It’s Thursday, September 25th at Middlebury College, and everyone’s p*ssed about the new tailgating policy. We certainly made some (read: virtual) noise: Middbeat’s former post, “Just When You Thought Social Life Surveillance Couldn’t Get Any Higher: Alcohol Now Banned at Middlebury Tailgates” generated 95 substantial replies. As of 9 pm on September 24th, the We the Middkids petition entitled “Reverse Changes to the New Tailgating Policy” received 2,508 votes. As the Middbeat article “Fight For Our Right (to party). Then Fight for Our Other Rights too” would suggest, perhaps the Middlebury community could be equally engaged when it comes to other issues facing the college (rising tuition rates, divesting from fossil fuels, et al). But needless to say, a policy concerning alcohol (or a pointed lack thereof) got our collective attention.
We complained, we petitioned, we wrote. We had angry conversations over paninis in Proctor and we sighed as the Middlebury Panthers lost to Wesleyan on Saturday. We voted, using the appropriate platforms provided by the SGA. We spoke up.
And then we dropped the ball. The SGA gave our intangible anger a tangible forum, provided the Middlebury community with the opportunity to speak directly with Erin Quinn (Director of Athletics) and Katy Smith Abbott (Dean of Students) to demand an explanation for this infantilizing and poorly-conceived new policy. The We the Middkids petition would indicate that at least 836 students voted against the tailgating policy (and, by extension, against a lack of meaningful communication between students and the administration). But how many students showed up to the Senate meeting? Not many.
One of Erin Quinn’s arguments, as indicated by Middbeat’s Live Feed, suggested that he did not believe the changes to the tailgating policy affected many students. When precious few students show up to a forum designed to discuss that very policy, students unwittingly substantiate his claim. Our apathy gives him permission to be right, permission to cast us aside, permission to treat us like the disobedient children the new tailgating policy would suggest that we are.
The meeting was a success on the part of the SGA. Their resolution passed, indicating that Katy Smith Abbott is willing to discuss future policy changes with SGA President Taylor Custer ‘15 and Student Co-Chair of Community Council Ben Bogin ‘15. But where were we to support them, to validate the claims of students we elected to fight on our behalf? Speaker Michael Brady ‘17.5 remarks, “I was definitely hoping there would be more people there. I tried to make an effort by emailing [constituents], and about a 60% majority wanted the new policy appealed.” However, this display of initial enthusiasm did not eventually correlate with physical attendance at the Senate meeting. Brady describes the turnout as “definitely disappointing. We didn’t have the numbers show up that we would have liked. I don’t think there’s going to be substantial change if kids don’t back up the outcry.”
It’s true that our schedules are busy, and that most of us are bound to the Sunday night homework grind. We elect SGA members to have these very sorts of policy conversations on our behalf – can’t we just step back and let them do what they do best? Tempting, but the answer is no.
“I would have loved to stand up against this policy through civil disobedience,” says Brady. “However, due to my position in the SGA, I can’t take that particular avenue. In order to maintain legitimacy in the eyes of the administration, it was more productive and appropriate for me to write and discuss legislation than to picket outside an administrator’s office. It’s within everyone’s best interests if the SGA maintains an amicable relationship with the administration – [that relationship] cannot be ruptured to a point where the SGA is longer functional.”