As a close-knit liberal arts college tucked gently away in the bucolic Vermont countryside, it becomes easy to think of our actions and the scope of our influence as contained within a bubble. But in truth, our actions on campus reverberate far beyond our small community.
The insulation between Middlebury and everywhere else affords students certain liberties in their quest for knowledge that they would not have elsewhere: students can spend their entire four years challenging societal norms while knowing for certain that every day they will have access to three healthy meals, every night they will have a bed and every hour in between they will be surrounded by open-minded, intelligent persons who share the same goals of peace and knowledge. The College is a truth seeker’s haven, and activism is an integral component of this identity. It is a powerful tool of discourse that, when conducted properly, pushes issues much further and harder than mere words can do. Like all forms of power, however, it is prone to abuse when carried out without careful consideration and proper critical engagement.
The theft of American flags commemorating lives lost in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by Anna Shireman-Grabowski ’14.5 and four others on Sept. 11, 2013, exemplifies the dangers of rash action and ill-considered activism. While the theft itself may have been petty, the emotional response and consequences that it triggered were astronomical. The entire incident brought intense, negative scrutiny to the student body, the administration, and the College at large.
But no action of protest justifies threats of bodily harm and death. The threats that came from both within and outside the community, especially those targeting Shireman-Grabowski and her family members were not acceptable in any circumstance. This incident angered many because it brought to the surface powerful feelings about a horrible day in American history, but precisely because we honor that history, we should not stoop to witch-hunts and mob justice.
Though Sept. 11 was a tragic day for Americans, it also exemplified the human ability to come together and show strength and support in the face of adversity. Honoring the victims and heroes of Sept. 11 involves both remembering their memory and our country’s resilience. As a campus, we too should honor this by not letting our anger cloud our dedication to due process. The email sent by President Liebowitz the day following the incident called for respect and civility, which we as a community should strive to uphold throughout this process of healing and justice.
As we move forward, the parties involved must receive due process in due time. We must trade pain for hope and division for unity. We’ve already seen the beginning of the healing process in the students who came together to reconstruct the memorial as best they could.
Although the effects of the event extend farther than the Middlebury Bubble, we cannot allow Shireman-Grabowski to be tried by the voices of the internet nor can those deciding her fate make their decision while being torn apart by armchair vigilantes hiding behind the easy anonymity of the internet. Justice will be served not by online fear mongers, alumni or disgruntled members of the college but through the proper channels, and the disciplinary process and decision should be fair and proportionate to the offense. Let us honor the strength of this community and of the victims and survivors of Sept. 11 by moving forward with dignity as we heal.
Listen to the editorial board discuss their process in writing this piece.