May 7, 2020
At times, the culture at Middlebury can feel amorphous. We see hundreds of students gathering on the town green for a midday Climate Strike; we hear our friends gripe about not being able to book a counseling appointment; we sense that some students gravitate to substances more than others. But these phenomena can often be lost to the four-year generational turnover that is endemic to college.
So often, we exist in silos of social groups, unable to tap into what our peers — who are by proximity, usually, so close to us — are thinking or feeling or doing. Are students looking for romantic relationships? What is the last social media app people look at when going to bed? Are students regularly skipping classes? Do friend groups coalesce around a shared identity?
These were a few of our guiding questions as we embarked on the creation of the second annual Zeitgeist survey, a project that aims to bridge the gap between data analysis and journalism by surveying students through dozens of questions. The results do not reflect the entire student body, with 49% of students filling out the Zeitgeist survey this year (for contrast, last year we had responses from 47% of students). Our hope is that every year this percentage will mount. And with an ever-growing pool of respondents, our ability to report on stories that matter to students will only improve.
We hope that in these challenging times for our school and our nation, you will engage with our findings and continue to learn more about the student body at Middlebury.
Introduction by Amelia Pollard ‘20.5.
Who makes up Midd? Students by the numbers
This year, 1,245 students completed the second-annual Zeitgeist survey, an uptick of 42 respondents from last year’s inaugural questionnaire. This figure represents 48.7% of the students who were on campus this fall, according to the Fall 2019 Student Profile; however, students who were studying abroad were also invited to participate in the survey.
Participation across class years was roughly the same. The class of 2022 had the greatest number of participants, with 270 respondents.
Nearly 73% of respondents identified as white. Only 62% of domestic students in the Fall 2019 Student Profile identified themselves as white, which may indicate that the Zeitgeist survey results have a skew towards students who identify as white — though the student profile’s number does not take into account international students, who were reported in a separate racial or ethnic category.
The second-largest block of Zeitgeist respondents, at 10.4%, were students who identified as Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. 5.4% of respondents identified as Hispanic or Latinx, and 2.9% of respondents identified as black or African American. 7.5% of respondents identified as biracial or multiracial.
As might be expected of a liberal arts institution, nearly a fourth (23.3%) of survey respondents had an interdisciplinary major, which includes environmental studies, international politics and economics and international and global studies. The next most popular major category was the social sciences at 22.1%, followed by majors in the natural sciences, with 17.8%, and humanities majors at 8.7%. One in five respondents (19.8%) were undecided about their course of study. 22.4% of respondents indicated having a second major. Economics was the most popular major with 105 respondents, followed by environmental studies with 91, political science with 69, neuroscience with 66 and computer science with 66.
Nearly 60% of respondents identified as cisgender females while only 36% of respondents identified as cisgender males. Less than 4% of students identified as a transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary, or felt that the options given did not define their gender. According to the Fall 2019 Student Profile, which used a binary classification of gender, 53% of students identified as female while 47% of students identified as male, indicating a skew in the Zeitgeist results towards cisgender female students. Over one in four students identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning.
Forty percent of Zeitgeist survey participants are on financial aid. Ten percent of respondents are first-generation college students, which is similar to the most recent admitted class’s profile at 11%.
Almost one in three respondents hail from New England states. One in five students is from New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania. 13% are from the South, 12% are from Pacific states, 9% from the Midwest, and 5% are from Mountain states. Over half of respondents consider their hometowns to be suburban, 29% are from urban hometowns, and 18% from rural.
Half of the respondents attended a public high school, 31% attended a private high school, 11% attended boarding school and 5% a charter or magnet school.
One in ten respondents identified as religious; 28% considered themselves somewhat religious, and 60% did not consider themselves religious.
Students feel intellectually stimulated at Middlebury; mental health top reason for skipping class
The Middlebury academic experience is marked by a vast range of classes, a set of distribution requirements that push students to explore courses outside of their academic comfort zones, a strong honor code and small class sizes that allow students to develop relationships with their professors and peers.
But these college brochure bullet points don’t capture the full picture. This year, our Zeitgeist data answered more inconspicuous questions about those experiences, from why students skip class to what distribution requirements are hardest to fulfill, to how many students break the honor code and in what ways.
Overall, students overwhelmingly feel intellectually stimulated at Middlebury, by their professors, their classes, their peers within their major and their friends. In fact, only 4% combined — 40 students — indicated that they either somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with the statement “I feel intellectually stimulated at Middlebury.” Sixty-five percent of students indicated that they strongly agree with the statement, while another 30% said that they somewhat agree.
The vast majority of students indicated that they are most intellectually stimulated in the classroom, pointing to professors (39%), class material (35%) and classmates (8%). For some, the most prominent source of intellectual stimulation is outside the classroom: 10% of students indicated friends, followed by talks and student organizations, both at 3%.
Students report consistent levels of intellectual stimulation across all majors. The concentrations with the fewest majors saying they felt intellectually stimulated were arts majors, with 57% of the 40 total arts majors choosing that option. Language majors — 32 total students — reported the highest rate of intellectual stimulation, at 72%. Arts and language majors were also less represented in the survey than most other majors.
Those 4% of students who strongly disagree about feeling intellectually stimulated are evenly distributed across major groups.
Do students find that their peers within their major are intellectually stimulating? Almost two-thirds — 64% or 792 students — said yes. 18% said neither yes nor no, and 14% marked themselves as undeclared. Only 5%, or 63 students, indicated that they did not.
Those who indicated that they are strongly stimulated by the other students in their major are most likely to be humanities, literature or natural sciences majors, and least likely to be arts, language or social sciences majors.
And as for Middlebury’s Honor Code, which, “[r]equires of every student complete intellectual honesty” and which all students sign at the start of their time at the college, 46% of students wrote that they had broken the honor code, while the other 54% said that they had not. Last year, 35% wrote that they had broken the honor code, 57% said they hadn’t and another 8% chose ‘prefer not to answer’, an option which was not available on this year’s Zeitgeist.
More than half of all honor code violations were with the use of unauthorized aid, such as translators, calculators, SparkNotes and friends’ edits. Cheating on a test comprised 29% of honor code violations while plagiarism, reusing papers and assignments and falsifying data made up the remaining 17% percent.
Distribution requirements oblige students to take courses in seven of eight academic areas, in addition to four courses pertaining to certain civilizations areas out of six total regions. Students must also complete one comparative civilization course, and two College Writing courses. When asked which of these requirements is hardest to fill, the largest number of students, 24%, said that they did not have any trouble fulfilling any distribution requirements.
Students struggled most with the civilization requirement, with 20% indicating that this was the hardest to fulfill. Of the eight core requirements, students report having the most trouble fulfilling the physical and life sciences (SCI) requirement, at 12%. This is followed by deductive reasoning (DED) at 9% and then a foreign language (LNG) at 7%.
The social analysis (SOC) requirement is the easiest to fulfill, with less than 1% of respondents choosing this option.
There are many factors that may make some requirements easier or harder to fulfill than others. One of these is the sheer number of classes available within a given tag: SOC, for example, was a requirement met by 150 classes offered this fall, compared to only 61 for Literature (LIT) or 26 for Philosophical and Religious Studies (PHL). Additionally, some tags are more interdisciplinary than others: SCI, for example, was tagged only to classes offered in the Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Studies (although only one class), Geography, Geology, Linguistics (also only one course), Neuroscience, Physics and Psychology departments, while the SOC requirement is offered in 30 departments, including in First-Year Seminars.
Additionally, the Foreign Language (LNG) requirement sometimes requires completion of two or three semesters of a language, such as in the case of intro-level language courses, compared to the single-semester required for almost all other categories.
Middlebury appears to have a solid attendance record: only 7% of students reported skipping class at least once a week, with 37% skipping “a couple times a semester” and 23% skipping just once per semester. Another 33% reported that they never skip class.
Students cited mental health as the most common reason for skipping class, with mental health being the cause of 23% of missed classes, followed by feeling overwhelmed by assignments, 21% of the time.
Physical health accounts for another 18% of missed classes, while 13% is the result of oversleeping. 11% of the time, students say that they skip because their class time does not feel productive.
Respondents said they miss just 3% of classes because peers are also skipping, while only 2% of skipping happens because students feel intimidated or uncomfortable because of the class or the people in it. Of the 60 respondents who noted skipping class for other reasons, 19 mentioned travel and five cited skiing. Other responses mentioned job interviews, having friends or family visiting or studying for exams in other classes.
More than half of students reported spending between four and six hours on academic work outside of class per day, with 28% spending less time and 19% spending more. A total of 6% reported spending 10 or more hours a day on schoolwork outside of class.
Large number of students have considered transferring from Middlebury
While only an average of 15 to 20 students transfer out of Middlebury in a given year, Zeitgeist data from this fall shows that 43% percent of survey respondents, or 451 students, have considered transferring during their time at the college. However, the desire to transfer isn’t evenly distributed across the student body: students on financial aid and first generation students are more likely to think about transferring, and the answer to the question also depends on how long respondents have been at Midd.
The number of students who have actually submitted an application to transfer is substantially lower, at just 6%.
Students who receive financial aid are more likely to have considered transferring from Middlebury: nearly 50% of those on financial aid have considered it, while only 40% of those who do not receive financial aid have.
First generation students are another group that is significantly more likely to consider transferring — 50% more likely to consider it, in fact. Nearly 60% of first generation Middlebury students say that they’ve thought about transferring from the college.
Thoughts of transferring appear to increase over time at Middlebury, peaking among sophomores — the last year most students say they feel free to transfer before they’re too old to find a new fit. While only 34% of the class of 2023 has considered transferring, that jumps to 51% for the class of 2022, 43% for the class of 2021 and 43% for 2020. Febs are slightly more likely than Regs to consider transferring, with 47% of Febs saying yes to considering transferring, versus only 43% of Regs.
By hometown, students who hail from New England are the least likely to have thought about transferring, while students from the Mid Atlantic — including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — are most likely to have considered it.
The type of high school that one went to also influences whether or not transferring has been a consideration. The group most likely to think about transferring is those that went to charter or magnet schools, at 53%, followed by boarding schools at 48%, then public schools at 44%, then private or parochial day schools at 41%.
From Proc to TikTok: social life on campus
The Zeitgeist survey asked respondents about different facets of social life at Middlebury, ranging from questions about substance use to TikTok. College social life invariably evolves for students as they get older, but nevertheless, we tried to depict a general snapshot from first-years to super-senior-Febs.
A majority of respondents reported having partied where alcohol or drugs were present, or having used one of these substances themselves, before coming to Middlebury. Of these respondents, more than two-thirds, 79.8%, said that alcohol was the most commonly seen substance. Over half of all respondents, 53.1%, had smoked marijuana, and just under a third had vaped or juuled before coming to college. A mere 14.1% reported being around or doing none of the above.
Patterns of substance use are similar across different school types. Students from public and charter or magnet schools were slightly more likely to have smoked marijuana, while private and boarding schools were more likely to have used a fake ID. Respondents who attended private day schools were the most likely to report doing at least one of the options listed.
The data show that coming to Middlebury was generally associated with increased substance use. Around 75% of respondents said they partied in the presence of alcohol and/or drugs more at Middlebury than they had before, while 73% reported consuming more alcohol than before.
When asked how drunk they usually tend to get at Middlebury, approximately half (48.7%) said that they “get drunk.” A tenth of all respondents reported not drinking at all, and the same number said they barely drink. A small number of students — less than 6% of respondents — reported getting “brownout” or “blackout.”
We also asked respondents about their usage of various social media platforms. Instagram was the most popular form of social media among respondents, with almost two-thirds, 63.4%, rating it their most-used platform. Though more respondents reported using Facebook than Snapchat, the latter was used more frequently: 71.2% ranked Snapchat among their two most used platforms. Facebook reached this rank for only 41.1% of its users.
Tumblr and TikTok were both relatively unpopular among respondents, with 14.9% and 13.2% reporting using them, respectively. While only 23.9% ranked TikTok among their top three platforms in November, the app became a popular meme since stay-at-home orders were put into effect in March. (The Campus tried to get in touch with a number of habitual TikTok users for comment, but none of them wanted to go public about their use of the app.)
81% of students said they had met friends through mutual friends, making it the most common way through which students formed friendships at Middlebury. Classes, residence halls and extracurriculars trailed not far behind, with approximately 76% of respondents choosing each. 40% of respondents reported having met friends on nights out. Under the “other” category, “Feb” was the most popular with 18 appearances. “Sports” appeared 10 times, “[email protected]” 7 times.
When asked about friend groups, 63.4% of all respondents reported being part of multiple groups, while 9.5% felt they were part of none. The data show some variation between different ethnic groups. Black and Hispanic/Latino respondents were more likely than white and Asian respondents to consider themselves part of only one friend group. Black respondents were also the least likely to consider themselves part of no friend group.
When asked about their Saturday nights, 75.2% of respondents selected hanging with friends as a pastime. Out of the five specific campus buildings listed on the survey, Atwater was the most popular with 39% of the vote, followed by the social houses with 35.6%. Approximately a tenth of respondents reported to be working.
Respondents were asked to mark where on campus they feel most uncomfortable. The resulting heat map shows a hotspot that spans the entirety of the Atwater suites, as well as clusters around the athletics complex and the Ross and Proctor areas. The data show overlap with reports of vandalism, as well as the 2019 It Happens Here map which documented incidents of sexual assault and harassment.
Students define “hook-up,” discuss romantic scene at Middlebury
The Campus asked Middlebury students to participate in the second annual Zeitgeist survey in November, looking to gain insight into campus culture by asking the questions that are often not discussed. This year’s survey included an exploration of love, relationships and the ever ill-defined “hook-up culture.” A total of 1,245 students responded — nearly 48.25% of the student body.
The vast majority of Middlebury students — 90.82% — prefer a romantic relationship to a hook-up, according to the second annual Zeitgeist survey.
Despite this indicated preference, 50.44% of respondents said that they have had a one-night stand in the past and 43.53% reported having had an, “unspecified, slightly-monogamous ‘thing.’”
About 55.37% of respondents, or 686 students, reported having been in a committed romantic relationship before starting at Middlebury. However, only 39.43% of students, or 491 respondents, reported being in a committed/monogamous relationship at Middlebury.
Athletes are 7.09% more likely to have partaken in a one-night stand and, on average, have a higher number of sexual partners than non-athletes.
Students identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community are equally as likely to participate in all forms of relationships and sexual activity as non-LGBTQ+ students.
When asked about their satisfaction with the romantic scene at Middlebury, 46.01% of respondents answered that they were somewhat dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied, 30.41% were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, 23.58% said that they were somewhat satisfied or extremely satisfied.
The length of relationships for students have varied. 34.90% of respondents said that their longest relationship lasted over a year, while 22.35% have never been in a relationship.
More than one in ten students — 10.17% of respondents — said they have cheated in a romantic relationship.
Respondents were asked how many partners they have engaged in consensual sexual activity within the last 12 months. The most common response was 2-4 partners, with 386 students. 263 students reported they had not engaged in sex within the last year. Respondents who identified as cisgender female were more likely to have not engaged in sex compared to their cisgender male counterparts: 24.25% compared to 16.26%.
Despite the fact that many students have participated in hook-up culture to some degree, it is not clear what this term actually means. Students attempted — and struggled — to define “hook-up” in the survey. 1,130 students heeded the call to demystify the ambiguous (and popular) term.
“Hook-up is a deliberately ambiguous word in English that can connote anything from just making out to full-on sex,” reads one response, adding that “hook-up” is not a term they use when speaking of their own encounters. “I believe that encounters of any sexual nature would constitute a hook-up, but I’d be wary of defining mine as such because of the social implications this term carries.”
Many responses stated that hooking up is the range that begins with making out and ends with sex. Some designated hook-ups as an act that must occur privately, while others included infamous Dance Floor Make Outs (DFMOs) in their definition. Many others explicitly defined hook-ups as, “anything more than kissing”, requiring some sort of sexual encounter.
One respondent wrote that hook-ups are, “Something sexual in nature that can turn into something more, but [that] doesn’t necessarily have too much meaning or … emotion.”
The word “party” appears in responses 40 times. One response says that hook-ups are “having sex with someone after a party and then not getting into a relationship for more than a couple weeks or so afterward.” The words “casual” and “casually” appear 66 times in responses. “Spontaneous” and “spontaneously” appear seven times.
A common theme in the responses is a lack of emotional connection or significance. As one respondent puts it, hook-ups are, “Having a sexual relationship with someone without necessarily the need for an emotional/romantic connection or committment to that person.”
For those involved in the romantic scene at Middlebury, survey respondents were given a range of options to select how they have met romantic partners. The most popular option was through mutual friends, with 527 people, followed by on nights out (495), extracurriculars (275) and through residence halls (225). Respondents also pointed to orientation and on-campus jobs as places they met romantic partners.
The data also shows that Middlebury students tend to download dating apps during their later years at Middlebury. The percentage of students who use dating apps increased as students aged, with only 17.25% of the class of 2023 respondents having used a dating app at the time of the survey compared to 44.19% of the class of 2022, 48.36% of the class of 2021 and 57.32% of the class of 2020.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Campus’ April 23 Love Issue.
Riley Board and Caroline Kapp contributed reporting.
Athletes tend to get drunker, spend more time in Atwater than non-athletes
Just over 16% students — 204 total — of the 1,245 Zeitgeist respondents were varsity athletes. According to statistics on the Athletics Department’s website, nearly 27% of Middlebury students participate in varsity sports.
One dominant stereotype of athletes is that they “work hard, play hard.” When rigorous academics meet a big time commitment like a varsity sport, it “can definitely lead to finding a form of release elsewhere,” according to Munya Ra Munyati ’20.5, a member of the men’s track team. We wondered if varsity athletes really do “go harder” than non-athletes.
On average, athletes get drunker than non-athletes, according to Zeitgeist data. About 48% of non-athletes said they tend to “get drunk” when they consume alcohol, compared to 58% within the varsity-athlete population. For some athletes, drinking is a coping mechanism. Varsity sports take up roughly three hours a day — and some athletes recounted the toll that a demanding academic schedule coupled with athletic commitments takes on their mental health. “The more stress that builds up, the more people drink,” said Ra Munyati.
There also seem to be systemic practices that lead to an increased consumption of alcohol. Like most clubs on campus, varsity teams encourage their members to pay dues, the money from which is often used to provide people with hard alcohol. “Freshmen on teams are also given access to alcohol in a much larger capacity than most freshmen,” said women’s track member Kiera Dowell ’20.
Additionally, varsity athletes are more than twice as likely to “black out,” with 11% reporting it is a regular occurrence. “We like to push the limits of how much fun we can have,” said Pete Huggins ’21. Huggins, a member of the football team, also said that sometimes going out and drinking would turn into a competition of sorts between teammates, something he said was meant all in good fun. Dowell recalled a party after NESCACS her sophomore year that was “was absolutely insane,” but remains adamant when she says that ultimately celebrations like these are “not the leading cause” for the patterns of drinking followed by varsity athletes.
We also asked where respondents were most likely to spend a Saturday night on campus, and allowed people to pick up to three options. The data elucidated that, generally (and unsurprisingly) much drinking is happening at Atwater. Nearly 83% of athletes reported that on an average Saturday night, they would most likely be found in an Atwater suite, almost three times — 270% — more likely than non-athletes. Put differently, while varsity athletes only made up about 16% of respondents, they represented more than a third — 34% — of Middlebury students who spend time in Atwater suites on the weekends.
Varsity athletes are also more likely to spend time at off-campus locations on Saturday nights. This is not entirely surprising, since senior members of varsity teams often apply for suites and houses and opt to hold team parties there.
Men’s hockey player Mitch Allen ’20 felt that Atwater’s popularity among most varsity teams was due to a lack of other options, though he said that it was a less than ideal space. He mentioned that his “team has had an off-campus house for the past two years and that is very much preferred to anywhere else.”
Huggins also said the Atwater trend could be due to tradition. “A team will get a suite and everyone knows to go there,” he said. “There is a small bonding or celebratory aspect to it.”
Varsity athletes also differ from non-athletes in their sexual/relationship encounters. The survey results suggest that athletes were 12% more likely than non-athletes to have experienced a one-night stand. Furthermore, athletes were more likely to have engaged in consensual sexual activity with more partners. 38% of athletes said that they had engaged in consensual sexual activity with 2–4 partners in the last 12 months, compared to 30% of non-athletes. Additionally, 14% of athletes reported that they had abstained from consensual sexual activity in the last year, compared to 23% of non-athletes.
Nearly 41% of non-athletes at Middlebury have reported being in a committed relationship. That number slinks back to just over 32% among the varsity athlete population. In other words, athletes were also 20% less likely to have been in a full-fledged committed/monogamous relationship while at Middlebury.
Some student athletes find this data surprising. “At least for track, there is sometimes inter team hookups but often that turns into dating.” said Marisa Edmondson ’20 of the track team. “ A lot of my teammates date each other. I’d say as far as I know more people end up dating each other then casually hooking up,” Edmondson continued.
Students from historically marginalized groups more dissatisfied with mental health resources
In recent years, colleges across the country have seen increasing demand for mental health resources from students. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of students who receive college counseling nationally increased by 30%. An investigation conducted by The Campus last year revealed that many students have not been able to receive timely support at Parton’s Counseling Center due to high demand for services. Over the past 20 years, counseling appointments at Middlebury have increased nearly 3.5 times, according to data from Parton.
This year’s Zeitgeist data corroborated the high rates of student counseling appointments highlighted in last year’s investigation: over a third of survey respondents (428 students) said they have been to therapy or seen a counselor at Middlebury. One-third of respondents have sought treatment for depression or anxiety since coming to Middlebury and nearly 20% of respondents said that depression or anxiety “always” impacts their experience at Middlebury.
A Campus article from January 2020 found that many students have struggled with a campus culture of harmful body and exercise standards. One student from this investigation said that “Middlebury has a very perfectionist culture.” Another student noted a “hyperprevalent” culture of “fatphob[ia]”.
Zeitgeist data reveals that over one-third of respondents have struggled with their relationship with food or exercise since coming to Middlebury, and two-thirds of respondents know a student who has faced one of these struggles.
Some students turn to substances to cope with mental health struggles. Around 8% of respondents said they “frequently” use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, and a quarter of respondents said they “occasionally” use drugs or alcohol as a means of managing stress.
Some respondents felt that mental health resources at Middlebury were inadequate. In total, 29% of respondents felt that mental health resources at Middlebury are inadequate,15% of respondents felt that they are adequate and 56% said they did not know.
Zeitgeist data suggest that students become more disenfranchised with mental health resources at Middlebury as they get older. While fewer than 10% of respondents from the class of 2023 found professional counseling and mental health resources to be inadequate, nearly 60% of respondents from the class of 2019.5 found these same resources to be inadequate.
Students from historically marginalized identities had worse perceptions of the mental health resources at Middlebury. Nearly 40% of students who identified as biracial and almost 35% of students identifying as black or African American felt that mental health resources are inadequate at Middlebury, compared to 27% of students who identify as white.
Of the 11 counseling staff members at Middlebury, none are counseling staff of color. According to Gus Jordan, executive director of the Parton Center for Health and Wellness, the center has been searching for an additional staff counselor since this past fall, and had solicited applicants and referrals from over 50 institutions with counselor training or similar programs, including historically black institutions with these types of programs. The search was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
A 2018 survey of university and college counseling centers found that nearly three-fourths of surveyed counseling staff identified as white. Culturally competent counselors have been found to achieve more positive clinical outcomes because psychosocial development can differ based on race, culture, or other demographic factors.
In an email to The Campus, Jordan said that multicultural competence was “essential for any counselor” and wrote that the counseling staff engage in various types of multicultural training every year, and regularly talk about issues of social justice and of difference.
“One of the central components of good counseling is the ability to join with a client, to come to understand and appreciate their world and their unique experiences from their perspective, with compassion and without judgment,” Jordan said. “This requires a deep appreciation for difference. It also requires humility and a desire to learn about others.”
For students who identified as LGBQ or questioning, 38.6% found professional health resources to be inadequate, compared to the 25.3% of students who are non-LGBQ identifying. LGBQ or questioning students are also more likely to experience mental health difficulties, with nearly 30% of these students saying that depression and anxiety “always” impacts their experience at Middlebury, while fewer than 20% of non-LGBQ students indicated the that they were “always” impacted by depression or anxiety.
Recent developments to mental health resources
In response to growing demand for mental health resources, Parton added a reworked mental health program this past fall. The program, led by the JED Foundation, aims to improve suicide prevention, substance abuse and mental health resources for schools. Although Parton has already expanded its counseling staff five-fold in the past 25 years, the center still hopes to expand further.
The Office of Health and Wellness announced the creation of a group called Mental Health Peer Educators, who will be available in the fall of 2020. According to their webpage, students will be trained to provide peer listening hours for Middlebury students, facilitate workshops on topics related to positive mental health, and facilitate a social connection-building program called ProjectConnect.
In coming years, the center plans to bolster staff for alcohol and drug-related issues, organize peer-and-counselor-coordinated support groups, and increase the availability of online resources, according to The Campus’ investigation around mental health.
Sexual health on campus: contraception, STIs and Title IX
Eight percent of Zeitgeist respondents reported experiencing sexual assault on Middlebury’s campus or during a Middlebury program, in contrast with last year’s 12%. Of those who have been victims of sexual assault, 75% identified as cisgender females.
Among respondents, survivors overwhelmingly decided not to report incidents of sexual assault — all in all, 90% did not report. Of those who did not report, respondents cited fear, a complicated reporting process, lack of support and power imbalances as reasons. Out of the 10% of victims that did report, two-thirds found themselves dissatisfied with how the process was handled.
Since last year’s Zeitgeist, there have been more efforts to promote sex and consent-focused education on Middlebury’s campus. This past fall, the SGA Sexual and Relationship Respect Committee worked to bring an in-person consent training workshop to campus for new students. Currently, Middlebury students are only required to watch online videos provided by Show Some Respect, in addition to bystander training presented by the Green Dot initiative.
Condoms, pills and IUDs are the three most common methods that sexually-active Middlebury students use when engaging in sexual activity, according to Zeitgeist data. 8% of students turn to the withdrawal method, which is known to be significantly less effective than condoms, pills or IUDs.
Of the 1,218 respondents, slightly more than half have been tested for STIs. Of those who have been tested, one in five said they only get tested when they are worried they might have something, as opposed to getting routinely checked.
Students have had more exposure to on-campus organizations this year that aim to promote safer sex practices. This year, during orientation week, Sex Positive Education, College Style (SPECS) held a workshop table in Axinn for new students. SPECS was founded as a class project but later became a student organization dedicated to teaching students about safe and positive sex.
When it comes to students’ politics, climate change is center stage
“What do you define as the most pressing issue of our day?”
Each year, we have asked respondents one open-ended question that defines the theme of the Zeitgeist survey that year. This year — right before the turn of the decade — we asked students what they believed to be the most pressing issue of our day. The responses leaned heavily toward the climate crisis. While this answer took myriad forms – “Climate change”; “Climate change, f*cking duh”; “ummmm climate change have u heard of it??” and “The Earth is about to be one-a-spicy meatball,” among many others – “climate” was the most common term among the 535 responses. The “environment” was also written 43 times, “environmental” 39 times and “energy” seven times, suggesting similar concerns.
Gun control came in second, with “gun” used 47 times. Healthcaret was also frequently referenced, with “health” used 18 times and “healthcare” used 16.
Some answers were combinations of a few issues, such as the response, “In my personal life, healthcare. In the public sphere, […] gun control.” Other issues raised were systemic racism, political polarization, economic inequality, the faults of the capitalist system, criminal justice, indigenous people’s rights and reproductive rights.
Some were specific to Middlebury at the time of the survey, including “Napkins at the dining hall” and “the new scan-in system.” Other responses were broad-spanning, including “unkindness,” “I just feel like our generation is f*cked,” “Learning how to connect as a society” and, for the indecisive anti-establishment, “They are all connected. Capitalism?”
At this point, it’s important to point out that this survey was issued months before the novel coronavirus came onto anyone’s radar. But the issues students outlined above have been exacerbated as the global health crisis exacerbates systemic inequality and access to public services, such as healthcare.
As the U.S. rapidly approaches it’s next election year, political issues are at the forefront of many college voters’ minds. When asked to list the importance of 10 political topics from Politico’s list of 2020 issues as “very important,” “moderately important,” “neutral” or “not important,” respondents identified the most vital issue as “energy, environment and climate change.” 77% of respondents ranked the issue “very important,” while 95% ranked it important to some degree, backing Middlebury’s reputation as an environmentally-conscious school. The issue is also considered prominent nation-wide among youth and college-aged voters, validated at Middlebury by its strong turnout.
The other issues that exceeded a 90% response rate of moderate to very important were healthcare, gun control, immigration and abortion. However, these data were collected before the Covid-19 pandemic, which has served as a development that has reshaped U.S. healthcare policy. While healthcare fell slightly behind abortion and gun control in rankings of “very important” at the time, it is possible that more recent data would reflect an increased level of emphasis placed on healthcare.
The issue ranked least important by Middlebury students was, “support for the military,” with only 32% of students deeming it important. The penultimate concern was “marijuana and cannabis legalization,” with just over 50% of students signaling it as important.
In designing this year’s survey, The Campus’ Zeitgeist team reviewed questions from last year’s survey (both those that were on the survey itself and others that were submitted but did not make it into the survey) and then distributed a form to solicit questions via The Campus’ social media channels. After consolidating the questions that were submitted and in careful consultation with editors, members of the Zeitgeist team generated 65 survey questions in total, including 13 demographic editors.
The Campus distributed the survey in all-student email on the evening of November 11, 2019. Responses were open for 15 days, until midnight on November 26. The survey was also distributed on The Campus’ social media platforms, posting at frequent intervals until the deadline. Campus editors set up tabling stations, alternating between Proctor, Ross and Atwater dining halls, in an effort to increase survey participation. Upon receiving the email, respondents followed an anonymous link to the survey hosted on Qualtrics. This link ensured that no personally identifiable data as to the respondent’s computer or location could be tracked. After completing the survey, respondents had the option to enter a raffle on a Google Form, which ensured that the participants’ identifying information for the raffle and the survey data were not linked.
Following the demographic questions, this year’s survey questions were grouped into five general categories: Academics and the institution, Midd after hours, Let’s talk about sex, Health and Wellness and This I believe. Survey respondents were encouraged to answer all questions, but were able to refrain from doing so. All demographic questions offered an “I prefer not to answer” option.
The survey data was stored on the Qualtrics platform and was distributed to a small group of reporters in sections via Google Drive. Sharing permissions for the Google Drive folder were deleted after the completion of data analysis. Data remained only on the devices of reporters and never shared externally, including the administration, other clubs, or academic departments.
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 to survey general trends. 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. In total, 1245 students responded out of Middlebury’s on-campus undergraduate student population of 2555, making the response rate 48.72%.
The findings were then compiled and published in the May 7 edition of The Campus. In total, 14 students were closely involved with the making of this year’s Zeitgeist.
A project of this size and scope cannot be accomplished with many individuals whose insights, guidance and assistance were invaluable to our process.
In its second year, Zeitgeist was made possible by the input and support of Dean of Students Baishakhi Taylor. Additionally, we would like to thank Executive Director of Food Operations Dan Detora for generously supporting the project by providing declining balance for our raffle.
Director of Health and Wellness Barbara McCall, Executive Director of Health and Counseling Services Gus Jordan and ADA Coordinator Jodi Litchfield’s suggestions and input were critical in forming survey questions regarding mental, sexual and physical health at Middlebury. We would also like to express our gratitude to Professor Alex Lyford for his assistance with data analysis. Nate Evans ’20 also helped with conceptualizing the final steps of this project, and we are most grateful for his support. Sarah Fagan ’22 and Sabrina Templeton ’22 contributed the beautiful header graphics for each section.
This project would not have been possible with The Campus’s leadership team of Sabine Poux ’20, James Finn ’20.5, Sadie Housberg ’21 and particularly Bochu Ding ’21, who spearheaded the project in its first year. Your contributions and support have been critical to the success of the survey and its subsequent report.
Finally, this project would not have been possible without Campus readers like you. We hope that you will continue to support Zeitgeist and give us your thoughts to continuously improve the project in the years going forward.