On Oct. 12, Community Council began to brainstorm specific issues to address during the academic year. When all was said and done, the Council generated 51 different topics which its members hoped to cover to some degree.
Issues raised by College staff included increased awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, a possible discontinuation of Winter Carnival and increasing campus accessibility for disabled persons.
Faculty mentioned a clarification on spousal hiring policies, a more comprehensive plan for faculty housing and shortening the add/drop period, which can be disruptive in a 12-week semester.
Students raised a number of issues, as well. Enabling faculty and staff to eat at dining halls for free was met with much enthusiasm, as did the institution of a living wage for all staff workers. Others pointed to the necessity for more gender-neutral bathrooms, the renovation of older campus buildings to improve their energy efficiency and establishing a space on campus for student organizations.
Issues of race and class were frequently mentioned; some pointed to the pronounced lack of diversity in the Feb class, while others discussed the College’s role as a gentrifier in the town of Middlebury, and whether such a problem could be mitigated.
The most popular topic, however, was stress. Though the topic was raised by students, faculty and staff emphasized its prevalence throughout the College community. While various events – such as a temporary campus petting zoo – were suggested as potential “de-stressers,” the Council agreed that a larger discussion was needed.
The Council’s next meeting on Oct. 19 was dedicated entirely to the topic of stress. Brainerd Commons Dean Natasha Chang, SGA Representative Emma Erwin, Dean of Curriculum Suzanne Gurland, Associate Director of the Center for Careers and Internships Tracy Himmel Isham and Parton Counseling Director Ximena Mejia attended as guests to weigh in on the issue.
“[Stress] is a multifaceted issue,” said Clair Beltran ’16. “When it’s brought up in conversation it’s meant academically, but it also ends up affecting you personally, emotionally and in other aspects.”
“There’s this culture of exceptionalism that exists on campus,” said Emma Bliska ’18, “and from a student perspective, it becomes difficult to handle all of these different pressures.”
Campus Horticulturalist Tim Parsons pointed to Middlebury’s relatively short semesters as a cause of student stress, saying that they result in faculty being forced to “cram more coursework into less time.”
The Council’s guests discussed how their respective organizations addressed the issue of stress. Mejia discussed the belief that with the right attitude, stress can be “your friend and ally.” Making meaning of our stressful experiences, she said, is oftentimes more important than the simple levels of stress which we face.
Chang brought up the way stress is deeply embedded in campus life. “Students will report to me that they have a feeling of competition around who’s most stressed,” she said. Productive conversations about stress can be impossible, she noted, when stress is prioritized over personal health and wellness.
Gurland suggested that combatting day-to-day stress may be a matter of choosing our battles wisely. “Figuring out the things that are important to us, and embracing the reality that we cannot do everything, are necessary tasks,” she said. “You may need to pick one class that you’re simply not going to give 100 percent to.”