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Vandals hit Middlebury campus

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Posted on October 23, 2017 |
By Will DiGravio



Courtesy the MIddlebury Campus

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College community woke up to widespread vandalism on Saturday, Oct. 14, after an unknown individual(s) spray-painted condemnations of the college at eight locations on campus.

One of the more notable examples occurred at Mead Chapel, where the word “racist” was spelled out across the six pillars at the building’s entrance. Outside Old Chapel, where the offices of senior college administrators are located, the vandal(s) spray-painted the word “shame” and a sad face. The phrase “F-ck Middlebury” was found spray-painted on the lawn in front Hepburn Hall, and “I Hate Midd (sad face)” was found outside the college bookstore.

“At this point, we haven’t identified who is responsible for the vandalism,” college spokesman Bill Burger told The Campus last week. “We are in touch with the Middlebury Police Department and they have agreed to help in the investigation.”

The vandalism comes during one of the more turbulent times in recent college history, and at a time when community members have expressed disappointment in the college’s handling of issues related to race and class.

“The graffiti that was left, presumably, by members of our community on various buildings and public spaces this past weekend sends a clear and important message: We, as a community, have not done a good enough job in making people who feel marginalized and excluded welcome at Middlebury,” said Kyle Wright ’19.5, who co-chairs the Community Council.

“That is a fact that we must collectively reckon with. This consideration of our shortcomings should be the primary focus in moving forward from this instance of vandalism.”

In March, protesters at the college prevented Charles Murray from delivering a lecture after labeling him a racist and white nationalist. Last month, The Campus reported that Addis Fouche-Channer ’17 filed an official complaint with the college alleging she was racially profiled in the wake of the protest. The college disputes her account, even though a judicial officer had cleared her of any wrongdoing last spring.

After The Campus report, Middlebury Faculty for an Inclusive Community, a coalition that formed in the wake of the Murray protest, called on the administration to do more.

“It is not just about taking responsibility in a broad and general sense, which President Patton has done repeatedly,” the faculty members wrote. “It is about demonstrating the humble learning that comes from admitting specific mistakes, and highlighting how we can and will do better for our students going forward.”

The Campus on Thursday published a letter to the editor written by math professor Michael Olinick that said a professor of color was racially profiled while attempting to enter her office earlier this year.

“It is especially distressing that although this incident was reported promptly, the professor states that the college administration has been slow to respond, and while it regards the office’s behavior as ‘unacceptable,’ it refuses to recognize it as racial profiling,” Olinick wrote.

According to Nia Robinson ’19, who served last year as co-president of the Black Student Union, these problems are institutional.

“From my perspective, it seems like the administration ignores those issues until they can’t anymore. That’s why I think things like graffiti and protests happen. Maybe they do pay attention, but don’t think there is anything they can do,” she said.

“I think it takes looking at Midd as an institution first, realizing it was made for and by rich white people, and will continue to be that way, no matter how many students of color we pump through here.”

In an op-ed submission published in last week’s issue of The Campus, College President Laurie L. Patton acknowledged that the administration needs to do more.

“Racism is present at Middlebury, and it will not be tolerated. We must come together as a community to address it,” Patton wrote.

“We also need a comprehensive approach to this problem, at all levels, beginning with the administration.”

Regarding the graffiti, Wright, the student Community Council co-chair, said it is important to note the burden it places on other members of the college community.

“This graffiti does not affect our college administration in the way it does members of Facilities Services, for example, who are the staff responsible for cleaning graffiti off of our buildings,” Wright said.

“Indeed, it impacts those groups very inequitably, which I’m sure was not among the intentions of the community members who performed the graffiti.”

According to Burger, 14 members of the facilities staff cleaned the graffiti from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. on that Saturday. Additional work had to be done on Monday. Four members of the facilities staff came in to work despite it being their day off.

On that same day, a memorial service for Juana Gamero de Coca, a Spanish professor, was scheduled to take place in Mead Chapel. Burger said the staff prioritized cleaning that location first.

“We’re deeply appreciative for the efforts and skill of the members of our staff who worked that morning — some on their day off — to remove the work of the vandals,” Burger said.

Going forward, Wright said the administration should use this as an opportunity to address these issues.

“A comprehensive response on behalf of the administration regarding the concerns raised by this graffiti is overdue,” he said. “Perhaps there are equally effective formats to convey that message that do not put undue burden on the college staff — such as members of Facilities Services — who, I believe, are not directly implicated in those concerns.”

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