MIDDLEBURY — Students at Middlebury College demonstrated against a controversial guest speaker Thursday, ultimately shutting down the event and rousing administrators to take disciplinary action.
“Many of our students, and some of our faculty, decided to become a mob and prevent a point of view they disagreed with,” said David Stoll, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Middlebury since 1997. “For the first time in my life I’m ashamed to be associated with this institution.”
The speaker, Charles Murray, was invited to the college by the student run American Enterprise Institute club and co-sponsored by the department of political science. Murray is best known for his controversial 1994 book, “The Bell Curve,” in which he and a co-author wrote about racial differences in intelligence. His book, “Coming Apart,” is about class division in the United States.
Murray has also been identified as a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The lecture sparked campuswide protests. Six hundred students and faculty signed a petition condemning Murray’s invitation to speak. The event location was changed to a 400-person capacity auditorium and limited to Middlebury College ID holders.
The number of people lined up to get inside exceeded the available seats and many were turned away. Hundreds of protesters turned out.
“We are having this protest to make sure we refute the college giving him a platform to speak,” said sophomore Ceryn Schoel, who was armed with rebuttals to many of Murray’s claims. “But we need to make sure we refute this intellectually as well.”
Middlebury College President Laurie Patton addressed the boisterous crowd before Murray took the stage.
“I would regret it terrible if my presence here is read to be something that it’s not —an endorsement of Mr. Murray’s research and writings,” Patton said. “If there was ever a time to take on arguments that offend us, the time is now.”
That discourse, however, never happened.
When Murray came to the podium, students turned their backs and began reading in unison from a statement. They chanted slogans like “racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray go away.”
Murray stood silently on stage, apparently dumbfounded, for nearly 30 minutes until he was moved to another room for a live stream presentation of his remarks.
As the large screen on stage projected Murray’s image, his voice was drowned out by protesters chanting, pulling fire alarms, and unplugging electronic devices.
Murray later posted on Twitter reacting to the event.
Report from the front: The Middlebury administration was exemplary. The students were seriously scary.
— Charles Murray (@charlesmurray) March 3, 2017
American Enterprise Institute club members who had helped organized the event were disappointed by their fellow students’ behavior.
“It’s truly unfortunate that two sides can’t listen to each other,” said Ivan Valladaves, AEI club member and senior at the college.
Wenhao Yu, a student who stayed until the end of the event, said he doesn’t agree with Murray’s claims, but he hoped to listen to the author speak in order to get a better understanding of Murray’s arguments and develop a more refined counter argument of his own.
“Instead of allowing us to access this information though, many protesters tried to censor the talk and strong-arm other students to leave,” Yu said. “Those who tried to shut down the event are not the heroes that they believe themselves to be. They’re bullies, and my refusal to leave is my own act of defiance.”
Before the event began, Bill Burger, vice president of communications for Middlebury College, reminded the audience of the school’s code of conduct for demonstrations. Banners that block views and noise intended for disruption are prohibited, he said, and violations of the college policy could result in suspension or other disciplinary action.
“We know who the students are,” Burger said when asked if protesters would be punished for interrupting the event. “There will be disciplinary actions.”
Freshman Alec Fleischer, a senator with the student association who participated in the protest from beginning to end said he wasn’t worried that his actions could result in retribution.
“I won’t speak for everyone, but I’m not concerned. As the code of conduct states you have to be warned and asked to leave. We were never warned or asked to leave,” he said. “The days of sitting back and doing nothing are gone. Resistance takes guts.”