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
In light of the recent library display “Charles Who? What happened on March 2nd, 2017?” curated by Emma Ronai-Durning and of the fact that today is the two year anniversary of Charles Murray’s last visit to Midd, we would like to address Pedro Miranda’s piece “Coming Together: A Charles Murray Reflection”.
This op-ed was released by The Campus in November 2018. The author talks about the intellectual growth that he experienced while working at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a notorious (far-right) conservative think tank. AEI fosters the likes of Middlebury’s very own honored speaker Charles Murray (CM) – world-renowned eugenics “scholar” and author of The Bell Curve – and Edward Blum – a legal “researcher” who actively works to undermine important and hard-won legislations to protect the rights of minority groups such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action (mainly because he lost a congressional race in the 1990s and is now bitter af).
In our response, we hope to address: the selfish nature of the author’s “intellectual” expectations, his ignorance in regards to material manifestations of century-old systems of oppression, the fact that Middlebury still does invite ideologically conservative speakers, and the aftermath of March 2nd that we (not CM) are forced to live with.
The first issue we want to highlight is the way the author selfishly uses his need for confirmation of his own beliefs (aka his need to be right) and his own intellectual growth as a justification to cause unsolicited pain and to re-traumatize others. He argues that in order to solidify his own beliefs, he needs to have his viewpoints regarding religious faiths (such as Islam), diversity, multiculturalism, and eugenics “challenged.” We want to ask, does the author himself feel personally connected to any of these issues? Did he feel his existence in this country and presence at the AEI were being questioned in these dehumanizing conversations? We are doubtful – few of those at the epicenter of interconnected oppressions would be able to stomach hearing, “Islamification is destroying the West” and “Diversity is not conducive to a civil society,” and even fewer able to brush these statements off as simply different intellectual arguments.
Realistically, for many students, these seemingly “intellectual” questions of diversity and multiculturalism are indeed personal. Sure, we always try to address the idea and not the person. But what if the student’s ideas are very personal? What happens when a student needs to begin defending their own presence at this “elite institution”? Or even their own existence in this country?
“I had to defend my values, and in doing so I gained a better understanding of what they are and why I believe in them” – Pedro Miranda 19.5
Secondly, we feel that the author is awfully ignorant if he needs to go to the AEI and take a course in eugenics with the man CM himself to learn that developing essentialist social policy based on “race, gender, and genes” is bullshit.
Why can’t the author just read some history books and learn that eugenics programs such as Vermont’s sterilization project of indigenous Abenaki women (amongst other marginalized groups) based on the belief that indigenous peoples were “unfit” to be mothers (along with racist beliefs that indigenous peoples should simply cease to exist) are awful? Or learn that slavery was a whole system of race-based oppression that lasted for hundreds of years and still has repercussions to this day (think Jim Crow, the Prison Plantation system, the current prison-industrial complex)? Real life oppression, systemic violence, etc. is not enough to confirm his beliefs that racism, xenophobia, oppression are dangerous and wrong? But a course in eugenics with CM and some casual debate did?
Furthermore, we want to bring up the fact that Middlebury does continue to invite a range of ideologically conservative speakers to campus. We still believe that Middlebury can be a “testing ground of ideas” for the author. Our ideas have definitely been tested. Think about Richard Sanders and his “mismatch theory”, where specific cultural organizations on campus were targeted with emails to attend based on the name of their group (Women of Color and Distinguished Men of Color received aggressive email invitations, while Asian Students in Action did not). The presence of conservative ideology has not dwindled here following CM’s departure, and we are sure the author can challenge himself if he looked hard enough.
Middlebury College already offers various mediums for students and professors to engage with each other. Groups such as JusTalks were formed to be student-led; to create time for student-student conversation about difficult topics – for us to literally lean into discomfort and feel “tense and at some points uneasy,” as Miranda claims to have gained from the seminar. It is one thing to interact with a fellow college student whose ideas may differ and to have a difficult conversation about those viewpoints. It is another thing completely to bring a high profile, nationally-recognized conservative figure to campus to speak, and to be expected to challenge someone who has literally published books and built a decades-long career spouting eugenics. The status of a speaker on this campus, especially one sponsored by the Political Science Department and introduced by remarks from the president of the college Laurie Patton, is clearly above that of an undergraduate student. And, if you’ve never felt that your place on this campus has been minimized by others (faculty, administration, and now a guest speaker), then congratulations, but many people have and don’t need an invitee from off-campus to re-minimize them.
The author mentions the need for “more conversations,” so we want to ask: do you have these kinds of conversations about race, power, privilege with your peers? Because we sure do – sometimes we agree, and sometimes we do not agree, but we all actively grapple with how to address systems of oppression within our daily lives. Do you? Or do you just stop at your defense of free speech? Does your fervor end after you publish your piece in The Campus?
In conclusion, the material consequences of CM’s visit remain with us still, even two years later. The distinction between what happened to the student activists that protested his talk and to CM/Allison Stanger (arguably two principle players in the whole fiasco) is just one example. On one hand, 48 students received sanctions from the college administration for their participation in the events of March 2nd, and 26 others faced more serious disciplinary action. The school has taken to revising its Demonstration and Protest Policy to stifle any further student demonstrations. On the other hand, CM took off on his revitalized career to a series of speaking engagements about his work and time at Middlebury. Stanger has also embarked on various paid speaking engagements and is currently authoring a book about her experience as the moderator of said event.
We do not see any students getting paid for their experience of being dehumanized, re-traumatized, and silenced. We agree with Pedro (and other like-minded individuals) that we should have difficult, honest conversations, amongst peers and with the people we care about. We do not agree with being forced or expected to listen and to respond to pseudoscience, eugenics, and blatant racism from a so-called “expert”. We do not agree with reducing people and their lived experiences down to statistics, numbers, and pretty charts to fit your narrative of what an “intellectual” conversation should look like. Racism, dehumanization, and invalidation are painful, messy topics, and we would much prefer conversations about them to be raw, earnest, unsettling – not sterile and “intellectual” like what CM presented and what you demand.