Words of the Week: “When Things Go Right”

Erika’s note: When I read Saragail Benjamin’s words, posted this past weekend within the Jewish Kidlit Mavens Facebook group, I reached out to ask if I might re-publish them here on My Machberet. It is, indeed, “important to speak out when things go wrong,” but “it’s just as important to speak out when things go right.” And that’s why I, too, “wanted to share with you now.” I’m grateful to Saragail for granting permission for me to do so.

College Hall, Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont, United States. Photo by Billy Wilson via Flickr.com.
College Hall, Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont, United States. Photo by Billy Wilson via Flickr.com.

Please welcome Saragail Benjamin.

I just finished my fourth-semester residency for my MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts [VCFA]. I’m delighted to report that it was an amazing experience. The college has faced its own challenges over the past year, and with the fighting in Israel and Gaza, I was concerned about being a Jewish student on a campus already experiencing upheaval. I worked with other Jewish students to take our concerns to the administration and am happy to say—they heard us, respected us, and showed it by taking concrete action to ensure a safe learning environment. No Jewish students reported incidents of physical or verbal acting out during residency. The administration graciously assisted our Jewish Affinity Group in setting up a luncheon and a Shabbat dinner, including supplying us with challah. On top of that, the school is doing an incredible job of pulling out of its own troubles. People new on the job are true menschen, enormously capable, communicating with honesty and transparency. The faculty is inspirational. The lectures and readings by graduates were strong and gloriously individual. I will graduate this July, but will continue on for a post-grad semester at this school which is giving me so much. It’s important to speak out when things go wrong, but I think it’s just as important to speak out when things go right. That’s why I wanted to share with you now.

A postscript from Erika: In exchange for allowing me to publish this version of her original Facebook post, Saragail accepted my offer to contribute $36 to the relevant organization of her choice. Saragail selected Hillel International, explaining that it seemed “especially apt since the VCFA admins’ attendance at a Hillel training was what really got them to see the need for protecting Jewish students now.”

College Hall, Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont, United States. Photo by Billy Wilson via Flickr.com.

11 thoughts on “Words of the Week: “When Things Go Right”

  1. I am so glad to hear this Saragail, I am pleased to hear it. And yes, I agree, it’s important to speak out when things go right. Sometimes I think the New York Times should have a daily column just for things going right somewhere. Erika, thank you for publishing this. I once taught psychology at an adult undergraduate program at Vermont College (which no longer exists) And I live in a nearby town. I”m a member of a small eclectic synagogue right near the college – Beth Jacob – if you want to stop by Saragail.

    1. Nina L says:

      Michele, what great idea for the NYTimes! I hope you send the suggestion to them!

      1. Nina – Alas, except for one time, I am sorry to say they usually ignore my letters. (Ironic smile).

  2. Hi Michele,

    Thanks for your kind comments! And thanks for inviting me to Beth Jacob. I led music at a Hanukkah party there a few years ago. I belong to Temple Sinai VT in South Burlington–we’d be happy to see you there any time.

    All best to you,

  3. Michele j Clark says:

    Heart, Saragail!

  4. Tom Balazs says:

    VCFA is my Alma mater. Glad to hear they’re still the inspiring, supportive place they were back in the day.

  5. I am so grateful to hear this! I am concerned about Jewish students in MFA programs–and Jewish students everywhere. So pleased you had a positive experience at VCFA. This gives me hope. Thank you!

  6. Stacy Nockowitz says:

    I echo Saragail’s words! She and I spent a lot of time together on Zoom during residency, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Thanks for writing and posting this, ladies!

    1. Melissa Rose Greenwood says:

      What Diane Gottlieb said!!!

  7. Joan Leegant says:

    So glad to read this. I too got my MFA from what was then Vermont College, now VCFA (1999). The (wonderful) administration in place then is now gone, so I’m happy to hear that the current one sounds as sensitive and thoughtful as earlier ones. Thanks for posting this, Erika. And to Saragail for writing it.

  8. Saragail Benjamin says:

    Thanks to Joan and everyone for your kind, positive comments!

Comments are closed.