a student-run publication that seeks to provide space for voices that are not being heard on our campus. we are grounded by politics that are radical, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-homophobic, anti-ableist, and anti-transphobic (against all forms of oppression) and that reject the structural neo-liberal paradigm that characterizes middlebury college and its official publications
Or Middlebury never cared about my life until I wanted to end it.
By Elizabeth Dunn
CW: Self-harm, suicide.
There’s a story an alum once told me about her friend, a Black man, who had joined a secret frat; during the initiation, he was branded with the frat’s symbol. I could barely believe that a Black man would allow a group of white men to brand him in order to gain access to their organization. That a violent action with so many historical connections to slavery would be reenacted in this day and age. But in a certain sense, I and other students have also experienced metaphorical branding-we deal with the physical, sexual, and psychological violence of white supremacy because we want to be a part of this community. He joined a frat, we joined Middlebury-and we are all forever scarred because of it.
When I leave this campus campus I feel lighter, happier, like there are possibilities again. I remember what it feels like to be around people of different races, body types, and ideas-and that diversity fills me with hope. But when I’m here, at one of the richest schools, in one of the whitest states, I struggle to find a sense of belonging-especially when this institution, from it’s students to it’s policies to it’s literal architecture, constantly reinforces my otherness.
I have too many scars to count at this point. Puffy burn scars on my thighs, spidery scars running up my wrists, scars of things I can’t unsee that linger behind my eyes, psychological scars that run so deep they sometimes seep into my lungs and steal my breath away. A scar, crumpled and shoved to the back of my desk that gives a brief overview of a night spent at Porter Hospital, “Reason: Suicide Ideation. Diagnosis: Major Depression.”
Of course there’s genetic predisposition and other non-Middlebury factors that can contribute to mental illness, but I question what has influenced the deterioration of my mental health more-a chemical imbalance, or the profound and daily dehumanization I experience here. How can I validate my identity when the president of my college gives opening remarks for a misogynistic, white supremacist whose life’s work posits that I am intellectually inferior to white men? How can I learn when people in the classroom (professors included) perpetuate oppressive and violent ideologies under the cover of “free speech” and accuse me of being too sensitive when I respond negatively? How can I heal when many students of color, some of whom didn’t even attend protests, are being racially profiled by police, approached by public safety in dining halls, and receiving rape and death threats because they dared to defend their humanity?
Everything about the way that the administration has handled the protests against Charles Murray has sent me the message that my well-being is not important to them. Their emails focus on disciplinary action, or entreaties for students themselves to suggest community healing methods. Why is the onus once again on us? Why did we have to advocate for years for things like the AAL requirement, the Anderson Freeman center, or Justalks? Why are we pretending that this has affected all of our community equally, when historically certain groups bear more of the burden and face more of the backlash than others? If one person gets a papercut and another is stabbed, you don’t give both of them a Band-Aid and call it a day. Situations like these call for specific and nuanced approaches to community healing, ones that focus on understanding those who were most affected (ex: Black students, queer students, female and gender non-conforming students). However, these are the students currently being most intimidated and isolated.
Many people were quick to condemn the violence against Alison Stanger but rarely is the topic of conversation the violence that marginalized students faced before Charles Murray was invited to this campus. When a community refuses to acknowledge the way it has treated all of it’s members, or takes responsibility for only part of the harm it has perpetuated, it becomes increasingly difficult not only to thrive here, but to survive at all.
In recent weeks I’ve stepped back from activism, focusing more on self care, my mental health, and projects that are concerned with individual and collective healing for marginalized students. I’ve talked to my counselor and supportive faculty and professors. Friends have written me notes, brought me food, and done what they can to be supportive. It helps, but it’s not enough.
I know that ultimately, this is an institution that is more concerned with power, prestige, and capital than the individual lives of students who, at most, spend half a decade here. I also know though, that there are people at this institution who genuinely do care about students-but I’m tired of hearing about how much they care, and watching them do things that prove that they don’t. Empathy is about more than just saying you care-it requires action. It requires you to put your caring into practice. Emails, emotions, and situational empathy mean very little if they only exist in the realm of words.
I just have one request for the institution of Middlebury: Put your empathy into action. What are you going to do to make this environment safer? What are you going to do to help this community heal? How will you deal with the wound that now runs across this campus-continue to rub salt in it and ignore the violence, both symbolic and physical, that students experience here? Or actually try to understand why we are bleeding in the first place?
PS: Big thanks to those faculty/staff, admins and professors who are actually trying to support students during this time, you are dearly appreciated.