Abenaki Language School History
In 2020, Middlebury College launched a three-year project that is among the first of its kind in higher education. With unflinching resolve and a commitment to transparency, the Twilight Project seeks to engage the College community—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—in uncovering and reckoning with the histories of exclusion and marginalization at Middlebury.
Rama Somborac and Mia Pangasnan
Ellie Thompson, Jordyn Johnson, and Ethan Tyler
“My research at the Twilight Project has been an invaluable experience during my time at Middlebury. Not only is the mission of the Twilight Project vital for a PWI, but it also provides an outlet for students to research a historically marginalized topic that is passionate to them. This provides such a unique and incredible opportunity for Middlebury students to diversify their research and delve into a project that they otherwise would not be able or have the resources to do.”
– Paige Osgood, ‘23
To date, faculty and student fellows have initiated nearly a dozen research efforts, or “chapters,” as they’re being called, under the auspices of the Twilight Project. Some, such as Patriarchal Power and the Built Environment of Campus Space, are led by faculty. Others (Histories of Disability and (In)Accessibilty and History of BIPOC Athletes at Middlebury College) are entirely student designed and led.
We believe we are uniquely positioned to undertake such a critical effort. Middlebury was the first American college or university to grant a degree to an African American student, Alexander Twilight, in 1823. Middlebury was also one of the first New England colleges to admit women students, when May Anna Bolton, Louise Edgerton, and May Belle Chellis matriculated at the College in the fall of 1883.
Yet our history is not quite so clear cut. Twilight, for whom this project is named, passed as white at the time; Middlebury, as an institution, did not realize it had granted the first degree to an African American student until well into the 20th century. Further, while women have been a part of Middlebury since the end of the 19th century, it took more than 50 years for women students to be fully integrated into campus life.
By embracing this understanding, Middlebury takes on the challenge of confronting our historical struggles with diversity, equity, and inclusion—by giving voice and standing to those who have been marginalized in the College’s cultural record.
When Alexander Twilight graduated from Middlebury in 1823, he became the first person of color to receive a degree from an American college or university. Yet no one knew that at the time.