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Dorm damage down after watershed year

MIDDLEBURY — After an unprecedented $141,333.45 of dorm damage in the 2010-11 academic year, the College saw a 44.5 percent decrease during the first semester of the current academic year.
According to data released by Assistant Director of Custodial Services Linda Ross, there was a total of $21,605.03 of damage this past fall semester. Comparatively, the College suffered $48,550.629 during the fall of 2010.
Ross, a Middlebury resident, attributed the turnaround to this year’s first-year class and a “phenomenal” residential life staff.
“The custodial side has connected extremely well with the residential life staff, which is something we started in the summer before school started,” she said. “That plus a great first-year class is why we are seeing some improvement this year.”
Dean of the College and Chief Diversity Officer Shirley Collado also credited a new bystander intervention training all first-year students received before starting at the College. The program teaches first-years to intervene potentially dangerous social situations, ranging from alcohol behavior and dorm damage to sexual assault and hazing.
“[First-years] heard a loud message during orientation about community, accountability and what it means to step up as a member of the student body,” said Collado, a Middlebury resident.    
Ross and members of facilities services met with First-Year Counselors (FYC), Resident Assistants (RA) and Commons Residential Advisors (CRA) early in the year to stress cooperation in the fight to reduce dorm damage.
Last year’s total capped a half-decade span in which dorm damage nearly tripled, from $52,418.69 in 2006-07 to over $140,000 five years later. The record year was headlined by a $25,137.629 fire in the Gifford Residential Hall on Feb. 26th 2011. 
The rise in damage prompted a strong reaction from the administration. President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz hosted an open student forum on April 26 titled: “Alcohol: Use, Abuse, and Disrespect for the Community. Is a Dry Campus the Only Answer?”
President of the Student Government Association (SGA) Vin Recca ’12 said the administration’s response and the increased publicity incited peer-pressure among students to stop dorm damage. 
“The decrease in dorm damage is truly a testament to the increased student awareness on the prevalence of the problem, and its massive cost,” he said. “Middlebury students realize that these acts of vandalism are just stupid and do not need to occur.
“There is and should be tremendous stigma against deliberately damaging property, especially in a place were community is valued so strongly.”
Landscape Damage Down But Not Out
The rise in dorm damage brought with it landscape damage to trees and shrubs across campus, a previously unseen type of vandalism.
Middlebury College Landscape Horticulturist Tim Parsons estimated that in the last 10-12 weekends of the 2011 spring semester, the campus sustained some kind of landscape damage.
In a year of reduced dorm damage, Parsons is cautiously optimistic.
“Our department has seen a reduction in [landscape] damage this year,” the Weybridge resident said in an email. “I would venture to say half as much as last year, although it is still a large amount compared to even two or three years ago.”
While Ross expects a degree of dorm damage as the cost of doing business, she said there is no place for landscape damage at Middlebury.
“The type of damage Tim [Parsons] sees is senseless damage. Why would someone rip off a tree branch?”
Dish Damage Remains Stubbornly Stagnant
As dorm and landscape damage has decreased, dish damage has remained high. Students are allowed to take food out of the dining halls, but the privilege has resulted in the campus strewn with unreturned dishes and has left Director of Dining Services Matthew Biette with shortages of plates, bowls, mugs and silverware.
“People don’t see the dishes as important,” said Biette, a Middlebury resident. “Students have this expectation that someone is going to come by with a magic broom and sweep up after them.”
According to Biette, Dining Services has already spent 75 percent of this year’s dish budget replacing the lost tableware from last year.
Students have recently bemoaned bowl shortages, but with a flat lined budget for dishes, Biette predicted future shortfalls of all dish wear if this trend continues.
“Let the shortages be there. Looking for cups? Check your local trash barrel,” he said. “Students yell at my dishwashers but the reality is they have to look in the mirror.”
Recca — the SGA president — said many students see borrowing dish wear as “a right given to them by the community.
“I truly believe that people who take [dishes] from the dining hall originally intend to bring the dishes back, but for a variety of reasons, do not do so.” 
Dish Damage problems at multiple peer institutions doesn’t make Middlebury’s situation any easier for Biette to swallow.
“I’m not a temperance union, chest-thumping pulpit screaming type of person, but I have kids and I’m raising them to be responsible,” he said. “I don’t see students taking this [dish damage] seriously as part of growing up.”
Unlike dorm damage, which played a key role in the influential alcohol forum last spring, dish damage has failed to stir a strong student reaction.
“There’s no cause and effect. There’s no outcry. There’s just ‘oh, it’s college,’” said Biette.
Winter Term Threatens Fragile Progress
Winter Term — dubbed J-Term by many students — has historically been a hotbed of dorm damage. Students only take one class over the course of the month, giving them more time to relax and pursue non-traditional interests.
The additional free time during Winter Term often fuels drinking, which is the leading cause of dorm damage, according to Ross.
“From a facilities services point of view, it [Winter Term] is a concern,” she said. “With this very cold weather recently, our people are out trying to fix heating calls and that is where their attention needs to go instead of responding to student damage issues.”
Dean Collado is proud of the progress made this year and said she hopes students will continue to make positive strides in the semesters ahead.
“The recent decreases are evidence of students wanting to take more ownership of their spaces. Students should not allow that to slow down,” she said. “I am hoping they will talk with one another, come up with solutions, connect with our outstanding custodial staff and keep this progress going.” 

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