The Oberlin racism hoax was pretty bad.  Two liberal students had the campus and the nation believing the campus was stalked by the KKK and neo-Nazis, and the Oberlin administration played along and never told anyone it was a “trolling” exercise to get a reaction.

But it was a different sort of bad compared to what happened at Middlebury College in Vermont.  (Reader Poll at bottom of post.)

I attended Middlebury’s Russian Language School in the summers during college, and went on Middlebury’s program in Moscow for a semester.  Back in the day, Middlebury was considered a fairly traditional, non-nonsense academic institution.  But as with my alma mater Hamilton College, that was then and this is now.

We reported this at College Insurrection, Middlebury College Student Destroys 9/11 Memorial.

(Flags being removed at Middlebury College on 9-11-2013)

(Flags being removed at Middlebury College on 9-11-2013)

Here’s the short version of the story, via MiddBeat blog, Flags commemorating 9/11 taken down as political statement:

ORIGINAL: At around 2:45PM this afternoon a group of people took down the American flags placed in front of Mead Chapel by the College Republicans and Democrats (Updated 8:45PM) to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11. Four women and one man piled them into garbage bags and took them away….

UPDATE (9/11/13 11:44PM): Anna Shireman-Grabowski ’15.5 has come forward to confirm her involvement in disposing of the American flags and that she is the person kneeling in the picture. She also said that the other individuals were “non-Middlebury students.” In a written statement she wrote [full statement at the link]:

My intention was not to cause pain but to visibilize [sic] the necessity of honoring all human life and to help a friend heal from the violence of genocide that she carries with her on a daily basis as an indigenous person. While the American flags on the Middlebury hillside symbolize to some the loss of innocent lives in New York, to others they represent centuries of bloody conquest and mass murder. As a settler on stolen land, I do not have the luxury of grieving without an eye to power. Three thousand flags is a lot, but the campus is not big enough to hold a marker for every life sacrificed in the history of American conquest and colonialism.

The emails filling my inbox indicate that this was not a productive way to start a dialogue about American imperialism. Nor did I imagine that it would be. Please understand that I am grappling with my complicity in the overwhelming legacy of settler colonialism. Part of this process for me is honoring the feelings and wishes of people who find themselves on the other side of this history….

Today I chose to act in solidarity with my friend, an Indigenous woman and a citizen of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy who was appalled to see the burial grounds of another Indigenous nation desecrated by piercing the ground that their remains lay beneath. I understand that this action is confusing and painful for many in my community. I don’t pretend to know if every action I take is right or justified—this process is multi-layered and nuanced. I do know that colonialism has been—and continues to be—a real and destructive force in the world that we live in. And for me, to honor life is to support those who struggle against it.

UPDATE (9/12/13 10:50AM): President Ronald D. Liebowitz has addressed the matter in an all-school email. He says he was ”deeply disturbed by the insensitivity” of “this selfish act of protest” and that “[t]he College has begun a disciplinary investigation of this incident.”

The “friend” with whom she was acting in solidarity, Amanda Lickers, issued her own statement on a website called Climate Connections.  It reads in part (all lower case in original):

yesterday i went to occupied abenaki territory. i was invited to middlebury college to facilitate a workshop on settler responsibility and decolonization. i walked across this campus whose stone wall structures weigh heavy on the landscape. the history of eugenics, genocide and colonial violence permeate that space so fully like a ghost everywhere descending. it was my understanding that this site is occupying an abenaki burial ground; a sacred site.

walking through the campus i saw thousands of small american flags. tho my natural disdain for the occupying colonial state came to surface, in the quickest moment of decision making, in my heart, i understood that lands where our dead lay must not be desecrated. in my community, we do not pierce the earth. it disturbs the spirits there, it is important for me to respect their presence, their want for rest.

my heart swelled and i knew in my core that thousands of american flags should not penetrate the earth where my abenaki brothers and sisters sleep. we have all survived so much – and as a visitor on their territories i took action to respect them and began pulling up all of the flags.

HuffPo notes that this is the first time anyone has claimed that the yard at Middlebury supposedly is a Native American burial ground:

That said, Middlebury does not seem to have proof that the memorial had been placed on top of a burial site.

“It has never before been suggested that this is a Native American burial ground,” Sarah Ray, the school’s director of public affairs, told The Huffington Post via email.

Ms. Shireman-Grabowski is no stranger to protest, having been a leader in a fight against a natural gas pipeline in Vermont:

Anna Shireman-Grabowski

Which was worse, the Oberlin racism hoax, or the Middlebury flag-grabbing?

Poll open until Midnight (Eastern) on Saturday, September 14:


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