Some student excursions prior to Covid-19 took students across state lines to the Adirondack Mountains of New York state.
MiddKids have long been known for swinging their Nalgene bottles, wearing Patagonia, and engaging with nature – all characteristic of what is considered ‘crispy’. And while this outdoor and environmental culture permeates campus life, many also find it exclusive and inaccessible.
“There are a lot of people in Middlebury who really care about the outdoors and the environment, which on this campus is rated as crispy and feels like one big body. Febs are often characterized as crispy, ”said Kamryn You Mak ‘23.5.
After taking the previous semester off, You Mak described your experience of participating in the “crispy” culture in February.
“It’s eye-opening to see how closely they have grown together [Feb] Community is where hiking is a typical ‘Feb’ activity, ”You Mak said. Many students say there is a stereotype that Febs are “crispier” as some choose to travel, work, or participate in programs related to nature exploration for their February semester.
For others, the crispy culture gains additional cultural and political significance.
“I think activities and traits associated with the crunch culture typically consist of eating alternative diets, hiking and other outdoor activities, devoting oneself to reducing waste, and wearing brands that claim to be environmentally conscious, like Patagonia, “said Elijah Willig ’21.
Jackson Hawkins ‘21.5 agreed.
“To me, the crunchy culture is rooted in a shared love of the outdoors, but has expanded to include superficial things like the types of music you listen to or the clothes you wear,” said Hawkins.
According to Hannah Gellert ’22, the crispy culture in Middlebury has different segments.
“There’s a vein of it that really engages in nature and relaxes outdoors. And then there is a vein that is more performative, ”said Gellert, noting that in a performative crunchy culture only typical crunchy brands such as Patagonia or North Face are worn. She said that a third segment of the crispy culture involves environmental activism and sustainable living practices.
The crispy culture has manifested itself in tangible ways on campus, from the existence of clubs like Middlebury Mountain Club to the foods people prefer in the dining room.
“Since coming to Middlebury I’ve felt more confident about what I eat. When I arrived and interacted with people, I actually got to know the concept of ethical consumption, ”said Willig. I never thought that vegetarians or vegans would have environmental benefits. I was just assuming that people either want to lose weight or just want to love animals too much to eat. ”
Willig also noted that there are differences in the way certain groups of people eat on campus.
“[I noticed] small things in diet between groups, [like] Most whites in Midd never touch soda, ”Willig said.
Within 30 minutes of Middlebury, students can take several short hikes, including the one pictured on Mount Horrid near Goshen, VT.
There are a variety of groups on campus – with the potential to influence the perception and inclusivity of the crispy culture – that attract students with an appreciation for nature, such as Brooker, the Outdoor Interest House, or the Middlebury Mountain Club (MMC) . .
MMC was founded in 1931 and is one of the oldest student organizations in Middlebury. Year round, MMC offers a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, boating, and rock climbing all over Vermont and beyond. MMC offers these activities to Middlebury students for free.
Her trips have been very popular in the past and fostered engagement and appreciation for nature among the student body. In addition, MMC organizes social events, offers educational programs and workshops, and conducts outdoor orientation programs in the first year.
Current president of MMC Molly Arndt ’23, who is from Colorado and has spent some time outdoors, said she didn’t embrace her “crispy” side until she came to Middlebury and joined the Mountain Club.
“The idea of going on trips to explore Vermont, an incredible place, has allowed me to get more involved with things like canoeing and climbing,” she said.
Although many students talked a lot about their memories of enjoying these spaces, outdoor inclusivity was a critical concern for Arndt, who outlined MMC’s policy of ensuring that all students can participate in the club’s activities regardless of cost and access barriers . However, Arndt noted the persistent challenges of expanding accessibility.
“This still doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an intimidating room to walk into,” said Ardnt.
Willig said conversations about inclusivity and the outdoors shouldn’t take place in a vacuum.
“I once overheard a hiking group at the Adirondack house talking about how to diversify their group and make more people of color feel comfortable doing outdoor activities – all of which is great,” said Willig. “However, the meeting was 100% white. There was no contact with a cultural organization. No person from the AFC is sitting at the meeting. Only white people who think about the white of their group. “
In order to make the outdoor space more accessible to all students, MMC created the position of Commissioner for Diversity, Justice and Inclusion, which is currently occupied by You Mak. Since creating this position, MCC has made several trips specifically aimed at BIPOC students. Although current initiatives are limited in scope due to Covid-19 restrictions, the club plans to increase awareness and availability of activities, especially for students who are underrepresented in outdoor recreational spaces.
You Mak also pioneered the creation of Midd FIRE (Fostering Inclusive Recreation Experiences), a student organization dedicated to creating a safe, supportive community by and for BIPOC outdoor recreational athletes.
“It’s a bigger problem from people who are unrepresented or who have access to nature. It’s my main goal to get more people outside,” she said.
You Mak also emphasized the importance of doing justice to outdoor recreation at a college like Middlebury, known for both its predominantly white and affluent population and its close attachment to the environment.
The main goal of You Mak is to improve the visibility of a BIPOC outdoor affinity group in largely white-dominated outdoor organizations and spaces through the improved presentation and availability of trips for color students.
Brooker, the outdoor interest house and another center for crispy culture on campus, also deals with issues related to nature and exclusivity.
“Within Brooker, we realized that this type of monolithic ‘crunchy culture’ is really quite exclusive and can make people feel markedly unwelcome. So we’re trying to change that, but it’s difficult. When Brooker is seen as a place where “crunchy” people are, it helps set the mood for what it looks like on campus, “said Hawkins.
Hannah Gellert ’22 shared that Brooker has made some effort this year to become more inclusive after meeting informally with the SGA Committee on Diversity, Justice and Inclusion, including open sessions and changing the work on her proposal . However, she admits that more needs to be done to combat outdoor whiteness and “crispy culture”.
“[Brooker being a majority-white space] is a good example of the overlap of Midd as a historically white space and nature as a white space. And then you see this representative that the house has in it. Part of it is that you don’t want to symbolize people and you want to be like you are a colored person so we will automatically get you into the house. Because that’s not productive either. ”
To challenge and subvert stereotypes associated with “crispy culture”, You Mak encourages students to think about “what” [we] I grew up thinking about what mainstream environmental culture teaches people and [how to look] critically in rooms in Middlebury and see what can be improved. “