Friday, December 6, 1996

Alumni profile: Ashby's reflections on times past

Published in the Mountainview

Carolyn Ashby '94 says she "just didn't move" when she graduated from Middlebury. She did, however, leave the "familial" Russian department, in which she had majored. She worked for and studied with members of the Russian and East European Studies faculty, but is adamant that she majored in Russian. She found the department a tightly knit, "funky little community" and enjoyed learning as well as singing with the Russian Choir. "It was an experience," she laughs, meaning not only the choir's tour of Russia, but also of her college career as a whole.

During the autumn of 1994, Ashby taught at Mount Abraham Union High School, and then "was unemployed for a very long time." She then spent what she calls "a very short stint" at the Kingsland Bay School, working with troubled young women. She has recently heard that most of those she worked with have now left KBS and started more positive chapters of their lives.

Ashby moved on too, working as a temporary retail employee at the Frog Hollow Arts Center in Middlebury. Shortly thereafter, the operations manager left, and she began working with the inventory. In August, she became the operations manager, dealing with inventory, shipping, and computer systems.

This spring, Ashby started working with Youth Aware, a local group for gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth. She said the group has about 3 high school students who attend gatherings regularly, along with "bunches of college students." Ashby is one of the people who have taken a lead planning role in the group. They are working on offering one event each week, rotating between a coffee house, a movie night, planning meetings, and a support group primarily aimed at high school students. Right now, the events are held in the Ilsley Library, though the group is looking at other locations around town. The support group is not yet active, due to a lack of training of potential facilitators. The group also hopes to be able to offer to local schools' guidance departments on gay and lesbian issues.

Despite her happiness with her job and her volunteer activity, Ashby says she finds living in the area very difficult, as a College alum. She is disturbed by the College's actions in recent years. She notes that nearly all of the Middlebury students she knows are leaving, or are taking time off from their studies, which Ashby blames on the general College atmosphere.

"It is not a good situation," she says. "At issue are the basic needs of the students. They need a functioning residential system, a useable library, and student opinion can only be asked for and then ignored for so long. It is approaching a critical point," she warns. An open critic of the College, she sees a disparity between what administrators say and what they do. She foresees massive student departures and falling enrollment. "Visitors will talk to students and know that nobody is happy, and they will not come." Ashby notes that many students have no respect for the administration, and remembers the same feeling in the student body her freshman year; she says the problem has been present for a long time and has worsened with age.

Ashby further argues that the state of the College and its plans for the future run the risk of alienating alumni who are unhappy with the changes. "The money supply will stop," she says. She knows she is taking a harsh position but has seen nothing to convince her she should hold any other.

Ashby has not forgotten her Russian - indeed, her dog Kayli responds to commands in both English and Russian - and is hoping to return to Russia at some point in the next couple of years. She is looking to work with arts organizations similar to Frog Hollow, because "there is such fabulous stuff being made over there, but there's no outlet except exploitative exporters." She says that she will probably go to graduate school, "when I'm tired of working," but doesn't see that happening for another 4 or 5 years. Beyond that, she says, it's anybody's guess.