a student-run publication that seeks to provide space for voices that are not being heard on our campus. we are grounded by politics that are radical, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-homophobic, anti-ableist, and anti-transphobic (against all forms of oppression) and that reject the structural neo-liberal paradigm that characterizes middlebury college and its official publications
As a woman of color on campus, I have felt ignored. I have felt dismissed and marginalized. I have felt invisible at the Feminist Action at Middlebury meetings, where my fellow feminists have ignored my concerns as a woman of color by framing feminism to fit the concerns of the white, upper middle class, cisgendered straight female. I felt powerless when an athlete stormed into my room demanding that I have sex with him because he had “never had sex with a black girl before”. I felt hurt when a former FYC asked me to recite my high school credentials during a conversation about affirmative action so he could determine whether I “came to Middlebury on my merit”.
However, one of the times that I have felt the most marginalized was this past December when the Middlebury Campus released the op-ed “We Are Better Than This.” One might suggest that I am rehashing old controversies. But I believe that “We Are Better Than This” informs the greater conversation about the place of anger in campus controversy and how some believe that “irrational” responses such as “Have a Seat” are less effective than a civilized “intellectual” debate. In the article “We Are Better Than This”, the Middlebury Campus summarized the campus’ recent controversies, (as of December 2013) with particular attention to the scholar (?) Amy Wax’s lecture. During Wax’s talk, several students reacted to her radical arguments by holding up signs that said “racist.” The Campus chastised this activity by calling it a “(failure) as a student body to combat this controversy with grace.” The Campus determined “grace” to be students moving past their initial reactions to meet controversy with calm rationality. While I generally agree with this sentiment, I do not think that it can or should, be applied to the Amy Wax controversy. Students should have dismissed Wax’s arguments because they deserved to be dismissed. Wax’s arguments are racist and homophobic. They should not be met with calm or rationality. They should be slammed and called out for being offensive, regardless of how uncivilized the method of identifying the flaws in Wax’s argument.
Many students on campus believe that emotions (anger in particular) should be left out of intellectual conversations. They believe that emotions de-legitimize the thoughts of those who choose to let their feelings seep into their opinions. They believe that their fellow students should take a step away from their anger in order to fulfill the rational, intellectual exchange of ideas that our liberal arts college idealizes. In my experience, these students have often come from privileged identifiers. They are white, straight, cisgendered, wealthy, neo-liberal males whose identities are not being threatened by Amy Wax or any other speaker who the Campus thinks we should combat “with grace”. These students congratulate themselves on approaching contentious topics with a rationality that they imply (with coded language) comes from being a white straight male. Thus, these students succeed in blinding themselves with their privilege and limiting the opinions of others as they get to decide whose opinions have value.
If these “reasoning” students do not come from privileged identifiers, they are students like Freshman Year Me. They are students who recognize the value in curtailing their responses into something palatable and calm. They are students who realize that the way to be heard by many people on this campus is to write with flaw-free grammar, to write in a “sensible” voice and to have their name attached.
In order to seem legitimate to these students, Freshman Year Me often tried to take the emotion out of my opinions, and to become the rational, Chomsky-quoting writer who is often featured in the Campus’ opinions section. This curtailing of my emotional responses were also due to the fact that I felt (and still feel) pressure as a black woman to seem as intelligent as the white males who seem to dominate the conversations that are ironically discussing my identities. After all, my fellow students have taught me that intelligence is rationality, while passion is stupidity.
However, I now realize that this dismissal of emotion, specifically of the students who held up the “racist” signs, is a sentiment that can only be held by the privileged or by those trying to sound like the privileged. Only the privileged can be disconnected enough from the racism and homophobia that Amy Wax spews to suggest that we meet “controversy with grace”. Only the privileged can create a Campus endorsed op-ed with the condescending title “We Are Better Than This”. Who is we? Is it the entire Middlebury student body? Is it those who were personally offended by Wax because she disrespected their identities versus those whose politics were only offended?
I wonder: who determines what an irrational response is on our campus? Who decides that Amy Wax’s voice deserves to be respected? Is Wax respected because her opinions do not offend the majority? I refuse to believe that Wax is allowed to speak solely because of an idealized belief in the “marketplace of ideas” that Nathan Weil writes of in his op-ed “All We Need to Do is Talk”. There is a disconnect that the Campus and a lot of the student body has with Amy Wax’s opinions and with their identifiers. Perhaps this is why it is so easy for these students to respond to offensive rhetoric with “rationality”.
Is it only when we feel that deep ache in our chest after a speaker has offended our core that we decide that rationality should be cast aside? I wonder, where does the Campus, and the school majority draw the line of what is offensive? What will it take to make the Middlebury Campus realize that their op-ed devalued the anger that students felt towards Amy Wax simply because their anger was expressed?
As someone who always seems to be on the angry, reacting side of controversy on this campus, I look forward to the inevitable issue that will one day spark anger from Middlebury’s majority. I relish in the op-eds, the articles that will detail the horribleness of “The Offender” who made “The Marginalized Victims” feel silenced. I cannot wait to see the controversy that Nathan Weil and others feel uncomfortable debating because it is directly connected to their personal identities. Maybe then, will the Campus find the issue that their emotional reactions are not better than.