People in conversation

Middlebury College's Transformation, What Our Work Makes Possible

We got a lot of calls after October 7th. Campuses, high schools, foundations, tech companies, and arts organizations—they were all in a state of crisis. “We just do not know how to navigate this,” one leader said. “It’s tearing our community apart.”

Middlebury College, however, did not call us. They’ve been holding campus dialogues, teach-ins, and panel discussions about Israel and Gaza since the conflict began, but you probably didn’t hear about them.

That’s because we helped Middlebury College create a campus infrastructure for open, courageous, compassionate, robust discussions of divisive issues for the past five years. We have trained faculty and served as thought partners, helping to transform their community.

The college had become a poster child for “cancel culture” after an infamous speaker shutdown of the author Charles Murray in 2017. But they wanted something different. So they turned to EP and launched their Engaged Listening initiative—and now they can navigate an issue that is wreaking havoc on so many other campuses.

“What is feasible and arguably most important for Middlebury is to create open spaces for discussion and education that embrace different perspectives,” reads an editorial by the college’s student newspaper.  “We hope that such efforts and events will strengthen, rather than divide, our community.”

So often, the outcomes of our work are the things that didn’t happen. There wasn’t a breakdown, people didn’t turn on each other, dysfunction and division and fear didn’t set in. People had the skills and tools to hold space for their differences and repair their community—it’s hard to imagine that as a front-page headline.

That’s why our supporters and individual donors are so important. It takes real vision to see what’s at stake in our work, and to see what our work makes possible.

Middlebury is one of a thousand examples of EP partners across the country who have built thriving communities strengthened by difference, connected by trust. They don’t make the news because “nothing” isn't newsworthy. When a crisis arises, they already have the tools to hold space for their differences.

Help us make less news together. Consider making a donation today so that many more communities will have what they need to navigate the next crisis, and the next one, and the one after that.

In community,

Katie Hyten
Co-Executive Director

Katie Hyten is co–Executive Director of Essential Partners.