The right way to protest

Middlebury College students turn their backs to Charles Murray, unseen, who they call a white nationalist, during his lecture in Middlebury, Vt., Thursday, March 2, 2017. Hundreds of college students on Thursday protested a lecture by a speaker they call a white nationalist, forcing the college to move his talk to an undisclosed campus location from which it was live-streamed to the original venue but couldn't be heard above protesters' chants, feet stamping and occasional smoke alarms. (Lisa Rathke/AP)

On March 2, Middlebury College in Vermont hosted guest lecturer Charles Murray to discuss his 2012 book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010.” Murray is a controversial figure for adding to white nationalism rhetoric, especially with his book, “The Bell Curve,” which argues that low IQ is the cause of poverty, as that has been largely disproven scientifically. Before the talk, students held a rally protesting the university’s hosting of Murray. Then, when Murray’s speech was about to start, students turned their backs to him and read a statement of opposition. After 20 minutes of waiting while his audience protested, Murray was escorted to a private setting to do the speech on a live stream. Upon leaving that venue, he was met with violent protestors wearing masks. One of the university’s professors, Angela Stanger, was injured. While students had good reason to be angry, their actions were inappropriate and unfit for a university setting.

The protestors had a responsibility to intellectual growth, freedom of speech and open communication, being college students attending a lecture. Whether or not the protestors agreed with Murray’s ideas, they should have let him speak in order to thoroughly understand his perspective and foster a discussion. Protesting is the act of exercising one’s own freedom of speech. To suppress another’s freedom of speech by not allowing them to speak not only questions the protestor’s rights, but also shuts down communication, which creates more problems. There was a Q&A session scheduled after Murray’s speech in which students who disagreed with the lecturer could ask hard questions and challenge his ideas; perhaps one or both parties might have benefitted from this interaction. Through their actions, the protestors denied this ability to the whole audience, many of whom had put a lot of thought and research into preparing their questions for the session.

Violence in any protest is not only inhumane, but it also invalidates and villainizes the protests. Protestors climbed and struck cars and threw a traffic sign. Professor Stanger had her hair pulled and her neck violently twisted, resulting in a concussion, as she was trying to protect Murray. While peaceful protests address issues and display unity surrounding a cause, violence distracts from those causes and paints supporters as malevolent rather than aiming for a better community. What happened at Middlebury was not acceptable; people were injured, property was vandalized and the meaning of the protest was lost.

Before the speech, there was a rally that resembled an appropriate protest, and was well executed in the beginning. People were passing out signs and chanting while waiting in line for the speech. Some of these chants included “Black lives matter” and “Who is the enemy? White supremacy!” Another chant, however, was not as well founded. The supporters were shouting “Racist! Sexist! Anti-gay! Charles Murray go away!” While there is considerable evidence that Murray is racist and sexist, it is difficult to find evidence that he is homophobic. In fact, he pushed for the Republican Party to support gay marriage. This chant misrepresented the guest lecturer. Protesters must be informed about the matter they are addressing. It is important that they utilize accurate information and honestly present their troubles. Misrepresenting Murray through claims that he is homophobic diminishes the authority of their protest.

Through co-sponsoring the lecture, Middlebury College was providing a learning opportunity for its students, which was taken from them through the actions of those very students. Perhaps the president of the university was validating the lecturer through introducing him, and that displays a validation of harmful rhetoric. However, the conduct of these protests dissolved throughout the night last Thursday. Protests must remain peaceful, and those protesting should foster open communication. If protestors are not willing to discuss various points of view, those with other opinions will not do so either. As a whole, we must focus on peace and communication to better society, and this protest is another reminder of just how important that is.


Alyssa Luis is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.