OP-ED: Kathy’s vandalism email: A political-economic explanation

Yesterday, I was sitting and chatting with some friends when the word “milquetoast” was used in conversation. Two of my friends hadn’t heard the word before, so I explained that it meant “timid, meak or unassertive,” and is often used to criticize the spineless lack of commitment to justice on the part of politicians like Joe Biden. Two hours later, I received an email from our college’s president, Kathleen Murray, explaining to the campus community that vandalism is unacceptable and that there are more productive avenues for venting frustration. Immediately I wished that I were back in that conversation — my college’s president just supplied a perfect example of the word “milquetoast.”

The choice not to engage with the college’s bureaucracy on the issue of the statue is a strategic choice made by the vandals, who in my view are exercising their right to free expression in their protest of a public symbol. Kathy Murray understands fully well that shifting the terms of the debate from a very public, symbolic arena (the statue itself) onto her turf (President’s office hours, private emails, etc.) advantages the college and forces those fighting for justice to sacrifice the expressive force of their moral argument. Who remembers Nancy Pelosi’s indictment of AOC and The Squad for criticizing the party leadership on Twitter? Powerful people raise this sort of uproar when they feel their power is threatened: shifting the arena of discussion back onto their terms, where certain rules and norms are followed, benefits those whom the rules were constructed to serve. President Murray is using the same tactic. Vandalism is hardly her first concern here — her real concern is the vandals’ repudiation of right of the college to have questions settled on its own, skewed terms of engagement.

I support the vandals. The college hasn’t demonstrated a willingness to go beyond the bare minimum social justice measures that would be required to maintain a competitive “progressive” image in the higher education market. I think the vandals are doing the right thing; I think they are on the right side of history and I commend their bravery for defying the law and the college through their actions. I direct the college to Lisa Uddin’s op-ed pieces in the Whitman Wire, “White Unsettlement in the 21st century,” and “Rinse and repeat?” if they would like to move forward on this issue.

Editor’s note: The author of this op-ed remains anonymous at the request of the student.