End the Middlebury College Feb Program

“What did you do over your Febmester?”

I looked around the room full of new acquaintances. One had traveled to Africa. Another had ridden on horseback across part of Patagonia. A third had trekked through Nepal. How could I match that? I’d simply enrolled in another college for the fall semester. Like many of my friends and classmates, I had never wanted to be a Feb. But I’d wanted to go to Middlebury since I first skied at the Snow Bowl. The stories you never hear are about the Febs who spent the fall working retail or starting college elsewhere, or who eagerly applied early decision and then sat at home while the rest of their friends left for their schools of choice. You hear about the Febs who went off to save the world; for many Febs, for many reasons, world travel is not an option. Although I later took a semester off to “follow my passions,” I simply wasn’t ready at 18. I had never left home on my own, and I wasn’t comfortable asking my parents for the money for such a trip.

When new Febs arrive at Middlebury, the initial exuberance quickly clashes with the reality of the situation. Regular first-years have a hall of peers, an FYC and a Commons system for support. New Febs do not. They are scattered in whatever space is available, often a long way away from potential new friends and sometimes with upperclassmen with whom they have little in common. Whatever integration they get into the Commons system feels like an afterthought at best. Middlebury, of course, has a way to spin this. Febs, they say, are independent-spirited leaders. What they really are, though, are first-year college students dealing with the same struggles as any other new student – sudden freedom, course loads, the omnipresence of alcohol – but with a lot less official support.

Febs are different than typical first-years in at least one way. We are almost exclusively white. There is a simple reason for this: the College only reports the diversity statistics of fall admits. Former Director of Admissions Bob Clagget said in a Campus article published in March 2010 that “we tend not to offer February admission to American students of color unless they specifically ask for it.” By taking in a lily-white February class, Middlebury looks much more diverse than we actually are. And in a time when Middlebury is straining to put forward a more diverse face, the Feb program is shockingly, publicly, unabashedly racist. There are country clubs in Mississippi with more minority members than the Feb classes.

Middlebury College is renowned for its language programs. February admission makes it difficult for students to take full advantage of these programs. Most introductory language classes start in the fall, and intermediate classes take place over J-term. By the time Febs arrive, they must either wait until their second semester to start a new language or take an accelerated option. For many Febs, this makes going abroad in language programs difficult, as they cannot achieve the required level of mastery by the spring of their junior year.

Although Febs tend to form a more tight-knit class than do the fall classes, this is out of necessity. By the time they come in midway through the year, the fall class has solidified their social circles, often centered around a common hallway or team experience. Many Febs also experience a sense of inferiority, as though they must overcompensate for whatever quality they lacked to allow them to come to Middlebury in the fall. These factors create an unnecessary distance between Febs and the rest of their classmates that often persists throughout the college experience, especially in the final semester when the rest of the class with which they identify has moved on.

The original public justification of the Feb program makes little sense. It is difficult to buy the argument that Febs are necessary to fill the beds of students abroad in the spring when the incoming classes merely serve to replace the outgoing Febs.

This is not to say that I am not grateful for my experience at Middlebury. I love this community, and the people who make it special. If I were to go through the college experience again, I would do nothing differently. Obviously, we should not prevent students from taking gap semesters or gap years if they so choose. But unless the only issue that Middlebury cares about is appearing more diverse on paper than in reality, the Feb program creates far more problems than it solves. It is time to phase out the program in favor of more integrated classes.

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5 thoughts on “End the Middlebury College Feb Program

  1. I think a better solution might be to start counting febs in diversity statistics (and thus bring some diversity to the alarmingly bland feb population), rather than end the feb program entirely. I’m not sure I would have had the initiative to take a gap semester if Middlebury hadn’t endorsed it…and I think there are a lot of kids out there who aren’t ready for college right after high school. I certainly wasn’t. (And I’m not sure a semester off helped in that regard, but that’s another story.) Whether you work or travel or take classes or whatever, that time outside the academic bubble is valuable. I wish it were easier for students in America to take that time off. I find it’s rather stigmatized in our ambitious, career-oriented culture. Diversity at Middlebury is a load of crock in general and the feb program is just one manifestation of that. It’s time to make Middlebury accountable for its overblown, falsely advertised illusion of diversity. Ditching the feb program probably won’t change anything, but working to make it (and the class as a whole) more diverse, might.

  2. The title of the feb orientation booklet my room mate has is ‘Hello my name is ‘Feb”. Indeed he is a feb, but that’s not all he is. He is a writer. He is a musician. He’s a bright student. He blogs like no other man can (sorry Zach.)

    Many members of the college community incorporate ‘feb’ or ‘reg’ into their identity at Middlebury. As Zach mentioned, this is likely a function of timing – when Febs show up, regs have already established a routine. But eventually, Freshman year ends and febs and regs alike establish their place on campus. Despite this, the feb class never really feels incorporated. Where does the necessity of identifying yourself as a reg/feb come from? Can it really be blamed on timing alone?

  3. I agree with the problems, but I don’t agree with your solution. I’m a Feb, and I didn’t choose to be, however at this point I wouldn’t change it for the world. I was expecting to disagree wholeheartedly with this article. While, unlike you, I fully believe that the Feb program should continue, I agree in your proposals that changes be made. All of your points are completely valid and true, and I felt the struggles of each and every one of them. However, I’m still thrilled to be here, and thrilled to be a Feb.

    I guess I’m agreeing with sydschulz here…..there are clearly issues with the program, but that doesn’t mean we need to ditch it. It just means we need to fix it.

  4. There are certainly a fair number of feb students that go on expensive parent-funded trips, but there are also a huge number of febs that pay for their own trips. A febmester is about 8 months–including the summer. Living at home and working for 5 of those months in order to fund 3 months of travel really isn’t that difficult–it takes a little creativity and a little motivation. Obviously, you can’t hit up Europe if you have a job making $400/week, but places like Mexico or Argentina have pretty darn favorable exchange rates for Americans.

    Febs travel regardless of their family’s socio-economic status–creativity and motivation are what separate the “travelers” and the non “travelers” within the feb class.

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