Professor: ‘I feared for my life’ from overzealous mob

Middlebury College

Protesters at Middlebury College oppose the appearance of Charles Murray, the author of the controversial book “The Bell Curve.” File photo by Emily Greenberg/VTDigger

The Middlebury college professor injured by protesters has condemned their actions, as well as some of her colleagues, and said Monday she spent a week in a dark room recovering from a concussion caused by whiplash.

Professor Allison Stanger said she understood the anger of the protesters who shut down a speech by social scientist Charles Murray two weeks ago but that they wrongly resorted to “dangerous choices,” including the “angry mob” that confronted her as she helped escort Murray to a car after the event.

In a commentary published in The New York Times, Stanger also said many of the opposing views about Murray were inaccurate, ignorant or based on third-party accounts. For example, she disputed the claim by the Southern Poverty Law Center that Murray is a “white nationalist.” She said he supported same-sex marriage and was part of a “courageous ‘never Trump’ wing of the Republican Party.”

Stanger — the moderator for Murray’s speech — said the protesters should have engaged with Murray and disproved his theories. Or, she said, they should have protested outside or boycotted the event. Those who disrupted the event, she said, should face school punishment. The college has promised an independent investigation and disciplinary measures.

Bill McKibben, a scholar in residence at the college, agreed in a Friday commentary that protesters had mishandled their opposition.

But Stanger, a professor of international politics and economics, also said criticisms that the event demonstrated what is “wrong with elite colleges and universities, our coddled youth or intolerant liberalism” were too simplistic.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump speaks in Laconia, N.H., in July 2016. File photo by Michael Vadon/Wikimedia Commons

Instead, she said the national political discourse was at a “boiling point,” led by President Donald Trump, whom she called “a bully.”

“Throughout an ugly campaign and into his presidency, President Trump has demonized Muslims as terrorists and dehumanized many groups of marginalized people,” Stanger wrote. “He declared the free press an enemy of the people, replaced deliberation with tweeting, and seems bent on dismantling the separation of powers and 230 years of progress this country has made toward a more perfect union.”

“Much of the free speech he has inspired — or has refused to disavow — is ugly, and has already had ugly real-world consequences. College students have seen this, and have taken note: Speech can become action,” she wrote of Trump.

Stanger also blamed misinformation and judgments without research for helping fuel the climate Murray walked into. She took aim at some of her fellow professors, criticizing them for forming opinions about Murray’s work without having read it.

Stanger said she feared for her life when protesters confronted her, Murray and college Vice President Bill Burger as they were leaving after the event. (After Murray was shouted down, he and Stanger went to a room where they broadcast a discussion online.)

On the way to the car, “the crowd turned on me. Someone pulled my hair, while others were shoving me,” she wrote. “I feared for my life. Once we got into the car, protesters climbed on it, hitting the windows and rocking the vehicle whenever we stopped to avoid harming them.”

Earlier when the speech was shut down, Stanger said, she was more alarmed by what she saw in the eyes of the crowd than what protesters were yelling, including obscenities.

“Those who wanted the event to take place made eye contact with me. Those intent on disrupting it steadfastly refused to do so. They couldn’t look at me directly, because if they had, they would have seen another human being,” Stanger wrote.

She added: “All violence is a breakdown of communication.”

Stanger said she continues to wear a neck brace.

Mark Johnson

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