COVID-19 Updates: Fall Semester

Inclusion as an Everyday Ethic

January 9, 2020

 

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Welcome to J-term! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and has come back refreshed and ready for a great semester. At Middlebury, J-term can be a time of creativity and focus—a chance to take risks and explore new things that we have always wanted to learn more about.

I write now with excitement about those prospects for learning, and to call us to continued creativity and inspiration about another aspect of our lives together: creating an inclusive community. This is the hard work of creating a campus experience where more and more voices are welcome and contribute to the conversations that we have every day in our classrooms, our theaters and concert halls, our athletic fields—inclusivity as an everyday ethic.

An inclusive community is a more creative one: we come up with better ideas by incorporating a broad range of human experience and a rich variety of perspectives. We expand our capacity for learning, for leading, and for demonstrating empathy and understanding of others. Diversity and inclusion are both critical to our educational mission and vital to our vibrancy and health as an academic institution.

Inclusivity as an everyday ethic is a practice of engaging one another with dignity and respect for difference in an environment that rejects the concept of “otherness,” which allows us to segment, discount, and marginalize. In striving toward this ideal, we’ve launched a number of programs and initiatives (see details here) that clearly demonstrate our commitment.

It hasn’t always been easy and it isn’t always going to be successful. And while programs count, what matters is progress.

I see creative progress, in many small and larger moments. Nocturne, for example, is now in its third year and has become a vibrant Middlebury tradition where the 24-hour festival of the arts allows us to experience each other’s worlds and talk across difference by using artistic experiences. It has grown stronger each year. Our new building on Shannon Street and the renovated Munroe Hall have been constructed with an eye toward universal design, architecture that “can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability.” This fall, a large number of faculty participated in inclusive pedagogy workshops offered across all of our campuses so classrooms can be even more open, expansive learning spaces where all student voices are heard.

But even as we become more creative, I am also aware that there are dynamics in our country and on our campuses that will challenge that progress.

Inclusivity as a value itself is under threat in a country that is more divided than ever, less willing to engage across difference, more content to become comfortably numb in a self-confirming and narrow media and worldview. Inclusivity is all too frequently challenged on campuses, like ours in Middlebury and Monterey, by attitudes and behaviors rooted in implicit bias or a discomfort with difference that mirror those in our larger society and that we must continually work to address. And we can work to change them. We have a responsibility to do so by building shared experiences and a common purpose.

By Middlebury I don’t mean just me or the leadership team. This work is also not just the responsibility of people at Middlebury whose titles include “diversity” or “equity” or “inclusion.” Just as every person belongs, every member of our community has a responsibility to practice inclusion. Inclusivity as an everyday ethic can only deepen our common purpose, our shared love of learning.

Inclusivity also requires an emotional intelligence and maturity to listen and learn, and to demonstrate empathy even when we may profoundly disagree. In this view, I have been inspired by ideo.org, an organization that works on human-centered design and produces ideas for a more just and inclusive world. As Meagan Durlak writes on that website, it is impossible for us to ever truly understand the challenges that another person faces. But true empathy can often take the form of human connection over a shared emotion or experience. And for us, that shared experience is Middlebury.

So, this J-term, this coming spring semester, and in the years beyond, let us be even more creative than we’ve ever been in our own human-centered design work: building a truly inclusive community at Middlebury. I want to thank the many faculty, staff, and students who have been working to develop and live that ethic in their everyday lives.

Our shared purpose in the everyday walk through difficult terrain inspires me.

Wishing you all a wonderful New Year.

Regards,

Laurie Patton
President

Office of the President

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