Just before Charles Murray’s 4:30 p.m. lecture was scheduled to begin, over 75 students and other University affiliates quickly filed in to the lecture hall. With every seat filled, the protesters silently gathered in the back, packing the room.
As the protesters filled the room, they were presented with a flyer by Serena Stein GS about the silent protest to follow. The flyer asked readers to join “in a silent protest against the normalization of racism and classism in academia.”
“Charles Murray is an armchair demagogue who argues that blacks and the poor are intellectually and morally inferior, as the cause of social inequality in America,” the flyer states.
After Murray’s bio was read, protesters silently filed out of the room as he began speaking.
“We walk out to demonstrate that Murray’s work is unworthy of our attention – and even our anger,” the flyer said. “If possible, we would ignore him completely. However, his writings have been used by powerful policy-makers to disenfranchise the working class and the poor since the 1980s.”
“It was not even worth it to help legitimate that by engaging in his work,” Stein said. An anthropology department graduate student, Stein said that anthropology professors in the 1980s and 1990s spent a lot of time writing against, refuting, and discrediting what he wrote.
Stein, who has been studying abroad, said she was only on campus for 30 hours and decided to see what events were happening on campus. She said that she saw who the speaker was and “remembered from the earliest days of biological anthropology 101 that his text was held up as dubious scholarship and manipulative use of statistics.”
Stein brought the lecture to the attention of Chair of the Anthropology Department Carolyn Rouse, who was noted at the bottom of the flyer. Because it was a busy week, Stein and Rouse worked together to bring attention to the lecture. Rouse reached out to the anthropology department, while Stein contacted graduate students, included the Women of Color Caucus. Stein said that Rouse had many students in attendance and that she was handing out copies of her articles on race and genetics.
Rouse could not be reached for comment by press time.
“People were mobilized from different corners of campus,” Stein said. “We decided a silent protest would be an appropriate talk.”
Stein said that they thought attending the lecture and either interrupting it, or answering the questions at the end would not be enough.
“A lot of people have been doing this for decades,” she said.
“We would come in presence and be there to make a point and then immediately return to our regularly programmed lives,” Stein said. “We just moved on, segued directly back into the processes that give valuable, credible, valid scholarship, and not the opposite.”
“I think it was really interesting when everybody was walking out of the protest,” Stein said, adding that the overwhelming feeling was of if the protesters should have done more.
“Should we have said something? Disrupted it? Made noise?” she said. “What is the shape of protest? What different forms does it take when the talk was already given that platform at Princeton? When it was already legitimized by university resources that go into bringing them to Princeton?”
Stein noted that there are many different ways to go about protesting, and that protesters have varying levels of experience. However, she said there there is a sense of urgency for how to be more committed and a desire to be more politically active.
Murray’s Thursday afternoon talk was entitled ‘This Time Really is Different’: Coming to Grips With the Coming Job Crisis – a topic that, at first glance, is separate from what makes his appearance on campus so controversial.
Murray is the W. H. Brady Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. He is most well known for his books The Bell Curve and Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980. In the former, he argues that “the test score is a better predictor of job performance than any other single measure.” Consequently, Murray and co-author Richard Hernstein asserted in their book that African-Americans low test scores compared to those of whites and Asians could be attributed to genetic factors, according to an academic overview of his work.
After the talk, students offered comments on both the talk itself and the protest.
“I appreciate that the faculty that attended elected not to interrupt his speech and read a statement,” Mikhael Smits ’18 said, continuing “I think it’s a shame that faculty gave the appearance that they discouraged people from attending and hearing a lecture that was controversial.”
The talk was part of The Future of Capitalism talk series, a Comparative Political Economy Research Initiative.