COVID-19 Updates: Fall Semester

November 30, 2015: Inclusivity at Middlebury: Next Steps

November 30, 2015

 

Dear Middlebury College Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I hope you had a restful and enjoyable Thanksgiving break. Though I was physically away from Middlebury last week at a conference and then for the break, I was with all of you very much in spirit. I was heartened to hear, last Monday night, about the large turnout at the town hall discussion in Dana Auditorium and the serious conversation that took place there. I hope many of you will attend the companion event this afternoon at 4:30, also in Dana.

I hope we all have taken an opportunity for contemplation and reflection on events of the last several weeks, not only at Middlebury but also across the country—Missouri, Yale, Princeton, Amherst, Georgetown, Brown, Brandeis, among others. The list of colleges and universities that are wrestling with issues of race, inclusivity, institutional history, free speech, cultural appropriation, stress, and more is growing by the day and week.

Our campus has dealt with and confronted the questions raised by members of our own community in the best tradition of Middlebury: by talking and connecting. And though it may be difficult at times, I believe the work we are doing is helping to create new relationships and new forms of accountability. At times, we will find ourselves in disagreement with other members of our community; some of the questions we are wrestling with are difficult ones and worth arguing about. We cannot presume that everyone in our community will be of the same mind on every issue we face. Indeed, I suspect few of us would want to be part of such a community. It is in our diversity of worldview, experience, background, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual and gender identity, physical abilities and disabilities, and more that we gain our strength. That is as true for Middlebury as it is for the larger communities in which we live—our towns, our states, our nations, and our world.

But we must do more than talk. We must also continue the difficult work of strengthening our community and ensuring that everyone feels it is, equally, their own. No one in our community should experience it as an outsider. As I said in my inaugural address, inclusivity must be our everyday ethic. Via this letter, and after consultation with students, faculty, and staff, I am announcing an Alliance for Inclusive Community: a group of faculty, students, and staff whose charge is to work on policies, best practices, and spaces across our campuses to make sure we are as inclusive as possible in all facets of our lives together. We have named this group an “alliance” because, as I wrote in my editorial for the Campus last week, the ideal is that all of us should work toward this goal. In addition, as you might remember, I also announced an Accessibility Task Force in response to the concerns about the Ridgeline project, and our senior level team is in the midst of populating that group. We envision that the Accessibility Task Force will work closely with the Alliance for Inclusive Community.

In order to create an open process, we would also like to invite students to apply to be part of the Alliance. If you are interested, please send a letter of no more than two pages to the Office of the President (president@middlebury.edu) by Monday, December 7, outlining your experience and perspectives on inclusive community, and your willingness to forge alliances with other groups in order to achieve this goal. I welcome other suggestions and thoughts you might have as well. We will name the members of the Alliance and give it its full charge by the end of the fall semester.

I also wanted to share with you the various other activities that we have been working on this fall to create a more inclusive community. Many of these initiatives were brought about by years of organizing by Middlebury College students. Here’s what we’re doing to bring us closer to that goal:

  • We are hosting a series of faculty roundtables. The first two, held earlier this fall, focused on microaggressions and inclusive pedagogy. A third, which will take place during winter term, will include a discussion of trigger warnings. These roundtables were preceded by a webinar on microaggressions that provided important context.
  • We reached out to the Posse Foundation over the summer and have scheduled three on-campus workshops that will take place in early May, one for admissions and financial aid staff, one for faculty and administrators, and one for student leaders. These half-day workshops will leverage Posse’s experience designing and facilitating interactive experiences that explore and confront challenging sociopolitical issues facing higher education today.
  • We will hold four faculty-recruitment workshops, in partnership with Romney Associates, which are designed to boost our goal of further diversifying the faculty. The workshops are timed to be delivered to faculty at key points in the search calendar and will focus on recruitment and rationale for diversification; reviewing applications and discussing bias; the campus visit and how to engage candidates, conduct interviews, assess diversity qualifications, address faculty bias, and evaluate candidates; and retention strategies and mentoring. Diversity must be a priority in each and every faculty search.
  • We are deepening our commitment to the Creating Connections Consortium (C3). In October we sent a delegation of students, faculty, and staff to the C3 Summit at Bates College. The C3 Summit provided structured and informal time for undergraduates from numerous liberal arts colleges to network with the graduate students to learn about their academic backgrounds, their current research, and the challenges they face in the university environment. This innovative effort, funded by the Mellon Foundation, seeks to support full participation by students and faculty of color at liberal arts colleges and research universities. C3 recently expanded its charter membership of Middlebury, Williams, Connecticut College, UC Berkeley, and Columbia to include Bates College, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago.
  • Our faculty has begun officially to discuss specific proposals, initiated by students who are part of MiddIncluded, to revise the distribution requirement at the College to ensure a variety of cultures, previously grouped together, are separated out as their own distinct entities.
  • This fall we began making counseling staff available to students in the Anderson Freeman Center in Carr Hall and I sincerely hope that our new counseling fellows program will lead to greater diversity amongst our staff of mental health professionals at the College.

This list is—must be—just a start. Seen through the lens of our 215-year history, Middlebury’s commitment to creating a truly diverse and inclusive culture for students, faculty, and staff is relatively recent, which means we have further to travel in a shorter time. And the journey won’t be a straight line. The Alliance for Inclusive Community will be vigilant about the constant improvements and investments we need to make to ensure that inclusivity is an everyday ethic. Whether the issue is cultural appropriation, the balance between free expression and community standards, or questions of language, triggers, deference, or comfort, well-meaning, well-intentioned people will not always be in agreement on the questions that face us.

But let us, together, find a way forward that honors and respects our shared values and commitment to inclusion in its broadest form.

Laurie Patton
President

Office of the President

Old Chapel
9 Old Chapel Road
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753
802.443.5400
president@middlebury.edu