Our campus is divided and wounded. Our story has been co-opted by the national media, and we have become an example of a larger narrative. Our path forward is unclear. I’m struggling to find clarity surrounded by all of this noise.
I think what scares me most is that we cannot all agree on how to classify Thursday’s events.
In her March 6th statement, President Laurie Patton wrote, “we have much to discuss — our differences on the question of free speech and on the role of protest being two of the most pressing examples.”
While some argue that what happened as a result of Murray’s visit demonstrates the lack of tolerance our campus has for free speech in academic discourse. Others claim that Murray should never have been given a platform from which to speak, and that his racist ideas have no place being discussed in an academic context.
In their The Wall Street Journal article, Professors Jay Parini and Keegan Callanan wrote, of their interpretation of what Middlebury’s principles should be, “exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.” Indeed, they add, “a protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.”
By contrast, Professor Lioness van Pelt put forward a different point of view in “Coming Together and Coming Apart,” which was published on Medium. He wrote, “I am angry that free speech is conflated with civil discourse, which is then equated with allowing a known racist and pseudo-scientist to stand on stage and gain the legitimacy of being on our campus, and only then we can ask smart and devastating questions in return. That’s one model, sure, but it’s not the only one. Students have speech rights, too. There is no right to that others will remain silence, that you have the right to be heard.”
If we continue to fundamentally disagree on how we should characterize the events that unfolded on our campus on March 2nd, how are we going to move forward? If we cannot agree on how to demarcate free speech from hate speech, and how each form of speech should be handled, how is our community going to come to any sort of understanding?
I do not want to go to a college that is plagued by divisions, where each side accuses the other of being blinded by its own bubble. If neither side is willing to engage with the other, we will be the cause of our own demise.
I personally am embarrassed and saddened by what unfolded on our campus on March 2nd. Although I do not agree with Charles Murray, I believe he should have been heard. I think the way the protest turned violent and how our community turned against each other has left an ugly stain on our community.
But I want to talk to those who participated in the protest. I want to engage in a dialogue with people who believe Murray should never have been invited, even those who argue that the violence was warranted. Explain your perspective to me. Hear mine.
We can’t allow our community to turn into polarized niches of like-minded individuals. I believe we can do better.
Say what you want about Charles Murray, but I think he got one thing perfectly right; in his piece detailing his experience on AEIdeas, he wrote, “much of the meaning of the Middlebury affair depends on what Middlebury does next.”
We may never come to a consensus on Charles Murray or on free speech. But we cannot let our disagreement over these issues let the reputation of our institution become tarnished beyond repair.
Annie Grayer is an Editor for the Local section of The Campus. Although she is a member of the Editorial Board, her piece is not necessarily endorsed by other Editors of The Campus.