We’ve heard it time and again since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic: these are uncertain and unprecedented times. Now, months later, little has changed, and students across the country are struggling to adjust to the challenges posed by a completely virtual education system. But there’s one group of students who aren’t worried at all. In fact, they’ve been training their whole lives for this moment. That’s right: the Mimes.
For centuries, Mimes (or Mimers, as they’re sometimes called) have lived at the edges of society, practicing their craft in silence and with scant recognition. Elwin Stanwick is one such Mimer, a lifelong resident of Davis, California, and a proud member of the Harvey Mudd Class of 2024. The Golden Antlers met with Stanwick in late August over Zoom, where he demonstrated an impressive ability to communicate his ideas through a combination of exaggerated gestures, comical facial expressions, and the “chat” function.
“Miming, for a lot of people, they get started just to earn a few bucks,” motioned Stanwick. “But you fall in love with it, you know, and it becomes more than that. It’s really a way of life, the lens through which you see the world once the words fall away.”
On a standard Zoom call, the screen is broken up into rectangles, each containing the video feed of a participant. And for the majority of a given class, each student is “muted.” So how do you communicate and learn in a confined, wordless box? To many students, this poses a daunting challenge. But it’s the bread and butter of Mimes like Stanwick.
The GA spoke with Melvin Oliver, President of Pitzer College, about the future of virtual learning and the Claremont Consortium’s new “Invisible Walls, Visible Students” initiative, which seeks to foreground the lived realities of Mimes for the first time on a college campus. “Mimes are an untapped, and really, underrepresented, group, when you look at college admissions statistics,” President Oliver told The GA on behalf of the Consortium. “But really, now, no other group understands the virtual classroom so completely, so inherently, as Mimes do. While many students are shying away from Zoom, Mimers are seeking it out. And frankly, we’re counting on that.”
The IWVS Initiative is targeted primarily at the Class of 2025. It’s composed of two main parts. The first is a call for Mimes across the country to apply, branding the Claremont Consortium as “the Mimer’s Haven.” Second, the Consortium plans to invest in developing Mime Affinity Spaces for existing “MMs” (better known as matriculated Mimers), as well as “First Time Mimes” interested in venturing into the field.
President Oliver expressed some reservations, but was generally optimistic about the prospects of the initiative. “[IWVS] is a big risk. We’re praying we continue virtual learning at least into 2025, and we’re crossing our fingers that Mimes out there will see this as more than just another empty recruitment tactic. We believe Mimers have a lot to teach our community here at the 5Cs, and we’re ready to welcome them with open arms, but closed mouths.”
Now all that’s left to do is wait, and see if the Mimes will answer the call, if Elwin Stanwick is just the first pioneer of a larger Miming movement at the Consortium. Stanwick, for his part, was optimistic that the opportunity is too good to pass up.“When you think of a Mime, you think of their box, right? It’s the first expression every Mime learns. But it’s not just an expression. It’s also a metaphor,” Stanwick mimed to the GA just before signing off. “For too long, the Miming community has been stuck in that box, silent and alone. Now, finally, we’ve got a chance that we can’t pass up, to bring people into that box, to share Miming with a whole new community who are, for the first time, ready to learn. And I think that’s beautiful.”