Cultivating a New Classroom Culture

by / editorial (0) in Opinions /

To say the last week has been tumultuous would be an understatement. The Campus alone published twenty-four op-eds exclusively on Charles Murray’s talk and the resulting protests. There has been an explosion of media buzz about Middlebury, some reductive and some insightful. The controversy for those of us on campus has been unavoidable and has leaked into many aspects of campus life, including our classrooms. Faculty involvement has been especially dominant, from the conception of protests before to collective responses in the aftermath.

While we commend our professors for being thought leaders by contributing to our community discussion, we are concerned that campus culture is too often conflated with classroom culture. Naturally, the separation between our academic lives and our personal ones is thin, and discussions surrounding Dr. Murray’s visit and freedom of speech will follow us into nearly every class at Middlebury. How our professors choose to address these issues in the classroom will affect what we learn, how we learn and how we continue these discussions outside the classroom. We therefore ask professors to examine all sides of the conversations to come, to understand views that are not their own and to cultivate a classroom culture where differing opinions can be discussed critically and challenged.

This is not an issue limited to political science classrooms. Nearly all classes from film, literature and sociology to biology, mathematics and economics touch on some specific aspect of Dr. Murray’s visit. More generally, the conversation that has emerged surrounding freedom of speech is fundamental to academia and a discussion that cannot be ignored in any classroom. If they choose to engage the topic, we urge professors in particular to treat these conversations with openness, honesty and fairness. Otherwise, if professors choose not to engage with Murray, then this is a time to recognize that we all exist outside our academic lives. Now is the time to be understanding and supportive.

The tensions we came face-to-face with last week were not created by Charles Murray. They have existed and continue to exist under the surface. We will need every voice in order to thoughtfully engage with the underlying tensions that came to the surface last week and to create an atmosphere where we can seek to understand and learn from our experiences. We will look to professors in the coming weeks to continue to contribute to community discussion through op-eds, letters, meetings and discussion groups. But we will also look you, professors, to use our classroom space as an opportunity to demonstrate the significance of Dr. Murray’s visit across academia and to lead thoughtful discussions.

Acknowledging your own biases and points of view may be conducive to fostering these discussions; as long as one point of view does not silence another. All the while, we must be careful not to put the humanity of any student on the table for discussion. All students at Middlebury are welcome and deserve to be here. There must be a way to engage with the the fact that someone holds a dehumanizing view without engaging with that dehumanizing view as potentially true. Nothing that dehumanizes our fellow students is valid.

We are confident in the capabilities of our faculty and moreover, our fellow students to navigate these critical discussions. There will be offense, there will be miscommunication and there will be anger. But we must do the work necessary for our community to heal and to reach a fuller understanding of ourselves as a diverse community of learners.

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