Affirmative action is an extraordinarily sensitive and difficult topic to discuss. While often times uncomfortable and tense, the remarks made by the panelists ultimately sparked a passionate and thoughtful discussion that truly got at the heart of the issue. Personal reflections from both students and faculty contributed to a lively discussion that, while charged, challenged our perceptions of race and diversity on this campus and the viability of affirmative action in achieving these goals. Many left the room feeling as though the discussion was just getting started, and while it is unfortunate that we all had to leave, we can only hope that these conversations continue now.
Several of our writers attended the event, their thoughts after the jump:
One part of the discussion I took particular issue with came from Professor Dry’s comment that Middlebury students should not worry about how they got to Middlebury but rather that they should focus solely on their studies instead. Professor Dry basically asserted that one’s background does not play a part in how they navigate Middlebury. He is saying that when a student comes into his classroom, they must check their identity at the door. Yet what this fails to realize is that everyone learns and approaches the subjects we study here at Middlebury through their own unique lens. When a professor discredits and ignores a student’s rich and valuable set of lived histories, he fails to teach them to the best of his ability, and in the process he silences a perspective that may have provided valuable insight and learning for himself, the class, and the community as a whole. I love this school in a way that has changed drastically over my four years and I resent Professor Dry’s insinuation that the student body should not be concerned with issues of diversity in our admissions. I recognize now more than ever the problems on this campus and I truly want to make it a better school and a better community for the classes that will come after me.
The most interesting point to me was Professor Christal Brown’s comment about needing to learn perspectives outside of the classroom to gain a true global education. This sort of education happens when we take advantage of the opportunities afforded to us on a residential college campus. We have this tremendous opportunity to learn from people of various perspectives, realities, and experiences. To do justice to this privileged education, we must be willing to have organic conversations with each other about what matters, how we got here, and where we’re going.
Throughout the discussion, tensions rose, disagreements broke out, and people were offended as is almost inevitable when confronting an issue as controversial and deeply personal as affirmative action. I was uncomfortable at many points during the evening, but I don’t think that was entirely a bad thing. Sitting in that room, listening to different perspectives, feeling discomfort at some points and feeling like something rang true at other points pushed me to think more about and further develop my opinion on an important issue that directly affects our community and that I might not have confronted otherwise. I hope for more important and potentially uncomfortable discussions like tonight’s in our community in the future. I will also say, whether or not I agreed with Professor Dry, without his willingness to voice his sincere opinion (that included, if I heard him correctly, his belief that a student’s background is mostly irrelevant in the classroom, and also that race shouldn’t be a factor in hiring faculty) to what he must of known would be an audience that would largely disagree with him, the discussion would not have been as lively or gone as deep. I was also grateful for the students and professors in the audience who bravely responded to him.
One comment that particularly stuck out to me was Dean of Admissions Greg Buckles’ closing words. In them, he told us that each of us was here because we deserved to be here, because we earned the spot, and not because of one particular factor in our lives; be it athletics, our families, or the color of our skin. While almost obvious, it is also an idea that is almost universally forgotten. We look at our student body at Middlebury, and it is easy to reduce a person into their most basic characteristics. We create a culture of “the athlete” or “the international,” but we are each so much more than that. Diversity and race are fundamental to our education and achieving a truly global perspective, but until we can foster a community where we drop our self-identified admission monikers, we will not create a community in which diversity is truly inclusive.
What do you think?
Despite the many things that make each and every Middlebury student a unique and diverse member of our community, there is one thing that ties all of us together: getting here. Every student went through the highly selective application process to get into Middlebury. Our admissions officers use a holistic approach to consider each application; a process that looks at a student’s academic standing, extracurricular activities, athletics, leadership abilities, writing, community service, geography, and yes, race.
Fisher v. University of Texas, a case currently before the Supreme Court, seeks to challenge that process, specifically, the use of race as a determining factor in admissions. Essentially, the case boils down to a white female living in Texas claiming that affirmative action denied her a spot at the University of Texas, and that it was in effect, discrimination based on race. Middlebury and other NESCAC partners signed an amicus brief in support of the University of Texas’ right to use race as one of many factors in considering a student.
The College Democrats, College Republicans, SGA Institutional Diversity Committee, Brainerd Commons, and the Dean of the College have put together a panel tonight that will address this highly contentious issue both broadly and at Middlebury.
The panel is tonight at 7 PM in Mcculough Social Space and should be very interesting. We’ll update this post afterwards with reflections on the panel if you are unable to make it.