The Conspiracy

Before Shutting Down Speakers, Do Your Research

If you dissent, I don’t mind. But leave your judgment here and see what you find:

In New Voices last week, a great friend and classmate of mine, Sarah Asch, wrote a response to the protest of Charles Murray at Middlebury College, in which she blames the college administration for allowing Murray to speak.

“Everyone knows, if you ask two Jews, you get three opinions.” | [Public Domain], via Pixabay.

“This is a matter of inclusivity, diversity, and whose voices get a platform at my school,” she wrote. “By allowing Charles Murray to speak, Middlebury effectively told students that eugenics and white nationalism have a place in intellectual discourse, and I do not believe that they do. The administration used his academic credentials to defend his invitation and excuse his bigotry, but that is not good enough. A racist with degrees from Harvard and MIT is still a racist.”

Everyone knows, if you ask two Jews, you get three opinions. So, I’ll present you with opinions two and three. Sarah makes a popular, strong argument, which I respect and embrace: Some people are not worth intellectual engagement. Their ideas are unjustified, corrupt, and biased beyond the point to which one should be obligated to experience them or respond.

For example, one could make a strong case for a Holocaust denier having no place speaking on a college campus. Someone who outright rejects reasonability and facts, discredits a historical anti-Semitic atrocity, and perpetuates toxic fallacies. On this point, I agree with Sarah. I will not tolerate racism, eugenics, anti-Semitism or hate in any form no matter the source, regardless of whether they have a PhD, not now or ever.

But I take issue with this same justification being applied to Charles Murray. (Here’s opinion three.)

First, I would like to clarify that the administration had no role in inviting Charles Murray to Middlebury. Rather, he was invited on behalf of the American Enterprise Institute, solely with outside funds from AEI, with the purpose of having a conversation about his new book.

Regardless of circumstances, Murray was quickly branded a white supremacist, giving students few options: a) rejecting his right to speak at Middlebury or b) supporting his right to a campus speaking platform and being labeled a white-supremacist sympathizer. Since few students had time to read his research, this mental trap meant most students took a stance on Murray based on their peers’ reviews of his work.

In both academic and extracurricular settings, Middlebury challenges students to think outside the box — to evaluate evidence and subsequently present and defend our own arguments. In the case of Charles Murray, this process was bypassed and instead eclipsed by a two-camp divide defined by whether you support or denounce white supremacy.

If we refuse to listen to a speaker based on uneducated stances on his research, we have lost credibility in the strength of our institutional democracy. Are we so disgusted by the potential for dissenting opinions that we refuse to interact with them? If we have anything to be afraid of, it’s our own lack of courage in a tumultuous climate.

The protest was absolutely a free speech issue. It was a biting test of our generation’s commitment to a core American value, the right to the liberal exchange of ideas, and the foundation of our liberal arts experiment.

I understand students feeling a need to take hardline stances at a time of ever-concerning socio-economic stratification, in the wake of electing a POTUS who fractures the hard-earned social progress our country created for minorities. This divisive political atmosphere forces students to recreate our conceptions of right and wrong, to take a stance on an issue with which we are unfamiliar, and, foremost, to ask ourselves, how do we stand on the right side of history?

But students ultimately spend four years removed from society to learn and acquire the tools necessary to confront the world’s challenges. While we can disagree with ideas outside of our sphere of exposure, our integrity and ability to justify ourselves as critical thinkers lies in our ability to confront difficult issues. This test of our values, like any test, is only one we can pass if we take it. And I believe if we remain committed to free speech, we can stop blaming others for our discomfort, realize our ability to overcome these divides, and empower ourselves to face future challenges in our campus communities and our country.

Rae Aaron is a sophomore at Middlebury College and a Student Government Association Senator. 

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