Letter to the Editor: Speaker never should have been allowed at college
I am writing in response to the multiple opinions expressed in the March 9 edition concerning the actions of student protesters at Middlebury College.
The points I want to make have nothing to do with the violence that erupted. Violence at political protests is always wrong and almost always undermines the message. I fear that the vitally important message the student protesters were trying to make is being lost or buried under the guise of free speech or civil discourse and we as a community, a predominantly white community, may be finding it somewhat uncomfortable to acknowledge.
I was most dismayed by Gregory Dennis’ column, Between The Lines, particularly his comment, “the actions of the protesters have no moral or ethical justification.” Mr. Dennis may vehemently disagree with the protesters’ methods, but to say their cause is not rooted in morals or ethics shows a complete lack of understanding of what it means to live in this country without the protections afforded by certain circles of privilege.
To add insult to injury, Mr. Dennis patronizingly makes reference to how he is “always encouraged to see college students speak out.” After calling the protesters “politically stupid,” the complement rings completely hollow, instead, it sounds more like an empty platitude that in reality disrespects and diminishing the students’ life experiences and perspectives.
I don’t believe the issue at hand here is free speech. I think the real issue here and the moral imperative that led these students to protest was racism and inequality, and the fact that this institution of higher education thought it was appropriate to give voice to such hateful, and harmful untruths. If Charles Murray was allowed to speak, who next? Would it be acceptable for Middlebury College to invite a member of the KKK or the Neo-Nazi movement ? Would it be considered civil discourse to debate whether women should be allowed to vote, or homosexuality a disease? These antiquated ideas, along with eugenics, have long been clearly discredited by far more reputable individuals than Charles Murray. While as of this writing, we still have the freedom to say whatever we want, should this mean that institutions of education and science provide a platform to such false and hateful notions, without the freedom of speech to protest?
Moreover, particularly in these times, these wrongheaded ideas are more importantly harmful and dangerous. Are we not aware of the uptick in hate crimes we are witnessing? I agree with the commentary from the Middlebury College student who makes this point more eloquently than I can. The college did a disservice to its community members of color along with everyone else who cares about equality. Providing a platform for such views, undermined the sense of safety and dignity for such students and by not acknowledging this and acting against it, we all continue to engage in the harm. The students refused to give consent to such views of intolerance, racism and bigotry. Allowing Mr. Murray to speak under the misconceived notion of civil discourse and free speech, would have in essence legitimated this inequality.
We should be applauding these students for having the courage, that the college did not show, to refuse to accept the lies and hatred of oppression, and instead be willing to stand up for truth and equality.
Mark A. Nelson of Bristol
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