On the Use of the Word “Townie”

Kate DiMercurio

In the past few weeks across Middlebury’s campus, whether in the dining halls, the dorm rooms, or on Battell Beach, the word “townie” has been making a resurgence. As students take the long trek down to Main Street and cross paths with a stray middle school skateboarder, we are forced to take a closer look at the town-gown divide.

In my pre-Middlebury days, I was a resident in the small town of Bristol, Vermont. At hockey games, my friends and I would sit near the student section, since it was obviously the most exciting and lewd place to be. As we got older and more courageous, we even sat in the student section. Shockingly enough, we were never recognized as “outsiders,” though at times I would hear students next to me referring to other townies with disdain, and remarking that they really should stop polluting the student section. In all of my time as a townie, I never once heard the term used with a positive connotation.

Now that I am free of the townie stigma, I am considered just another one of the Middlebury “locals.” When I meet a new student, it is assumed that I know every single other Vermonter on this campus, because we are, after all, an unusual breed and at some point we must have skied together as children. While I try to make it my business to keep up with the other locals, the fact is, you can’t tell most of us apart from the Colorado Natives or the Massholes. So I ask myself— why do we still feel the need to create so much distance between Middlebury students and Middlebury townies? Why is it that every time the word townie is uttered, my hair stands on end and I feel the need to defend the poor soul to whom it refers?

This has been a topic of conversation among my friends recently, and I think I may have come up with an explanation. No one here denies the fact that we live in the Middlebury College bubble, and many students express a desire to spend more time off campus. Among the town residents to whom I have spoken, many have articulated their desire to see more interaction between the town and the college community. We do, of course, hold some events on campus that are open to the public, such as musical and dramatic performances. But let’s face it— although we may be sharing the same social space, most students are not actually interacting with town residents.

If Midd Kids spent a little bit more time getting to know townies, they would undoubtedly find that they have much more in common with them than they had expected. They would hopefully realize that the little punk that cut them off at the Snow Bowl or ran screaming through the library during exam week is not a good representative of the common townie. This town is home to some incredible artists, athletes, political activists, and aspiring philanthropists— all of these people, and so many more, would be thrilled to know that one of the college students from that mythical stone community on the hill actually cares about who they are and what they think. A Midd Kid out of her bubble is a rare sight in the town of Middlebury. How can these two groups of people know anything about the other if they never see each other?

There are prejudices and biases from members of both the town and the college, but as with any prejudice, you should never pass judgment on the group as a whole if you never truly get to know one of its members. The word “townie” carries more weight than many students on this campus realize, and it is important to give some more thought to the terms we throw around. So please, the next time you let the word fly, consider the fact that the person to whom you are referring is no different from your little brother or your neighbor two doors down.

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