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An Initial Statement on the Principles of Inclusivity, Civil Freedoms and Community

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This document represents an initial statement on the principles of inclusivity, civil freedoms, and community, drafted by a group of more than 40 faculty members at Middlebury, which formed in the wake of March 2nd. We share it with all members of the Middlebury community in the hope that it will initiate and engender a robust discussion of inclusivity and related issues in our community.

Middlebury’s Mission Statement asserts our collective responsibility to ensure that everybody in our college can “participate fully in a vibrant and diverse academic community.” Our Community Standards state that we are dedicated to fostering a “diverse and inclusive community committed to civility, open-mindedness and finding common ground.” While our community is comprised of people with a wide range of identities, backgrounds, and perspectives, some of these positions are validated more than others by historical differentials of power which continue to manifest themselves in both symbolic and material ways.

Hence, inclusivity as a shared value cannot be achieved through passivity and neutrality. Simply asserting that everyone is equal will not solve structural inequities deeply embedded in our daily lives and histories. Inclusivity does not mean merely assembling a diversity of people into our ever-evolving community—it requires continual vigilance against creating or reinforcing the factors that marginalize, disempower, or delegitimize historically under-represented members of the community. We must openly acknowledge and actively resist these inequities. In particular, as a historically white institution in a historically white state, Middlebury is especially fractured around issues related to race and racism; people of color regularly find themselves marginalized, neglected, objectified or excluded from full participation in our community. A culture of inclusion requires not only active resistance against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and all other forms of unjust discrimination, but also continual reexamination of any policies, curricula, and pedagogies that may support these forms of oppression. The task of actively challenging oppressive ideologies and practices should not just be reacting to short-term controversies, but also working proactively over the long term to maintain and nurture the public space within which our community exists and grows.

Freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry are central to our educational mission, and we must robustly protect those freedoms for all students, staff, and faculty. But because freedom of speech and a culture of inclusivity are mutually imbricated values, such freedom comes with the obligation that it be exercised responsibly, especially when offering the platform of our campus to outside speakers who may undermine our culture of inclusivity—symbolically or otherwise. Thus, we all have the right and the responsibility to challenge any form of hateful speech at our institution, through a critique that examines its source, intent, financing, and impact on members of our community. We agree that the purpose of higher education is not to make anyone comfortable in their opinions and prejudices. But speech that justifies, naturalizes, and reinforces the positions of the privileged vis-à-vis the marginalized should be rigorously scrutinized and critiqued, and speech that challenges such opinions and prejudices should be encouraged.

We recognize that sometimes the values of inclusivity and justice come into direct conflict with other core values of our community or challenge established rules and policies. In moments of such conflict, members of our community may choose to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience. Disruptive as it may seem, civil disobedience is often constructive as a necessary means to reorganize and redefine the values and relationships that make up a community. In such instances, Middlebury must reassert our core commitments, consider such actions within their broader contexts, and employ restorative justice methods that allocate responsibility properly and strengthen our community. These social values and civic practices are public goods, and we are collectively responsible for taking care of them.

The choice between free expression and inclusivity is a false one, and understanding the ways they interact is an essential part of our educational mission. We pledge to be an academic community that continuously practices these complementary principles of freedom and equity in order to promote a liberal arts education that prepares all its members for full participation in an open and democratic society.

 

For other members of the Middlebury community who wish to engage these issues with us, go to go.middlebury.edu/inclusivecommunity

1 Comment

One Response to “An Initial Statement on the Principles of Inclusivity, Civil Freedoms and Community”

  1. Simon Willig on May 11th, 2017 2:55 pm

    Okay, the rhetoric here is a bit vague and the failure to commit super explicitly to a position may frustrate some. But I believe we can’t reasonably expect anything else given the situation that must be navigated by people who make a living employed at an institution who has recently been in the business of punishing those that this group might at least agree with or support ideologically. And the perspective here is really sound, if a bit rosy.

    Shit is messy and widely-agreed upon ideals of “free speech” and “inclusivity” can conflict; where the lines are drawn is extremely important to consider and in my mind this is the center of the conflict. Maybe others will disagree and say this is mostly about people’s bodies on the ground. I think the latter is a situation produced by the former and therefore the base ideology is the biggest thing to talk about.

    I think it is really important to remind ourself that a lot of the conflict and disagreement is based in differences in perspective on where lines are drawn (certainly within a reasonable range, as some people are violently inconsiderate and stupid).

    While all the discourse around Middlebury’s core mission statements as a community makes we want to barf as much as the next person, I resonate with the holistic and grounded perspective represented in assertions that we “consider such actions within their broader contexts, and employ restorative justice methods that allocate responsibility properly and strengthen our community.”

    Idk, man. Just my thoughts. I was expecting a lot worse when I saw the e-mail and headline. Maybe people will violently disagree with my perspective. Always up for discussion.

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The Student News Site of Middlebury College
An Initial Statement on the Principles of Inclusivity, Civil Freedoms and Community