Notes from the desk: To prospies, from The Campus

By BOCHU DING

SARAH FAGAN

During Preview Days every year, The Campus invites prospective students in to chat about what it is we do in our subterranean Hepburn Hall office. We like to tell prospective students at that event what we worked on that year to give them a sense of how we cover our college community. We’ve tried to replicate that conversation, electronically, below.

We always joke at The Campus that each year brings with it its own spring scandal. For seniors graduating in May, their first spring scandal was also perhaps the most significant in the college’s recent history: Charles Murray’s infamous 2017 visit to Middlebury sparked acrimonious debate about free speech and inclusion, leaving behind deep scars that the community continues to grapple with today. 

This spring, which marks the final semester for the same seniors who witnessed the events of Murray’s first visit unfold, The Campus braced for his return. After breaking his invitation to campus by the Young Republicans, our editorial board expected Murray’s third visit to be the defining moment of this academic year. 

And boy, were we wrong

On March 10, the college announced the cancellation of in-person classes in response to a rapidly unfolding Covid-19 crisis.  As we traversed across the country and around the globe, we wondered how The Campus — along with everything else — would change. As we wrote in our notes from the desk, we found it critically important to continue our coverage from home. That decision has been a defining moment in our year as student journalists.

The Campus continued our coverage from afar, reporting on changes to the grading policy, the struggles of local businesses and the lives of students who remain on campus.  We launched The Middlebury Off-Campus project, a collection of stories from the wider Middlebury community, hoping to connect us when we are the furthest apart physically. The recent Love Issue put all the breaking news and the end of the world on a brief hiatus, bringing levity in a time when we all need a little bit of love. 

While on campus, our stories have also shaped the conversations we’ve had as a community and, in many cases, pushed for and inspired change. Diligent reporting of unionization efforts and custodial shortages turned the spotlight on staff wages, culminating in the college’s promise to increase compensation for certain staff. Poignant opinion pieces, such as one student’s essay on her struggle with eating disorders, encouraged us to talk about topics that are oftentimes considered taboo. An editor’s repeated reporting on on-campus vandalism provoked year-long conversations about the treatment of our campus.

This year, we editorialized on cancel culture and the role of this paper amid tightening constraints on college journalists. We interviewed a Middlebury alumna who found herself at the center of the #MeToo movement and covered protests of New England’s biggest coal power plant. We also published a litany of sports features about Middlebury’s athletic community. 

We tried to push the creative boundaries of our paper, from the annotated map of campus from our first issue of the year to the inclusion of more artwork to accompany our opinion pieces. On campus, our arts reporters covered student productions and exhibits; now, they are keeping us sane in quarantine with book and movie recommendations.

We have also striven to cover the diverse interests that make our community so vibrant — from the Ultimate Frisbee club’s bizarre traditions to the Museum of Art’s recent acquisition of ancient Chinese gold.  And we expanded our scope to explore unique narratives that were oftentimes neglected, such as stories of queer love set against the backdrop of rural Vermont. Even this spring, as coronavirus news has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we sought to explore the stories beneath the surface, from an article about professors’ children intruding on Zoom sessions to a commentary on a world without sports.

When we reconvene on campus and meet many of you for the first time, we hope you will join us in telling the stories that you care about. 

Bochu Ding ’21 is one of The Campus’ managing editors and next year’s editor in chief elect.