“Koch or Woke:” A Response

This is a response to the recent of op ed published by editors of the Middlebury Independent (see here).

Dear Ellis and Quinn,

This is a response to your piece in the Campus this week titled “The Middlebury Independent: Koch or Woke.” We’re frustrated. We’d like to fact-check you on a few things and set the record straight. 

1. The Middlebury Disorientation Guide is exactly that: a guide. It’s a website run by many students who have managed and edited contributions from their peers at various points since 2014. It is not a club or concrete group, nor is it a student organization. We were not tabling next to you at the club fair. In fact, we were not tabling at the club fair as an organization. 

2. Opposition to your publication and its funding is not limited to our site. Disorient Midd was not involved in the efforts of students to increase the transparency of your publication at the club fair. While we support the students working to make anyone considering working for the Middlebury Independent aware of its problematic funding, the Disorientation Guide was not behind this. 

3. We responded to your email in January. This is the full conversation (we crossed out a line for Quinn’s privacy):

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After this, we never heard from Quinn again. Since we weren’t particularly invested in talking and have been busy organizing, we didn’t follow up when we didn’t hear back from her. We find the insinuations that we refused to speak and would only correspond via email to be concerning and dishonest.

4. We find your argument that this is bullying absurd. Students are allowed to express dissent to things they find harmful or oppressive. Dissent and challenging is not bullying; and besides, it sounds to us as though students were challenging your organization, not you as a person. You claim to support open discourse but open discourse doesn’t mean that everyone leaves everyone else’s ideas alone. Open discourse means we challenge things we find harmful. You say that this is about us trying to “control what information is shared” but what we want is to provide the full story. We want to add supplemental information so that new students don’t find themselves complicit with an organization accepting money from big oil and white nationalists. We understand your frustration with our critique of your content, and hear it, and will try to be more critical when covering/reviewing the content of the Independent in the future. In particular, we will edit out the part claiming that you only represent the opinions of conservative white men—we understand that this was reductive, and we don’t want to ignore the identities of many of your writers and editors. However, please understand that our main issue with the Independent is its acceptance of funding from right-wing groups. 

5. Our main goal is not to oppose you but to give students the tools to become better activists, to understand the legacy of bigotry, white supremacy, and violence at Middlebury as well as the strong history of resistance. The Middlebury Independent is just one part of this institution that we want to think more critically about, and the problems we find with your publication are symptomatic of Middlebury’s institutional flaws. 

6. With regards to your funding: The Middlebury Independent receives its funding from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), which promotes limited government, individual liberty, the free market economy and the “traditional values” of Judeo-Christianity. ISI receives millions from many prominent right-wing donors, including over $8 million from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, $11 million from Scaife Foundations, $2 million from F.M. Kirby Foundation, and $3.5 million from the Bradley Foundation (More info here). The missions, practices, and agendas supported by these foundations deeply concern us. The Bradley Foundation, for example, has been described by Media Matters as “a bigger, darker rightwing funder than the Koch brothers,” and has assets estimated to top $800 million. They donate to ALEC (bad bad bad! More info here), AEI (remember them?), and have waged an all-out war on labor rights, unions, and public education. The DeVos Foundation has donated nearly half a million dollars to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an LGBTQ hate group. ISI founded the Jack Miller Center (a major funder of the Alexander Hamilton Forum), which received over $1 million from the Koch Brothers in 2014 alone (while the Jack Miller Center became independent in 2007, it’s safe to say they are very much part of the same network). Finally, ISI is an associate member of the State Policy Network, which is funded by the Koch Brothers and coordinates and supplies resources for its members to help promote a right-wing policy agenda, which includes climate change denial. This makes it unavoidably clear: your publication is being funded by an institute thoroughly implicated and entrenched in the workings of the right-wing political agenda. We understand you may not have intended for this to happen—we do not believe you to be “just Koch-funded propaganda machines furthering climate denial and racial oppression”—and we’d love to give you the benefit of the doubt here, but we do think it’s incredibly important that you hold yourselves accountable for what systems you prop up and agendas you propel when you accept money from ISI. 


Editors of the Middlebury College Disorientation Guide



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