Will Slack ’11 makes two important points in this WSO thread.

First, what has actually happened at Williams over the last few years?

From my own conversations, the impression I get is that there was a real problem for many students before the incident. The event in Willy E was a flash point to start the ball rolling, so to speak. Much of the group is organizing ways of showing the pattern they see to the committee. You are free to make your own judgment, but please consider what the group puts forth on Wednesday before forming a final opinion on whether or not there is a pattern.

This is important. If Stand With Us accomplishes nothing more than a thorough and objective account of troublesome incidents at Williams over the last few years, it will be a success. We need an accounting. We need to know what has happened at our Williams. This does not need to include student names, although the students who tell these stories should be encouraged to stand up and be counted. But we do need every possible detail outside of the names. When did these events occur? Who was there (one student, three visitors, whatever)? What was said? By whom? Everything. It is clear from the discussion on WSO that many students, rightly or wrongly, see Willy E. N-word as a horrible, but isolated incident. They think, correctly or incorrectly, that public acts of racism at Williams are vanishingly rare. (This is unlike the case of drunken vandalism and stupidity, which is all too common.) Not being on campus, I don’t know if these students are right or wrong. But Stand With Us needs to document the pattern of racism (if there is one) in excruciating detail. Doing so will help to convince skeptics that there is a problem.

And note that I made a similar suggestion three years ago.

Second, besides the importance of recording actual events, we have the necessity of considering specific hypotheticals. Slack writes:

Do you think that if the perpetrators had not vandalized, their action would have merited any punishment from the Dean? For example, would a poster on a bulletin board in my entry saying “Stupid Georgian redneck idiot in this entry!” merit punishment for whoever put it up?

No. I am a free speech absolutist. Freedom of speech does not end at the top of Spring Street. Although Williams as private institution might be able to get away with restricting student speech, it should not do so. If a student at MCLA can do put up an obnoxious poster on her door, then so can a student at Williams. (Opinions from Eph lawyers are welcome. My understanding is that state institutions like MCLA are bound by the first amendment. Whether that applies to posting on a college owned door or on a designated space for posters or just standing on college property and holding the poster is a trickier issue. Williams is more free, but I know that people (case law, please) have argued that Williams is bound to be at least as free either because it advertises itself to be so and/or because it takes federal funding.)

Now, Will’s example is not a good one because it implies that the poster is attacking one student as an individual. I think that this might raise legitimate harassment concerns. But any general poster, however hateful and intolerant, must be allowed. I think that the College feels the same, hence no punishment for Mary Jane Hitler.

But, again, Will’s use of a specific example is exactly what the debate needs to be more productive. We are all against “hate.” We differ, perhaps, on what freedoms Williams should allow its students and faculty. Specific examples highlight those important disagreements and allow us to make progress. I offered some more hypotheticals here.

Please be specific. Give an example of an action that is currently not proscribed by either Massachusetts law or College regulations that this “social honor code” would cover and then punish. If all we are talking about is an Eph Style Guide, violations of which would lead to no official action by the College, then we already agree. But it seems like you, and the students involved, have something more in mind. But, we can only make progress with concrete examples.

How about Mary Jane Hitler? The College clearly allows students to place posters on other students doors (it seems) and certainly allows it in designated spots on campus. Would your social honor code punish students who put up posters like that?

How about the students who, Morty described, engaged in “an outdoor conversation among several students that included the cavalier use of the same racial slur that appeared last weekend in Williams Hall”? Would these students be punished (suspended? expelled?) by the College?

How about a student making the same claim as former baseball Dave Barnard, that Hispanic baseball players are more likely than, say, Japanese baseball players to engage in on-field fights, taunting and so on? Would a student (or coach!) who made that claim be in violation of the social honor code?

The best examples are not so much hypothetical as drawn from Williams’ own recent history. Use them to tighten and focus the debate.

In any event, kudos to Will for his excellent commentary on WSO.

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