created a spreadsheet to help Middlebury community members navigate the indefinite suspension of classes.

Students have created a “mutual aid spreadsheet” so that students, faculty, staff, community members and parents can help each other manage the logistical and emotional hurdles surrounding the college’s indefinite suspension of classes due to coronavirus. 

People can post in the document to request services, resources and shoulders to lean on.

By Tuesday night, dozens of people had already extended almost 100 offers of aid in the spreadsheet, including temporary housing throughout the country, long-term storage in Vermont, local meals and rides ranging from the Burlington airport to Tennessee. Several people posted their contact information for those seeking emotional and spiritual support. 

“Is it your birthday while stuck on campus? I will bake you a (mini) cake!” wrote Stace Marshall, Assistant to the Vice President for College Advancement.

Diana Cotter, a 79-year-old Middlebury resident, offered students space in her studio apartment, despite concerns over her own fragile health and coronavirus risk. 

The mutual aid spreadsheet was inspired by concern for the students most impacted by the sudden announcement.

“We were thinking about who this might really affect, like low income students, international students, and students who don’t have homes they feel safe going to or don’t have homes to return to,” said Ami Furgang ’20, one of the spreadsheet moderators. Cora Kircher ’20 and Leif Taranta ’20.5 are the other moderators. Taranta created the spreadsheet.

“We anticipated that, even if Middlebury did offer housing to students, people would definitely still fall through the cracks. So this is to fill up those cracks and beyond,” Furgang said.

While Taranta encouraged students to share the spreadsheet widely, they asked that people use it with trust and respect and not share contact details or sensitive information revealed in people’s posts. They encouraged those with privacy concerns to reach out to those who had already posted offers, or ask the moderators to anonymously request assistance on their behalf.  

The spreadsheet is organized in tabs, including food, housing and transportation. People can post either offers or requests for aid in the appropriate columns. Taranta asked that people delete their offers and requests once they are fulfilled so that the spreadsheet can remain current and easily navigable. 

The spreadsheet also hosts a list of Middlebury’s recent announcements and instructions relating to the coronavirus situation as well as resources the college is currently offering to students. 

“[I hope people] notice in this time of crisis how much potential we have to support each other,” Furgang said.

The spreadsheet will remain operational throughout the semester and as long as people still need it, according to Taranta. 

“Coronavirus is a crisis, but we are going to be facing even more crises as a community as the years go on,” Taranta said. “[The mutual aid spreadsheet] is beyond trying to help our classmates and the people we care about now. It’s also trying to build those systems and practices, so, as this continues to happen, we’ll have that support network.”