A Letter from the Vice President

By Jeff Dayton Johnson

It is very good news for the Middlebury Institute that this new issue of The Black Mirror has appeared, even amidst the current, and ever more complex, global health crisis we are experiencing. It’s good news, to me, for two reasons. First, because The Black Mirror has, in its short start-up phase, become a lively and open forum for debates central to what we do at MIIS, as well as how we do it.

Those discussions center on diversity, inclusivity and equity, of course; themes that recur across our curriculum and scholarship, but also, as our President Laurie Patton frequently puts it, “an everyday ethos” to which we aspire as a school and as a workplace. I hope you have found, as I have, The Black Mirror to be an excellent source for information about how diversity, inclusivity and equity matter at MIIS, buttressed by authoritative accounts of what’s happening in broader contexts around the world. In the dizzying and abrupt move of all our teaching and work to remote formats, some of the activities that make MIIS meaningful risk slipping through the cracks – The Black Mirror and the arguments to which it gives voice among them. It is gratifying to see important elements of our pre-coronavirus work continue in this strange season of coronavirus. That’s the first reason I’m looking forward to reading this new issue of The Black Mirror.

The second reason this new issue is so timely is that the COVID-19 has crisis has laid bare the power of the diversity/equity lens to understand the evolution and impact of that crisis. Natural hazards are transformed into disasters when societies are vulnerable. A precarious housing stock turns an earthquake – a geophysical hazard – into a disaster for the vulnerable people who live there. So too, it is emerging that the coronavirus has struck with particular lethality, within and across countries, among populations made more vulnerable by histories of structural inequalities. This emergency requires us, as a school and as a workplace, to pay more, not less, attention to the mechanisms of inequality and exclusion.

Things will not be as before for MIIS in the 2020-2021 academic year. We will continue to grapple with the impact of this health crisis on our institution, even as we turn our attention to better understanding the crisis in our classrooms, whether in-person or virtual. And our colleagues and alumni will continue working to ameliorate the effects of this crisis around the world. In the meantime, I will be working closely with Prof. Pushpa Iyer and others to more explicitly outline and support the work of the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer in the weeks and months ahead. Pushpa and I welcome your input and perspectives on this work. Look for further details here in future issues of The Black Mirror and beyond. Until then, join me in reading this new issue of The Black Mirror.