Why We Protest

By Anna Jacobsen, Joshua Claxton, and Austin Kahn

As soon as word got out that Middlebury College would host a lecture by Charles Murray (CM), students gathered and began organizing to ensure that he would not have a platform to share his ideas on our campus. Why did a large and diverse group of students put their lives on hold to plan and participate in organized dissent (knowingly breaking college policies and putting their education in jeopardy)?

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), one of the most reputable civil rights organizations in the U.S., takes a firm stance in defining Murray’s political position as one of ​white nationalism​ that promotes eugenics. According to SPLC, Charles Murray, “has become one of the most influential social scientists in America, using racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.” The SPLC goes on to say that “Murray, a statistically minded sociologist by training, has spent decades working to rehabilitate long-discredited theories of IQ and heredity, turning them into a foundation on which to build a conservative theory of society that rejects equality and egalitarianism.” Murray’s ideas and research were fundamental in driving a political agenda that we believe to be more mainstream on this campus than many admit. Opposed to addressing the lasting damages done by centuries of racist laws enacted by a culture that privileges whiteness, many people on this campus believe that people of color in the U.S. simply do not work hard enough.

On Thursday, demonstrators held signs that read “Resist White Supremacy,” “No Eugenics,” and “Expect Resistance Here” as they collectively read a statement that touched upon the deep history of ​eugenics programs​ in the state of Vermont throughout the 1930s, when Native Abenaki people were targeted for state-sanctioned forced sterilizations. In articles and open letters circulated before the event was scheduled to take place, students and alumni declared that under no circumstances should the College provide a platform for CM’s white supremacist ideologies.

Yes, freedom of speech is important and should be upheld in an academic setting; however, there are clearly fallacies within the administration’s interpretation of this constitutional provision. Not all opinions are worth amplifying or legitimizing. There are some theories that fabricate statistics and are rooted in hate.

And let us notice the context in which we choose to invoke free speech. There would be no cries in defense of the first amendment if student groups had brought a holocaust denier; no one would be yelling free speech if students were opposed to a climate change denier coming to campus. Neither the administration nor any department would have any issues denouncing these potential lecturers for their faulty science or hateful views. Yet as we saw on Thursday, our professors made an exception to offer a platform to racialized genetic inferiority, in the name of “rhetorical resilience” over academic honesty.

The Political Science Department endorsed Charles Murray as a fellow leader in academic thought. Why do we only care about free speech when it calls into question the genetic inferiority of our fellows students. What is the point of academia, if our political science professors can’t discern between conservatives and hate speech extremists?

We are deeply sorry that Professor Stanger was injured and hope that she gets well soon. Regrettable acts of violence aside, this protest was absolutely essential. If the rise of Donald Trump has taught us anything, it’s that the world beyond Middlebury College is n​ot a classroom.​ If racist sh*t comes up, “rational” debate cannot dismantle it or effectively combat its growing power. The idea that bigotry will collapse under academia’s enlightened rationality is false. We must name it and deprive it of power. Robbing Charles Murray of one platform for his racialized pseudoscience is a small but important part of that resistance.

PS:  Here are the two URLs that are hyperlinked in the piece

Eugenics in VT: http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/VT/VT.html

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/charles-murray

Anna Jacobsen ’16.5, Joshua Claxton ’18 and Austin Kahn ’17.5 consider the implications of last week’s protest.