A Call for Civility

By Guest Contributor

As faculty members at Middlebury College, we were extremely saddened by the lack of civil debate following the removal of the American flags that comprised the 9/11 Memorial on campus.

Regardless of how you might feel about 9/11 and the use of American flags to represent those who died or about Abenaki burial grounds and the need not to desecrate them, we would hope that you would also believe that when we fundamentally disagree with one another, we should not be reduced to describing one another as “traitor” and “unpatriotic” nor “nationalistic settler” or “liberal fascists. “ More urgently, we should not be threatening physical harm or using words like “bitch” to describe one another.

We were heartened by President Liebowitz’s words that

“We live in an academic community that fosters and encourages debate and discussion of difficult issues. It is also a community that requires of all a degree of respect and civility…”

Sadly respect and civility are exactly what is not being shown in response to the protest. Instead of holding the protesters accountable for infringing on the right of others to express themselves, the protesters are being painted as completely evil and therefore inhuman and not possibly a part of the Middlebury community

Middlebury is excellent at producing critical thinkers who are engaged citizens. Sometimes we disagree on both our analysis of how the world works and how best to respond to it, but we surely all agree that thinking deeply and acting with conviction are values we hold dear.

The act may be universally condemned by the Middlebury community; the student should not be. She is busy learning and thinking about our world, how power operates in it, and what she can do as a citizen of this world. If her protest was a mistake (and many believe it was), then as every teacher knows, a mistake is always a teachable moment.

In this case, the lessons are clear: respect for difference of opinion, real dialogue between all interested parties, and a community in which we all assume that we are acting with good intentions.

The student who did not speak to the organizers of the 9/11 Memorial should learn this, but so should many members of the Middlebury community who have responded to her act with such vitriol. Rather than rejecting the student and the difference of opinion she represents, we should in fact do as President Liebowitz suggested and encourage civility and debate.

Submitted by TARA AFFOLTER, FEBE ARMANIOS, ERIK BLEICH, PENNY CAMPBELL, MAGGIE CLINTON, DARIEN DAVIS, JAMES C. DAVIS, DAVE DORMAN, LAURIE ESSIG, CHERYL FARAONE, JUANA GAMERO DE COCA, WILLIAM HART, SUJATA MOORTI, KEVIN MOSS, MIKE OLINICK, ELLEN OXFELD, ROBERT PRASCH, MAX WARD, DANA YEATON

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