Open Letter to Laurie Patton
Dear President Patton,
We write to you as Middlebury community members who are concerned about this Thursday’s event with Charles Murray. We are especially concerned about your role in offering introductory remarks to his talk. You do not offer introductions for every notable speaker who comes to campus (i.e. Shaun King, Sonya Renee Taylor, among others), yet you have chosen to justify this man’s presence on our campus. Regardless of the pressures of other powerful actors (the Board of Trustees, etc.), we firmly believe that providing a platform for a pseudo scientist and white supremacist perpetuates racist, sexist, classist and ableist structures of power. This event, coupled with your introduction, gives validity to an already powerful and threatening voice. Middlebury College should not, under any circumstance, provide a platform for white supremacists who threaten our positions, identities and values, especially with people like Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, and Steven Bannon already in seats of power.
Racism under the guise of academic discourse is still racism. Murray’s work has not undergone rigorous standards of peer review, nor has he been published in academic journals. If we hold members of our community to high standards of scholarship, why then, should we accept pseudoscience that has repeatedly and publicly dismissed the humanity of members of our community, as well as their right to be on this campus? White supremacy has historically been entrenched in academia (deeply so in Vermont*); racial pseudoscience and eugenics have been legitimized by false scholarship in the past. We believe in learning from those lessons. Therefore, we will not tolerate such ideas on this campus today.
When Professor Michael Sheridan criticized in local media** Murray’s The Bell Curve, “Murray shot back that Sheridan didn’t understand The Bell Curve and ‘is ignorant of the state of knowledge in psychometrics.’” This dismissive response to a critique -- a gateway to productive discourse -- demonstrates that Murray is not willing to engage in discussion about his ideas. In a similar event last year at Swarthmore College, The Daily Gazette reported that Murray “was defensive when fielding questions regarding what he has said in the past.”*** Murray’s response to Sheridan and others who have challenged his work directly contradicts what you describe to be a pillar of rhetorical resilience**** in your Campus article: “To make critiques, and to respond to critiques, in a way that focuses on the path forward together, and allows for honest engagement.” Murray’s past behavior in no way indicates that his presence will contribute to open dialogue or a way for us to engage with opposing viewpoints.
We know that the American Enterprise Institute has framed this speaker as a chance to practice rhetorical resilience. We believe that this event being posed as a manifestation of rhetorical resilience is deeply flawed. This current representation allows for white supremacist ideology to be accepted on campus because it is couched in academic language. It fails to recognize that statements like Murray’s are personally and politically violent toward people of marginalized identities, who bear the brunt of this “resilience.” “Free and open” is not the same as inclusive; it is equivalent to maintaining the preexisting white-male-dominated status quo. The format of this event is not conducive to fostering intellectual discourse, because it gives the power to the speaker, not to the students. In the words of the Middlebury Alumni Petition*****:
“If Dr. Murray’s scholarship is of blatantly dreadful quality—and we hold, along with so many of his colleagues, that it is—then what is the point of “debating” his views? How, and why, does one go about arguing in good faith with a scholar whose entire intellectual premise consists of what are now being called, incredibly, “alternative facts”?... His presence on campus, then, is not an educational opportunity, but a threat. It is a message to every woman, every person of color, every first-generation student, every working-class person, every disabled person, and every queer person that not only their acceptance to and presence at Middlebury, but also their safety, their agency, their humanity, and even their very right to exist are all up for 'debate.'"
We are willing to engage in dialogue with opposing viewpoints, but not when our peers’ humanity is called into question.
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