group picture of alumni and students of color gathered in Atwater Hall for dinner

Thanks for a great Alumni of Color Weekend!
Save the date for Homecoming October 20–22, 2023 

Celebrating Alumni and Students of Color at Middlebury

Thank you for a joyous and insightful weekend! We were so glad to spend time with you and hope we can continue building community together.

Save the date for Homecoming October 20–22, 2023 when we will again celebrate alumni and students of color.

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Video Highlights

Alumni of Color Panel 2022

Trustees and Middlebury Alumni Association (MAA) Board members share points of pain and hope from their experiences as BIPOC students and later, alumni.

Meg Storey Groves:

All right. Welcome everyone. Try not to get back noise from all the mics that are on like that one. I’m Meg Storey Groves, AVP for Alumni and Parent Programs, and we are about to start the Alumni of Color Panel. We’re glad you’re here. We’re recording it and we are psych to see our remote panelist, Koby Altman, up there. And I’m just going to turn it over to David Ellis, Class of ‘09, who is the president of the Middlebury Alumni Association Board, otherwise known as MAA. Take it away, David.

David Ellis:

Thank you so much, Meg. Thank you everybody for being here. Welcome back. It’s so good to see all of you. Koby, thank you so much for joining us online. And for anybody else that’s joining online, thank you so much for being here. My name is David Ellis. I’m the president of the Alumni Association Board. I’m also a product marketing manager at Microsoft and graduating Class of 2009. So super happy to be here. First of all, I want to just thank everybody who was involved with planning this Alumni of Color weekend and this panel. So there are a couple people I want to just give a quick shout out to. So Jamal Davis, Class of 2011, Nia Robinson, Class of 2019, [inaudible 00:01:32] Gaiman, 2000… I’m sorry, Class of 2021.5, Ellie Thompson, Class of 2022, Carina Kinnaman, Class of ‘23, Hugo Euro, Class of ‘23, and Meg Storey Groves, Class ‘85, and Beth Connor, [inaudible 00:01:52] of 2012 until 2014. So quick round of applause for them, please.

We’ve been planning this for about a year now, so thank you to everybody. So want to take a moment to introduce our panelists. Thank you all so much for taking the time to be with us today. Really appreciate it. So Nia Robinson, I mentioned, Class of 2019. She’s a former SGA President and currently a creative strategist at XX Artists. Danny Zhang, Class of 2015, MAA Communications Liaison, former SGA Chief of Staff. He’s also a JD candidate at the Stanford Law School. Leilani Brown, Class of ‘93, a Middlebury trustee, author, and consultant. Also, my former boss. And so really, really happy to have you here.

And Mo Renganathan, MAA Nominating Chair and Group Manager, Google Media Lab. And lastly, Koby Altman. Thank you for joining us. Class 2004. He’s a Middlebury trustee and president of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thank you all so much for being here today. So I want to start us off and a couple of questions, and as I’m going through, I’m going to pause for questions from the audience so start to get your questions in mind. But number one, Nia, why don’t you kick us off and just tell us a little bit about yourself and your time at Middlebury?

Nia Robinson:

Cool. I may have to steal a little mic from one of you. Thank you. Hi, my name is Nia Robinson, Class of 2019. When I first graduated, I worked at a law firm and then I did some publishing. And now, I am where I am, a creative strategist. And I think my time at Middlebury really helped me make conscious decisions and have the resources to really, I think, pivot, buying people, and feel comfortable asking people what to do, and trust just because we have this common ground.

In my time at Middlebury, I did SGA. I was on BSU. I did poetry. I was a sociology major, which I probably should have said first. And so, I did a lot of random things, but I really appreciated being able to talk to different alums, different professors, and people just from everywhere. And so, I just really appreciate the vast environment we have here at Middlebury. Not only alums, but students too. And it’s just really cool to be able to come back and continue to grow that with the students who are here currently and just hearing their stories and everything. So Middlebury is a cool place. Yeah, that’s my answer.

Danny Zhang:

Hey, everybody. It’s very nice to be here. My name is Danny. I was born in China and grew up in Toronto, Canada. While at Middlebury, I was an art history and political science joint major and really found art history as a subject that I loved while I was here. It was not something that I thought that I was going to be doing coming in. And then somehow, I found a job in that field afterward as art salesman, essentially for Sotheby’s. So I was in New York for six years working in the art world before pivoting into law school about a year ago.

While at Middlebury, I was involved with student government. I worked at language tables. I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. I met lots of wonderful people through those activities and through my classes and dorms. And I think similar to probably everybody’s experiences here, it really transformed my life in a lot of ways. The fact that I got to come here was transformative. The education that I got here was very high quality. The relationships I built here continued to be some of the most meaningful in my life. So I would echo what Nia said and say that Middlebury is a cool place.

Leilani Brown:

Okay. So before we get started, I am getting a text message from the virtual audience. That’s how close our Class of 1993 is, but they can only see… Oh okay, great. Thanks, Sophie. My name is Leilani McClellan Brown. I’m Class of 1993. I was an international major, sociology, anthropology, and Spanish. And I came to Middlebury in 1989 and graduated in 1993. And I also serve on the board of trustees. After working for 30 plus years in corporate America in various roles including marketing leadership, I opened up my own consulting firm, Leilani Brown LLC, and provide strategy consulting. I’m also an author of a career advice guide. It’s available in the CCC Center for free for Middlebury students. I think that’s really, really important. But it’s called, “From Campus to Career: 25 Tips for Your First Professional Year.” Thank you.

David Ellis:

Awesome. Love it.

Mo:

Everybody, can you hear me? Mo Renganathan, Class of ‘96. I was a molecular biochemistry major and I do absolutely nothing related to that now. Worked in marketing at Google, I was also in the SGA as SGA President, similar to Nia. So SGA was actually a huge part of my life at Middlebury and was one of the places where I saw both the power of connection and also the power of the alumni body because of just the relationships that you have to build in order to do the job. The other thing that it was helpful for me in doing was creating those connections for after Middlebury.

And I will say that a lot of the mentorship that I received early in my career as well as connections that put me on the path that I’m in now happened because of those earlier relationships and the things that I learned in how to navigate that world. And I think that one of the biggest reasons I’m back here doing this and something that I think is really important is when we have privilege or have the ability to receive privilege, it’s really important to make sure to pay it forward. And I want to live that with that. So happy to be here.

David Ellis:

Thank you. And Koby, over to you.

Koby Altman:

Hey, guys. Thanks for having me. I feel like I’m looming in the background there over the panel. I don’t like that feeling, but I appreciate of being here. Middlebury Class of 2004, also a Posse scholar. I was Middlebury Posse 2, I believe. Yes, Middlebury Posse 2 and I think we’re in the twenties now with Posse, so that’s something that we’re really proud of as we grow. I’m on the board of trustees at Posse as well as the board of trustees at Middlebury so there’s a lot of synergy there. I had a wonderful experience at Middlebury. I was an athlete, played basketball. I was also a sociology major so there’s a lot of similarities there with my panelist.

I don’t know if that’s a coincidence or not, but I think the thing that really helped propel me and to this day, I say this, is Middlebury taught me to be an incredible writer. I just got really good at writing and making arguments and being very data-focused and driven, and being compelling in those arguments and articulate in ways that I had never been before. And I didn’t realize that I hated writing papers and I think I probably wrote about a thousand papers when I was in Middlebury, especially as a sociology major. And I realized that to this day, my job, I have to make arguments every day. And so, that went a long way. But incredible experience at Middlebury and I think that was probably my biggest takeaway of what I use today.

David Ellis:

Love it. Thank you all very much. So next question is, what do you wish you would’ve done differently while you were at Middlebury? What? Leilani, why don’t you kick us off?

Leilani Brown:

I’m staying this weekend at the Hadley House and it’s such a unique property and unique vista. And I was thinking to myself when I got up this morning because I’m getting up earlier and earlier these days, I don’t know why.

David Ellis:

You’re over 50.

Leilani Brown:

I am. Thank you, David. I am 51, but I’m waking up earlier and earlier and I was just struck and I can’t stop taking pictures of how beautiful Middlebury is and I don’t think that I fully appreciated it at the time. And that’s not so much about ignoring it or taking it for granted, but just slowing down a little bit to take it all in and be present. I think that we have a tendency, the collective, we have a tendency always to be racing towards the next thing. What COVID has given me as a gift or a silver lining is permission to slow it down just a beat or two and take it all in. So I wish I had done that more and I would advise everyone to do that a little bit more and be more present.

The other thing is, and I wouldn’t change a whole lot about my experience, but I wish I had really spent more time with more people. You find your people and I think that is great and you cultivate meaningful friendships and that’s great. I mean, we have a group chat. The class of, some members of the Class of ‘93 have a group chat that is epic. We’re looking forward to our 30th reunion. But there are people that I didn’t get the opportunity to meet and so I just wish I had taken in more and more and cultivated more and more friendships. So I don’t know if that’s what a practical reality or opportunity, but I would advise you to get to know as many people as possible and join as many tribes of people as possible as well.

David Ellis:

I love that. Let’s keep going down the line to Mo.

Mo:

I really like that. Join more tribes. Yeah. For me, one, I wish I’d taken art history and I think part of that is just more broadly, I wish I’d taken more risks there. I don’t want to ever lead life with regret. And so, this is an amazing opportunity at Middlebury to have your eyes open and stimulated by so many different things from clubs to people, to jumping off rocks and done more to whatever. And so, I wish I’d taken more risks and really taken advantage of everything that Middlebury had to offer. And art history, I would highly recommend it.

David Ellis:

I’m going to jump to Koby. What would you change or what would you have done differently during your time at Middlebury?

Koby Altman:

Yeah. So just to echo what Leilani said and Leilani, I would love to know, did you stay up in Middlebury this whole week? Because I know you were there for the board of trustees. So have you just been a lot of time in Middlebury? Okay, you went home.

Leilani Brown:

Yeah. I went home and I came back.

Koby Altman:

That’s a true alum right there like that.

Leilani Brown:

I am focused. If you ask me and I say yes, I can be counted on to do it, but I have to say yes.

Koby Altman:

That’s a real commitment and we’re lucky to have you, Leilani.

Leilani Brown:

Thank you.

Koby Altman:

I would echo what she said and just a little deeper. I think I’m so blessed to be able to travel the world and watch basketball, which is a dream, right? It’s a dream come true. And some of my best interactions are across the world and interacting with obviously different cultures and people from different countries. And when I was in Middlebury, I didn’t do that. And you were friends with international students. You were friendly, I should say, with international students, but you never went pretty deep. You didn’t make that, I didn’t make that connection and I don’t know why. I don’t know if there was a cultural difference. Certainly, I was coming from a cultural background, but maybe they were different and I couldn’t get there.

I don’t know why I didn’t have those relationships with international students. And they bring the most to the table when you think about, them coming from different countries, their cultures, their skill sets, and then those connections, those relationships will travel with you and you might see them in another country or you might visit them. And those are wonderful experiences. And I think that Middlebury and being such an internationally-focused school, there’s wonderful opportunities to create deep relationships with people from different countries. And I didn’t get enough out of that, I think, and that would be my message to current students now is make sure that you’re not losing those opportunities.

David Ellis:

Love that. That’s a great point. Danny? Sorry. Leilani, do you have something?

Leilani Brown:

I just wanted to add one other thing. One of the reasons why I suspect that each of us would not change a whole lot about our experiences is that we made our experiences what they were. We made them great. And to the extent that we couldn’t find what we were looking for, we created it and we drove that change. So being an active and involved student gives you some skin in the game and makes you part of the experience that you really want to have. A lot of times, students come to campuses and they have a romanticized version of what college is going to be. And to the extent that it didn’t live up to that so-called fantasy for many of us, we created the change that we wanted to see. So I think that’s also something special and different about Middlebury.

David Ellis:

Absolutely. Love that.

Leilani Brown:

Yeah.

David Ellis:

Danny, what were you?

Danny Zhang:

I agree with what Leilani just said. I think there’s a real buy-in in this community and everybody brings fresh perspectives. I think for me personally, I did do a lot of what Koby said that he wish he had done. I had come across a national border. Canada’s not very far, but there is a border and I got to take part in international orientation, had a host family here, made a lot of friends with international students who were coming from all over the world, got to study abroad, studied Spanish here. And I think I didn’t spend enough time locally getting to know the town and the state and the community that is here. And that is very special.

I think when I was at that age, I was looking very much outward. I knew Vermont was special. I enjoyed the occasional trips up to Burlington and the occasional trips into town. But I wish I had gotten myself more involved with the fabric of the town and contributed more to the community. I think a lot of the problems that we see in the world today is rooted in lack of trust or lack of relationships and lack of communication across difference. And I think one way that students can really root themselves and gain skills to address those issues is to get themselves involved in the local community here. It’s a bubble on campus. I think we all experience that to a certain extent and I think I wish I had more effort into breaking out of that bubble and getting to see what’s around.

David Ellis:

Love that. Nia, bring us home.

Nia Robinson:

And this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and I feel like for me, and this may deviate a little bit from what people have said, actually I would’ve done less because I did a lot of stuff. I just found myself in so many random places, which led me to SGA because I felt like I was able to connect with so many different people. But sometimes, I wish I was able to do things that were a bit more informal like have more fun. I’m very satisfied with my social life and what I did here, but I think it can go a long way just getting some food or some games and just having people hang out versus more of a production and what we were used to. And so, I think I would’ve done that and tried more… What’s the phrase? Throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. And so, I think I would’ve done that more in so many different ways.

And I feel like something we all agree on, especially when we first graduated, we said, “Wow. We don’t have access to space.” I moved to New York and we looked around and said, “We have all this space but it’s a million dollars to rent out whereas when we were at Middlebury, we could use any facility. We could do anything virtually.” Yeah, we could do anything we wanted to do. And I think I wish I had that mindset when I’d first started and I don’t have many regrets at all. I’m very grateful for my time at Middlebury, but what would it look like if I went in with the world really is my oyster because I’m here. So that’s my answer in short. And I definitely agree with what everyone has to say too. I always tell students like get out of town and get into town, get off of campus. There’s a whole world out here and Middlebury will help you see it. But sometimes, you have to look.

David Ellis:

Yeah. I think for me personally, I’m going to jump in on this one. I think I would’ve gotten, because you said you would’ve done less, I feel like I should have done more. I was so heavily focused on athletics and academics. I wish I had gotten involved with more clubs and that kind of thing during my time here. But before we jump to the next question, I just want to open it up to anybody online or in the audience. If you have any questions, put them in the chat. But does anyone have any questions for our panelists right now? Sebastian.

Speaker 10:

Hey guys. Hear me? Hello?

David Ellis:

Yep.

Speaker 10:

Sebastian Sanchez, Class of 2018. Just wanted to get real for a second here. I’m really curious to know what obstacles you faced at Middlebury and how did you overcome them? Did Middlebury help you or were you able to find that somewhere else?

Leilani Brown:

I mean, I’ll certainly start and I’ll try to keep this brief from offering some perspective. But as I say this, I’m also going to share an update and also surrounded with some comments. So many of us, we all lost. Middlebury lost an alumni two weeks ago. Jamida Orange, Class of 1991, passed away and her… And we are still processing the news so may she rest in power and peace. Jamida was from Atlanta and she was one of ten incoming freshmen in that year that were Black freshmen or people of color. One of ten and that joined, at that time in 1987, thirty students of color. That small but mighty group worked really hard to bring my class, which was an incoming class of 38 people of color into the school. Yesterday, I had dinner with a current student who told me that she doesn’t know by name, all the Black people on campus, and I was like, “Wow, that’s so different.”

I mentioned that because it’s hard to come of age, go into your college experience, be a fish out of water, and be a lonely and only. It’s just hard and we have to be really honest about that. But Middlebury has made great progress. We may not be exactly where we want to be, but they’ve made great progress. Ambassador Andrew Young spoke at Jamida’s funeral and he offered the story in this anecdote, and he said he had called then President Olin Robinson and said, “I have a bright, young woman that you should meet.” And he came back to Jamida. We call her “OJ” affectionately. He says, “Well, if you can do hard work, withstand the cold, and a whole lot of white people, I might have a school for you. A whole lot of white folks, I might have a school for you.” And so, I think that’s still a really accurate description.

But I think that, so the [inaudible 00:24:12] were being different and at a time in your life I think where it’s critically important for you to fit in and you’re trying to find your place. I think to take it back to where we were and we were all on a different line on the spectrum of confidence. Some of us are overly confident. That’s my cross to bear, but then there are others that are trying to find their way. And so, that’s an obstacle. So that’s why I would offer the strategy to overcome, not that obstacle, to get involved, get to know more people. You might find more points of connection than difference than you originally think certainly at 18 years old. But it was hard to be a student of an isolated or different student coming from Queens, New York into this rural, cold environment in Vermont. It made the transition to college, which is already difficult, more difficult and more challenging for me personally. But still a great overall, in retrospect, a great experience and I wouldn’t change much of it.

Nia Robinson:

Yeah. I think going off of that, it was really hard not being seen. From the moment I got here, I had a lot to say. I’ve always had a lot to say. And it was so interesting because I remember talking with my friend about being here and saying, “Yeah. Something’s off. I don’t really know what.” And she said, “Well, I haven’t experienced that yet, so keep that to yourself.” And then she comes back to me a few weeks later and it’s like, “I see what you mean. I definitely do see what you mean.” And I was lucky because I had Posse and I think that was also another challenging aspect of how do we bring more students in who don’t have this built-in structure that I’m very fortunate to have, whatever challenges came with that.

But something I hear so many times is it’s just really hard not being seen in a place where you’re paying all of this money and you’re putting all this time and energy and you’re just still not seen. And I think for me, one way I overcame it is something I learned at a very young age as you either find a way or make one. And I think for some people that’s transferring, for some people that’s focusing in on your community and putting your resources and energy there. But I think when I talk to students now, there was a quote at the play yesterday, “What if we could do more than survive?” And I think for people who went through Middlebury and didn’t really have to have those conversations or didn’t really have to think about anything other than their education and their friend group and things like that, what would it look like? Just what could it look like and what could it be?

And things have changed a lot since I’ve been here. When I walk around, I’m like, “Whoa. There are a lot of people of color here compared to when I was here and there are so many strides.” But how do we make sure that they are enthusiastic about coming back? How do we make sure that they are not doing things out of obligation or out of making sure that other students haven’t dealt with what they deal with, but out of a place of, “I’m going to spend time with my friends in this community, in this beautiful place, and that’s all it is.”? We can’t delete racism from Middlebury because it is part of the world. But I think it has been really great to talk with people about how we do what we can to make it what it could be.

Leilani Brown:

Can I add one more thing? I think it’s really important to specify the angst, right? So is this normal or is this really specific to Middlebury? Or would I be feeling, would I miss home if I was in Hawaii or if I was in Middlebury, if I was right down the street, would I be overwhelmed if I was having this experience at any other college? And what is specifically a Middlebury obstacle because some things are just part of the experience? I’ve served on boards at independent schools, K-8, and there’s always a complaint about the lunch. It’s always a complaint about the lunch.

And as a public school, a New York City public school kid, I’m like, “Isn’t lunch supposed to be bad?” There’s almost a rite of passage about complaining about certain things. And I feel like it’s important that we prioritize those protests and we specify the angst, and we get really clear and focus our energy on the things that are just deplorable. But some of that, what are supposed to be what? So it’s just really getting specific about what is it that’s troubling you and parsing that out, talking about it with your friends, counselors, your community. I think that’s really, really important. Some people are having the time of their lives and they’re like, “I don’t know about you, Danny, but this is fine to me.”

Mo:

Yeah. I mean, one of the things that struck me about what Nia and Leilani were saying and from an obstacle perspective, I think there were lots of them. Lots of little ones, lots of big ones. I was a science major. I also loved French, couldn’t study abroad. Not an obstacle I overcame until I graduated and then I worked abroad. But one thing that I learned and this is, we’re probably similar in this way, I may put myself out there with everyone kind of person. And the thing that Middlebury taught me was that both for really important mental health things to talk to people, connect with people on those. But then also, the other things you’re just trying to work through, put it out in the universe because you know what? If you feel like you have a trusting environment that you’re in, people are going to make connections.

People are going to try to help you. Middlebury is such a nurturing place for a lot of people and if you don’t feel like the macro is nurturing, hopefully, you’ve found at least a tribe that you feel like you can trust and put things out there. I mean, I tell that to my kids today. Just if you’re having a problem, put it out there because someone else might be having it too or might have solved it, and or they can help you or they know someone who can help you. And so for me, it takes different personalities, but I think making sure that you’re taking advantage of the connections for both small and big ways.

David Ellis:

Thank you. I’m actually going to keep us moving. Koby, I know you have to jump in a few minutes here, so appreciate you being with us. But as a result of that, I’m going to have to ask you two questions at once. So number one, why do you stay involved? Why do you volunteer in Middlebury? And number two, if you could just give some words of advice for students, I’d appreciate it.

Koby Altman:

Thank you. I think Middlebury gave me so much that I think one of the panelists use, “You play it forward.” I think it’s a great line to use, but I love being involved. You miss it. As you get further and further away from Middlebury, you miss it. You miss it and you miss the relationships. You miss the mountains. You miss the cold a little bit even though I’m in Cleveland, Ohio, which is pretty damn cold. But there’s something magical about that place. And when they asked you to come back to help, it’s almost, it’s an honor. And so, it’s that.

I also, in our professions, you also get a way from talented young students. And so, those relationships create energy for you. And so when a Middlebury student reaches out via email or calls or when I’m on campus and they want to interface about, “Man, what should I do next? I’m really passionate about this, but I have this really, really big time job that’s coming up that’s going to pay me a lot of money, but I really want to do this.” And you give them insight on your career path. And I always say, “Pick passion before money.” The money’s going to be there, especially with the Middlebury education, but it’s those things that just keep pulling you back in.

And so for me, it’s just a wonderful honor and privilege to be on the board, but also work with Erin Quinn at the athletic department and all the wonderful students we have coming up. We have so much young talent coming through Middlebury now that has such great skill sets to help the world be a better place. And so, it’s our job to at least have a small part to help them in their journey. So I’m thrilled to be still a part of the Middlebury community. And I was in Boston last night. I’m sorry, it’s the Boston Celtics fans. We beat the Celtics in overtime last night. I had to throw that out there. But the night before, I had a wonderful dinner with my Middlebury buddies in Boston. We had a wonderful sushi dinner and we just had great fun talking about nothing but our time on campus. So it’s wonderful to carry the Middlebury flag wherever I go. And that’s a big part of who I am. And the second question… I’m sorry I forgot. I went down a path of Middlebury.

David Ellis:

Last words of advice you would have for students.

Koby Altman:

For students, I think it’s just a tangible thing of when you go for a job interview and it’s a place that you really want to see yourself at, don’t be afraid to tell that interviewer or that employer, look them in the eye and say, “Look, this is a place I really want to be.” And I think it’s a meaningful thing to say. I think people forget that in interviews. They think they have to, I mean, you have to wow them with your resume, with your skill set. You want to go in there with a great attitude and positivity. But at the end of the day, after that interview’s concluding, it’s okay for you to put yourself out there and say, “Look, I really appreciate this interview. This is a place I would love to be.” And I think that goes a long way.

And I think as we’re given all this other advice, I think at the end of the day, we want to give you advice to be able to get the job you really want and succeed in that job. We all love what we do and if you love what you do, you’re going to be a tremendous citizen for this country. And so, it’s okay to put yourself out there and look someone in the eye and say, “I really want to be here.” And I’m telling, when I hear that, I’m like, “I want that person. I want that person to be in this organization. I can tell they really want to be in Cleveland. They want to be a part of this mission.” And if the skill sets are the same, I’m going with that person that looked me in the eye and say, “I really want to be there.” So that’s just a tangible piece of evidence or advice when you’re in a job interview of a position you really want. Put yourself out there and say, “I want to be here.”

David Ellis:

Really love that. Thank you so much, Koby. That’s some great advice. So thank you so much for being here. Quick round of applause for Koby.

Koby Altman:

Thank you so much. Thank you guys. I appreciate it. I will kick off the line now. Thanks so much. I’ll hope to be up there in the spring.

David Ellis:

Sounds good. Can’t wait.

Koby Altman:

Thank you.

David Ellis:

Thank you. All right. So why don’t we turn that question over to our panels actually. So why do you stay involved? Why do you volunteer? We have a board of trustee member here. We have MAA folks here. Nia helping out to plan this event. So Danny, why don’t you kick us off?

Danny Zhang:

Yeah, absolutely. So earlier, I said that Middlebury was really transformative in my life, looking back on the opportunities I had. So two ways in which it was specifically transformative. One was just financially. My family would not have been able to pay full sticker to come here even in 10 years ago when it was significantly cheaper. As I found out yesterday, the sticker price at that point was a huge number for my family, and Middlebury was the place that gave me the most generous financial aid and over six figures in total.

So that kind of opportunity is just rare to come by in the world, and I want to help provide that for students who are coming up the pipeline now who are exceptionally talented and deserve those opportunities. Another way in which Middlebury was transformative for me was the alumni network. When I was a student here, when I reached out to alums, they were always happy to talk to me. That’s how I found out about Sotheby’s, about the art world. Professors connected me to alums working in that field and it launched me on this great career. And so, that I think is why I stay involved with the MAA board, being a class agent, being a mentor on mid to mid. I think for me, it’s all about paying it forward.

David Ellis:

Yeah. How about you?

Nia Robinson:

So I think from an involvement stand, I care. And I think that’s something that won’t change. And I think similar to what you’re saying, when I was a student, I was always excited when alums would come back. I’ve benefited tremendously from my relationships with alums. I think also too, I’m very early in my career in my life, and there’s not much I can do in terms of… That’s not true, right? I give, help someone get a job. So there is something I can do. But I think it goes a long way knowing that somebody cares about you who doesn’t have to. And mentorship is something that’s really important to me, especially from a young age.

And I think it just makes a difference and it can be easier being here knowing that there are people who’ve moved through this place and who are successful, and what I’m experiencing is not new and it’s not unique. And sometimes, that can be like, “Oh, I wish some problems would go away.” But then other times, it’s like, “I know I can make it. I know I can do it.” And I think if I could… Do I answer the second one now? Okay. Yeah. So just that. You’ll see me around, whether it’s in an informal or formal capacity. Again, I think I want to be here and I want people to want to be here. And that’s important to me to do whatever I can to make sure that people feel that way.

David Ellis:

Mo?

Mo:

So there’s a family member of mine who went to Middlebury and had a very, very negative experience and this person actually is from Vermont. And it’s really interesting for me. One, completely don’t understand, but two, I want to understand because I don’t want anyone to ever leave this place feeling so negatively towards the place and the experience that she had here. Because for me, part of the reason I stay involved is because it just brings me so much of joy to and I realize why that is. I think one of the things that I received, similar to what Nia was saying and I think I said earlier, is with the people and connections that you make, especially with the alumni network, trustees if you have that opportunity, and even professors, administrators, staff, is that you get a sense of sponsorship where people are willing to give you time.

People are willing to give you maybe some endorsement. They believe in you and they’re, in some cases, willing to expend some capital, social capital, introduce you to their network, their friends. And the extent to which of that is motivating is unbelievable because you take a little bit of imposter syndrome, a little bit of doubt, and passion or interest, but you’re not sure. And just to have someone who feels like has your back and also will help you in front as well, I want to be that for someone. And that’s something and for as many people as I can and something as really powerful. It’s really emotional and I think it’s also transformative.

David Ellis:

Leilani, take your time.

Leilani Brown:

I’ll answer it with two reasons. One, certainly I and a whole lot of other people would’ve come to Middlebury, graduate… Gone to any other school, graduated, and done just fine. Just fine. But I’d say Middlebury, for me, cultivated a sense of curiosity, created a network, gave me a different view of the world, enhanced confidence. So many different things that the arc of opportunities, arc of my career trajectory, my entire life really was infinitely better, significantly better, had I not go have as a result of going to Middlebury. And I am very grateful for that experience and what it has done for me and quite frankly, for my family. So I feel debt of service and gratitude.

The other reason why I stay involved is because we’re not finished. There’s more work to do and we’ve done a lot of work, but we’re not going to go halfway or a third of the way. I don’t know how far away we are, but we have more work to do and who else better to do it than us? And then me. So I’m still in the work. And so when I’m sitting in the boardroom, I’m proud of how far we’ve come, but I’m also proud of being part of a team that’s architecting the future and building and strategizing for the future of Middlebury. And I think that’s really, really, really important.

Danny Zhang:

Can I just add one more thing really quickly? I think one other reason why I stay involved is I get to meet alums from different generations. That has been an extraordinarily rewarding experience. I love my friends from the Class of 2015 and ‘16 and ‘17 and that’s great, but I didn’t have the chance to meet people like Leilani and Mo and everyone on the MAA board who’s here, who had maybe very different Middlebury experiences from mine. But talking to them, one, they’re just all very interesting people. And two, it makes me feel a part of something greater than myself, that we’re all connected to this place even though we come from very different backgrounds, had very different experiences here. But the magic of Middlebury binds us together and that’s been really rewarding in a way that I didn’t quite expect.

David Ellis:

Yeah. I love those responses and they also really resonate with me. I guess, Leilani, what you said just about feeling of debt, I guess when I came here, I felt very blessed for the opportunity. And Danny, you mentioned connections. I’m not sure if I would’ve met Leilani if it weren’t for Middlebury and she single-handedly changed my life. I’m not even kidding.

Leilani Brown:

Don’t make me cry.

Nia Robinson:

It’s early.

David Ellis:

So both of those responses really resonated with me. So we’re getting close today in here. I only have a couple questions left. Any questions from the audience before we move on? I want to make sure. In that case, could you just quickly touch on how has Middlebury helped you throughout your career? Maybe a quick bit and each because I want to get to your final words of advice, but talk about how Middlebury has helped you throughout your career. Nia, why don’t you kick us off?

Nia Robinson:

Yeah. So I mentioned earlier, I originally worked at a law firm and when I decided law wasn’t my plan anymore, I did this whole journey of informational interviews. I talked to at least 100 to 150 people. I talked to a lot of people. And I think then, I found the publishing agency and I worked in publishing for a bit but it didn’t matter what I was doing, when I was doing it, who I was doing it with. I knew I had a safety net in terms of I need to make a pivot and I don’t really know much, but I know a lot of people who know more than I do. And so, I think that took me very far. I think now I’m very confident in where I am and the path that I’m on. And it’s just really nice to know that opportunity will never leave. I think that’s something, going back to why I’m still involved, that’s something I want more people to feel and understand and pay it forward. And I think for me, Middlebury has given me the confidence and the bravery to keep going forward.

Danny Zhang:

I think there are the really tangible things I can point to. Professor Sue wrote letters of rec for law school for me. I had a boss, who at Sotheby’s, was an alum from the 80s. But I think more importantly, there are just a lot of skills that I’ve gained here through my education. I think Koby mentioned writing skills, communication skills, teamwork skills, and I’d lean on those every single day. I did at Sotheby’s and I do now at law school.

Leilani Brown:

I think the world will tell you that one of the things that you need in your career is resilience and grit. And certainly, it’s helpful but they can work against you. Being resilient and being gritty can sometimes give you the thought that you should stay in a place a little bit longer than you need to. And that’s not always good. I think what Middlebury gave me to counter that was agility. And I think increasingly, we are learning that we need to be agile not only in our learning styles and where we work, but how we work. If COVID has taught us nothing, it’s the need to really be agile and think about career and opportunity and possibility differently. So I’m very grateful for that. I’ve had a corporate career. I now have a career as an entrepreneur. I’m an author. I’m a self-published author. That was different. I’m a parent. I’m a lot of different things. And so, they gave me agility. Middlebury gave me agility that serves me very, very well today.

Mo:

I’m not all of those things, but I aspire to be.

Leilani Brown:

You might want to turn one or two down.

Mo:

Yeah. Similar to I think what everyone has said. For me, one thing that Middlebury really taught me was, from a broad perspective, communication. On one side, it’s how to code switch and be effective code switching because there’s so many different communities, whether it’s in your academic side, whether it’s with your one friend group, another friend group, your SGA group, different people that you’re connecting with all the time. And there are ways to code switch. Code switch could be good or bad, but you need to try to effectively navigate these different communities that you’re part of to get the most out of them.

And on the other side, being a science person, I was just steeped in data, which is a big thing now. But at the time, it was, I didn’t realize I was learning some trade skills on not just what questions asked, but the right questions to ask because when everyone who comes here is I would expect to be pretty curious and pretty open-minded and interested to learn. That’s a liberal arts thing. But what Middlebury helped me refine was how to identify the right questions to ask because then, that helps you get to where you want to go.

David Ellis:

Coming back to you, Mo.

Mo:

Oh great.

David Ellis:

Yeah. So last question. What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Mo:

Okay. I’m going to go for two real quick.

David Ellis:

Okay. Go for it.

Mo:

I know we’re at the end. The first is your career is not a ladder, it’s a jungle gym. So as you think about any step you’re taking, it may not necessarily be to an end directly. And also, you may not know what the end is and that’s okay. So I really like that metaphor and I’ve just always applied it when I’ve come to crossroads. The other one is about making decisions. I actually have a former trustee and alum who is a mentor of mine. I was at a crossroads and I was trying to make a decision. Do I go to B school or do I go study or do I go work in Paris? And he said, “What will the future do you look back on and regret?” And so that pre-visioning, and I think that’s what it’s called, is such a powerful thing because I knew instantly what it was that I had to do.

David Ellis:

And Leilani?

Leilani Brown:

Relationships matter because people do business with people they like and they give the benefit of the doubt to people they like when they mess up and you will mess up, and they advocate for people they like and they promote and look for opportunities for people they like. People do business with people they like. Relationships matter.

Danny Zhang:

I’m also going to share two very brief pieces of advice from two different mentors at Sotheby’s who are real advocates for me and that was part of why I stayed for so long. The first was just the moments in which you’re feeling like you really don’t know what you’re doing is probably where you should be. I was on a very small team where we were all hands on deck all the time and I, as the most junior person, was often asked to do things that I felt was out of my comfort zone. And my boss at the time was like, “That’s exactly where you should be because that’s where the learning happens.”

And the second piece of advice came from when I told my last boss at Sotheby’s that I was leaving to go to law school, which I was just really scared to have that conversation because I feel like he had given me a lot and that we were all part of a work family together. And he said, “Danny, this is just a job and what you’re doing, you need to do for yourself and that’s great. And just always remember that whatever you are doing at work is just a job and there’s a lot more to life than just that.”

David Ellis:

How about Nia?

Nia Robinson:

Cool. I would say my first one is, and an alum told me this when I was doing all those interviews. He said any… What did he say? Now, I just forgot it. He was just saying that all of your experience, any experience is experience. It can go on your resume and you can talk about it. If you learn from it and you’re able to grow, you can use it as a point of reference. And then I think another thing is life really does come at you fast. And I think we saw that with the pandemic and really just making sure that you’re ready. Whether it’s your documents, if you’re trying to leave your job, no any sense of the word, just make sure you’re ready.

And I think networking up, downside, not really treating people as stepping stones. I think, echoing relationships matter, we are people in the world who have more to do than work and network and all these things. And you’ll get much further if you really care about the people you interact with. You don’t have to like them I guess, but really just we have so much going on. Just I would tell students that in a career sense, when you turn around, you also want to be happy with how you did everything you did.

David Ellis:

We are right out of time. Are there any last questions for the panelists? All right. I just want to say thank you all so much for taking the time to be here with us today. It has been an absolute pleasure and appreciate all of the words of advice and wisdom. So thank you so much.

In Conversation with Khuram Hussain and Leilani Brown ’93

A welcome from President Patton and conversation with Khuram Hussain, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion, and Middlebury trustee Leilani Brown ’93.

David Ellis:

My name is David Ellis. I’m from the class of 2009. I’m also the president of the Middlebury Alumni Association. Woo, woo. So happy to see all of you here. I have the pleasure of introducing our panel for this evening, who you might already know. So Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury College. She’s been president for 17 years and just-

Laurie Patton:

Seven.

David Ellis:

Seven years, sorry. Wishful thinking. Wishful thinking. And just an amazing partner for the Alumni Association board and helping us put all this together. So thank you so much, Laurie, for all that you do. Khuram Hussain, who just started in July. We are so excited to have him. He is the VP of Equity and Inclusion. So yes, please give him a warm welcome. So happy to have him here.

And Leilani Brown. Oh my heart, my soul. I absolutely love Leilani. She is an amazing woman. If you haven’t had a chance to meet her, please spend some time with her. She is absolutely incredible. As I mentioned earlier, she has singlehandedly changed my life and I love you too. And yeah, it has been an absolute blessing to have her as a friend in my life. Leilani is an author. She is also a consultant. She’s the former chief marketing officer of Starr Companies, where I had the honor of working with her directly. So yeah, please join me in welcoming our amazing panel for this evening. Thank you.

Laurie Patton:

Thank you, David. Let’s give a hand to David Ellis. This is your first rodeo, right? Okay, even better. It’s  wonderful. And I believe our past president is here with us too, Janine Hetherington. Very cool. So it is incredibly exciting to be with all of you tonight. What I thought I’d do initially is just share a little bit about all the work that we’re doing at Middlebury today. And some of you haven’t been to Middlebury for a while, others of you just graduated and others of you are still here. So it’s really wonderful to have such a wide range of folks. Some of you may know about this work, others of you, this may be new. And then when I’m done sharing cool stuff, I’m going to then interview a cool person, which is Khuram, and you can get to know him a little bit better. And he is very eager to connect with alums. I had to drag him away from a conversation so he could get on the stage tonight.

First of all, some of you may or may not know, but we have just started, in 2019 in the fall, a Black Studies program of study, which is both a major and a minor. And it will graduate… Well, it actually, excuse me, celebrated the commencement of its first graduate in 2021, which is very cool. So it’s also our program, and the course of study is also an important part of our fundraising campaign, which is now in its leadership, or quiet, phase. And we have already raised funds of two million for our activities as well as four million for professorships in this area. And we’re real excited to begin to focus all across the curriculum in this area. We actually have 48 courses that look at political and social movements and legacies of enslavement and colonialism, intersection of race and other aspects of identity and contributing faculty from 10 different departments, including film and media, history, music, theater, studio arts, ed studies, American Studies, Luso-Hispanic, German, and Arabic.

It’s the centerpiece of our efforts to fundraise, we have four pillars of academic excellence in the fundraising campaign and one of them is cross-cultural fluency. And Black Studies at the college is where we are focusing pretty much exclusively on that pillar in Black Studies. And the other thing that I want to say about the program, which is really vibrant, is it’s interdisciplinary by design and it explores the Black diaspora and the intellectual and cultural and scientific contributions from all across the Black diaspora.

We also want to say that our students have played an incredibly important role in shaping this program and also in helping us to think about how we address cross-cultural fluency in this area. They’ve challenged us. Those of you who’ve been with us, those of you haven’t been with us for a while, know that the students challenge us every day to make sure that we guarantee equal access to the full Middlebury experience, to broaden our understanding of accessibility and gender identification and inclusivity as well as ableism, systemic racism, all the work that we need to do today to make the world better. We are really excited about the kind of collaboration that we have with students at Midd.

I also wanted to give you some really interesting statistics around where we are as well as frameworks and practices of where we are. So action begins with leadership, in my view. My senior leadership team— it’s very important that we reflect the diversity of our country and student body. So 40 percent of our senior leaders are members who identify as BIPOC, as well as trustees, the Board of Trustees, when I say it’s a most diverse board in Vermont, that is a really low bar, but we are in fact 30 percent diverse. Thirty percent of our board identifies as BIPOC as well, which is a really big change. There was one person on the board when I got there. So really exciting to see that.

We also have a new framework for hiring and recruitment implemented in fall 2019. All applications for faculty positions have been required to make a statement on inclusive practices and have been assessed on their ability to support a culturally diverse student body. All faculty who serve on search committees complete a series of workshops during the fall semester that provide concrete strategies for evaluating cultural competence and ensuring equity in the application review and interview process, and to work with our OIDEI, what we call our OIDEI office, which is the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which is where Khuram is heading. And over the last four years, 148 faculty from 35 academic departments or programs, that means almost all of the departments and programs, have participated in these workshops.

We also are funding through our faculty support program any department who is committed to changing its practices around equity and inclusion in the curriculum. We’ve funded about 10 departments so far, and we are hoping to fund at least 10 or 20 more this year and next year as they think about redoing their curriculum. Also our commitment to anti-racism recruitment practices goes beyond our faculty. In addition to the longstanding partnership with Posse Scholars, we have some Posse grads here in this room. Woo. Posse love, everybody. We are really committed to providing equitable access for DACA and undocumented students more broadly. And we have established new partnership with a program such as QuestBridge. QuestBridge is our new partner. They are equally focused on bringing students from a wide variety of backgrounds to liberal arts colleges and have had incredible success. These collaborations have really allowed us to reduce barriers that have historically limited college access for first-gen, low-income, immigrant and BIPOC students.

So I wanted to share a little bit based on those partnerships, some numbers with you. In 2015, our Pell Grant eligible students were at 11 percent. Today they are at 22 percent. We’ve doubled them in just seven years. In 2015 we had 41 percent students on financial aid at student funding. This year’s incoming class is 54 percent. Same with first-gen. I love this statistic. First-gen students in 2015 was 9 percent. This year it was 21 percent of the whole class. Then students of color when started, 22%. This year is 39 percent domestic students of color. So we have found excellence everywhere across the country and we are building excellence in so many different ways by the commitment to diversity and equity that we have.

We also understand that those numbers are all great, and the key thing is to make sure that our students are supported on campus once they get here. We want to make sure that our campus environment continues to be welcoming and inclusive. That’s a lot of ongoing work, a lot of joyful work. And I wanted to share some of the things that we put in place. Again, in the fall of 2019, we developed a program at the OIDEI office called the Inclusive Practitioners Program, which provides a lot of opportunities for faculty and staff to engage in critical conversations about how to create inclusive campus learning environments. So the program offers 15 to 20 workshops each semester for different learning tracks, including 10 workshops in the anti-racism as an everyday practice track. And they really focus on skill-building around topics ranging from recognizing and responding to microaggressions, to managing the dynamics of power and privilege. And over the last four years, the total attendance by faculty/staff across all of our workshops has been 1500 students and faculty and staff.

Also, we want to build a culture around restorative practices, which is a way of everyone being able to take responsibility for conflict and the harm that can be done in community. Because to be in community inevitably involves harm in some way or other. And how do we build relationship through those difficult moments? So we have trained a number of different campus populations in restorative practices, including an identity conscious supervision workshop series that helps managers understand, and our staff, the way that race and ethnicity and gender and sexuality, ableism and other aspects of identity can affect employees’ experience in the workplace. Almost 60 supervisors in the managerial world at Middlebury have undergone this workshop.

We also have encouraged and established the use of restorative justice approaches to respond to interpersonal harm, which includes Bias Institute and many of the restorative practices steering committee have facilitated restorative circles and conferences that involve students, staff, and faculty both to respond to harms that have occurred within athletic teams, classrooms, student organizations, and they’ve also organized campus-wide conversations in the wake of tough moments in our community. We are also offering a workshop on taking accountability for harm by learning how to structure an apology designed to acknowledge impact and repair relationships. This is a big piece of our ongoing work also in conflict transformation, which I can talk about in a sec. These are just some of the things that we are trying to continue to build and deepen as we think about the work of equity inclusion as an everyday practice where everyone is connected. And I’m incredibly excited about the work that we have been doing as well as will continue to deepen with your help as well as all the folks here on the platform with me.

I also wanted to share a little bit about our four fluencies, which are the four ways that we think a liberal arts and science education should be conducted in the 21st century and ways in which Middlebury is uniquely equipped to lead in this area. One is data fluency and we have a great initiative we call MiddData, which integrates data science across the curriculum including ways of interpreting data, criticizing data, building data sets and so on. And we have this summer offered a pilot credit course called Introduction to Data to 15 incoming first year students. And we’re real excited about making sure that people from historically underrepresented groups are included and have access in this field, and that pilot is geared to just that. The result is exactly what we hoped it would be. We developed a set, very Middlebury, of rich and rewarding relationships between faculty and students. Student projects were awesome and they started Middlebury with an extra college credit to fall back on.

The next fluency: environmental fluency. And we have been developing a strong social justice component. Is Megan still here? Megan, where did she go? Megan Brakeley is one of the major drivers of this for our college and she’s been working with the environmental council as well as students, faculty and staff to really make sure that we think about environmental justice work at home as well as between North and South, thinking about the payment that oppressed groups normally make for environmental harm and ways of writing that wrong. So it’s really exciting work and we’re continuing to work with scholars like Carolyn Finney, whose life work is around that area.

Another area of focus, in addition to the cultural fluency that I mentioned in the earlier part, is conflict transformation. And that’s the ability to work across difference and through conflict. We just received a $25 million grant to train everyone in those restorative practices coming to terms with their own conflict and being responsible. The idea in conflict transformation is that conflict will always be with us. Our job is to make it productive and to study its structure and its deep causes as well as its most immediate cause. So there’s a lot in common with the anti-racism work that we’ve been doing. We are real excited about this as a grant. And you could go to our website, just Google “conflict transformation in Middlebury” and you’ll see it coming up.

The other thing that is really important about the student experience is we’ve put into place a lot of peer mentoring, whether that’s through the Posse program, the first-gen program, as well as faculty and training and accountability for classroom experience, such as the Engaged Listening Project, which is part of our conflict mediation that trains faculty to manage and respect identity in difficult conversations. There’s PALANA House where students of color gather. We just inaugurated Prism, which is the first LGBTQ house that has existed on campus. We’re incredibly excited about it, and we’re developing alumni connections to that as well. It’s just being renovated now and will open very soon. To AGDAI, which is the Advisory Group on Disability, Access, and Inclusion. So every single big renovation that we’ve done in the last five years, whether that’s Munroe, Dana, Warner or Johnson, have been renovated to focus on universal access so that no one person feels that they have to go through a special door or have a special experience when they are entering or using the building.

So these are just some of the things that we’re doing. As you can tell, this is a deep passion for me. I absolutely love this work and I am now going to turn it to feature someone else entirely. I’d love to answer any questions you might have maybe after the event this evening or one on one. But I want to turn now to the cool person of the day. Two cool people. So this is Khuram Hussain everyone. I want to tell you a little bit about him and then I’m going to talk to him a little bit. He has deep experience as an administrator and scholar and educator. Khuram came to us from Hobart and William Smith Colleges where he was an associate professor of education there as well as a VP for diversity equity inclusion. Before that he was dean of students. And before that he was a community organizer and a third grade teacher. So he is really awesome.

He’s already had an incredible impact in the few months he’s been here, particularly working on the work that Miguel Fernández did during his seven years as our chief diversity officer. He’s a member of my senior leadership team and he heads the OIDEI office that I just shared more with you about. And he’s directing our action plan for anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion. That’s something that I didn’t mention earlier, but just go on the website and Google “strategic plan” or “action plan for DEI” and you will see all the work and our goals for every year, which is also really exciting. His first day was doing a huge workshop for our language schools. So he also serves our graduate schools and our Monterey campus.

Our search committee was really impressed with Khuram’s expertise on inclusion and equity issues, his ability to implement a vision with conviction and compassion, his commitment to liberal learning, his work across so many different aspects of what we are excited about the work we’re doing at Middlebury. He has a PhD in the Cultural Foundations of Education from Syracuse. He has a master’s in American history and a bachelor’s in American history and political science from Oswego University. So he is a total northern New York kind of guy. You’re going to hear more about his scholarly expertise, which is on the history of Black movements and Black publishing in the United States. But I am now going to turn to you. Hi.

Khuram Hussain:

Hello.

Laurie Patton:

It’s so good to see you.

Khuram Hussain:

Always good to see you.

Laurie Patton:

Yeah, you’re not on, I don’t think your microphone is on.

Khuram Hussain:

Hi Laurie.

Laurie Patton:

Oh, that’s better. Hi. Okay. Hi Leilani.

Leilani Brown:

Hi.

Laurie Patton:

I’m so happy to see you too.

Leilani Brown:

Hey y’all.

Laurie Patton:

Okay, so Khuram, the first thing that we knew about you was how much you loved your own community. So every time the person who was our search firm tried to get Khuram on the phone, he ignored the call and he ignored the call the whole time. He’s known in the search firm biz for ignoring headhunters’ calls. So we knew something about Khuram immediately, which is that he really loved where he worked. So it was going to be a very tough sell, but we knew we were excited about you and your possibilities. And what really struck us from the beginning was your deep love of creating community and of being in community. So I’d love if we could start there and share a little bit about how that grew for you from childhood to now. What is it about community that makes you come alive?

Khuram Hussain:

I love the way you asked that question. So I grew up in a community that looked a lot like Middlebury, just on the other side of the Adirondacks. Just as cold, just as snowy, just as predominantly white. More so actually. And I think for me it was really interesting at a very early age translating my existence, and whether that was the food I ate or the way that I prayed or the way that I looked or the way you say my name. So a lot of the ways in which I had to learn early on about being a part of a community was being really deliberate at the age of seven. I didn’t call it that, I just called it existing because I didn’t know that it was anything else.

Something interesting happened eventually, this took a while and there were definitely some ups and downs, but it was really empowering to realize that most people that appear to be in a community just happen by circumstance to exist or coexist. And those are true forms of clustering of humans, not just in residential communities but also in workplaces, also in learning spaces. So I didn’t realize I had actually been honing in on a power, that being connective and trying to get people to talk to each other across difference was actually going to be an asset to people that weren’t accustomed to building community intentionally.

So now I think about community as an intentional act, a purposeful act. For instance, I want to just thank our food servers for allowing us to be in community today. Can we just give them a round of applause for taking good care of us? Also, I promise you if you were up here talking, I would be eating and I wouldn’t feel guilty about it one bit. So please eat. That’s also a part of building community. So with that, I would just say that that’s how I look at the work. When I look at departments, when I look at staff, when I look at students, I already enter those conversations with the assumption that there’s somebody that needs to know somebody else better. There’s a relationship here that is incomplete and that I get to be a part of making that story more complete and that we have more power in doing that than just about anything else.

Laurie Patton:

And you have a great story about eating when you were little.

Khuram Hussain:

Oh yeah. I think every Muslim kid has done this, right? Because we’re told not to eat gelatin or pork, but then that became an inroad to telling teachers that didn’t know any better what else you didn’t want to eat. I’m only allowed to eat pizza today. And so it can be used for selfish purposes.

Laurie Patton:

Yes. I want to know when do you stop doing that or whether you might be still doing that?

Khuram Hussain:

I’m pretty sure my son is doing it, so I passed it on.

Laurie Patton:

That’s great. So your scholarly background is really interesting. You study both the history of the Black press and the history of Black movements in the United States and the power of civil rights. And I’d love to hear a little more about the book you’re working on and how you connect your scholarship with your equity inclusion work and how those two things are linked for you. Because they’re two different kinds of activities. One is sort of solitary, even though it might involve interviews and the historical archive, and the other is all those connections that you were talking about, about completing community.

Khuram Hussain:

I’m going to answer this, but I’m going to answer it from a different angle. And what I want to say is that one of the things that was really interesting to me was the way in which the action plan for anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion incorporated Black studies. And that raised an eyebrow for me. Because Black studies is Black studies in the sense that it gives us a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of diasporic experiences from the continent of Africa. But it is also a different way of knowing the world and the problems the world enlists. I would argue that Black studies goes back to W.E.B. Du Bois. And I would argue that it goes back to David Walker and his rejoinders to Thomas Jefferson, that what Walker was calling for as a writer in a Black paper was this idea that literacy is not simply to puff pretty on a piece of paper, it is to critically understand the nature of the world in terms of power and access.

So what Black studies does and continues to do is partly what I have seen is the relationship between scholarship, teaching, activism. Because what Black studies offers us is a way of understanding all those things, in the immortal words of Lauryn Hill, “Everything is everything.” And that is what Black studies offers us. The way in which we research is an embodiment of the way in which we can be active in civic engagement. The way in which we’re civically engaged has to be connected to the way we teach. The way in which we teach has to be reflected in the nature of the institution itself. There is no more sophisticated and complete framework for doing equity and inclusion work in higher ed. And it was the model for queer studies, it was the model for Hispanic and Latinx studies. So it’s built out in so many important ways in the worlds of ethnic studies.

And all of that gives us a different way of understanding our problems in a way that’s interdisciplinary, that’s rigorous, that’s intensive, that’s research based, that’s evidence based, but also leaves room for heart, for art, for lived experience and the knowledge and the funds of knowledge that exist in our communities that we often just walk right by because we don’t value the labor attached to that intellect. So that’s where it’s all connected for me. So when I’m reading political cartoons written by journalists and drawn by these extraordinary artists, what I’m seeing is a form of public intellectual discourse that was—for an entire generation—not even seen as researchable, not worthy of research. The Black Panther paper, that’s a good way to learn about Huey Newton. It doesn’t have any intrinsic value other than that. Malcolm X’s newspaper not relevant, right?

If you look at what has been done with the 1619 Project, those papers were doing the 1619 Project for generations. But because it was Black writers writing for a Black audience, they were not considered culturally relevant. And yet, and this is the last thing I’ll say, I apologize for going on.

Laurie Patton:

No, it’s great.

Khuram Hussain:

I got to dissertate a little bit. Is that what we see is an exemplary of Black excellence. The thing that actually I wasn’t even researching Black newspapers, I’m a historian of schools. I was studying at a school, it was a Black run school, independent school, and I was interested in the post-civil rights era Black run schools that survived, the independent ones. And I found this newspaper and it was perfect. I mean perfect. It was like every article had a byline, every line was typeset, clean. It looked like The New York Times. And if you know anything about newspapers, this meant there was a huge staff of key liners, typesetters, editors, reporters, bureaus, photographers, journalists, artists, and I mean professional artists, the kind of work that was in there. This was an entire professional community and no one in the history of the Black press had written a word about it. Half the story had never been told. And so that continues to be the truth of our lives in higher education. We are continually confronted with the question of whose story is not being incorporated into our [inaudible 00:29:06].

Laurie Patton:

Yeah, and what I love-

Leilani Brown:

[inaudible 00:29:06] it’s leading to what we talked about Clint Smith’s book and invaluable too/

Khuram Hussain:

Oh my God. Okay so-

Leilani Brown:

I’m sorry.

Laurie Patton:

No, no, no. Go, go, go. Talk about Clint Smith.

Leilani Brown:

Okay, so everything he’s saying, yes, yes, yes. And the telling of history and the narrative informs so much, and it even informs how we approach dismantling racism or the justification for racism. So there are two books at least that I’m going to recommend that you read. One before the other. The first is How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith, fantastic book. He goes to eight different sites, eight or 12 different sites, and talks about and recounts his experience hearing the narrative of slavery in this country. The second book, full disclosure, very good friend of mine, Dolly Chugh, she’s awesome, it’s her second book, and it’s called A More Just Future. She also talks about how we develop these narratives and these stories fuel our ability to understand and the paradoxical nature of two things being true at the same time. That you can be longing for tradition and history and patriotism and still call into question the racism that is institutionalized in our country.

Laurie Patton:

Yeah, totally.

Leilani Brown:

So absolutely fantastic books that go right to the heart of what he’s talking about. Thank you.

Laurie Patton:

That’s great. And we are going to hear more from Leilani in a little bit. Do you want to do a final passion? Go for it. And then I have one more question for you and then we’ll go.

Khuram Hussain:

Unsolicited idea. I think it would be pretty cool if some of the students in the room and some of the alums in the room got together once a month, book club style over Zoom-

Leilani Brown:

I’m down.

Laurie Patton:

Totally.

Khuram Hussain:

To read one of these. I think that’d be a really fun way for you all to get to know each other in a really elevated and also personal way. I didn’t graduate from Midd, but I’ll sign up for it. I’m there with you. But unsolicited, I would love to see that happen.

Laurie Patton:

You guys in? All right. All right, that’s great.

Leilani Brown:

[inaudible 00:31:20].

Laurie Patton:

So Khuram, I think two more quick questions before we turn to Leilani. It reminds me also of the stuff you’ve written on the ways in which racial justice in the classroom are connected. And it’s not just the third grade classroom, but the broader classroom, the college classroom, the ways in which we expand our ways of knowing. That is what the college classroom is all about. That is what’s been at the core of Black Studies, as you said, and that’s so exciting about it. I wonder if you could also bring in another way of knowing, which is conflict mediation. So you’ve mediated in tough community issues, you’ve mediated in public school systems. Tell me a little bit about your work as a conflict mediator and the work you do in equity and inclusion, how those two connect.

Khuram Hussain:

And sometimes these are easier things to see once you’ve done them and you look back and you got to tell a story about them. And I think that the story about conflict is really a story about how we really arrive with openness and integrity to bear witness to the conflicts that we inherit, and then we can dream differently about what comes forth from them. That’s why I love the language of conflict transformation. When I think about conflict, I think a lot about broken promises that inhere conflict into our world, that inhere inequity into our world, that we inherit harm that is enduring in its very being and it’s just happening right now like a machine that just doesn’t have an off switch. But it does. We just have to build it together.

Even when I think about something like the “I Have a Dream” speech, if you really look at it, it is an elaboration of conflict. Virtually the entire speech is a litany of broken promises. And then at the very end, at the very end, and impromptu actually, is this meditation that has been misused to say, “Oh yeah, we’re there already. Let’s celebrate this day and listen to the speech.” But is an invitation for us to walk towards conflict, because if we do something really good can happen. That’s the dream, that if we can walk towards conflict, that something profound can happen. I think we need skills to do that. And we also need a level of comfort. We need a level of comfort with the discomfort of inequity. That we possess the privileges that we own, that we don’t always want to be associated with, but we’ll still benefit with them, whether or not we want to be associated with them.

So for me, the work, whether it was working in a small space with a couple where… I mean you want to talk about conflict mediation that’s hardest, talk to two parents about custody and how they’re going to break up custody. But what that taught me is that I didn’t have to actually fix this. I wasn’t there for that. All I was there to do was to hold space. And it takes more courage in the world that we inherit to hold space than to do just about anything else. You think about all the great workshops that we’re doing here, thanks to the incredible team that I get to now work with, the great educators, Crystal Jones, Renee Wells, and all of the wonderful faculty that do this work. What I see them do again and again is teach people to have the courage to hold space. When we get called out on something to not be like, “Oh, that’s not what I meant. That wasn’t my intention. You may be misreading it. Did you know that I’ve actually written about this issue many times?”

So all of the ways in which we just don’t want to be in that space. And it’s hard enough to be in an elevator when it’s quiet. We are not great with awkward. I’m not great with awkward. So now we add several centuries of oppression to awkward. That takes practice. That takes practice. So for me, a big part of this work is to just get people comfortable being uncomfortable, get people comfortable listening, sharing, being easy, building those relationships. Because if we haven’t done some community work already after a harm has happened, what are we asking people to come back into? What are you returning to? Like, “Oh, you harmed me? And now we resolved it so let’s just go our separate ways.” So that’s where that community building piece and a lot of the restorative work is focused on that, community building circles in the residence halls. Community building circles training for staff and faculty. Because we have to have a place we want to return to.

So I would say it’s all connected in that regard, that what I’ve learned is that I’m not actually that important. What’s most important about me is my capacity to bear witness and hold space because it honors the deep tensions that underlie where this conflict is really coming from. And then together we will make the road, as Paulo Freire would say, we make the road by walking. So we do that together.

Laurie Patton:

So final question is the walking toward Midd, what made you decide to leave HWS and come here?

Khuram Hussain:

Oh my God. Has anyone ever spent more than two minutes with Laurie Patton? Right? So David was like, “17 years.” I was like, I don’t know what this place would have looked like if you had been here for 17 years. But I think it would’ve been pretty exciting. I think that your deep love for this place, your enthusiasm, I think that having someone who is wanting to lead with emotional intelligence, with empathy, perspective taking, I think it’s a starting point for all of us to be able to then participate in that way. I don’t think that we’re going to actually transform as a community until part of our everyday sense of practice really incorporates the kind of responsiveness and humility that’s necessary to hear other people’s stories and hold space for that. If we’re not modeling that at every level of faculty, if staff, if you, if trustees, if alums aren’t modeling that, then it really saps our capacity to do cultural change work.

Laurie Patton:

Thank you, Khuram. Khuram Hussain, everyone.

So Leilani is one of our great leaders on so many different levels. Talk about someone who models with heart and head and integration. So Leilani, we are so excited that you’re here. You’ve heard Khuram, you hear a little bit about the vision, and you’ve lived it from a student to an alum, a really involved alum, to a trustee. I remember our first lunch together in New York, heartbeat. And so I’d love to hear both your perspective on what it means to lead as well as a little bit of historical perspective on your journey with Middlebury.

Leilani Brown:

Yes, I think that’s a great place to start. Perspective. I want to cover five things, at least. Five. Five things.

Laurie Patton:

Everyone ready? Five, five.

Leilani Brown:

First one is we. Okay? We. Our community. We. Our community. I want everyone here, especially the students who are here, raise your hands if you’re a student? Awesome, thank you. Thank you for being here. Hopefully everybody gets something from this, but I’m really speaking to you. Okay? So sorry, y’all. Act like you belong because you do. This is your community. This is our community. When you have something to be proud about with Middlebury, that’s your point of pride. And when there’s something that needs to be changed, it’s also your challenge. It’s your challenge. It’s not Middlebury’s challenge, it’s your challenge. Okay, This is your school. So put on the sweatshirt, it’s your school. Okay. Perspective.

Laurie Patton:

Is that two?

Leilani Brown:

That’s number two.

Laurie Patton:

Okay.

Leilani Brown:

Perspective is two.

Laurie Patton:

We got to do two.

Leilani Brown:

So we may not be where we want to be, but we’re not where we are. Yesterday, while I was on a flight, I was attending the funeral of a classmate of mine from the class of ‘91: Jamida Orange. We called her OJ. And was really funny because Ambassador Andrew Young spoke at her funeral, as well as a whole bunch of other dignitaries. She was a quiet leader who led from where she is and where she was, wherever she was. And I would say to you, we can all do that. But when it came time for OJ to select a college, Andrew Young called then-President Olin Robinson and said, “I have a bright young student for you.” And they got on the phone and then he called OJ and he says, “Well, if you’re not afraid of hard work, cold weather, and a whole lot of white folks, I might have a school for you.”

She came to Middlebury one of 10 Black students in the incoming freshman class. That made the number on campus that year 30. That small but mighty group of students fought to bring my class in of 38. And now I had dinner the other night with a student who said, “Well, I don’t know all the Black students here. There are so many.” I can call out by name… Okay, that’s progress. So just perspective. Be really specific about what it is that you intend to change. So perspective.

Number three, responsibility. This work is hard, it’s fatiguing, it’s exhausting, it’s isolating. But you have to do it anyway. You have to do the work of advocacy, teaching other people how to treat you and your community, informing people what it is to be a Black person, a Black woman, a woman, a queer person. It is work to constantly be teaching, but you do have to do it, because consider the alternative. I’m not saying waste your time with people who are just ignorant or committed to not understanding. But if someone comes to you with an honest inquiry, some curiosity to know about you, your culture, your pain points, lean into that opportunity to share it. It gets tiring. It’s tiring to be the expert in the room on all things Black. And you don’t have to have anybody touch your braids. You don’t have to cross that boundary. But you do have a responsibility to stay in the work because the work is not yet done.

Number four, opportunity. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn, to cultivate your own curiosity and also to have fun. It should be fun. Don’t be distracted. Surround yourself with the right people. Really, really, really important. Number five, possibility. I love coming back to Middlebury because it reminds me of my own possibility, what I was to become. And also the possibility for Middlebury. What might Middlebury become as a result of your contribution? So I did five. I tried to keep it really brief. But those are the things that I think are really, really important. And they’re important leadership strategies too.

Laurie Patton:

So Leilani, question for you, and then I want to open it up to conversation. So your perspective as a trustee is really different than your perspective as a writer, than a corporate leader, than a consultant, than a former student, than an alum. I’m wondering about how you see the shaping of an institution in a time of such polarization. The five things that you just named are things that are sort of essential to the work we now are doing and continue to need to do in the future. But tell me about what you’d love to see next for Middlebury to do as a trustee. We also have, forgot to mention, a new diversity, equity,and inclusion trustee committee, that’s a standing committee that has its own goals, holds itself accountable and meets with our faculty standing committee, faculty for equity and inclusion regularly, like all of our other standing committees, and Leilani’s very involved with that.

Leilani Brown:

Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think one of the things that we have to understand the role that trustees have and the fiduciary role and that is to govern and set policy, but not to get in the weeds. So the first things first, our first and principle job is to hire the right leader. We have the right leader. We’ve been working together for seven years. Hire the right leader and having the right leadership. I think it’s also to set policies and direction and tone. The tone is set at the top and to say what we are going to stand for and not stand for. What are the values? What are the principal goals of the school? And set strategic direction.

I can’t share what we do share, but when we are talking about things, the direction is a positive forward moving train, if you will, around inclusion, belonging, growth, recognizing the landscape and how it’s changed, and the demographics in this country and this world are actually changing. We used to talk about minorities, but really the truth is global majority. So, directionally what we have to do, we have to learn as trustees and then govern appropriately and set up the school for success now and in the future. So those are the types of conversations that we have.

We have a very collegial board, but a diverse board with respect to diversity of thought. And that tension makes for really good constructive movement and progress. I would also say boards have, and I’ll talk about this from my work from a trustee on this board and also the work that I do as a consultant working with nonprofits and schools and the like. I think boards have to develop the muscle and the training to deal with the issues that will arise. They are inevitable. And I can’t imagine if we hadn’t learned from some of the painful moments what we would do now. So if we didn’t have the training, the development, the pain points, the proof points coming out of Charles Murray for example, or having leaning into those conflicts, we’re going to talk about it, we’re going to be plain about it. But if we hadn’t had that and we had some conversations in the boardroom and as well as throughout the entire community, we would be ill prepared for 2020.

The world is starting to look at 2020 as a marker. But I have to tell you, I grew up in New York City in the ’80s, so we had the Exonerated Five in my high school years, Michael Griffith, Yusef Hawkins, Eleanor Bumpurs, Anthony Baez. I came to school and then Do the Right Thing came out documenting all of that. So I came of age at that time. That’s no different than this cohort coming in right now. So that’s the world. That’s not Middlebury. But we’re training you to deal with the world.

Laurie Patton:

Yeah. I love that. And I love our conversations on the board because they are really open and trusting, and they go to the heart. And it’s hard sometimes, but it feels real. That’s what’s so exciting about it. Okay, Leilani Brown, everybody.

Okay, we have time for a couple of comments or thoughts or questions before we break for the evening. Yes, hi. Oh, we don’t have… Actually, why don’t I… You could use your outside voice. David, he just volunteered himself as a new film producer. David Ellis, everyone.

Speaker 5:

David Ellis, everybody.

Laurie Patton:

Yeah, right. David Ellis, everyone.

Cooper Couch:

Hello. Testing one, two, three. David Ellis is an amazing human. Can you all hear me? Okay, great. Leilani, Laurie and Khuram, I pose this question to all three of you. It sounds like Middlebury is doing a pretty good job of trying to approach racism as an issue within an institution, within higher ed. I think my experience was that racism and classism were very much confused when I was a student. And I would like to hear from you how Middlebury is approaching classism in addition to DE&I work, and how maybe socioeconomic status, I guess, is involved in these conversations.

Laurie Patton:

You want to start or?

Cooper Couch:

I know it was kind of a direct question.

Laurie Patton:

Yeah, I think we’re all going to say something.

Leilani Brown:

Again, as a trustee, I’m not on the ground, I’m not in the practice of the work. But I will say that one of the things that we talk about, and I challenge my board colleagues to talk about, is not to necessarily link a lack of resources and/or funding to race. Two things can be true. But wait, let me just say this because I didn’t grow up poor, but I grew up with less. So I know what poverty looks like though. Not only do we sometimes connect and link language with diversity and financial aid or diversity and lack of resources or lack, and that’s wrong. But I think that our financial aid approach is more broad.

When you have 54 percent of the class on financial aid, even if you put every Black person on financial aid, which is not true, or every person of color, there’s got to be some white people that get financial aid. It’s not Middlebury. Do the math. The math is not mathing. Middlebury is doing its part. It’s the way we talk about it. We. The universal we. We often associate financial aid, for example, and lack of resources to people of color. And that’s not true. But that’s not Middlebury. We can change the way we talk about it, but I don’t believe that that’s actually Middlebury. Now you might be experiencing something in the classrooms that are in your classes and in your experience that’s different. But I think that’s one of the things that we can do differently. Did I explain that correctly?

Khuram Hussain:

I would love to hear more about your experience and how that lived in the-

Cooper Couch:

My cell phone number is 8…

Khuram Hussain:

Start with eight?

And also, yeah, how that relates to what students experience here and now, right? Because there’s the things that we want to do and then there’s the worlds that we inherit and how we can be strategic in the ways that we intervene. So a couple things that I think are important, even though I’ve only been here three months, that I want to be a part of the continuing conversation is how do we create seamless entry into access points, like career services, study abroad so that there’s less disruption in consideration of what people can pay into these opportunities or what costs it would take to be able to take that opportunity and lose a job that you want to have over the summer. So that would be one thing. And I see that happening in a lot of units where departments and programs are thinking really intentionally about, whether it’s DACA students or international students, what is a seamless process for them to be able to participate in getting stipends and generating the same kinds of opportunities, that sense of full participation.

We also know that by doubling Pell we are going to increase racial and ethnic diversity. We’re also going to increase socioeconomic diversity. And that is going to include a lot of students that identify as white. So we can say that as loud as we want, but that doesn’t necessarily disrupt those narratives that people have. And lot of the harm that we see in our community I think still arises out of some of these attitudes, like race and class. And that is where at the responsive level we do want to be able to confront that. We want to be able to engage issues where harm happens, through the Bias Incident Report process and through other mechanisms that we have to be able to reeducate in the moment. We also want to advocate for that kind of work happening with orientation with the first year experience and be able to assess the kind of learning outcomes that happen.

And the last thing I want to say is that Elaine is a great partner in OIDEI and one of the passions that we share is really taking a strength based approach to all of our students. But taking a strength based approach to all of our students means also taking a trauma informed approach, and also means we have to be really intentional about the deficit discourse that lives in institutions of higher education broadly. And we have to weed it out. There’s no like, “We made an intention, it goes away.” It’s on our forms, it’s on webpages, it’s in speeches, it’s in the discourses that are seen, felt and heard. And that’s ongoing. So pushing and working against deficit culture in higher ed has to be a part of the ways in which we unearth that problematic kind of…

Because it’s not just that, right? Because when we start really pulling at what that is, what we’re really pulling at is who do we all agree belongs here and who still feels like they’re visiting? One of my favorite things that I’ve heard from student affairs is that our message to students that are coming in this year is we’re not even going to say you belong here. Of course you do. Kick ass, take names and participate in everything you can. Right? So that sense of full participation, that’s our metric, that’s our measure. But we don’t get there just by being positive. We also get there by uprooting the forms of deficit culture that we all, every institution in the American experience has adhered for 200 years.

Laurie Patton:

Thank you And everything, deeply agree with everything my colleagues just said. Couple of other thoughts, I think for all the reasons that you just heard, I try not to use the word financial aid. I use student funding because we have recruited so many excellent students that regardless of their ability to pay that we fund them, period. It’s hard to do that on the road because those kinds of folks are folks that may not understand what student funding looks like.

But access is also the number one bucket for our campaign, endowed student funding, which means that in addition to reshaping our websites, we just redid our student financial services website, but all of the websites so that it’s really clear you don’t have to take an extra step to ask, it’s really clear what’s available to you. And making that extra effort of having to go through five different hoops and so forth, we’re doing that continuous work not only in student financial services but in student life more broadly to consolidate as much as we can. Because one of the things we see class differences emerging has to do with the bureaucratic hassle that students who come here with financial aid packages have to go through. So that’s part of the ongoing work that we’re doing right now.

But I think you really nailed something important that I think Midd has an incredible opportunity to address. So one of our inclusion workshops is about class and it’s the first of very intentional workshops about naming it and making it just part of the work we do on learning across difference. And one of the things that David Cantu came here, he’s an awesome facilitator, came about four years ago, and he said that from his survey of Midd students, class was as important a difference making factor for students as race, and in some ways a little bit more important.

So I think we at Midd are part of American culture, but we’re also an amazing part of changing and shaping American culture in a way that can we go as bravely as we have into this conversation around ableism, race, and also class where we can speak about it and begin to speak about it with compassion and care. And that’s what I’m hoping we can continue to do. So thank you.

Cooper Couch:

Thank you [inaudible 00:58:55].

Laurie Patton:

Woo. Love it. Cooper Couch, everyone. Any other question? Yes. Hi. Hi Miles.

Miles:

Hi Laurie. So I was really… Oh wow. I was really privileged to be able to talk to the SLG very often as well as the Board of Trustees about once a semester, alumni engagement because of COVID wasn’t as much as I wish it had been. But I guess my question is, especially on behalf of students of marginalized identities at Middlebury, the Board of Trustees, which they make a lot of decisions on behalf of Middlebury College and for the benefit of current students, it has diversity but it doesn’t necessarily mirror the diversity of the world around us. And as we’re talking about Middlebury College and how we’re aiming for that, our high level leadership group doesn’t necessarily represent us.

So I guess my question, it’s kind of what goals does the Board of Trustees have to diversify, and specifically the College Board of Advisors so that it is a more inclusive group that represents more age demographics, as well as racial demographics, as well as socioeconomic demographics and the list can go on. I think that’s something that has been on my mind and in connecting with students and staff and faculty over the last few days, that’s been kind of the question that moves the market in a different direction.

Laurie Patton:

Love that question. Thank you. I’ll start and then I know Leilani can jump in. Or do you want to…

Leilani Brown:

Can I? I don’t know what I could share.

Laurie Patton:

All right, well I’ll start and if you want to add anything, yeah.

So when I started there we were very small in terms of composition of the board. And so in the last five years, getting to 30 percent diverse is great. And you’re absolutely right, it doesn’t reflect the demographic of America yet. So I want to grow our board in that way as robustly as I have over the last five years over the next five years. And I’m hoping we can get there. So that’s my first hope, and share that very much with you. We have terms, so as we have this thing called the Trustee and Governance Committee that looks at different candidates, is there another Leilani out there and can we incorporate and engage? And so that’s where we’re headed.

Second thing I would say is I think the equity and inclusion work of the Equity and Inclusion Committee has really shaped a sense of accountability on behalf of everyone. There’s still a lot more to do. I think there’s a lot more sensibility of the current board rather than the emeriti. The emeriti are frequently of a older generation and they are still learning and still thinking about it and they’re not meeting as much and so on. But even there, there’s incredible attendance. Even at the Equity and Inclusion group, they don’t have to come and they come because they want to learn. So I think there’s a lot of cross-generational work that needs to get done there too.

The other thing that is really great news that I’m really excited about is we are going to be announcing the… We’ve just established in Trustee and Governance the first young alum trustee. And that person will be chosen in the next year. So we are going to start with our first young alum trustee. The criteria is that they’ve been out for less than 10 years and very much attentive to the issues of our day. So think of cool people, everyone, because we’re real excited about that process.

So Sebastian, yeah?

Sebastian Sanchez:

How’s that person going to be nominated?

Laurie Patton:

We are going to do a process like we do for all trustees. We didn’t want to make it a special process. So it means if you have nominations, get them to us. We’re going to be announcing. It’s going to be an open thing like we do with [inaudible 01:03:08]. So Leilani, go ahead.

Leilani Brown:

My only hesitancy in answering that question is just to go back to the principles of governance. There are certain things that we can’t really talk about. But I’m going to generally, not about the Middlebury College Board, but generally about boards. And just caution, representation matters, okay? It absolutely matters. But the quality of the conversation and discourse in the room, I would argue matters even more. The engagement matters even more so. It is remarkable to move from one person to 30 percentrepresentation in seven years, given that you have three year terms and expiring terms and board sizes that are in the bylaws. So you might have a board of 19, it would take, for example, a year of work in a board cycle to change a bylaw to add a trustee. So we are adding a young alumni trustee and a student trust…

Laurie Patton:

The students are [inaudible 01:04:30] Boards of Advisors.

Leilani Brown:

On the boards of advisors. And so it takes enormous governance work. I know I’m overcomplicating it. But enormous governance work to move through that process. So we just can’t add, just like we can’t expand the Supreme Court so quickly or as quickly as I’d like. So it takes a lot of time. So just trying to also not defend but explain the time that it takes to get there. So to get to 30percent… And I will tell you I’m in the room and the quality of conversation and the level of curiosity on the part of the majority of that board, irrespective of race or gender, is pure. It’s authentic. I would say, and I’m going to be very honest, 90 percent of my board colleagues are leaning into areas of discomfort to try to make better decisions with respect to inclusion and belonging. And I would not say that if I didn’t think it was true. I could not say that seven years ago. But I would say that now.

Laurie Patton:

Thanks, Leilani. I love these questions. I wish we had more time. Oh, hi Nia.

Nia Robinson:

Hey. Okay. I just have one quick question. Well, it’s not quick. So TLDR, my curiosity is in it’s really great that we have things like funding students to learn how to ski in J-Term and funding students to go abroad and things like that. And that is really great. But for me, I don’t believe that students should have to assimilate, for example, to have a really good experience. And my question is, how are we making sure that people they feel like their culture is reflected at Middlebury? And for example, when I was here, we brought a musical, we brought a rapper. And if everyone at the front is white, drunk and talking over someone who… It means a lot for me that they’re here, but I can’t hear them and enjoy it because of that, how do we make sure that students feel like their culture or their background is at equal weight as everything else, even if they choose not to learn how to ski, for example?

Laurie Patton:

Yeah. That’s so important. Yeah. I think I’ll say something and then I’ll turn it to you. But the narrative of assimilate, “Hey…” What Leilani was saying before about you’re welcome here. Well, I didn’t know that was even an issue, right? So moving beyond that space is incredibly important and moving beyond the assimilation narrative. And that comes at… That’s why it’s so important for me to frame equity inclusion work as an everyday ethics. Because where that comes out is in the everyday experience like the one you just described. So really agree with it. You want to talk a little more about programs and stuff [inaudible 01:07:28]?

Khuram Hussain:

Yeah, I’ll say, and I’ll own this, I’ve been here three months and I think the student experience, which is funny because my whole world is really organized around the student experience, I haven’t really gotten a chance to meet a lot of students yet. This is the first time I haven’t taught in a classroom in 20 years in September. So it’s a different kind. And I’ll be honest with you, it was the students, including Miles, that did it for me. That was in addition to what I said, and that still remains true. But if there was a tipping point, it was the students, the quality of their thinking around these issues. I wanted to hang out with them and I haven’t had a chance to, So I’ll say this to all the students in the room, look me up. But I own that I haven’t done outreach. So I need to connect.

And one of the driving questions is how do we collaborate with student affairs and DE&I, as an incredible partner. The AFC is incredible. They just put on a… I don’t want to call it an event, hair care is a human right. So I don’t want to say that it’s an event, but the fact that they are addressing student programming from a rights and dignity perspective is an essential component of the work. And that has to be driven in collaboration with students. So we have to take a student centered approach and resource students. Although student government leadership I think has been a good partner and intentional partner in that as well. So for me right now, the way that I want to be really honest and say that my early steps in this is to collaborate with the folks that are already doing the work and with our student leaders to make sure that we’re really integrating at that level thinking about next year, what are our big events, right?

Because it’s not only that students are like, “Oh yeah, I can learn to ski.” And that reads culturally a certain way. What about faculty of color that are coming here and they’re looking at really highly visible programs, what are they thinking? So we want culturally responsive and enriched experiences that are central. So the last thing I’ll say about this is in my experience as a dean of students, when you center organizing events around the lived experiences and interests of historically underrepresented members of a community, other people that are typically comfortable in those spaces will still come. But the arrival will feel different for everybody. So taking a culturally responsive lens to programming is something I want to partner with people, but I want to own that I’m three months old. I’m just starting out.

Leilani Brown:

I mean, you said it perfectly. I have nothing to add.

Laurie Patton:

Yeah, it is such an important thing. And also to create events where it’s a joy and an asset for everyone to be part of it. That’s the bottom line of where we want to be. And I think, Khuram, your approach is absolutely right. All right, guys, it was wonderful to spend time with you. I can’t wait to see more of you. Khuram Hussain and Leilani Brown, everybody. I hope the rest of your weekend is as joyful and warm as tonight has been. Take care.

Panther on the Street

Alumni are put on the spot with speed interviews during Alumni of Color and Homecoming weekend; see how they do!

Freedom Dreaming: Envisioning an Antiracist Middlebury

This student theatre project aggregates observations and visions from interviews with primarily BIPOC students at Middlebury.

Alumni Panelists

Alumni and Families
700 Exchange St.
Middlebury, VT 05753