January 29, 2016: Update on our inclusivity efforts

January 29, 2016


Dear Middlebury Friends,

I wanted to share some thoughts with the community as we make our way through J-term (now flying by!) and following our recent visit with the Board of Trustees.

As you know, I am committed to working together to improve our practice of making inclusivity an everyday ethic at Middlebury. This was a major topic of discussion at our board meeting this past weekend.

Trustee Discussion Recap
We shared with trustees the principles and goals we are working toward and that I spoke about at the December town hall meeting in Mead Chapel. Here is that link: http://www.middlebury.edu/about/president/addresses/2015/node/504822

We also shared with our trustees details of our work together in making our curriculum and our common life together more diverse and open, even as we discuss, agree, and disagree about best approaches, specific responses, and national and local events.

I was delighted to brief the trustees on the significant progress we have made on many of the goals I discussed:

  • The Alumni of Color weekend, which was held January 15–17, created new networks and opened the way for greater possibilities for alumni mentorship. We are planning to hold conferences on racism and conflict this coming spring.
  • In response to student leadership in the past year, faculty voted to change the Cultures and Civilizations Curriculum distribution requirement.
  • Faculty training in hiring and inclusive practices are scheduled for this spring through the visits of Romney and Associates and the Posse Foundation.
  • We've started the hard long-term work of institutional change through the task forces (Alliance for an Inclusive Middlebury; Advisory Group on Disability and Inclusivity) and many other student and faculty organizations.

And, I shared where we still have much short-term and long-term work to do, including:

  • Making our classrooms more inclusive on an everyday basis.
  • Working toward better representation in campus events.
  • Making sure our orientations have a clear message about inclusivity.
  • Improving engagement across differences through new practices following a restorative justice model.

Leslie Harris Visit
In December, I mentioned that I hoped to bring Leslie Harris, associate professor of African American Studies at Emory University, to help think through these issues with the trustees. Leslie is a national expert on race and the university, and has written and lectured widely on these issues.

Leslie came to Middlebury this month, and we spent an afternoon together hearing about the larger contexts of higher education and the debates about diversity, including the important Fisher vs. Texas case currently before the United States Supreme Court. Middlebury has joined a number of other colleges in filing an amicus brief in support of the admissions policies of the University of Texas that promote diversity on college campuses.

Leslie also shared her experience in creating Emory's Transforming Community Project—a project that was funded by both the president’s office and the Ford Foundation. The project's key element was a community-wide, long-term conversation about Emory's racial history as well as an open embrace of small, focused conversations about many other issues of diversity.

I believe Middlebury is the kind of community that could embrace such a project with energy and wisdom, and we will be working with leaders on campus as well as with Leslie to move forward on our own efforts. This initiative is part of making inclusivity a key theme in our strategic planning process.

Signals of Support
I am greatly encouraged by the engagement and support we received from the trustees themselves last week.

  • Trustees spoke powerfully in support for the work we are doing, and their acknowledgement that there is still much more to do.
  • One trustee, upon hearing of the difficulty students on work-study programs can have participating in some courses with intensive schedules, created a fund to make it possible for them to reduce their work schedules for a time.
  • Another trustee offered a challenge gift of $50,000 to support diversity initiatives, which we hope will inspire other donors to give to our efforts. We are excited about this support and are consulting with a variety of people on campus to hear how they believe those funds could be put to best use.

Let me end by thanking everyone in the community for engaging with us in these discussions, and for their commitment to the long-term goals we share.

Yours cordially,

Laurie Patton

Office of the President

Old Chapel
9 Old Chapel Road
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753