Part 2: Students
The section of the Action Plan for Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that focuses on students is broken down into four categories of initiatives: recruitment, financial aid, development and support.
Renee Wells, Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion, hopes that these initiatives address the questions about community
“How do you help students understand what it means to be a part of a community and to foster community with and for others?” Wells said.
Wells, working alongside Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández and a variety of other staff members across the college, have aimed to interact with students when there are opportunities to engage with the entire student body, specifically through ResLife and Orientation.
Fernández has also aimed to increase the amount of direct student feedback for the respective initiatives, and has met consistently with Concerned Students of Middlebury and the SGA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee.
They hope to use these initiatives to make DEI a key component of the Middlebury experience across all parts of campus and academic life.
“Part of what it means to be at Middlebury is to be a part of a community and to think about how you are part of a community in a way that’s intentional,” Wells said.
Out of 15 total initiatives in the student section of the Action Plan, eight have been completed, four have been partially completed, one is unknown, and four have not yet been completed. The initiatives that have not been completed at all have completion dates in future years.
Nicole Curvin, Dean of Admissions, has relied on demographic data and institutional research to integrate DEI initiatives into several aspects of the admissions process.
Strategy #1 is to increase the admission of historically underrepresented groups. Curvin reports that 40% of the incoming class of 2025 is BIPOC. In 2019, for comparison, only 27% of the student body were BIPOC.
Strategy #2 outlines the creation of a Student Ambassador Program, which was formed in the last academic year in order to reach underrepresented prospective students. The program, which typically sends ambassadors to high schools around the country, has temporarily moved online because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We plan to continue to develop this program and eventually return to in-person visits with high school students once it is safe to do so,” Curvin said.
Strategy #3 involves introducing DEI as a core value in the recruitment process. This has involved training staff and student employees on DEI in a variety of ways.
“In the past two years, we hosted facilitators during our annual staff retreat and as we embarked on application review to consider how we approach our evaluation of lived experiences and school context,” Curvin said.
Staff have also read texts, listened to podcasts, and attended conferences and workshops focused on DEI in order to better understand how to best recruit a diverse student body.
“We become better recruiters by understanding and acknowledging our applicant pool for who they are,” Curvin said.
Strategy #4, to increase the accessibility of campus visits, has been put on pause as in-person campus tours did not resume until May 6. Now that in-person tours are allowed, Curvin hopes to consult the community about how to make them more accessible to all prospective students.
“We have already begun discussions and have added features to our website and videos to support prospective students,” Curvin said.
Strategy #5 outlines a plan to offer opportunities for critical conversations about DEI among staff in both Admissions and Financial Aid, both of which have taken part in DEI workshops. ResLife staff have also attended four mandatory DEI workshops this year, according to Dean of Student Life AJ Place.
According to Kim Downs-Burns, associate vice president of student financial services (SFS), SFS has initiated several strategies to implement DEI in their work that aim to better support low-income students.
The SFS office has met with incoming Posse cohorts to review financial aid decisions, collaborated with other NESCAC schools to reach out to low-income students to answer questions about financial aid, worked with SGA to provide an emergency assistance fund for J-term, and participated in Discover Middlebury to meet first-generation students.
Strategy #6 aims to increase accessibility to Middlebury by creating a financial aid policy that goes “beyond need blind and covering full demonstrated need.” One example of this policy that the college has started implementing, according to Downs-Burns, is that many students in Posse cohorts receive financial aid that goes above and beyond their demonstrated need.
SFS has also worked to use fundraising as a way to increase financial support available.
“One of our upcoming fundraising campaigns is prioritizing new gift funds to expand our current pool of eligible students,” said Downs-Burns.
Strategy #7 also addresses accessibility by aiming to reduce the barrier of the cost of course materials such as textbooks.
“SFS has done some work analyzing the costs of textbooks, average course costs, and comparing textbook allowances with what our peer institutions offer in their aid packages,” Fernández said.
SFS already conducts an annual review of their average textbook costs compared to peer institutions. More work will continue on the project in upcoming semesters.
“Currently Midd incorporates a $1000 annual book allowance in the individual student aid budgets which is the median of all Consortium of Financing Higher Education (COFHE) colleges,” said Downs-Burns. COFHE contains 35 other selective liberal arts colleges.
In the fall of 2020, 489 students qualified for SFS’ book advance program, but many students didn’t take advantage of their qualification, which has led SFS to reevaluate the program.
SFS plans to work with the Office of Advancement to fundraise for a book grant program to assist aid recipients with purchasing textbooks, which has been hampered by Covid-19 costs.
“Currently the funding is limited, but we hope a successful pilot will lead to an increase in eligible students,” Downs-Burns said.
Fernández will be working on the textbook accessibility initiative, as well as Strategy #8, which aims to grow an endowed fund to enable students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in the full Middlebury experience, including funding for travel home or trips to Burlington. An endowed fund entails investments of capital that can be periodically withdrawn.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for funds has been so high that all donated funds have been put in use and not placed in an endowed fund.
According to Fernández, President Patton plans to make the fund a priority in upcoming fundraising campaigns. The college aims to have the textbook accessibility initiative complete within the next year, while the endowed funds for underprivileged students is expected to be completed in two years.
Strategy #9 extends Wells’s work with DEI workshops to student leaders in Orientation, ResLife, International Student Services, MiddSafe, SGA, and other student organizations.
Similarly, Strategy #10 aims to embed DEI into Orientation programming, and Strategy #11 outlines increasing opportunities for critical conversations among the general student body.
“I have been meeting weekly with the JusTalks students throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, and they have developed and facilitated dozens of peer education workshops during the fall, J-term, and spring semesters,” Wells said. JusTalks also collaborated with Orientation to offer workshops for the class of 2024.5.
While the scale of activities has been inhibited by social distancing requirements, there are plans to expand these initiatives once operations go back to normal. Amanda Reinhardt, Director of Student Activities, said that the virtual workshops are just the beginning.
“As we start planning for MiddView 2021 and Feb Orientation 2022, we will continue to explore ways to incorporate and assess additional DEI content into Middlebury’s Orientation programming in order to meet the goals outlined in the Action Plan,” Reinhardt said.
Rob Moeller, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Residential Education and Innovation has been involved in adding DEI components to the ResLife program.
“This spring we have been partnering with the Anti-Racist Task Force to join and support their work fostering these important conversations. ResLife has also been working in collaboration with JusTalks to hold workshops for first-year [residential hall] communities in-person and virtually this past fall and in the planning process for doing the same this spring,” Moeller said.
To help with these initiatives, Crystal Jones, who will join the staff in July as the inaugural Assistant Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion, will help to develop and facilitate these critical conversations.
Strategy #12 aims to provide more mental health resources to students and support for historically underrepresented groups. Moeller has worked with ResLife to create skill building sessions on making friends, addressing friendship myths and creating panels for students to discuss navigating the social contexts of Middlebury.
“Additional collaborations are underway with CTLR to help reduce stress by offering tried and true time management strategies,” Moeller said.
Maddie Hope, Assistant Director of Health and Wellness Education, has also worked with ResLife to promote mental health strategies through several events and training. Some of these events include ProjectConnect, stressbuster series, speed friending events, mental health peer educator workshops and ResLife student staff training.
As listed in Strategy #13, the College plans to join the Consortium on High Achievement and Success (CHAS) to focus on advancing the academic success of BIPOC students at selective liberal arts institutions by 2023.
Strategy #14 is a broad goal, hoping to increase resources to underrepresented groups, specifically in the Parton Center for Health and Wellness and Anderson Freeman Resource Center (AFC). The initiative to assess staffing at the AFC has been initiated and a new director will be starting July 1.
“We have just hired a new Director of Counseling who is a person of color and has years of experience providing counseling to these communities,” Fernández said. The new director, Alberto Soto, specializes in advocating for diverse populations and the intersection of social justice and mental health, according to Fernández.
Ben Gooch, associate director of clinical operations for counseling services, said that social justice practices and experiences with multicultural counseling are a required component of counselings’ application process.
“We work with programs that we know have a strong stance on supporting underserved communities and training their future counselors to be social justice advocates and allies,” Gooch said.
The counseling department has also recently adopted a new model of counseling called the Flexible Care Model (FCM). FCM, which Soto is an expert in, aims to move care away from systems that perpetuate white and Eurocentric concepts of counseling.
“Our overall goal with this model is to increase immediate access to counseling for students, incorporate multicultural counseling understandings into our session to make sure that we are providing good care that takes into account the diversity of our campus community, and to provide more options to students for what their relationship to counseling can look like,” Gooch said.
The counseling deparment also participates in anti-racist reading groups and training oppurtunities. The Center for Health and Wellness has also collaborated across departments to form working groups for specific issues.
“An example of this is our Trans Care Working Group, which is designed to help make sure staff are up-to-date on the best practices and to work toward dismantling barriers to care for trans-identifying students,” Gooch said.
The Office of the President has completed Strategy #15 by creating a taskforce that has been meeting since the start of the year to explore the creation of a center to support LGBTQ+ students.
Fernández explained that there is a multi-year plan to move forward. “The first year, we will work to find a designated lounge or another existing meeting space; the second year, we will explore the possibility of using a College-owned house; and during a subsequent year, once the new student center is built, we recommend that the center for LGBTQ+ students be located there,” said Fernández.