From Abroad: A Letter to President Patton

By Middlebury Students Abroad, Middlebury Students

Although we are physically removed from Middlebury, we assure you that we are closely following campus events and are writing to register our disappointment with the administration’s handling and characterization of the events of March 2. We watched through social media as the protests were planned and unfolded: they were peaceful, intentional and well-organized given the time constraints. On the night of Murray’s talk we tuned in to students’ livestreams and felt proud and inspired as we watched our friends exercise their right to speech through organized and peaceful protest.  Unfortunately, communications from the administration have de-legitimized this expression of student will, clinging to flimsy free speech arguments while ignoring the many legitimate concerns leveled through letters and protest. That being said, we would like to address the following to President Patton:

We are extremely troubled by your actions regarding Mr. Murray’s speech on Thursday. In your introductory remarks, you said that “Middlebury is committed to unlocking the potential and brilliance of every student no matter their race, their class, their sexual orientation, their religious orientation, their disabled status or any other demographic marker.” While we appreciate the sentiment, this claim is hard to believe.  By letting this event proceed and attaching your name to it, we feel that you valorized and gave epistemological authority to a speaker who has disputed the “potential and brilliance” that exists in our student body on the basis of the factors you listed.  Your “profound disagreement” with Murray’s ideas isn’t enough because it signals that his unfounded assertions about the inferiority and pathology of underprivileged communities are up for debate at Middlebury.

We are sure that you would not introduced a member of the KKK or a Holocaust denier and are certain you understand that civil discourse has boundaries.  Thus, we question why you do not recognize attacks on POC humanity as violating norms.  A debate in which we have to pretend that one group is inferior to another is not a legitimate or useful intellectual exercise; it is a cruel abuse of power.

Middlebury claims to value “open discourse”, but failed to take into account power dynamics and the fact that free speech is not equal speech.  In prioritizing Murray’s right to free speech over ours, we feel that you reaffirmed the idea that Middlebury as an institution was not made for certain groups.

Your letter to the community only deepened our disillusionment.  Despite championing “rhetorical resilience” and engagement with all sides, we feel that you have not practiced this yourself; you have demonized student protesters while refusing to consider the perspectives that their resistance and protest forced you to hear. You made no obvious attempt at nuance or compassion, failing to acknowledge the ways in which the invitation and sheltering of a white supremacist in the place that we live and study caused emotional and physical damage. By allowing a hostile agent into our home, berating us for not treating him civilly and then apologizing on our behalf, you ignored the historic danger of his assertions.

You accuse us of failing to live up to Middlebury’s core values, but had we known that passively accepting bigoted pseudoscience was a core value, rest assured that we would have chosen to attend different schools. An institution that does such an abysmal job at retaining students of color must be more self-aware, else it is doomed to fail and should.

We feel that your letter legitimized a national media narrative which has characterized students, who never intended for violence to occur, as simultaneously spoiled elites and rioting thugs (the latter being racially charged.)  This un-nuanced conversation has sought to invalidate the protests by citing the cost of tuition at Middlebury while ignoring the fact that Murray’s invitation was an attack on socioeconomically disadvantaged, primarily minority students. We are left to wonder if your disappointment and condemnation are meant to assure the world that Middlebury is not a “liberal bubble.”  Was your letter merely an attempt to placate donors and trustees?

The excitement we felt two years ago surrounding the appointment of a female, well-qualified and seemingly open-minded president has abated and been replaced by feelings of disillusionment and resignation.  As well-intentioned as it may be, we feel that your passion for “rhetorical resilience” seems to signal to certain groups that they should “just get over it” when their peers and professors deny their very humanity and right to exist on this campus.  We feel that your commitment to students who have always felt unwelcome at Middlebury rings false and this latest episode proves that your administration does not value us the way you claim. Radical inclusivity is a principle to which this administration merely pays lip service. We demand better. We are ready to put in the work to realize this goal but ask that the administration, in kind, re-evaluates its recent actions and begins to demonstrate a tangible commitment to this college’s marginalized communities.

Signed,

Toni Cross ‘18 Rabat, Morocco

Eleanor Eagan ‘18 Rabat, Morocco

Philip Brand ‘18.5 Amsterdam, Netherlands

Sofi Hecht ‘18 Rabat, Morocco

Sabina Latifovic ‘18 Paris, France

Rose Adams ‘18.5 Rabat, Morocco

Sierra Jackson ‘18 Nottingham, England

Meg Sayre ‘18 Buenos Aires, Argentina

Maddy Dickinson ‘18 Kunming, China

Sanchea Chung ‘18 Atlanta, USA

Mari Tanioka ‘18, Stockholm, Sweden

Asia M-Funches ‘18 Atlanta, USA

Jennifer Damian ‘18 Monterey, USA

Olivia Tubio ‘18 Copenhagen, Denmark

Mariana Oshana ‘18 Córdoba, Spain

Anna Lueck ‘18.5 Amman, Jordan

Claudia Huerta ‘18 Buenos Aires, Argentina

Rachel Schneider ‘18 Berlin, Germany

Fiona Mohamed ‘18 Glasgow, Scotland

Anna Paritsky ‘17.5 Paris, France

Caley Henderson ‘18 Kunming, China

Sylvia Lynch ‘18 Yaoundé, Cameroun

Ashley Simons ‘18 Atlanta, USA

Elliott Miller ‘18, Beijing, China

Bryce Williamson ‘18, Poitiers, France

Nina Sweeney ‘18 Bordeaux, France

Julia Trencher ‘18, Córdoba, Spain

Deniz Bingul ‘18, Copenhagen, Denmark

Emma Walker ‘18 Rabat, Morocco

Adiza Mohammed ‘18 Rabat, Morocco

Katie Mayopoulos ‘18 Madrid, Spain

Tyler Farrell ‘18 Hanover, USA

Robert Engel ‘18 Rabat, Morocco

Daniel Buchman ‘18.5 Amman, Jordan

Abdel Rodriguez ‘18 Rabat, Morocco

Chelsea “Chi Chi” Chang ‘18 Xalapa, México

Addie Mahdavi ‘18 New York City, USA

Taylor Cook ‘18 New York City, USA

Students studying abroad respond to President Patton’s handling of last week’s protest.