Our world just got bigger; so did our responsibilities

By Editorial Board

Sarah Fagan

For the last month, the unease and anxiety that settled over campus have been matched with restlessness and anticipation as students awaited Phase Two. Starting September 17, students were granted regulated access to indoor athletic facilities, some closer contacts and, most notably, the opportunity to leave campus. We’re now permitted to travel within Addison County, so long as we continue to adhere to strict face covering and distancing guidelines — but this doesn’t mean we’re permitted to be any less careful. 

The transition into Phase Two has been characterized by both fervor and apprehension as students depart campus — where we have zero active cases — to spend time in town and elsewhere. As we take this exciting step in this strange and unfamiliar semester, it is more imperative than ever that we remain vigilant of both our actions and our optics. 

The relationship between the college and the town of Middlebury has often been complicated. The college is the biggest employer in the county, but it is still often perceived as a separate, exclusive entity that is closed off and disconnected from the rest of the region. For instance, staff members rely financially on the college to stay open, but having students on campus undoubtedly puts them at risk of exposure. Likewise, small businesses in town depend on student dollars, but watching us meander through town isn’t necessarily a comfort either. There is also an added layer of tension present as visitors are still, hypocritically, barred from campus despite the fact that students can enter the town.

Some townspeople have been beyond grateful to see us return, as students report being enthusiastically welcomed at BevCo and other retail establishments. A sign advertising the Stone Mill downtown read “Thank you Midd students […] you crushed it! Keep up the great work!” in brightly colored chalk. On the other hand, students have also noted worried or scornful looks from passersby and have also experienced more contentious interactions with community members. 

Such fears are far from unfounded. Concerns regarding 2,000 students showing up to your home during a pandemic are, well, more than justifiable. In March, students did not depart Middlebury on a positive note when they ransacked both the campus and town on their way out. So while the relationship between the town and students is mutually beneficial in theory, the tension inherent in these unparalleled circumstances requires students to be more conscientious, intentional and gracious than ever. 

Leaving campus may mean fewer eyes on your mask wearing or social distancing, but just because there’s no one to publicly shame you — or better yet, go/snitch a picture of you and all your friends — does not mean that anything should change as we step off College Street.

Encountering individuals in town or on hiking trails, unmasked or in large groups, should not be an invitation to let down our guard.”

Although it may be tempting to evade regulations when not under the watchful eyes of our peers and PubSafe, we urge students to hold each other accountable no matter where they may be. Our motivations should come from a place of community care and safety, not from a place of avoiding discipline or judgement. 

Across the nation, there have been countless incidents of college students risking both the safety of their peers and health of their surrounding communities, and we must do everything we can to ensure we do not follow suit. After all, we are temporary residents here. When we leave — whether it be after four years or unexpectedly due to a Covid-related evacuation — our impact here (in whatever form that takes) remains in Middlebury. 

There is an unusual duality present in the fact that despite the homes we forge here, at the end of the day, we are still guests. Even after the physical damage and emotional stress our departure and subsequent return has inflicted, for the most part, we have still been welcomed with open arms. This in itself says more than enough about the goodwill of the people we pass in the aisles of the Co-op, in the line at Otter Creek and on the streets of downtown. There is no better time than now for us to return the favor. 

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