On Oct. 26, Community Council welcomed Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty Andi Lloyd and Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández, who, along with Dean of the College Katy Smith Abbott, presented a wide-ranging plan for improving the quality of life of students.
Originally tasked by the College’s Board of Overseers with addressing issues of diversity and inclusivity as well as campus-wide stress, Lloyd and Smith Abbott soon determined that these subjects should be dealt with holistically by merging those separate issues.
Over the past summer, the group generated a long list of difficulties frequently cited by the student body; among those problems were the fear of missing out, time management, microagressions, sexual violence, suicidal ideation, financial hardships and job market fears. These issues were then grouped into three main categories: promoting mind-body well-being, increasing diversity and fostering inclusivity and building community and resilience.
These three categories, said Lloyd, Fernández and Smith Abbott, will guide the implementation of numerous programs over the next few years intended to combat those difficulties. For diversity and inclusivity, the group mentioned the usage of transgender-friendly language in admissions materials and the potential modification of the Cultures and Civilizations requirement.
For mind-body wellness, potential measures discussed included creating a counseling fellow program to expand the number of counselors on campus, drop- in group exercises on mindfulness, and expanding Question Persuade Refer (QPR) training, which is designed to prevent suicides.
Finally, for building community and resilience, the group cited an upcoming storytelling program centered on discussions of failure and resilience and a strengthening of the faculty advising system.
Some initiatives, such as expanded counseling and QPR training, are already being implemented. Lloyd, Smith Abbott and Fernández also emphasized that the project is ongoing and intended to be open to contributions from all members of the community.
On Nov. 2, the Council continued its wide-ranging discussion on stress, focusing this week on the disproportionate levels of stress faced by students of color. The Council welcomed Charles Rainey ’19, who shared that during his short time at Middlebury, he has already experienced multiple instances of racial prejudice.
In one case, while struggling to complete a difficult calculus problem, a classmate asked Rainey if he had attended a primarily black high school. In another instance, during a particularly heated political debate, an acquaintance of Rainey’s used a racial slur.
The most troubling aspect of these incidents, according to Rainey, was not simply the fact that they occurred; rather, it was the lackluster response to the incidents by both fellow students and Residential Life staff. After the first incident, Rainey spoke to his First Year Counselors, who he said told him that “these things happen” and that he had no choice but to “hold [his] head up and keep going.”
After the second incident, Rainey said there was a distinct lack of remorse on the part of the other student. “There was no apology,” Rainey said. “It was almost as if he felt entitled to use that word.”
Several on the Council emphasized that these experiences were common among students of color at Middlebury, and that the College must take a stronger stance against hurtful speech. “This is not just ignorance,” said Metadel Lee ’18.5, “it is willful disregard for our humanity, and I no longer accept it.”
Finally, the Council welcomed Gus Jordan, Executive Director of Health and Counseling Services, who, among several issues, discussed the possibility of closing the Parton Center during low-traffic hours, and increasing student knowledge of counseling services.