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The Middlebury Campus

Open Letter to President Patton

By MATT GILLIS

Dear President Laurie L. Patton:

The hateful graffiti photographed by a student in Munroe Hall undoubtedly relates to the incident of racial profiling involving Addis Fouche-Channer after the Charles Murray protests.

The graffiti also implicates Bill Burger, who is known to have driven the escape vehicle escorting Allison Stanger and Charles Murray away from the college. An unidentified student/students quite elegantly used the edge of a piece of chalk to write  “F—ck Addis” on one board, and after some ghastly and short-lived game of Hangman, drew her being violently run over by the escape vehicle on the opposite wall.

After an acutely painful investigative process — a process I watched disturbingly unfold alongside Addis — the college continues to assert she was at the protest. I am beyond horrified that she had to see these images. As cowardly as they are, they are nonetheless shocking, violent in nature, and blatantly racist.

I consider Addis to be my closest friend, someone I would trust my life with. We’ve battled years of depression together. We’ve comforted each other after the countless times we felt marginalized or othered on this campus — when we’ve felt completely worthless in our own skin. We’ve celebrated the triumphs and weathered the tribulations of growing up in college together. She has been one of my most valuable teachers. She is, in many ways, fearless.

I was at dinner with her at the time of the protest in Proctor dining hall, and we watched Allison Stanger and Charles Murray continue their discussion over the live feed after they had been moved to an undisclosed location. We both felt similarly: How could the college refuse to listen to the screams of marginalized students, who felt both unsafe and ignored by his invitation to speak?

Addis had a lot on her mind that week, and prioritized her mental health over attending the protest. “I’m glad we chose not to go to the protest today,” I remember her saying, sounding particularly fatigued. “As much as you wish, you don’t always have the energy to fight every battle.”

***

I know the truth. Hell, I witnessed it, I experienced it. Frantically contacting everyone she interacted with in the dining hall after she was “identified” as a violent protestor by the Middlebury police department, she asked me to verify that I was with her. Little did I know at the time the gravity of the situation. How could she have been at the protest if she was with me? I was convinced she would be proven innocent, and told her not to stress out about it — that things would work out. They didn’t.

Each step of the way, those involved in the judiciary process attempted to invalidate the trauma she endured by insisting she had to have been lying. In order to counter the accusation, she carefully collected a diverse array of evidence, including Wi-Fi logs she obtained from the IT department. After she presented the evidence, as stated in The Campus’ article, the associate dean of judicial affairs said “there does not seem to be a good reason to move forward with a hearing.” I thought then that the nightmare would end for her last spring, and that she would be able to move on and settle into a life after Middlebury.

Addis came up for homecoming this past weekend. She was excited to see many of her close friends, but was apprehensive about reading the college’s determination files, which denied that she was racially profiled and asserted she was at the protest. Reaffirming what was recently stated in an article published on WRMC: “Conveniently for the college, this eliminates their culpability in a racial profiling case.” And furthermore, this action again invalidates the experience of trauma and oppression she faced and continues to face.

I accompanied her into the building as we went to read the determination files, and to see what evidence could have been conjured to contradict Addis’ and my lived experience.

“You know you weren’t allowed to bring anyone here, right?” the judicial dean said. She retorted, “Yes, I know. He’s just here for emotional support.” We were immediately separated, and she was brought down a winding pathway of hallways into a private conference room.

I asked myself, Why is this necessary? Why is she being treated like a criminal? I began walking through the hallways, discomforted by the fact she was alone reading what I thought might be devastating news. After a few minutes of pacing back and forth, I sat myself down in the designated waiting area. She emerged a short while later, visibly angry, fighting back tears as we walked out together.

The file cited her unwillingness to cooperate throughout the investigation as a reason to discredit her reliability. This statement is highly racialized. Why should she pander to the way white administrators expect her to behave when they are the ones accusing her of something she didn’t do? The other point of evidence was that she wore a similarly colored shirt as a protester outside. Just this past weekend, a black student was mistaken for Addis.

That was about it. Pure and simple, the determination was b—llshit. Again, I know this because I witnessed the truth. I know the truth. I experienced the truth, and continue to experience it.

I am not the first person to say this, nor will I be the last; your silence is deafening. Your most recent article to The Campus, entitled “Racism and Responsibility,” failed to acknowledge specific instances of racism on campus, several of which the administration is complicit in. Why haven’t you responded to WRMC’s article urging you to address this incident of racial profiling? Why haven’t you acknowledged Michael Olinick’s letter to the editor, outlining the racial profiling of a faculty member on campus by a Public Safety officer? Why haven’t you acknowledged that the word “RACIST” was spray-painted across the pillars of Mead Chapel?

The trauma students experience cannot continue to be refuted by the administration, nor can it continue to go unacknowledged. You must swiftly and specifically condemn Tuesday’s act of hatred and racism. You must acknowledge the pain Addis experienced throughout a prejudiced and demeaning investigative process, and especially the pain she felt today. Healing can only begin with a formal apology to Addis Fouche-Channer.

Sincerely,

Matt Gillis

1 Comment

One Response to “Open Letter to President Patton”

  1. MK on November 11th, 2017 9:43 am

    Thank you for your courage in writing this.

    [Reply]