We Need Healing Not Discipline

By Sara Hodgkins and Edward O'Brien

This week our editorial focuses on reforming the judicial process at Middlebury, particularly in relation to sanctions the College is giving to Charles Murray protesters — all protestors who were in the room, turned their backs and chanted. We write this as an appeal to the administrators on behalf of those who protested Charles Murray. We urge administrators to read this carefully, with heart and soul in and ego aside. We believe that protesters did not violate community guidelines.

Here is our premise: we think the administration needs to be particularly careful, holistic and sensitive given the fraught and delicate nature of why people protested in this case. We think there are three basic ways that the College needs to approach this situation differently than they are.

First, we do not believe it fits with community guidelines to punish protesters. When we come to Middlebury, we agree to follow certain community guidelines with the intent of fostering a strong community. That is why we have an Honor Code. When people somehow betray the community, we take disciplinary action. But we argue that those who protested the Charles Murray event did so out of deep commitment to the community.

When a man to campus who calls into question the humanity of some of the students on this campus, to protest that man shows a commitment, a solidarity and a respect for the humanity of the people he dehumanizes. No, the protest did not happen in a way that was convenient for the administration (quietly with signs under a certain size, neatly outside the auditorium). Save for those who followed Murray and became violent, however, most people in Wilson engaged in a disruptive (is that not the point of protest? To disrupt oppressive systems of power?) but nonviolent protest that demonstrated not only our school’s intolerance for intolerance, but also that we stand with people of color, women and low-income students on this campus. Does it really fall in the spirit of violating community guidelines if you do it with the intention of defending community members?

We argue, then, that the protest was perfectly in line with community guidelines and with Middlebury’s core beliefs, perhaps even more so than the administration was. The protest stood up to those in authority to say that we stand with everyone on this campus who feels vulnerable today. Even if you do not believe Murray represented these things (and we disagree with you if that’s the case), then you must acknowledge that this was the intent of the protest. If this is the case, then to proceed with normal disciplinary processes — designed for those who have somehow betrayed the community — is riding roughshod over any intent of the protestors and demonstrates that the administration has not heard them. It’s not enough to smile and apologize while putting someone on disciplinary probation — if we believe these things to be true, then we should not put them on disciplinary probation.

Second, who the administration sanctions calls into serious question who in our  “community” we value. The Political Science Department invited and co-sponsored a man who calls into question the humanity of many of the students on this campus. Many of these students spoke beforehand to the administration, asking for them to change the nature of the event or to disinvite Charles Murray. When their words fell on deaf ears, they organized a protest. Even students who got swept up in the momentum of the protest day-of are being punished. One student admitted to chanting “Black Lives Matter” for a few minutes during the protest. According to him, he was told he violated the “respect for persons” community guideline and was put on probation. This example begs the question: respect for which persons? Punishing a student for saying the words “Black Lives Matter” aloud, on the basis of a “respect for persons” community guideline, blatantly privileges some persons over others. Murray actively argues that the poor are less intelligent than the rich, that women are less intelligent than men and that people of color are less intelligent than white people. Yet the students who are being sanctioned by the administration are the ones who chanted “Black Lives Matter.” This demonstrates a greater concern for some people on this campus than for others.

Furthermore, this is one of many examples people of color and other marginalized groups trying to work within the system, being ignored and then being punished for protesting. Punishing the protestors, therefore, plays into the same oppressive systems of power that Murray defends, that the College claims not to defend and that the protestors protested.

Given the points above, the third point of consideration is that disciplining the protestors with intimidating judicial practices will only deepen the divides and exacerbates the wounds that surfaced when Murray came to campus. The administration is equally as complicit as anyone else in the Charles Murray fiasco. Bringing Charles Murray to campus was an act of violence against marginalized students. Any path forward must be one of mutual accountability and healing, not one that reinforces existing power structures and absolves the administration and those who brought Murray to campus of any responsibility. To hire a private investigator to identify students from videos of the protest, to send intimidating emails demanding that students turn over all texts and documents related to the protests and to discipline those who stood up for their community members will only keep tensions high and exacerbate the deep divides in our community. This is not to say that we believe everyone involved should be punished; we think no one should. In order to heal, we need to move forward such that one body of people does not exercise its power to punish another. If we want mutual understanding, we need to come together without sanctions or discipline, but with open ears and minds.

We acknowledge that there is a wide variety of opinions of whether or not Murray should have been invited, how the protestors should or shouldn’t have protested and who is at fault for the whole event. So if we disagree, and if there are legitimate arguments on all sides, then why is it fair for the administration to privately dole out sanctions as if they bear no responsibility? If we are truly the close-knit community we used to claim to be, then it doesn’t make sense for the administration to discipline without conversation or to act without listening. Any response to the Murray event needs to be mutual, empathic and have healing — not discipline — at its heart.

If you have been contacted by the administration and would like to be in touch with other students who have been contacted by the administration for disciplinary action, please send an email to [email protected]

Opinions Editors Sara Hodgkins ’17.5 and Edward O’Brien ’17 write about college discipline after the Murray protest.