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Statement from Professor Allison Stanger

Professor of Political Science Allison Stanger posted the following message to her Facebook page on Saturday, March 4, 2017. Stanger was asked by students to moderate a question and answer session during a talk by Charles Murray on March 2. Protesters disrupted the talk, forcing it to take place in a different room and be live streamed.

I apologize for the impersonal and lengthy nature of this communication, but I wanted to provide a general response to the many people who wrote to me on Friday, and this was the most efficient way to do so. Your cards, gifts, and letters have meant so much to me. Please know that I will be responding to you individually in due time.

I agreed to participate in the event with Charles Murray, because several of my students asked me to do so. They are smart and good people, all of them, and this was their big event of the year. I actually welcomed the opportunity to be involved, because while my students may know I am a Democrat, all of my courses are nonpartisan, and this was a chance to demonstrate publicly my commitment to a free and fair exchange of views in my classroom. As the campus uproar about his visit built, I was genuinely surprised and troubled to learn that some of my faculty colleagues had rendered judgement on Dr. Murray’s work and character, while openly admitting that they had not read anything he had written. With the best of intentions, they offered their leadership to enraged students, and we all now know what the results were.

I want you to know what it feels like to look out at a sea of students yelling obscenities at other members of my beloved community. There were students and faculty who wanted to hear the exchange, but were unable to do so, either because of the screaming and chanting and chair-pounding in the room, or because their seats were occupied by those who refused to listen, and they were stranded outside the doors. I saw some of my faculty colleagues who had publicly acknowledged that they had not read anything Dr. Murray had written join the effort to shut down the lecture. All of this was deeply unsettling to me. What alarmed me most, however, was what I saw in student eyes from up on that stage. Those who wanted the event to take place made eye contact with me. Those intent on disrupting it steadfastly refused to do so. It was clear to me that they had effectively dehumanized me. They couldn’t look me in the eye, because if they had, they would have seen another human being. There is a lot to be angry about in America today, but nothing good ever comes from demonizing our brothers and sisters.

Things deteriorated from there as we went to another location in an attempt to salvage the event via live-stream for those who were still interested in engaging. I want you to know how hard it was for us to continue with fire alarms going off and enraged students and outside agitators banging on the windows. I thought they were going to break through, and I then wondered what would happen next. It is hard to think and listen in such an environment. I am proud that we somehow continued the conversation. Listen to the video and judge for yourself whether this was an event that should take place on a college campus.

When the event ended, and it was time to leave the building, I breathed a sigh of relief. We had made it. I was ready for dinner and conversation with faculty and students in a tranquil setting. What transpired instead felt like a scene from Homeland rather than an evening at an institution of higher learning. We confronted an angry mob as we tried to exit the building. Most of the hatred was focused on Dr. Murray, but when I took his right arm both to shield him from attack and to make sure we stayed together so I could reach the car too, that’s when the hatred turned on me. One thug grabbed me by the hair and another shoved me in a different direction. I noticed signs with expletives and my name on them. There was also an angry human on crutches, and I remember thinking to myself, “What are you doing? That’s so dangerous!” For those of you who marched in Washington the day after the inauguration, imagine being in a crowd like that, only being surrounded by hatred rather than love. I feared for my life.

Once we got into the car, the intimidation escalated. That story has already been told well. What I want you to know is how it felt to land safely at Kirk Alumni Center after taking a decoy route. I was so happy to see my students there to greet me. I took off my coat and realized I was hungry. I told a colleague in my department that I felt proud of myself for not having slugged someone. Then Bill Burger charged back into the room (he is my hero) and told Dr. Murray and I to get our coats and leave—NOW. The protestors knew where the dinner was. We raced back to the car, driving over the curb and sidewalk to escape quickly. It was then we decided that it was probably best to leave town.

After the adrenaline and a martini (full disclosure; you would have needed a martini too) wore off, I realized that there was something wrong with my neck. My husband took me to the ER, and President Patton, God bless her, showed up there, despite my insistence that it was unnecessary. I have a soft brace that allowed me, after cancelling my Friday class, resting up all day, and taking painkillers, to attend our son’s district jazz festival. He’s a high school senior who plays tenor sax, and I cried when I realized that these events had not prevented me from hearing him play his last district concert.

To people who wish to spin this story as one about what’s wrong with elite colleges and universities, you are mistaken. Please instead consider this as a metaphor for what is wrong with our country, and on that, Charles Murray and I would agree. This was the saddest day of my life. We have got to do better by those who feel and are marginalized. Our 230-year constitutional democracy depends on it, especially when our current President is blind to the evils he has unleashed. We must all realize the precious inheritance we have as fellow Americans and defend the Constitution against all its enemies, both foreign and domestic. That is why I do not regret my involvement in the event with Dr. Murray. But as we find a way to move forward, we should also hold fast to the wisdom of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  Your fellow citizen and Middlebury community member,  Allison Stanger