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History of Campus (In)Civility

As the Willy E. N-Word incident continues to roil the campus, it may be helpful to step back and review some past incidents of incivility at Williams. EphBlog itself provides thorough coverage of Nigaleian, Barnard/VISTA, QBE and Mary Jane Hitler. (And, yes, we do need catchier names for Barbard/VISTA — perhaps ¿Quién es más macho? — and QBE. Suggestions are welcome. And we need fun graphics. So much to do . . .)

But today’s project is a survey of various Record articles from the past, articles that describe incidence of incivility — harassment, assault and worse — from the last decade. My goal is not to draw any specific lessons. Each incident is unique. Instead, I want our readers to better understand the history of this topic.

First, we have the trial and acquittal of Mark Foster. Second, this article on the conviction of Graham Lee for assault.

Williams College sophomore Graham Lee was found guilty of indecent assault and battery of another student at a trial held in Central Berkshire District Court last month.

Lee was sentenced to two years probation.

Lee’s lawyer, Charles W. Rankin of Rankin and Sultan in Boston, said last weekend that he intends to challenge the conviction, and has begun the steps to have a transcript of the trial prepared.

Lee is currently enrolled as a student at Williams College. The survivor is no longer enrolled at Williams College, Assistant District Attorney Kelly Mulcahy confirmed.

When asked if the College had taken disciplinary action against Lee, Dean of the College Peter Murphy said the Dean’s Office does not comment on the disciplinary status of individual students.

The incident first came to the attention of many members of the Williams College community when the Berkshire Eagle ran an article on February 12 reporting on the trial and conviction.

According to the Eagle article, Lee denied touching the female survivor in an inappropriate manner during a party at Tyler house on December 4, 1997.

He did admit that he consumed five shots of rum and one beer, and told the court that alcohol might “make him a little looser.”

According to the Eagle article, the survivor testified that Lee invited her to attend the party, and touched her on the buttocks, thigh and breasts at various points during the evening, despite her requests for him to stop.

The woman testified that Lee forced her to dance with him, pulled her down on the floor with him and followed her when she hid underneath a table.

Lee denied being under the table with his accuser, forcing her dance with him or touching her on the buttocks, thigh or breast.

The Eagle reported that District Court Judge James B. McElroy found Lee guilty of one count of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 and one count of assault and battery.

Read the rest of the article for more details. An actual assault is much worse and more important than racist vandalism, at least in the eyes of the law, but I think that Stand With Us should consider the range of student behavior which it is trying to change.

Third is an article on homosexual harassment.

Homophobia is nothing new at Williams. A concentrated series of incidents of homophobic harassment have occurred on campus over the past two months, sparking discussion about what can be done to prevent harassment and to address the broader issue of homophobia at Williams.

The harassment has primarily taken the form of verbal assaults in public places, usually by a group aimed at one or two students. A student was also physically grabbed in a store on Spring Street and offensive messages have been left on students’ dorm room boards.

Andrew Singer ’00, a co-coordinator of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered Union (BGLTU), noted that homophobic harassment is especially prevalent among first-years. Some students come to Williams and deal with issues of sexuality for the first time.

Dean of the College Peter Murphy said, “In my discussion with students, Williams seems to have a climate where people feel relatively free to harass, especially to make homophobic comments.” The harassment has created places on campus where queer students do not feel safe.

Is that really what things were like at Williams in 1999? I don’t recall that sort of atmosphere in 1988. Is that what Williams is like today? In all these instances, some people see things as “Williams is wonderful because these incidents are rare,” whereas others argue that “Williams is horrible because these incidents are common.” And both sides might be right! If, say, 10 students each have some slur shouted at them once in a single school year, then this is 10 too many, but it is also not a very large number. Which, again, brings us back to the critical question of how common this behavior is.

Fourth, think that this is just about students behaving badly? Think again.

A sexual harassment lawsuit again Professor of Environmental Studies Kai Lee will most likely be decided in court later this winter.

In August of 1997, former Williams employee Marcella H. Rauscher filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Lee. The suit, filed at the Berkshire Superior Court, also named the College as a defendant. Rauscher, a research assistant at the Center for Environmental Studies, of which Lee was director, alleges that Lee made inappropriate and offensive sexual comments while in her presence and created a hostile workplace environment.

According to Rauscher’s attorney Mitchell I. Greenwald, Williams had called for a summary judgment in the suit, but that motion failed last month, and the case will now go to trial.

Does anyone know what happened with that case?

Fifth, our own Dan Ohnemus ’04 provided commentary on campus controversies, as of 5 years ago.

In our time at Williams, nearly every semester has brought with it a new controversy involving freedom of speech and community notions of acceptable discourse. Last year we had the “gays suck” forum debacle on WSO and the controversial Horowitz ad in the Record. The year before it was the administration’s erasure of QSU chalkings and verbal threats against Muslim students, and in years before that the Mad Cow “three-fifths” scandal and violence directed at the “Whose Responsibility Is It?” campaign.

Can others provide some more memories of those incidents? Designing a sensible set of policies for Williams requires in depth knowledge of events on campus, not just over the last few months or years, but over the last decade, at least.

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Comments Disabled To "History of Campus (In)Civility"

#1 Comment By Will Slack ’11 On February 13, 2008 @ 5:14 pm

More information will be appreciated. I stress that the group is responding more to things that do not appear in the Record (cases that are particularity sensational.)

#2 Comment By frank uible On February 13, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

It appears that in terms of the number of lawsuits and other accusations by one member of the Williams community against another the College has not aged at all well over the last 50 years (even adjusting for a much greater current population). Is de-homogenization a cause? Or should we bring back fraternities?