Posts Tagged 'Community'

Work Hard, Play Hard, Enjoy Neither

Si Rutherford

Apparently, for prospective students, Middlebury is presented as a ‘work hard, play hard’ institution. We know what this means: there is a near-overwhelming amount of reading assigned every week for the majority of classes, and if students are expected to maintain a hold on their studies, they must dedicate a significant amount of time to this pursuit. When the weekend hits, therefore, students let themselves ‘play’ in an equally intense fashion in the short space of time that they are allowed. From a personal perspective, striving for real conversation in an environment that is seemingly not conducive to such a thing has helped me start to develop an understanding of Middlebury College. I want to learn something new from everyone I meet, but most importantly, I want to know whether students here are genuinely happy at Middlebury College – especially with regards to the philosophy of “work hard, play hard.”

First of all, let me say this: Middlebury students are brilliant. They are talented, intelligent, healthy, and full of potential. Unfortunately, this potential is rarely achieved, and it could be argued that the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality is to blame. A conversation I once had with a sharp-minded senior highlighted this issue. I was told how often she has heard students make incredibly insightful and remarkably intellectual comments in class, but then as soon as they leave the classroom environment they talk about lowest-common-denominator issues such as partying.

How many lunch-time conversations have been continuations of a discussion regarding the merits of existentialist philosophies, or environmental challenges? How many new friendships are forged because of stimulating dialogue about the possibilities of social change? The unfortunate fact is that there are few incentives for students to engage in extra-curricular intellectual activity; academic studies are made systematic, time-consuming and unrewarding, and students are pushed to the limit throughout the year. If a Midd Kid has 200 pages of literature coupled with two chapters of biochemistry reading to do for the next morning, it is unsurprising that little intellectual satisfaction is achieved from overcoming such a menacing obstacle. Finishing at 3:30 am only brings relief at the eventual promise of sleep, rather than deep reflections on the previously undiscovered viewpoints that the individual has absorbed. We should be able to enjoy the things we study; we should be appreciating and recognizing the things we are learning.

Middlebury College has some astonishingly sharp minds leading its faculty, so surely this valuable resource should be harnessed for all of its worth. Ultimately, my argument comes down to this: There needs to be more time for free intellectual development – for the sake of the sanity and general humanity of the young adults attending this institution. Perhaps this is just my personal opinion, but I do not think a liberal arts college, or university, or any academic institution should merely be a vehicle for turning each student into a machine.

In actual fact, Middlebury College life in general is very systematic, not only in the educational sphere, but in the social sphere as well. We party like machines when the weekend comes, maximizing the precious time we have by getting as far away from the intense work-oriented week as possible, and we do this the way we are told is best – through alcohol. Whether one supports the party scene or not, it is not difficult to understand it. Nevertheless, it is a dangerous game to be playing, sometimes involving frightening amounts of alcohol use and behavior that could not even be conceived of outside of a college campus. A Middlebury student disappeared – and if the rumors are true, drinking played a hand in the events surrounding it. But has it burst the bubble? Apparently not. We are all safe little creatures that wake and read and nap and eat and consume and forget and do it all over again.

The mechanical nature of on-campus activities can be witnessed in hobbies and interests that lie in between the realms of academic work and partying. This is most obvious within sports, but also seen in other activities such as music groups, theatre, dance, etc. It is difficult to truly enjoy the activities we have chosen to participate in when most conversations will sooner or later involve the phrase “I have so much work to do.” Every night is a consideration of what can be achieved in the hour between the gym and dinner, or before we have to begin the paper that will take us to the early hours of the morning.

Extending the arguments further, it is worth considering the ongoing discussion (largely criticism) of the dating scene on campus, and how the consensus is that it is effectively just a hook-up scene. One could argue that this is just another product of the Midd machine. In between juggling an enormous amount of reading, going to dance rehearsals, attending guest lectures, and finally making it to the Tavern party, how can we possibly fit in time for dating? So we don’t. Dating becomes just another systematized part of the social life; because Midd kids have no time to get to know one another and form the foundations for a meaningful relationship, they hook up when they are drunk on a Friday or Saturday night. Even the sex here is systematic.

Undoubtedly, this is a quintessentially American phenomenon, driven by the ideals of individualism and efficiency. These sentiments inevitably have consequences for the activities that go on within the confines of Middlebury and how the people here experience them. What is clear is that there is an obvious cause and effect on display: work hard = play hard. Of course, this is not a new revelation, but for Middlebury students it has important implications. For these talented, intelligent students, it is a virtually inescapable pattern, and one that cannot lead to a truly fulfilled college experience. It is important to understand, however, that all aspects of campus life are inexorably intertwined. We cannot criticize and wish to change the limited social scene without addressing the demanding realities of academic work. Studying has ceased to be a source of personal development, and is instead a means of achieving the ends (whether that is an A grade or a good career). Time socializing on the weekends is focused more on breaking free of the mechanical schedule, rather than embracing a meaningful and fulfilling interaction with peers. Ironically, getting drunk on a Friday night is in fact just as much part of the machinery of a Midd student as the homework, and this fact bluntly presents an issue worth taking note of: when even the partying is systematic, there is something fundamentally disturbing going on.

So we return to the initial concern: are students at Middlebury College genuinely happy? Obviously, this is not a question easily answered. I just hope that we are not merely undertaking a four year exercise in time management, and that we will emerge at the end as more than mere machines that will fit perfectly into society. We are creative, intellectual beings, and should have more time and space to develop as such. The sooner that Middlebury recognizes this fact, the sooner the College can provide future students with a more desirable and fulfilling college experience.

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What is the Value of Diversity?

Mike Waters

What good is Middlebury’s pursuit of a more diverse campus? Sure, we can all agree on the various merits of diversity both in life and in the academic experience. Diversity enriches us, with its multiplicity of opinion and experience. In addition, its direct pursuit brings people together that otherwise would never have met. These are good things, and by all means, diversity is something we all should look to foster in our lives, but as for the question of what diversity contributes to Middlebury, can we all be so sure that it is valuable? How does diversity translate into a payoff on the investment we all make when we go here?

Now, I’m no economist – and quite frankly, I think that people who measure everything in dollars and cents are the cause of many of our problems these days – but to play devil’s advocate: the encouragement of diversity at Middlebury is a bad economic decision for both the college and its students, for a variety of reasons.

Let’s assume, like an economist (wrongly) that everyone’s goal in life is to make as much money as possible. Middlebury, in that sense, is an investment – one that will reap rewards via more opportunities, better jobs, and ultimately, more money. Clearly the goal of being here, then, is to secure for us that extra advantage, that leg up that will get us the corner office and the big salary. Middlebury’s name alone assures some level of success, but there is more that contributes to our future economic well-being besides the look on prospective employers’ faces when they see where we went to school.

Middlebury is all about connections. We have a terrific alumni network, and our alums have gone on to do a host of interesting things. Many are remarkably successful. They achieved success in the usual ways – intelligence, hard work, etc. – but clearly many of them also benefited from the connections they made at Middlebury. So while “Middlebury” printed in bold at the top of a resume might help in landing a job, it’s even more effective when the person across the desk went here, too. Which brings me back to diversity.

The stated goal of increasing diversity is to bring together more individuals of different social, economic, and racial backgrounds. So while we still maintain a good number of students from our core demographic – rich, white, sweet laxers – we also throw in students who are considerably less privileged. Maybe they’re poor, maybe they’re the first in their family to go to college, or maybe they’re from another country, but what we can be sure of is that none of their parents are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Clearly this degrades the value of our education. Who is to help us get our foot in the door after graduation if we are suddenly starved for the wealthy, well-educated elites that we have attracted for years?

To this I propose a solution – a new set of recommendations to make sure that we all get the highest return on our $200,000 after graduation (because that, after all, is what it’s all about). Fuck diversity. Who needs it? I may be boring, ignorant, and spoiled, but inside the walls of my McMansion I am all that is Man. Perhaps I’ve never heard an opposing viewpoint or befriended someone of a different skin color (besides Jose, our gardener, or Fabricia, our maid) or discovered that there is something out there besides my stock portfolio and my trophy wife, but damn am I rich. I’ve won. We have won. We went to Middlebury, and it was worth it. My parents might have bought me a Toyota instead of a Mercedes to save money for college, but look at me now: who needs cars when you can just pay people to carry you around?

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well, all this and more can be ours – all we have to do is give up this tired “diversity” experiment, and go back to doing what we do best. Lets increase our recruiting in Greenwich and the rest of the tri-state area. For a little variety, let’s make sure we take a couple from just outside Boston.

The blonde lacrosse player? She’s in.
The tall, handsome prep-schooler? Give him a slot.
The son of an investment banker? He’s in, as long as he brings an extra pair of madras shorts – I lost mine.

Think of the dividends they’ll pay! Money for that Proctor renovation? Got it. Wall Street internships for all our econ majors? A done deal. Paying off the debt for the new logo that the college abandoned? It’s in the bag. And of course, the value of a Middlebury education continues to grow. With connections like these, who needs school in the first place?

In conclusion, a quick message to our friends in the admissions office: let diversity go. Let’s pursue that rosy reality I just described. No one needs the stimulation (read: challenge) of diversity. We’d be much happier if we were all the same. And Diversity never got anyone that cushy job or that house in the right neighborhood, but you can bet your hot secretary that Connections did. Diversity might be nice, in theory, but the bottom line is my bottom line. After all, as far as most Midd students are concerned, if it can’t be measured in dollars, then it doesn’t make cents.

Dangerous “Confessions”

Ceara Danaher

Middlebury has been infected once again. We couldn’t stop with Facebook. Yet another form of electronic entertainment, a new method to needlessly eat away at the hours, has been birthed in the form of Middlebury Confessional.

The website has been introduced to our student body by some ingenious and possibly sadistic Oberlin student. It is owned by a corporation called Wilder Bowl, LLC, that appears to know exactly how to feed on our vulnerabilities. It is a hub of gossip, all supposedly contained within our little collegiate community, that functions on anonymity. And therein lies its danger.

The potential for this endeavor to go wrong is glaring. People already disclaim Middlebury students as being overly gossipy and judgmental. Combine these qualities with the ceaseless pressures of life here, the constant oppression of political correctness, and the allure of distractions from academics. You have Middlebury Confessional. To top off all of the apparent benefits of this website, there is the factor of anonymity. Students accustomed to guarding their thoughts, operating on politeness and within strict social confines suddenly have the ability to voice their every whim, with no repercussions or regulations.

One would like to think that Middlebury students have more respect for their friends and themselves than to give in to such a vehicle. But, as recent news about the Honor Code has evidenced, we are not always as moral here as we might believe. There are already indications that the site is headed south.

“This website shows how much we all actually hate each other. Ah, human nature,” reads one foreboding post. In many ways, it’s right. The site’s Terms of Use insist that hurtful messages or individual’s names are not allowed in posts. The consequences of breaking the rules appear to be that the posts will be deleted . . . eventually. The site’s moderator, an Oberlin senior, wrote an apology for not removing posts quickly. “It’s always kinda hard on the weekends, but I usually get to removing posts at least once a day” he says. Personally, I find this type of lackadaisical attitude appalling. If someone is going to introduce a time bomb like this into our community, they need to handle it appropriately. Especially when we, unfortunately, cannot.

Despite the site’s guidelines, people frequently write out full names of their peers or create posts that are vindictive, even cruel. It’s as though our classmates have been transported back to vicious middle school locker room mentalities, but with an additional decade of knowledge to use as ammunition.

One of the scariest elements of Middlebury Confessional is that it cannot be known who or what is real. It would be possible for a single person to essentially sever good feelings in our community by manipulating posts and prompting angry feelings. And— for another unwanted dose of reality— it is worth recognizing that as much as we’d like to think that Middlebury students are the only people tapping into this website, that is just not true. The potential for harm is so great, is it worth it to even maintain this website as a source of distraction and amusement?

I’ll admit, the possibility of the web site doing good things does exist. Middlebury Confessional could function as an interactive version of Xander Manshel’s PostSecret Project. It has the ability to connect people who believe themselves isolated, to raise awareness, to provoke thinking, to provide support, and to encourage creativity. In some instances, it can simply insert humor into our lives. Perhaps it is the type of alternative, imaginative, releasing forum that our over-worked, socially-stifled, student body needs.

Or, if my instincts are correct, it could go very wrong and divide us further apart than we already are. Self-consciousness, paranoia, and rampant, uncensored judgments are not emotions that we need more of here. With Middlebury Confessional, that is exactly what we’re inviting.

The State of Opinions in America

Mike Waters

I have an opinion about the state of opinions in this country.

Put simply, opinions suffer from two very different problems: there are either too few of them, or conversely, those that exist are so ingrained that even the thought of another viewpoint could be considered sacrilege. Our society is splintered into countless groups and factions; for every Bleeding-Heart Liberal there is another Bible-Thumping Conservative, and opposed to both of those groups is the enormous cult of apathy prevalent throughout much of our country. To be fair, not everyone falls cleanly into any group, and it would be hypocritical of me to say so, but increasingly the level of discourse in our nation is characterized by a shouting match on one side and a loud chorus of yawns on the other. This has to stop.

Thomas Friedman made headlines a few months ago when he referred to our generation as “the new ‘Quiet Americans,’” asserting that collectively, we are not nearly as politically conscious and engaged as we should be. Nothing embodies better this side of the opinions spectrum than Friedman’s assessment. Huge percentages of our population are willingly ignorant about the important issues of our day. From the ever-declining voter turnout rates during elections to the wide range of people who proudly label themselves “apathetic” in their Facebook profiles, this dearth of strong ideas is felt across our entire country. Numerous criteria could be to blame. Perhaps it is the legions of baby boomers fed up with the empty ideology of the Vietnam War, the Reagan Years, and the continued functioning of the greed economy, or maybe it is more reflective of changes in our society. Particularly relevant to our age group, perhaps our general apathy towards the world is caused by the increasing amount of time we all spend glued to our computers – a cause Friedman explicitly mentioned. Are sites like Facebook and Myspace inflating our own sense of our importance to the detriment of the greater good? Or is it merely that with the exponential efficiency and wealth of information on the Internet other issues fade to the back? Regardless of the causes of our ideological drain, it is something that needs to be remedied. How far we go in reengaging ourselves in critical thought, however, is something that needs to be considered.

In an article in a previous issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Andrew Sullivan mentioned an opposite problem to our national apathy. His description of the United States’ “nonviolent civil war” – over culture, over religion, and over race – is emblematic of the other end of the spectrum of opinions in this country. Standing in stark opposition to the apathy of the general public – and in stark opposition to pretty much anything, for that matter – is the ongoing feud between various factions of US society. Whether it is in battles of Left vs. Right, Black vs. White, or The People vs. The Man, the past several decades of thought in the US have been fractured like no other. Various ideologies have been replaying a rhetorical World War One, all sitting miserable in their trenches and lobbing attacks into the dangerous middle ground. In US society, as in WWI, to find oneself standing somewhere in the middle of the two sides is to find oneself staring down the barrels of two well-equipped armies and shit-out-of-luck. One need only think back to the 2004 Presidential Election for an example of this: ultimately, what ended up being the bigger fault, President Bush’s abysmal personal and political record or John Kerry’s flip-flopping? Now, by no means do I mean to stand up for John Kerry (though I do mean to lambaste President Bush), but the attacks on his character show how far intelligent debate has fallen in this country. I can simply turn on the television for a glimpse of this fact and see the nameless partisan hacks tearing each other a new one on national television. This year’s presidential election has already seen more than its fair share of ridiculous debate – and this from people who are supposed to agree with each other. Whether this type of debate is supposed to qualify as “news” or just “entertainment” is nebulous, but there is no question that there are millions of Americans out there aligning themselves this way. And do not think I leave you out of that category, you superior Middlebury College students, because whether you’re a Wall Street bound economics major or a member of the Sunday Night Group set, your opinions may often be as unflinching as those of the political figures you despise. It’s time we all took a look in the mirror – or better yet, a look over the other side – to see the “opposition” we all refuse to legitimize.

Many of you may feel this call-to-action is unnecessary at Middlebury. To use two tired clichés, while I may be “preaching to the choir,” there is also a distinct chance that this will “fall on deaf ears.” Surely our campus is marked by countless intelligent, reasonable individuals who pride themselves on their level of political literacy, but there are also others who couldn’t care less or are even proud of their ignorance. Even the opinions in this publication sometimes prove my point; either outlandish and controversial or timid to the point of irrelevance, the opinions in this magazine often do nothing to improve the level of discourse. As a society, but more importantly as individuals, I feel that we are sacrificing one of our greatest gifts. Regardless of our backgrounds or the positive or negative turns our lives may have taken, one thing we all possess to an equal degree is the ability to think for ourselves. What are we without what we care about? In many ways it is our opinions that define us, and without taking the time to truly consider what matters we forfeit much of our relevance and importance. We should all make it our duty to care about something – not just politics, for there are far more important things in the world (far, far more) – and not to the extent that we abandon our ability to reason logically and consider all viewpoints.

As I anticipate the reception for this article, I foresee it being labeled excessively heavy-handed or just completely unnecessary. Do I really expect to change anyone’s mind, or even open it, for that matter? No. However, I do hope that maybe we all can reconsider our opinions and take some time out of our busy days doing homework and updating our Facebook profiles to acknowledge that there are things out there that matter. We should all avoid letting ourselves be passed over in the writing of the future.

Whether we care to take active engagement in the direction of our own lives and the direction of our country is up to us. I know that I do.

Go to Town and Find Yourself a Killer Sandwich

Sam Dungan

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Grilled cheeses, cheese steaks, and chicken Caesar wraps make up a large part of the typical college student’s diet. Last Thursday, I woke up before twelve and decided to try something a little different than the panini sandwiches at Proctor. I had heard of a deli in town that would exceed my normal expectations of a sandwich. I set my sights on the Noonie Deli or “Noonie’s,” as Middlebury students call it. Located in Marbleworks, Noonie’s has an idyllic outside eating area. The falls of Otter Creek add a lovely backdrop. But let’s get on to the important part, the sandwiches.

Not to disappoint my expectations, my California Roast Beef sandwich on honey oat bread came with thinly-sliced roast beef covered with melted cheddar cheese and topped with tomato, green peppers and jalapeños with ranch dressing drizzled over the bread. For those who enjoy a messy, spicy sandwich and don’t mind further reducing the number of trees in Vermont by using obscene amounts of paper napkins, you should definitely consider the California Roast Beef.

Another monster of a sandwich was the Purple’s Pleasure. With a combination of avocado, bacon, turkey, lettuce, tomato, and hot peppers, all on top of wheat bread covered in a garlic-basil mayonnaise, this sandwich offered a different but equally fantastic taste as the California Roast Beef. My friend Abe and I ordered the sandwiches to go and ate outside on picnic tables overlooking the falls. While the décor of the inside is suitable, the joy of eating Noonie’s sandwiches is found while sitting under the sun, enjoying the weather and the view. My lunch, which consisted of a bottle of Orangina and a sandwich, came out to be a little over eight dollars. For a few dollars more, you can choose from a decent selection of organic chips.

Rarely do you ever come across a perfect dining experience, and my lunch at Noonie’s was marred by just a few things. In a restaurant that takes pride in freshly-baked bread and exotic sandwich ingredients, I found it ironic that the meat, cheese, and toppings of hot sandwiches were simply heated in the microwave as if passing through another part of an industrial assembly line. I understand that a restaurant must offer swift service to attend to the needs of customers with a tight schedule. In their haste, the sandwich-makers switched the bread for the two sandwiches that my friend and I ordered.

Even though Noonie’s doesn’t have the service of a five-star restaurant, it is a lot of fun. The bread amazes, and the abundance of toppings allows one to create almost any sandwich. I went again a few weeks later and ordered a roast beef sandwich with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and bacon. Although not the most complicated sandwich, it surpassed the “specials” I had tried previously. What is the take home message? Noonie’s, like any other deli, needs multiple visits; it has plenty of potential and should be tested. Maybe by experimenting a few times with different sandwiches you can find the right one. Who doesn’t like the idea of finding “the perfect sandwich?” So if you are getting tired of Ross pizza or running out of ideas at Proctor’s panini bar, walk down to Marbleworks on a sunny day and enjoy a sandwich from the Noonie Deli. There’s my opinion for you.

Middlebury: A Town, Not Just a College

Audrey Nelson

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It seems it is not unusual to find a Middlebury student who, over the course of their four years here, hardly ever ventured beyond campus into the actual town of Middlebury. Sure, the occasional dinner with visiting parents forces people to walk to Storm Café, or perhaps the weekly trip to Hannaford’s for Pop-Tarts and Trident, but generally speaking, the average student spends very little time getting to know this Vermont town.

How hard would it be to take a moment each week to connect with the community? Busy as a student’s life may be, the amount of time, money, and effort spent by the town on our college is extraordinary, and the least we could do is take a genuine interest. For example, one could mentor a child, volunteer at a community dinner, or talk to someone who is not a student at least once a day. Why not get to know a truly hearty Vermonter who makes his own syrup, or whose grandson scored in the latest Middlebury Union High School game? To see and to love Middlebury as a whole, and not simply the bits and pieces of it at the top of the hill, means that we appreciate the context from which our college was born.

Middlebury is a town with a history, a town with stories, a town with interesting and real people who have lives and strengths all their own. Volunteer at a local preschool, and you might come to find that a large part of our Middlebury community struggles to financially support its youngest residents. However, if one college student took the time each week to sit down and read to that very same preschool class, we would see that it doesn’t cost a thing to show that you care.

The Red House Behind RAJ: What We Do and Why Midd Neds Us

Michelle Personick

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Recently, there has been a vast amount of discussion on campus about social houses, drinking and drugs, and their effects on social life at Midd. So what about the group that deals with both categories? That’s where Xenia comes in.

Xenia is the “sub-free social house.” However, that doesn’t mean that none of our members drink. While there are some members who don’t drink at all, a large portion of the membership and people who hang out at the house drink socially and go to parties where alcohol is served. A member once described Xenia as being a place for people who enjoy alcohol, but don’t want it to be a part of their living arrangements on campus, for themselves or the people they live with. The goal of Xenia is to make the sub-free lifestyle a visible and viable option by bringing together sub-free people across campus. Commons sub-free housing is mostly scattered, with single halls or even half halls of sub-free students. For this reason, one of the best features of Xenia is the way in which it creates strong friendships between people who span the entire range of class years and commons affiliations.

One of the most difficult things about being sub-free at Midd is that people don’t realize exactly how many people are sub-free. There is an array of definitions of “sub-free,” ranging from people who don’t drink at all to people who simply choose not to make alcohol the focus of their social lives. A result of the hidden nature of the sub-free social life is that sometimes people who consider themselves to be entirely or mostly sub-free feel like there is nothing going on around campus other than parties with alcohol. What they don’t see is that on any given night there are people all over campus who are hanging out and doing something that doesn’t involve alcohol. At Xenia we try to provide that option.

The questions that are often posed are “How does being sub-free affect your social life?” and “Do sub-free people have any fun?” As the president of the sub-free social house, I would say my life isn’t really that different. I spend weekends hanging out with my friends, having parties, watching sports games in a huge crowd of people, or playing video games.

Xenia comes from a Greek word meaning “hospitality.” Anyone who comes to Xenia is welcomed as a guest, but no one remains a stranger for very long. The members and friends of the house become a family. They hang out together both inside and outside of the house and house events, look out for each other, and even cook home-style meals together once a week.

Making the sub-free lifestyle visible is vital to its survival. It is necessary for people who chose to be sub-free to realize that they are not alone and most likely not even a small minority. If there is no central acknowledgment of sub-free living, it will become more and more hidden until sub-free people become so isolated that being sub-free will become an almost untenable option. Xenia provides an example of a viable form of sub-free living.