The Jury Talks Back

4/26/2019

Students To Administration: If Guest Speakers Don’t Conform To Our Beliefs, We Can’t Heal From The Wounds You’ve Inflicted On Us

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 11:46 am

[gust post by Dana]

This week, Vermont’s Middlebury College student government released a list of thirteen demands to administration officials in an effort to foster “community healing”. According to the letter, the healing is necessary because the administration has repeatedly failed students for not bending to their will. Amusingly, in listing their examples of administration’s failure to act on behalf of students, the letter references what they call the “Charles Murray incident”:

The Student Government Association (SGA) exists to be the democratic vehicle of the will of the student body. We believe that students and administrators are a partnership, a two-way street working toward a collectively better future for Middlebury College. Through conversations with alumni, students, staff, faculty, and various community groups, it has become evident that the connection between the administration and students has been reduced to a one-way street. The administration has failed time and again to listen to the desires of its students.

Administrators’ neglect of students’ wishes has been the consistent trend of the past few years.

[…]

On April 12, 2017, the SGA passed a bill asking for specific changes to protest policies in the aftermath of the Charles Murray incident. The bill’s request languished in committee for a full academic year. In the end, the requested changes were not adopted in the protest policy draft announced in late 2018. Rather than a prohibition on violence by Public Safety officers, the final draft included a prohibition on civil disobedience itself.

As a reminder, in 2017, Middlebury professor Allison Stranger had the temerity to welcome an opportunity to moderate a talk with political scientist Charles Murray, an individual with whom she disagreed with on a number of issues. She explained, that in spite of their differences, it “was a chance to demonstrate publicly a commitment to a free and fair exchange of views in my classroom.” Because some students were deeply offended by the notion of a public display of a free and fair exchange between a Middlebury professor and Charles Murray, they shouted down the speakers and forced them to have to be relocated elsewhere and livestream the event. And most infuriatingly, because of Middlebury students narrow-minded bigotry and ignorance, Stranger ended up suffering a concussion after a mob assailed her when she and Murray attempted to leave the campus:

The protesters succeeded in shutting down the lecture. We were forced to move to another site and broadcast our discussion via live stream, while activists who had figured out where we were banged on the windows and set off fire alarms. Afterward, as Dr. Murray and I left the building with Bill Burger, Middlebury’s vice president for communications, a mob charged us.

Most of the hatred was focused on Dr. Murray, but when I took his right arm to shield him and to make sure we stayed together, the crowd turned on me. Someone pulled my hair, while others were shoving me. 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. I am still wearing a neck brace, and spent a week in a dark room to recover from a concussion caused by the whiplash.

I reference this portion of the letter from Middlebury student government because in their list of demands, they state that speakers must first meet the beliefs and standards as determined by the Middlebury community. Otherwise, it’s a no-go. Stranger’s efforts to expand critical thinking skills by diminishing fear of those holding different beliefs appears to have had little, if any impact at all:

Any organization or academic department that invites a speaker to campus will be required to fill out a due diligence form created by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in coordination with the SGA Institutional Diversity Committee. These questions should be created to determine whether a speaker’s beliefs align with Middlebury’s community standards, removing the burden of researching speakers from the student body.

It’s always a shock to see college students demand that they be protected from the exposure of ideas and thoughts that don’t line up to their own. It makes me wonder exactly where the once-ubiquitous college campus rebels have gone. Anyway, it’s a shame Middlebury students didn’t have an opportunity earlier on to participate in a “political radicalism” class while in high school. If they had had the opportunity, perhaps they would be less fearful of that which is different, and instead be imbued with a confidence that negates any urge to demand that the cocoon be impenetrable:

High school seniors in suburban Columbus, Ohio, get to take a class that could well be banned on many college campuses: a political science course where speakers from the most radical groups—from neo-Nazis to die-hard communists—are invited to present their views and answer questions.

Thomas Worthington High School has offered “U.S. Political Thought and Radicalism,” or “Poli-Rad,” since 1975. That’s the year teacher Tom Molnar, now retired, came up with the idea for the class, got it approved, and then realized there was no textbook on the topic. A student suggested he invite guest speakers from across the political spectrum, and that’s what Molnar did. (It’s notable that back then, the principal not only approved this idea, he called it “brilliant.”) Now the school’s newer sister school, Worthington Kilbourne High School, offers the class too.

With a wide variety of speakers, from Bill Ayers to Richard Spencer, students are able to hear from political extremes, ask questions of them, and then formulate their own views. The class gives them the freedom to do so.

As it goes, the times certainly are changing. And that doesn’t mean for the better:

Judi Galasso, who co-teaches the class today, told Julie Carr Smyth of the Associated Press that, “In 2019, no school board in America would approve a class like this, but in Worthington, there’s no way you could get rid of it.” The school’s principal, Pete Scully, told Smyth, “In 2019, our teachers generally are like, ‘You know what? Let’s redirect to a different topic, because that one sounds like it’s loaded with land mines. The idea of poli-rad is, you know what, let’s explore all those land mines and talk about them.”

Unlike some college professors, who find themselves unable to discuss a controversial topic without being accused of endorsing it, at Worthington there seems to be a solid understanding that there is a difference between studying radicalization and actually radicalizing students. In fact, the idea of “Let’s explore all those landmines” is probably the most radical idea to which the kids are being exposed.

–Dana


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