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Wednesday, Apr 24, 2024

Students Hold Counter-Event to Sander Lecture

As Richard Sander spoke at the Kirk Alumni Center on Tuesday, dissenting students held a counter-event in the McCullough Student Center. They sat in a circle in the middle of Crossroads Café, eating pizza and snacks, and using their shared displeasure with Sander’s presence on campus as a platform to discuss the future of alternative protests at Middlebury.

Sander is a law professor at UCLA known for his criticism of affirmative action programs, and specifically his stance that affirmative action leaves minority students unprepared for overly-competitive college environments.

“I’m tired of student groups inviting speakers who consistently dehumanize members of our community,” said organizer Eliza Renner ’18.

“We said we should do something,” added Madeline Bazemore ’19.

The students who coordinated the counter-event were inspired by recent campus discussion about the influence of white supremacy, including the Feb. 26 teach-in Wilson Hall. At the teach-in, Renner recalled, professor of American studies Rachael Joo discussed Stanford University students’ reactions to Charles Murray’s Feb. 22 visit to the school. Instead of protesting at the talk itself, students held an alternate event in support of communities of color.

Renner hoped to create a similar event by hosting “Teatime” in Crossroads during the Sander talk. She described the informal meeting as “a very neutral event in terms of making people feel community.”

Counter-event participants immediately began drawing comparisons between Sander’s talk and Charles Murray’s visit to Middlebury last March. Many believed it was a poor and incendiary choice for the College Republicans to invite Sander given his views on minorities’ presence on college campuses.

Most students who came to the event were frustrated not only by Sander’s presence, but by how little publicity his talk received. They had only learned about it two weeks earlier, right before spring break, which they said left them with almost no time to prepare.

Some believed speakers like Murray and Sanders were using academia as an excuse to promote racist ideas. They questioned whether Sander would see colleges’ recruitment processes and special consideration of legacies as equally harmful as affirmative action.

“Choices academics make are never neutral,” said Victoria Pipas ’18, adding that the right way to look at issues is to make sure “you still have your moral compass on.”

“People like to surround themselves with yes-men,” added Hanna Abdelaal ’21. “It’s a human thing to do, we all do it.”

“It can be challenging to be vulnerable enough to have a difficult conversation,” said Renner. She acknowledged that both being called out and calling others out are uncomfortable and terrifying in the moment, and that receiving feedback in a non-defensive way can be tough, but said all of those things are necessary if we want to grow as a community and create a better Middlebury.