Courtesy of C-SPAN
Political science professor Allison Stanger, who was injured following the March 2 protests of Charles Murray, spoke out last week in an interview and a congressional hearing, blaming Middlebury faculty for the acrimony of the protests and requesting an apology from students involved.
The hearing, held on Thursday, Oct. 26 before the Senate Committee on Health, Labor and Pensions, was titled “Exploring Free Speech on College Campuses.” Stanger delivered written testimony and answered questions from the senate panel. She was also interviewed on C-SPAN before her participation in the hearing.
To begin her testimony, Stanger explained why she thought the protests occurred at Middlebury.
“First of all, any liberal arts college campus is something of a bubble, but Middlebury College is in the state of Vermont, making it a bubble within a bubble,” she said.
Stanger went on to fault faculty members for failing to adequately educate themselves and their students on Murray’s work, relying on secondary sources instead of Murray’s own writing.
“Just because everybody is saying something about some person or group obviously does not make it true. Exhibit A is 1938 Nazi Germany. Our responsibility as educators is to encourage students to read and think for themselves, not to outsource their thinking to others,” she said.
In both the interview and her testimony, Stanger did not distinguish between the indoor protest and the events outside which left her injured, instead drawing a link between the two.
“Shutting down speech is always an invitation to violence,” she said. “The people who supported some of the extremist actions, at least at the time, thought that what happened outside was a result of outside forces, but it’s all very much interconnected.”
The masked individuals who attacked Stanger and Murray have not yet been identified. In response to an interview question about the assailants’ identities, Stanger responded, “I have some ideas.”
“I wouldn’t want to see anybody punished or suspended, but I think it would be a very constructive thing for students who were involved in the shutting down of this speech that led to my injury apologize,” she said.
Stanger elaborated on the status of her injury in the C-SPAN interview. “I still have a couple of muscles in my neck that misbehave, but I feel like I’m almost back to complete recovery,” she said.
In both her testimony and interview, Stanger repeatedly blamed faculty members for the events of March 2, citing a need for students to be better “advised.”
“What disturbs me about what happened at Middlebury is that I think students were actively encouraged by some members of the faculty to do things that were not in their interest, and that upsets me. Eighteen to twenty-one year olds are still developing, and need to be advised in the right ways,” she said.
In her testimony, Stanger acknowledged the challenges experienced by students of color at Middlebury, while still denouncing the actions of protestors.
“None of this is to excuse the shutting down of speech and the violence to which it led, but it is to point out that the emotions the protestors brought to the event were real and justified. There is still much equality work to be done in our country,” she said.
Stanger ended her testimony with three conjectures.
“First, while the entire university cannot and should not be a safe space, there must be
some safe enclaves on campus to foster inclusivity,” she said.
“Second, if we are to avoid the implicit endorsement of real violence, such as what happened at Middlebury, institutions of higher learning cannot be in the business of policing symbolic violence. Calling speech symbolic violence, unfortunately, seems to justify physical violence as a reciprocal response,” she said.
Stanger’s final conjecture called for a peace treaty among departments on campus, citing the sociology and anthropology department’s demand that the political science department rescind its co-sponsorship of Murray’s talk.
Stanger ended her testimony by encouraging bipartisanship.
“More broadly, our constitutional democracy will depend on whether Americans can relearn how to engage civilly with one another,” she said. “There is important work for Democrats and Republicans to do together. Let’s get to it.”
Stanger is currently on sabbatical and will return to campus in the fall of 2019.