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What follows is a statement written by Middlebury College students who were present for the aftermath of eugenicist Charles Murray’s lecture on campus Thursday night. The students who have come together choose to remain anonymous, but feel it is essential to share a complete account of what happened. Middlebury College President Laurie Patton and Vice President for Communications Bill Burger have grossly misrepresented the events of that evening in an attempt to overshadow Burger’s reckless and dangerous behavior, along with the violent behavior of multiple Public Safety officers. More information will follow.
To the Middlebury Community:
Students who were present at Charles Murray’s exit from McCullough Student Center on the evening of March 2nd find that recent accounts currently circulating omit important facts about the interactions between students, community members, Public Safety personnel, Vice President for Communications Bill Burger, and Professor Allison Stanger. As people were dressed for the cold, it was not always possible to distinguish between students of the college and community members. In recounting the events of Thursday night, it is essential to emphasize that protesters did not escalate violence and had no plan of violent physical confrontation. We do not know of any students who hurt Professor Stanger; however, we deeply regret that she was injured during the event. We are also deeply disturbed that Public Safety, private security officers and Burger incited and continually used violent and abusive force towards students and community members. In light of threats of disciplinary action against students affiliated with the peaceful protest inside of Wilson Hall, as well as the separate incident outside of McCullough, we, as witnesses, feel it critical to share our observations of the evening’s events.
In a shutdown of the lecture, hundreds of Middlebury students stood and turned their backs on Charles Murray – whom the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as a white nationalist – reciting speeches and chanting in a peaceful and organized expression of their dissent. After people were denied entrance to the building, they gathered outside, protesting with impromptu chanting and noise-making. Over the course of the livestream, alarms went off three times, which further disrupted Murray’s speech and Q&A.
Burger, Stanger, and Murray left McCullough around 7:00 p.m., surrounded by security personnel. Community members and students lined the path to their car, chanting and holding signs as the group left the building. One person blocked the sidewalk, holding a large sign in front of Murray. In the first of a series of disproportional and escalating acts of violence, security personnel immediately and without warning began pushing and pulling protesters out of the way as soon as they were within arm’s reach. Some people were thrown to the ground by security personnel, and one person was struck hard in the chest. A student reports that Professor Stanger’s hair was not intentionally pulled but was inadvertently caught in the chaos that Public Safety incited. It is irresponsible to imply that a protester aggressively and intentionally pulled her hair.
Protesters then surrounded the parked car, with some pushing on the sides of the car. Several people stood behind the car, yet Burger attempted to back out of the parking spot. He managed to back out by inching through a throng of security personnel and protesters. He proceeded to drive through the crowd. At times Burger accelerated forward into protesters. Security personnel pushed, grabbed and dragged students and community members to the asphalt to clear the area around the car. Security personnel inflicted bruises and other physical harm on many people. One observer states that they saw Public Safety Telecom Manager and Tech Support Specialist, Solon Coburn, put his body between outside security personnel and protesters, mitigating security personnel’s unacceptable over-reactions.
A traffic sign with a concrete base was knocked over in the path of the car. Burger was warned to stop by hand gestures and verbal warnings from multiple officers and protesters standing directly in front of the car. Instead, he accelerated into them and the concrete base, wedging a student between the car and the sign post, pushing both for a couple seconds and generating sparks and loud screeching. Burger showed no signs of stopping the car so people attempted to slow the car down to ensure the safety of the pinned student. Fortunately, someone was able to yank the student up from between the car and the sign post before the student was injured or killed. The sign was righted and Burger continued attempting to build up speed, at times running into protesters at around 5 miles per hour, sending people onto the hood of the car.
The crowd began to disperse as Burger turned onto VT Route 30/South Main Street. A person was still on the hood of the car. Consistent with security personnel’s shouts to “go faster,” Burger accelerated to approximately 25 miles per hour, at which point the person, fearing for their safety, rolled off the hood and into the middle of the road across from Meeker House. Burger did not stop, and drove away from the person lying in the road.
The actions of Vice President for Communications Bill Burger and Public Safety officers threatened students and community members for Murray’s benefit. We condemn the administration and Public Safety’s actions on Thursday night and since then — especially their attempts to discredit the protesters inside and outside McCullough.
The administration’s support of a platform for white nationalist speech was an intense act of aggression towards the most marginalized members of the Middlebury community. Though President Laurie Patton stated her disagreement with many of Murray’s views, by sharing a stage with him and designating his non-peer reviewed work as academically valuable, she effectively legitimized him. Furthermore, peaceful protest was met with escalating levels of violence by the administration and Public Safety, who continually asserted their support of a dangerous racist over the well-being of students. Burger and Public Safety personnel should be held accountable for these acts through appropriate disciplinary channels. No college communications have publicly admitted college employees’ violent behavior on March 2nd. This is lying by omission on the part of the college employees who were present that night, one of whom oversees official communications from the college.
More information will be released early next week.
Below is the statement read during the protest:
This is not respectful discourse, or a debate about free speech. These are not ideas that can be fairly debated, it is not ‘representative’ of the other side to give a platform to such dangerous ideologies. There is not a potential for an equal exchange of ideas. We, as students, and community members, cannot engage fully with Charles Murray, while he is known for readily quoting himself. Because of that, we see this talk as hate speech. But, this does not mean we don’t have something to say. And you will never have the comfort of our silence again. What is most important must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. Death is the final silencing tool and so many voices and lives have already been taken in the name of eugenics and of white supremacy.
Science has always been used to legitimize racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, ableism, and homophobia, all veiled as rational and fact, and supported by the government and state. In this world today, there is little that is true ‘fact.’ History speaks volumes, and the choices we make now affect people both living and to come. Through the 20th century, Vermont denied that American Indians still lived in the state. In the 1920s, the state government sponsored a eugenics program that imposed sterilization on families the elite considered unworthy. Nearly every Abenaki family of the Missisquoi region has stories of a relative who suffered from involuntary sterilization. Cross-burning by the Ku Klux Klan added to the fear, causing many Abenaki to ‘pass’ into other segments of society. It is important to note that the Eugenics Survey was not a product of quote, unquote, redneck ignorance. It was an offshoot of the progressive movement of the time, trying to improve society by scientifically guided state action. Middlebury College was one of 44 colleges with a eugenics-zoology program. These are only two examples in this country’s long history of state and institutional actions that we now claim to condemn. Yet, their impact is not insignificant, and the work that anyone does in this field is a continuation of that legacy. There are countless groups of people affected because of what claims to be academia, which then makes its way into the public, which then makes its way into the White House chair.
(This used quotes and ideas from Assata Shakur and Audre Lorde)