Things got aggressive, and violent even, when hundreds of students at Middlebury College in Vermont gathered to protest a talk by Charles Murray, the Bell Curve author who has often been criticized for spewing racist ideas under the guise of science. The demonstration starts out like you’d expect, with chants and pickets. But then things took a turn, as Murray and a professor were surrounded by a group of protesters and were shoved, and one even pulled the professor’s hair and injured her neck.
Murray is no stranger to protests, but he says he wasn’t ready for this level of vitriol on a college campus. “When The Bell Curve came out, I’d have lectures with lots of people chanting and picketing with signs, but it was always within the confines of the event and I was eventually able to speak,” Murray told the Washington Post. “But I’ve never experienced anything like this.” On Twitter, Murray described the protesters as an “out-of-control mob,” adding that “the students were seriously scary.”
Murray had been invited to speak by a student group affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute. And when Murray got up to speak, many students turned their backs to him and began several chants in unison. This went on for another 20 minutes until Middlebury officials said Murray would have a discussion with a faculty member at an undisclosed location that would be live-streamed. When that ended and Murray was trying to leave, a group of protesters, many with their faces covered, surrounded him and school officials. They proceeded to shout and shove members of the group and then tried to block the car they were in from leaving.
“I am deeply disappointed by the events that I witnessed and it was painful for many people in our community to experience,” University President Laurie Patton said in a statement. “We must find a path to establishing a climate of open discourse as a core Middlebury value, while also recognizing critical matters of race, inclusion, class, sexual and gender identity, and the other factors that too often divide us.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Murray as a “white nationalist” who is fond of “using racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.”
Although the university characterized allowing Murray to speak as a freedom-of-speech issue, many disagreed. In an open letter, hundreds of Middlebury alumni criticized the decision to invite Murray, saying it went beyond listening to other points of view. “This is not an issue of freedom of speech. We think it is necessary to allow a diverse range of perspectives to be voiced at Middlebury,” the alumni wrote. “However, in this case we find the principle does not apply, due to not only the nature, but also the quality, of Dr. Murray’s scholarship. He paints arguments for the biological and intellectual superiority of white men with a thin veneer of quantitative rhetoric and academic authority.”