Success Story: Creative Action at Middlebury College

Creative Action at Middlebury College

by Olivia Grugan and Moriel Rothman

Coal freeze.

He mindlessly grabbed a plate and began his dining routine at the salad bar. The student right in front of him stopped halfway through the process of bringing the salad tongs to her plate. She stood there frozen. He looked at her plate and saw three pieces of charcoal. He waited, but she didn’t budge. He turned to look around the dining hall and saw forty students frozen, mid-routine. They all had charcoal in their hands or on their plates. After five minutes frozen, they continued as if nothing had happened.

This “freeze on coal” was coordinated by Middlebury College’s Sunday Night Group (SNG), an environmental group, and the Socially Responsible Investment club (SRI). The students from these clubs have organized four creative action demonstrations in order to question the college’s endowment investment practices. They are unsatisfied with the lack of transparency in the endowment, and want to rid the endowment of any investments in companies that violate human rights or promote environmental degradation. To draw attention to this topic, they organize these weekly events on campus, both to raise awareness among the student body, and to attract the administration to the dialogue.


In addition to the Freeze on Coal, SNG and SRI have organized three other Creative Actions. In “No Coal: The MusiCoal” students burst into sudden song at the dining hall and then marched out together singing, “Hi ho, hi ho… We want no more coal” to the tune of the Seven Dwarfs song. The next week the Cirque du Coaleil made an appearance, presenting the “marvelous spectacle of the Disappearing Endowment.” Students paraded through the dining hall, juggling, doing acrobatics and “searching” for the invisible endowment. This past week a pair of students stood blindfolded stirring a pot of “Endowment Soup” and ranting about how environmentally friendly Middlebury is while “Coal Goblins” threw in pieces of coal into the pot, “contaminating” the endowment.

Hopefully this effort to publicly expose the inconsistency between Middlebury’s mission and its investment practices will draw enough attention that students, faculty and administration all recognize the importance of the issue and work collaboratively to “clean up” the endowment. In the meantime, though, these students are having a blast.

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