What really happened in Willy E? Previous discussions collected here. Note, in particular, my close textual analysis, including the claim that “Something weird is going on in Willy E . . .” I did not know then how right I was, just two days after the event.

Big picture: There have always been a handful of possibilities. First, generic drunken stupidity. This was never plausible because there was too much graffiti and it was too clearly directed at specific students. Second, a hoax by a student (black or not) who wanted to force the community to confront campus racism. I was initially taken with this theory, seeing the echo of a similar event at Williams in 1993, but it now seems unlikely. Third, some weird dynamics within Willy E itself. This would provide an interesting parallel to Nigaleian. (For new readers, Professor Aida Laleian employed the phrase “used as a nigger” in a Art Department meeting as a way to intimidate/attack Professor Layla Ali ’90.)

I now suspect that 3) is our answer, that there are some very weird dynamics in Willy E, unhealthy personal relationships which spilled over into that graffiti. My evidence? This Record op-ed by Jacquelin Magby.

It started over Winter Study. I have a white board on my door that I purchased. The first half of the board is for whatever messages my friends might have for me and the bottom half is designated for the “Word of the day,” as I like to call it. It refers to the Bible scripture quote that I change daily on my board, something I have been doing since the beginning of fall semester. One night during Winter Study, there was a party in the common room next to my room. Security came to break up the party. Soon afterwards, I heard students outside my door saying that I was the one who had called Security. They then proceeded to erase my white board. I opened my door and rewrote my scripture, but it was erased again. After this happened another two times, I was upset and wrote a note on my board saying that whoever was erasing my board “should just have just asked if I called Security, before deciding to disrespect my property and make themselves look like a butt hole.” About a half hour later, I heard a group of people outside my door talking about me. I went out to confront them and they again accused me of calling Security. I explained to them that I hadn’t, but the alcohol probably affected their better judgment as they continued to accuse me. The conversion escalated. I refused to argue with eight drunken people at two or three in the morning so I slammed the door. In response, a girl yelled, “That’s not what Jesus would do.” They then erased my board yet again and wrote the word “lies.”

Nice. Now, disputes are common in every college dorm, even under the Purple Bubble, especially when partiers and non-partiers are living close together. And let’s leave aside any undercurrent of anti-Christian bigotry that is, or is not, present.

Before going on, readers should estimate the probabilities that they place on each of the hypotheses above, or on their own explanations for the grafitti. What happens to those probabilities when I tell you that Jacquelin Magby is an African-American first year in Williams E?

The next day I wrote the girl an apology letter for slamming the door in her face and to clear up any confusion about me calling her and her friends butt holes. From that night on, they would have about three parties a week. Each night, my board would be erased or defaced several times. Many times, the writings would mock my “Word of the Day” or my religion. I would often hear people outside my door. The harassment continued to escalate until the Friday night that the word “nigger” was written on three doors in my entry. There was again a party next door to my room that night. When I woke up Saturday morning and opened my door I saw that on my board was written, “I love cocks.” Drawn next to it was a picture of male genitals – the same picture drawn in my entry stairwell as well. In addition to that, the word “fag” was written over my scripture, and my marker was stolen. (The cap and marker were later found on the ground next to the pictures in the staircase.)

And there you have it. It now seems obvious that this entire scandal is driven by inter-entry dynamics. Something weird is, indeed, going on in Willy E. I conclude that this was neither a hoax nor an act of random drunkenness since it is unlikely that a hoaxster/drunk would choose, by chance, an entry with such a squabble already in full swing. This happened in Willy E because the partiers did not like Jacquelin Magby.

And that is good news! Or, rather, it is less bad news than other plausible theories. The fundamental cause of the dispute is not that the graffiti artist does not like black people just as the fundamental cause of the Aida Laleian’s use of the term “nigger” was not that she did not like black people. Our graffiti artists used “nigger” as a way to attack Magby in the same way Laleian used “nigger” to attack Ali. If Magby had been white, they would have just used different graffiti. Mystery solved.

Obviously, this does not excuse the perp, just as whatever personal beef Laleian had with Ali does not excuse the former’s behavior. It does mean, however, that this vandalism is less evidence of the hidden racism of Williams than it is proof, as if any were needed, that Ephs will use racist terms to attack other Ephs.

It would be nice to establish the identity of the perpetrator. I have heard reports that the College tried very hard to do so. Note this comment from a Willy E resident.

On another note, the dean’s office and security are really doing a great job at investigating this matter. Myself included, they have interviewed everyone in the entry, checked where they were, what they saw, who they were with, and then went to those students and got their story. Granted, it will be hard trying to find out who did this, but they are really determined.

Indeed. The College knew right away, presumably via information from the JAs, that there were real problems in this entry and that the perpetrator was probably an entry resident. (Information from the key card swipes may have helped as well.) They focussed on entry residents, especially (I bet) the residents who like to party, especially those who like to party near Magby’s room, especially the 8 with whom she had her initial confrontation. (This may have been perceived as a focus on the athletes in the entry since partiers and athletes tend to overlap more than random chance might suggest.) The Administration couldn’t make progress, so they abandoned the search.

College administrators have called off the investigation into the Feb. 2 incident of racist graffiti and phallic drawings in Williams Hall E. Over the last three weeks administrators have interviewed 38 students, including members of the entry in which the graffiti was found, but were unable to identify the responsible party.

The decision to close the investigation was made by Dean Merrill over the weekend at the recommendation of the investigative team of Dean Charles Toomajian, Dean Gina Coleman and Dave Boyer, associate director of security. Members of the investigative team conducted student interviews and followed up on any leads stemming from these conversations. “After finishing all the interviews and ironing out any inconsistencies, the investigative team recommended to Dean Merrill that the investigation come to an end,” Toomajian said.

I bet that Toomajian, Coleman and Boyer have their suspicions. I bet that they think that this was done by someone else in the entry (or one of their close friends), someone who likes parties and thinks that Magby is a stick in the mud, someone who wanted to personally attack Magby in some way and found racist graffiti a useful tool for doing so. But, since the incident could happen so quickly and required only a single perpetrator, and since the likely perp has an excuse for being in the entry (either as a resident or close friend of a resident), there is no way to pin it down any further.

Where does that leave us? Magby concludes:

For over a month, a group of people was persecuting me. They never did anything physical, but they tried to reach me where it would hurt the most. They did not succeed. Instead, they have helped to open the eyes of this community. For weeks I couldn’t say much about the situation for my safety and for the sake of the investigation.

Whoa! I am not sure if the word “persecuting” applies here. And, if Magby’s “safety” was ever an issue, then the problems at Williams are 100 times more serious than I think they are. Note, also, that we do not know the other side of the story. You can bet that the partiers in Willy E think that they are the ones being persecuted.

And, just to cover all the possibilities, there is a non-zero chance that Magby did this herself. I realize that this is a harsh thing to even speculate about and I apologize in advance for even raising the possibility, but anyone who knows the history of accusations of racism on college campuses knows that false accusations are not impossible. And, to judge from the tone of Magby’s op-ed, could you even blame her? She honestly perceives herself to have been persecuted by her entrymates for over a month! She has tried (?) to get them to stop, all to no avail. Did she go to her JAs? Did she go to the Dean? (The Record ought to ask.) And, whatever course she tried, the persecution did not stop. Would it be unreasonable for her to stage some racist graffiti to force the Williams community to address the issue?

In conclusion, all the available evidence makes it almost certain that the Willy E graffiti was written by a student in Williams E or a close friend of such a student. The perp was almost certainly one of the students who saw Magby as interfering with his party plans and lashed out against her (and at the African American JA who he perceived as being on her side?). There is a small but non-zero chance that Magby did it herself, but I doubt it.

Magby ends with:

And when I couldn’t speak or stand up for myself, Williams unknowingly did it for me. To the people that harassed me, I forgive you whether you are sorry or not. And to all those who started the Stand With Us movement, I want to say, no, thank you for standing with me.

Read the whole thing. At the end of the day, Stand With Us made Magby feel more a part of the Williams community than she would have felt otherwise. Kudos to them, and to Magby for bravely sharing her story with the rest of us.

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