I spent the summer with AEI.
But it’s not what you think.
During my time at school I have considered myself a moderate, reluctant to embrace the term “liberal” due to the meaning of the term on Middlebury’s campus.
That all changed this summer. I had the opportunity to attend a seminar taught by Dr. Charles Murray and hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The students who attended were interviewed and selected by AEI to participate in seminar-style discussions. Students from Whitworth University in Wisconsin, Yale University and King’s College in London, among others, were selected to participate in the program. Survey results shown to us by AEI illustrated that the composition of the ideological views were roughly two-thirds conservative and one-third liberal.
Why did I pursue this seemingly hostile opportunity, especially as a Middlebury student? The Murray incident led me to believe that there was another side to the debate, containing ideas that I would never encounter at Middlebury.
The course was provocatively titled “Staying Calm in Unsafe Spaces” and tackled controversial issues, from the infamous Bell Curve race and IQ argument to whether women should work due to their biology. To summarize the course, Murray says that social policy has been based on the premise of equal opportunity since the 1960s, but in reality, it is more pragmatic to focus on and formulate policy based on human differences such as race, gender and genes.
Here are some of the things that I heard from my classmates and from Murray in discussion during the sessions:
“Islamification is destroying the West.”
“Diversity is not conducive to a civil society.”
“Multiculturalism doesn’t work.”
“There is nothing you can do about IQ.”
“We should create a dual economy due to biological differences between men and women.”
These statements made me very uncomfortable. As a result of my discomfort, I was able to figure out what my values are and ultimately how to articulate and defend them. Through debate and introspection, I embraced concrete values that I am proud of. Here at Middlebury, valuing diversity is never challenged. Growing up in a multicultural environment, I knew I valued diversity, but until someone challenged this belief and told me that diversity is incompatible with the West, I never knew why I value diversity. I had to defend my values, and in doing so I gained a better understanding of what they are and why I believe in them. Although the seminar’s environment was tense and at some points uneasy, people were not going after their classmates, but rather their ideas.
As many of you know, in March 2017, Murray attempted to speak on Middlebury’s campus, but faced protests. More than a year has passed, so why am I compelled to speak up and pour salt in this wound?
John Stuart Mill states that “both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.” I want Middlebury to make me feel uncomfortable and challenge my values. In high school, I participated in a program where we had the opportunity as a community to have weekly discussions on issues from the ethics of being a student to racism in school. These community meetings, although boring at times for a 15-year-old, marked the beginning of my intellectual career and were a driver of my decision to apply to Middlebury. They were a testing ground of ideas in a way that I thought Middlebury could replicate.
During my first visit to Middlebury, I sat in on a political science class that was based on open debate. Like in the AEI seminar, people were not going after their fellow classmates, but rather their fellow classmates’ ideas. It was a beautiful sight: many engaging individuals, from different backgrounds, speaking freely and growing from each other.
I am lucky to have heard Murray speak and feel more intelligent and passionate about my political views because of it. We as a community need to determine if we are living up to our duties as students on this campus. We are only cheating ourselves when we do not engage with one another. The answer is not more town halls or working groups, but more honest conversations in our dorms, our classrooms, and our dining halls with students outside our traditional social groups. I write this piece not to criticize Middlebury, but to encourage the respect for conflicting ideas and open debate that I know rests within the student body.