Official Statement by Middlebury Student Organizers Regarding the Events of April 17, 2019

Editor’s Note: The below statement represents the views of more than 50 student organizers. The Campus granted them anonymity due to the security concerns cited by the administration in their decision to cancel yesterday’s lecture by Ryszard Legutko. 

To preface this release we would like to reiterate the first paragraph of our April 17th, 2019 Statement of Protest Intention:

Our intention for the protest was to create an affirming, nonviolent space for marginalized people (particularly those impacted by Ryszard Legutko’s hateful rhetoric) to celebrate themselves and each other. Middlebury’s elevation of Legutko to a legitimate academic platform echoes the events concerning Charles Murray in 2017, and once again represents an attack on Middlebury students of marginalized identities and their sense of both safety and value. We had no intention of preventing Legutko from speaking, nor preventing our peers from attending. Rather, we wanted to provide information to contextualize his talk and detail Legutko’s history of hateful speech against LGBTQ+, Muslim, and Jewish folks, as well as women and POCs. We planned to create a non-disruptive, respectful counter-space to create a place of healing and inclusivity in the face of prejudice.

We had no intention of preventing Legutko from speaking, nor preventing our peers from attending.”

In the past 24 hours we have received several emails from the college concerning the talk by Ryszard Legutko. We are appalled by the college’s representation of the events and, specifically, their portrayal of our role in the talk’s cancellation. We have decided to release this statement in an attempt to clarify the situation, legitimize our perspective, and uphold how these events have affected us as a group and as individuals.

Organizers worked throughout the week to develop a protest that would comply with the college’s policies in order to ensure that the administration and the public would not find fault with student activists. Student activists were transparent with the administration throughout the entire planning process. We complied with Public Safety regulations and took every precaution to ensure the safety of protesters and those attending the talk, all while working directly with administrators. We dedicated ourselves to a nonviolent and non-disruptive protest, and fully planned on honoring that dedication throughout the protest itself.

Student organizers were notified that the event had been canceled by the same email that was sent to the Middlebury College community at 1:23 pm on Wednesday, April 17. The notification caught us by surprise and its failure to explain who or what constituted “a security threat” unsettled us. As we were collectively committed to non-disruptive, nonviolent action, the undefined security threat could only have been a threat against us, against our bodies. We spent the day afraid for our safety.

After receiving notification that the event had been canceled, we immediately suspended our gathering. Preventing Legutko from speaking was never our intention, and we did not want to celebrate its cancelation. Given the unspecified safety concerns, we also feared for our safety in hosting a highly visibly event at another location. We are unhappy with the lack of transparency on the part of the administration in its decision to cancel the event. We believe that our planned response to Legutko was to be an act of critical engagement and free speech—an act which we were denied.

Student organizers only discovered that Legutko had been invited to speak to Professor Matthew Dickinson’s class through the Facebook Live Stream recorded by The Campus. Organizers immediately went to the administration for information and answers, only to find that Administration was not aware of the fact either. Conscious decisions were made to not protest the live stream or interrupt the talk.

Numerous requests that the administration specify publicly that protesters’ actions did not constitute the “security threat” were ignored. All administrative statements maintained an ambiguous (and highly misleading) articulation of the protesters’ role in the event’s cancellation.

We hope that this statement will serve to clarify our original plan and intentions, which media and administrative representations have mystified. We also hope that this will highlight the ways in which national media and the College are attempting to capitalize on a false narrative. We stand with all students whose identities and experiences have been fundamentally invalidated, and we condemn the irresponsible misrepresentations of both our actions and intentions.

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