Students Hold Counter-Event to Sander Lecture

By NICOLE POLLACK

As Richard Sander spoke at the Kirk Alumni Center on Tuesday, dissenting students held a counter-event in the McCullough Student Center. They sat in a circle in the middle of Crossroads Café, eating pizza and snacks, and using their shared displeasure with Sander’s presence on campus as a platform to discuss the future of alternative protests at Middlebury.

Sander is a law professor at UCLA known for his criticism of affirmative action programs, and specifically his stance that affirmative action leaves minority students unprepared for overly-competitive college environments.

“I’m tired of student groups inviting speakers who consistently dehumanize members of our community,” said organizer Eliza Renner ’18.

“We said we should do something,” added Madeline Bazemore ’19.

The students who coordinated the counter-event were inspired by recent campus discussion about the influence of white supremacy, including the Feb. 26 teach-in Wilson Hall. At the teach-in, Renner recalled, professor of American studies Rachael Joo discussed Stanford University students’ reactions to Charles Murray’s Feb. 22 visit to the school. Instead of protesting at the talk itself, students held an alternate event in support of communities of color.

Renner hoped to create a similar event by hosting “Teatime” in Crossroads during the Sander talk. She described the informal meeting as “a very neutral event in terms of making people feel community.”

Counter-event participants immediately began drawing comparisons between Sander’s talk and Charles Murray’s visit to Middlebury last March. Many believed it was a poor and incendiary choice for the College Republicans to invite Sander given his views on minorities’ presence on college campuses.

Most students who came to the event were frustrated not only by Sander’s presence, but by how little publicity his talk received. They had only learned about it two weeks earlier, right before spring break, which they said left them with almost no time to prepare.

Some believed speakers like Murray and Sanders were using academia as an excuse to promote racist ideas. They questioned whether Sander would see colleges’ recruitment processes and special consideration of legacies as equally harmful as affirmative action.

“Choices academics make are never neutral,” said Victoria Pipas ’18, adding that the right way to look at issues is to make sure “you still have your moral compass on.”

“People like to surround themselves with yes-men,” added Hanna Abdelaal ’21. “It’s a human thing to do, we all do it.”

“It can be challenging to be vulnerable enough to have a difficult conversation,” said Renner. She acknowledged that both being called out and calling others out are uncomfortable and terrifying in the moment, and that receiving feedback in a non-defensive way can be tough, but said all of those things are necessary if we want to grow as a community and create a better Middlebury.

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “Students Hold Counter-Event to Sander Lecture”

  1. Jigar Bhakta on April 5th, 2018 7:22 am

    An open mind would go a long way:
    —————

    Campus: “Sander is a law professor at UCLA known for his criticism of affirmative action programs”
    Sander: “I’m not an outright opponent of racial preferences, but I’m definitely a very strong supporter of affirmative action.” (9:06)
    ——

    Organizer: “I’m tired of student groups inviting speakers who consistently dehumanize members of our community.”
    Sander: “First of all, I don’t know anything about Middlebury’s policies. But I think in any institution, all students who are at that institution belong at that institution. They are part of the institution; the institution is the sum total of its students and faculty and community. So, let me just be completely clear about that. This is not about who belongs and who doesn’t belong. This is about ‘how do we think about how to improve policy over the future.’ And it’s also about what responsibility do institutions have to their community. To me, the betrayal is if a school admits a student knowing that they have a very high chance of failing the Bar exam and conceals that information while the student spends 3 years and $200,000 of money getting the degree. That to me is an unconscionable betrayal.” (1:03:35)
    ——

    Attendees: “Many believed it was a poor and incendiary choice for the College Republicans to invite Sander given his views on minorities’ presence on college campuses.”
    Sander: “[Mismatch] is showing that it really isn’t a racial underperformance at all.” (1:06:17)
    Myers: “Maybe we should think about expanding the definition of achievement beyond things that we can measure in regressions, like credentials and earnings. Maybe we should not stop at diversity but instead improve support for underrepresented minorities on these campuses. What else should we be doing?”
    Sander: “I think a lot of those are good things, important things.” (1:07:33)
    Sander: “But what mismatch is consistently finding, as I said, in about two-thirds of the mismatch studies, it finds that race drops out when you control for the effect of preferences. That’s showing that on [the previous table], race is not driving low academic performance. Preferences are driving low academic performance. That is an incredibly powerful finding in terms of stereotypes. It is undermining, I believe, a lot of stereotypes. It is knowledge that needs to be more widely disseminated […] because if it’s true, it’s incredibly powerful and empowering.” (1:05:12)
    ——

    Attendees: ”They questioned whether Sander would see colleges’ recruitment processes and special consideration of legacies as equally harmful as affirmative action.”
    Sander: “Liberals rightly point out that legacy preferences have many of the objectionable features that opponents of racial preferences don’t like about racial preferences.” (9:33)
    ——

    On publicity:
    The security review process took over two months: https://middleburycampus.com/38111/news/mismatch-theory-creator-to-speak/. Perhaps if that process were streamlined, or perhaps if certain people didn’t tear down all but 2 of our 78 event posters to replace them with posters of their counter-event, publicity might have been more accessible. Unfortunately, we were at the mercy of the administration and of a handful of closed-minded students.
    ——

    Honorable mention:
    Sander: “Last night I was surfing the web trying to find out where the quote for the counter-event to this event came from, and I was heartened that there was a fair amount of thoughtful discussion and service to these terms. So, I think that it has had a pretty positive effect on discussion among moderates.” (1:29:19)

    YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6J-4MnKXVE

  2. Patrick Mattimore on April 6th, 2018 7:55 am

    1. Terrific post by Jigar.
    2. Think it’s essential that the views of Charles Murray and Richard Sander are presented at liberal institutions such as Middlebury. People who disagree with those views should take the opportunity to respectfully question the speakers, preferably in smaller forums away from the general lecture.
    3. Disagree respectfully with Victoria that the right way to look at issues is to make sure you have your moral compass on when considering those issues. In fact, that type of filter leads to confirmation bias and closes one’s mind to considering the merits of what is being discussed.




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Students Hold Counter-Event to Sander Lecture