In the early afternoon on April 11th, 2017, students chalked outside of Franklin Hall: “Pseudo-science advances one racist at a time.” Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, would arrive at Indiana University that evening to present an invited lecture. At 4PM, the Indiana University Police Department (IUPD) began to set up gates around Franklin Hall in preparation. A crowd gathered as police lugged in large bags with riot gear: gas masks, helmets and face shields, combat gloves, batons.
Murray’s academic work has been pivotal in reawakening and legitimizing the pseudoscience of race. Rather than a critique of race rooted in a history of Western European colonialism and oppression, Murray offers us an account of intelligence and class structure that rests on a flimsy and ahistorical conceptualization of race. His book The Bell Curve argues that people of color and women are all inherently less intelligent than affluent white men. Murray weaves this claim into a framework of economic class, arguing that intellectual inferiority accounts for the economic class structure in which affluent white men dominate. Murray’s argument allows for intelligent women and people of color only as exceptions to the rule, intellectual elites on the peripheries of their respective demographics. Since the book’s publication in 1994, Murray has stood strong by the racist implications of his work in The Bell Curve, decrying Affirmative Action and other social welfare programs that seek to alleviate some of the struggles of poverty and working-class life. He has continued to publish white-supremacist and patriarchal works, such as his 2005 essay “Where are the female Einsteins?”.
Two hours after the fences were erected, President’s Hall — a cathedral-ceiling lecture hall in Franklin reserved for administrative meetings and esteemed guest speakers — became a platform for white supremacy, thinly-veiled in the rhetoric of science. The brick footpath under Indiana University’s iconic Sample Gates became a scene of police intimidation and, later, brutality. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and community members arrived to reject Murray’s academic work and his commitment to white supremacy, all disavowing the invitation he received to speak at IU.
Meanwhile, officers surveyed and photographed the crowd from the rooftop of the adjacent building. Another two cops, then three, hawkishly followed a person in black bloc.
Charles Murray’s lecture comes less than a week after dozens of students marched down Indiana Avenue to deliver a modest demand to the office of IU Provost Lauren Robel: provide social justice education and hire more faculty of color. Students have sworn to escalate the situation if these demands are not met in one week. The demand cites a resolution passed by the Bloomington Faculty Council (BFC), the University’s governing faculty body, exactly one year prior. The BFC resolved to hire more underrepresented faculty and to admit more students who receive Pell Grants. A year later, the BFC and Office of the Provost have provided only empty words, a slew of diversity statements and a buzz-word ridden responses to Donald Trump’s immigration ban. Their resolution to affect substantive, material change in the lives of marginalized students and faculty remains unfulfilled — to no one’s surprise.
The University administration’s apathy toward modest student demands made the silence surrounding Murray’s lecture all the more deafening. The talk remained unannounced, even to professors, staff, and students who would find their classes and labs on lockdown, until just a few days prior. On April 10th, the Media School and Political Science Department were notified for the first time that the IUPD would ticket and police the event, and that Franklin Hall would be heavily restricted and surveilled.
A few days after the event, the organizers and funding sources behind Murray’s lecture are still largely unknown. The Political Science Department’s Tocqueville Program, directed by tenured professor Aurelian Craiutu, hosted and moderated the lecture, claiming some responsibility for inviting Murray. News sources (WFHB, WTHR, IndyStar) shifted a large share of the responsibility for Murray’s invitation to a student chapter of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, the AEI Executive Council. Yet, there is no AEI student organization registered with Indiana University, and unregistered student groups lack the ability to reserve on-campus spaces or fund university events.
As word of the lecture spread, the University responded by cloaking Murray’s invitation in free speech rhetoric, justifying the lecture under the need for a platform that respects all views. This justification, which manifested largely through a standardized response to criticism on Twitter, demonstrated the University’s willingness to adapt their liberal values to reproduce systems of oppression.
And yet, as of a week before the talk, Craiutu said in an interview that he was not sure whether they would even offer a Q&A session at the end of the talk. Students who attended the talk in dissent noted that there was a heavily-moderated Q&A; Craiutu and Murray took questions written on slips of paper and selected the ones they would answer.
Standing on a raised flower bed outside Franklin Hall, students from Students Against State Violence, the English Grad Student Solidarity group, Young Democratic Socialists, and UndocuHoosiers Bloomington addressed the crowd. They condemned the University’s student newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student (IDS), for repeatedly framing student protests as violent and unruly, in need of police to maintain order. These students asked their peers to look at the police, who came prepared with riot gear and zip ties and batons to protect Murray. They asked their peers to consider the destruction that Murray’s claims have wrought on marginalized students and communities, and they asked “Where is the violence really coming from?”
Students cheered, bearing signs that said “IU Betrayed Us”, “Decolonize IU”, and “IU, No Platform for White Supremacy”.
And then a dance party and noise demo broke out.
Students wheeled around a speaker on a small cart, passing out glow-stick bracelets and necklaces. Another brought a blonde wig, a cardboard cut-out of a Pepsi can, and a sign that read “Kendall Jenner Photo Booth”. Someone handed an officer a Pepsi. It erupted in a volcano of carbonated fizz, and the officer stormed off.
When a student inside reported that Murray moved to the far corner of the lecture hall away from the noise, the party moved seamlessly to that corner.
A little over an hour after it began, Murray’s lecture ended. Students crowded around the building’s exits, inserting their engagement with the guest speaker where the University, IUPD, Bloomington PD, and the Indiana State Police had denied it previously. Students flooded a small parking lot of police escort vehicles with their bodies. Others rallied around the southeast entrance, the northwest entrance, the east and west.
On the northwest side, one IU staffer laid down in front of a car, blocking the only exit for nearly a dozen police vehicles. IUPD Lieutenant Andy Stephenson jeered at her: “When it gets crazy, all of your friends are going to leave you here alone.”
She knew better.
Another officer at the northwest exit told them that “Murray is long gone.” Students demanded proof, sending two students and one staff member into Franklin Hall to see the “tunnels” he supposedly left through (there were none). Outside, students blocked the police motorcade, locking arms at the entrance to the lot, not letting any vehicle leave without all of its windows down. One student representative checked each car to make sure Charles Murray was not in the vehicle before letting it through the student barrier.
Moments later on the southeast side, a sleek black car crept off of Indiana Avenue onto the footpath that runs between the University’s iconic Sample Gates. Without warning, an officer violently shoved one young woman aside. She crumbled into hard ground, sustaining injuries to her hip and leg. The car crept forward, and Murray appeared through the front door of the building. He slithered into the car.
Police assaulted two more students to prevent any possibility of engagement with Murray, destabilizing students’ footing, throwing their bodies back into IU’s unforgiving red brick path. One student was shoved down three times without pause, not allowed to regain his balance until the falls made him light-headed. He would later report minor injuries to his ankles and wrists. But each student bounced back up and confronted police, shouting at them.
Officers detained another student, Eight O’Clock, who had been walking ahead of the car on the footpath, not engaging with officers or with the car. They held her for half an hour without providing a reason for her detainment. Escorted by police, she disappeared into Franklin Hall.
Murray disappeared, too, the black car speeding down the footpath, into campus.
In the moments that followed, students rallied to release their peer from police custody. They shook the fence that police had set up hours prior, and they moved through its gaps, shouting “Let her go! Let her go!” At one point, students locked arms and advanced on police. The police retreated to the top steps of Franklin Hall.
Hours into protest and long after Murray left, the crowd continued to grow in support of Eight O’Clock. Students challenged the role of the police, their preparedness and willingness to assault students who showed up in dissent, their ability to unthinkingly protect a white supremacist.
Then Eight O’Clock appeared through Sample Gates; she was immediately encircled by her peers.
After rallies and disruptions and police assaults on students, dissonant stories poured out from the University and IDS, drawing their conclusions from police records and the administration’s rhetorical weapons of choice. The student experience had been lost: “no injuries” said the IDS, “a victory for free speech” said Provost Lauren Robel.