This Is Not My Protest: Navigating Uncertainty in the Wake of the Murray Talk

By James Scott, Middlebury Student

I acknowledge that my views may not sit well with some of my Middlebury peers. I also encourage everyone — whether or not you initially agree — to try to sit with this discomfort and question its origin.

I showed up an hour before the talk ready to protest and express my disagreement with not only Charles Murray’s theories rooted in a belief of white/wealthy genetic superiority but also our Political Science department’s co-sponsorship of the event. At the same time, I was trying to walk a fine line between voicing my opposition while simultaneously supporting — or at least acquiescing to — Murray’s right to speak.

I entered Wilson Hall prepared to listen, but also curious about how the protests would manifest. The two students that introduced Murray received what I would label as unfair attacks on their integrity, such as, “Your last Middlebrow show f*cking sucked”, and so on. These rubbed me in the wrong way and made me feel uncomfortable; however, upon thinking more deeply on these feelings, I realized that within any protest and social movement, there will be myriad aims and motivations for people’s protests and just as many ways in which they articulate their sentiments. Some people were protesting merely against Murray’s platform while others were wholeheartedly committed to preventing him from speaking. As a white upper-middle class male, however, Murray’s theories can only be used to empower my existence, not to threaten or endanger it, so who I am I to tell people how to voice their opposition? Although I stood up and chanted in solidarity, this is not my protest. I am an ally who believes that it was my duty to stand next to my peers of color and participate in the demonstration. I could not just sit there silently, facing my courageous friends, acquaintances and fellow Middlebury students.

Many students have questioned the goals of the protest, and have asked me, “What was it that they were really trying to accomplish?” Ethan Reilly articulated my exact response: “whether or not you agree with the protestors methods, it has undeniably sparked widespread dialogue about our fundamental values as a community. I personally would much prefer for these conversations to occur between community members than with someone from an “intellectual” tradition that makes already marginalized groups on campus feel denigrated and dehumanized.”

This brings me to my next point. People have seldom shown any desire to acknowledge and sympathize with the plight of black/brown, poor, queer, trans and disabled people in the United States. Nobody wants to ask themselves what feelings would provoke a person to protest so adamantly in the face of promised repercussions, including suspension.

For those of you that arrived at the Charles Murray talk with such alacrity, yet claim to truly care about opening your mind to diverse perspectives: consider reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, Richard Wright and Toni Morrison. If that is too burdensome, sacrifice the equivalent time you allotted to Murray’s talk to watch a film like I Am Not Your Negro or 13th instead of another episode of The Office on your next Netflix binge.

 

Lastly, to those that are condemning the protesters for the tragedy of Professor Stanger’s assault, stop using a provocative protest as a scapegoat for a small group of non-Middlebury protesters. The violence that ensued was not an extension of the protests, but rather a perversion of it. I am also, saddened by Laurie Patton and Professor Stanger’s recent denunciation of the entire protest movement. To condemn all of these students that felt threatened by Murray’s presence and distance them from “your Middlebury” is to perpetuate and widen the existing divisions within our community that you claim to be working to rebuild, all at the expense of the already marginalized.   

In divided and unclear moments like these, where it can be difficult to judge “who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong,” I am more inclined to stand with the historically oppressed and marginalized than with the oppressors and the privileged. It deeply saddens me that the majority of my peers are so quick to defend Murray and his right to a podium for the sake of maintaining the status quo and upholding student protest policies.