Last week, Community Council Co-Chair Ben Bogin ’15 and SGA Director of Institutional Diversity Jeremy Stratton-Smith ’17 announced an awesome initiative called “Community Conversations” in an email sent to the student body. Bogin and Stratton-Smith will be hosting biweekly open forums for students and administrators to discuss various issues at Middlebury. Upcoming talks include: 3/5: Middlebury’s Judicial System/Title IX/Sexual Assault 3/19: Support Services for Students 4/2: Inclusivity in the Classroom 4/16: Diversity and Inclusivity 4/30: Health and Wellness. For more info check out go/talk. One of middbeat’s own, Kelly Hennessy ’15, went to the first community conversation, which focused on social life at Middlebury. Read her recap of the meeting here along with some reflections on the conversation.
Thursday afternoon marked the kick-off of a series of Community Conversations, bi-weekly discussions, each focused on a different issue central to the Middlebury community. This conversation’s focal point was Social Life at Middlebury.
Much of the discussion was focused on student housing, and the ways in which this influences social life. Many juniors came to the meeting with Katy Smith Abbott, the VP for Student Affairs and Dean of the College, and JJ Boggs, the Associate Dean of Students for Student Activities and Orientation, to discuss their dissatisfaction with the recent Off-Campus Housing Lottery. Allegedly, there were only about 50 students awarded off-campus housing for next fall, compared to the 90 or so that were awarded it last year.
The juniors at the meeting expressed frustration over the administration’s failure to communicate that spots were heavily restricted this year, as they felt blindsided by their denial of off-campus housing. This sentiment was compounded by the fact that many of them were abroad last semester, and didn’t fully know about the conflicts and conversations had between off-campus seniors and their neighbors.
Undoubtedly, the administration has compelling and understandable reasons for restricting off-campus housing. Katy Smith Abbott cited the town-gown relationship and Middlebury’s financial structure as some justifications. Additionally, Middlebury is a residential college; most students live on campus for all four years. However, despite this rationale, many students are left wondering why their chances of gaining off-campus housing were lower than in past years and why the administration failed to inform students of this change.
While frustration surrounding the off-campus housing lottery is perhaps a new spin on the issue, this characterization of an increasingly restrictive administration echoes the same concerns that have been raised at previous campus-wide conversations about social life. Increasingly, students are expressing dissatisfaction with the way they feel restrictions are being placed on their lives by the administration, and in this particular case with little forewarning or communication.
As is required of any social life meeting, ADP (what is now Chromatic) was also a centerpiece of discussion, held up as a paragon of what students look for in their social lives. Many at the meeting saw the old social house as a place where cliques broke down, and students could interact with those of all walks of Middlebury life.
Juniors and seniors, the last classes of ADP, may be wearing some rose-colored beer goggles in this situation; I don’t know if this was a place where all of the community felt comfortable, and I think there were some real problems with the social house. Admittedly, though, ADP certainly did play an important role in the social life of many members of our community.
By my understanding, a lot of Midd kids feel their social lives have been increasingly limited by a string of surprising administrative moves. Students often cite the role of public safety or the likelihood of social houses being placed on probation as evidence of such increasing restriction.
However, I think this narrative is incomplete; as students we often fail to consider how our actions may have led to some of these administrative decisions and ignore how we may work with the community as a whole to assuage some of our dissatisfaction.
We need to start making efforts to be active participants in creating the social lives we want. ADP is gone; many will mourn its loss for years to come. However, I think it’s time to start thinking critically about what exactly ADP and the ‘social life of old’ had to offer.
It’s important to recognize that it isn’t a one-size fits all approach, a point brought up during the meeting. Different people want different things out of their social lives. While much of the discussion about social life is centered on parties on and off campus, getting hammered on the weekend isn’t the social life everyone has or wants.
It’s an expansive term, and we as a community should work to create spaces that can fit as many of its meanings as possible. These meetings are a good first step; now we need to be the catalysts for change.