This piece was co-written by Middblog contributors Cody Gohl and Olivia Noble.
Now is an important time to be a member of the Middlebury College community. This fall, we’ve actively engaged in the discussion of what it means to be a school that divests from practices that operate against our school’s mission statement. We’ve also seen the public trial of five students referred to as the “Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee” (DLWC) over issues of free speech.
Before arriving at the final draft of this piece, we thought about writing about activism in general and what it means to be a “good” activist, but we realized that we’ve got more to say than just that. We’re done beating around the bush – the Shell Protest yesterday by the DLWC pushed us overboard. It was a destructive demonstration of students hijacking what could have been a constructive conversation and turning it into something isolating and embarrassing. Our major issue is not the message they were sending, but the means by which they chose to do it: they used a platform that was not theirs from which to preach and showed zero respect for an opinion that differed from their own.
This semester, the word “activism” has been thrown around a lot, either by the self-proclaimed activists of the DLWC who cite Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi as inspirations for their actions, or by students who believe the DLWC’s activism to be misguided. It has become a buzzword on campus, a powerful tool whose simple utterance seems to justify any action or statement that is made as long as it was said or done under the guise of being “activism.”
Through the actions of these students, the idea of activism has been warped into something contrary to its spirit. True activism should (and must) come from a place of love: of love for a people or a nation or a place or a community. It comes from a deep and intense desire to not only change the mindset of a group of people, but to change with them, to grab hands and dive into something new together. It comes from the recognition that there is an inequality and that we do not need to accept the world and circumstances in which we are born. Our rights to free speech, to practicing whatever religion we choose, even our right to vote are all things that were won out of the activist spirit of a group of individuals working together. Activism is a beautiful thing and it should not be taken lightly.
We’re lucky here at Middlebury. We live in a wonderful place with a confluence of students, professors, and visitors who all tend to espouse the same values. At times this can be very empowering. However, we are also deprived on this campus. We are deprived of people who argue the opposition and push back with that same passion. In this great community we have cultivated, we are pushed to believe that our solution is the only solution and that those who argue otherwise are not simply of a different opinion- they are wrong.
The community by and large stands behind the message the DLWC promotes. We believe in divestment and in responsible investing, but actions like yesterday’s alienate an incredible swath of people on this campus. Despite the assertion that actions like this raise the profile of issues and bring more people into the movement, it is our belief they do far more damage than they do good.
There is a place for dialogue and action, a place for pushing one another to challenge the status quo and there is a place for constructive criticism. However, there is no place for the kinds of disrespectful activism that has been demonstrated by the DLWC this semester. They do not listen, they do not attempt to push or challenge or grow with the community; instead, they demand attention and villainize anyone who stands in their way.
We have an extraordinary opportunity living on this campus. We are incredibly advantaged and have more resources at our hands than most others in the world. To waste that opportunity on angry and destructive actions is an affront to our community and an embarrassment to our college.