It’s a hard time to be a student, it’s a harder time to be a first year

By Editorial Board

SARAH FAGAN

To our new first years, we at The Campus want to welcome you with open arms. Six feet apart of course.

As we begin this new semester, we won’t pretend that any of the circumstances we currently find ourselves in are normal nor should we. We know you’re all trying to find your place and understand how you belong in this community. This “new abnormal” is challenging and unfamiliar for all of us. While we certainly don’t have all the answers, we want to acknowledge how we all got here, validate what you may be feeling and give you some things to look forward to.

First, we want to acknowledge what you all went through before finding yourself here. After the interruptions to your senior years and virtual graduations, we know how eager you all are to be here. Even so, despite the constant “go/snitch” references and the masks and social distancing, it can be easy to feel like this little bubble of Middlebury College is far removed from the grim realities of the current pandemic. While it’s true that a portion of Middlebury’s population was privileged enough to come out of the past five months relatively unscathed, it is undeniable that we have collectively been through grief and trauma.

We witnessed death tolls rise — sometimes within our own circles — social and racial inequities exacerbate and members of our communities and their family members be at risk on the frontlines. Although we might not be as directly impacted by these issues now that we are at Middlebury, that doesn’t erase what we went through — nor the fact that many of our loved ones back home continue to struggle.

While we were still reeling from the sharp adjustment to quarantine, that grief was compounded after the murder of George Floyd reminded us of the dire consequences of the systemic racism entrenched in the U.S. This had ripple effects in our own institution this summer, through moments such as the “Farewell From an Unwelcome Hire” email and its subsequent deletion, Black at Midd’s petition, the micro and macro-aggressions highlighted on the Dear Midd Instagram account and more. While the prevalence of racism on our very own campus was not news for any of the BIPOC members of our community, it forced us to pull back the curtains that previously allowed white students to turn a blind eye to the realities of the systemic oppression perpetuated at Middlebury, and we can’t go back. 

These events were difficult for many of us, but as already-established members of the community, we can only imagine what it must’ve been like to process this as someone transitioning into an unknown environment. We understand that for those of you from marginalized backgrounds, these events might’ve compounded whatever fears you already had about attending this predominantly white institution. 

Being a first year is difficult and disorienting no matter what the circumstances are, and you and your classmates are entering Middlebury on uneven footing. Many of you may be transitioning into living on your own for the first time while also adjusting to a more rigorous course load than you might’ve previously been required to juggle. Meeting new people and making friends is incredibly nerve-wracking, and even more so when Covid-19 guidelines prevent organic social interactions. We know it must feel pretty isolating as you’re masked and distanced from your new classmates and unable to visit family or friends outside of campus. 

But, we can assure you, it’s hard for the rest of us too. All of this can be made especially challenging if you are a BIPOC, low-income or first-generation student, or all of the above. While it’s likely inevitable that some of you will feel unwelcome, feel a sense of imposter syndrome or just take more time than others to find your own communities, know that you have every right to exist here and take up space as your authentic self. As cliché as it sounds, you were chosen to come to Middlebury for a reason.

We can’t guarantee that you’re going to find your place and that things will be okay, because the truth is that none of us know that right now. We are all living with constant uncertainty, but that shouldn’t stop us from taking full advantage of Middlebury and all it has to offer while we’re here. There are so many resources and support systems available for you if you need it, whether it be academic, emotional, identity-based or beyond. 

One of the best parts of Middlebury can be the people you meet and the community you build during your time here. Finding and creating those communities can more often than not take time, and, while meeting new people may feel inauthentic over Zoom calls, there will still be opportunities to make friends. If you don’t immediately find your people, it’s okay. Further, although the traditional party scene is missing this fall, we all might be better off for it in the long run, as we find ourselves scattered on picnic blankets across the grass, having sober conversations and creating more genuine relationships. 

All of this is still so new, and we encourage you to look out for yourselves and one another. Prioritize your mental health, and while vulnerability is terrifying, it can also be really rewarding. Communicate with your friends, upperclassmen, FYCs, Dean and/or professors if you are struggling (depending on the situation), and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Regardless of how you’re feeling, know that someone else here has been through it or feels a similar way and can support you through it. Look out for your classmates. Mutual aid and support is how we maintain a healthy and strong-knit community.

First years, we’re excited to live and learn with you all in this unconventional semester.  You’re each a crucial piece of the Middlebury puzzle, and soon you’ll find where you fit.  Welcome home.

This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.