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Homophobic Graffiti in Dennett

From WSO:

The homophobic graffiti that was written on the walls of the Dennett Hall entry this past Saturday was an example of malicious and unacceptable behavior.

Williams is our home. Every single student deserves to feel safe during their time here. Each of us is responsible for creating this culture of respect.

While it is impossible to change people’s beliefs from the outside that change must come from within all Williams students must respect and hold one another accountable to a certain standard of behavior. Vandalism and inappropriate, discriminatory language do not fall within the bounds of acceptable conduct.

We encourage all Williams students to speak up and hold their fellow students accountable for any form of discriminatory behavior that intimidates, threatens, or endangers members of the Williams Community.

Join College Council tomorrow night, Wednesday, at 8:00 pm in Henze Lounge (2nd Floor Paresky) to discuss the discriminatory act that happened this past weekend as well as the structural reasons behind homophobic behavior. Nothing is off-limits in this discussion. We encourage you to join the dialogue.

Comments:

1) Can someone provide details about the graffiti? What, exactly, was written? When was it discovered? Is there any background story (like the intra-entry disputes in Williams E two years ago) that might provide useful context?

2) Kudos to College Council for organizing this event. The more discussions, the better for the Williams community. If you go, tell us about it. If you have thoughts, share them in the comments.

3) The last major (?) act of (alleged?) homophobia at Williams was the Queer Bash E-mail controversy of 6 years ago. I still like my (unused) theoretical defense for the students.

“I stand by the content of my original e-mail. Having been raised in a Christian home, I believe that there is a Heaven and a Hell and that certain people, because of the decisions that they make, are headed for the latter. Prior this controversy, I understood, because of my cultural background, the terms “faggot” and “queer” to be largely synonymous, both in terms of meaning and acceptability. It is since come to my attention that, for some people, the latter is much preferred to the former. If the Dean of the College provides me with a list of terms that are inappropriate for use on campus, either via e-mail or speech, I would be happy to adhere to it. It was not and is not my intent to harass any individual.”

“Williams make a strong claim to encouraging a diversity of viewpoints on its campus. This is an easy claim to make when all the viewpoints agree with your own. It is a much tougher to fulfill when the viewpoints expressed are ones that you find abhorrent. How Williams proceeds with a disciplinary action against me will tell us all a great deal about seriousness with which Williams undertakes its educational mission.”

I believe, but could never confirm, that at least one of the students involved (if not both) were required by Williams to take time off, although it may have been that other academic/disciplinary problems that they had were involved as well. (I don’t see any relevant cases in the Honor and Discipline Reports for 2003 and 2004.) So, I doubt if they were officially sanctioned. Does anyone know?

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#1 Comment By hwc On December 2, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

Anything from the College administration on this?

#2 Comment By NoDiv4 On December 2, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

If you’re brought up using epithet like that at home, “Christian” is not the first word I would use to describe it. And since I doubt you could make it to the age of 18 (and Williams College) without understanding the wider cultural significance of use of the word and the impact it can have on others, then I wouldn’t be so sure about where you’re going to end up as well.

In the original Record article, the CC sums up quite nicely the delicate balance of freedom of expression and respect for other in the college community that you once again ham-fistedly try to exploit for obviously provocative if not malicious motivations: “although the College seeks to assure the rights of all to express themselves in words and actions, they must do so without infringing upon the rights of others or violating standards of good conduct and mutual respect.”

#3 Comment By JeffZ On December 2, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

Most people would reprint an earlier blog post only if it was particularly witty, insightful, entertaining, illuminating, or useful. Then again, DK is not most people. Basically, I second what NoDiv4 said.

#4 Comment By ebaek On December 2, 2009 @ 5:13 pm

To the Williams Community,

Residents of an entry in Dennett House reported today that the word “Fags” had been written on a wall in their common room. Campus Safety and Security has determined that this happened Saturday between 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Such behavior cannot be tolerated at Williams, and it understandably engenders hurt, anger, and disappointment in our campus community.

I encourage anyone with potentially helpful information to contact Campus Safety at x4444 or through the anonymous tip line: https://webapps.williams.edu/admin-forms/security/tipline.php .

I’m arranging to meet soon with LBGTQ students and, as a campus, we must continue to work through every available channel toward making this a place in which all members can learn, work, and thrive — free of intimidation and disrespect.

Sincerely,
Karen Merrill
Dean of the College

I live in Dennett and have not heard of this entry having problems within the group. However, I know that some people in said entry made certain students living in the Mills/Dennett house uncomfortable when the students were passing by their common room, by glaring or speaking rudely to the passing students.

It’s so upsetting that this happened over the Thanksgiving break. I know a couple of people living there and they’re really quite nice people. One of them was even there that weekend, I can’t imagine…

#5 Comment By Ronit On December 2, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

@ebaek: Thanks for posting the email.

#6 Comment By JeffZ On December 2, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

Uggghhh.

#7 Comment By hwc On December 2, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

Thanks ebaek.

#8 Comment By David On December 2, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

ebaek: Thanks for the letter. Could you clarify what you meant by “glaring or speaking rudely to the passing students?”

I can think of two scenarios.

First, if the students doing the glaring were (openly) homosexual or if their rudeness was done in a homosexual fashion (not even sure what I mean by that), then the use of “fags” in the graffiti would be, presumably, directly connected to sexuality.

Second, if the students doing the glaring had no connection to homosexuality, then the use of “fags” was, presumably, unrelated to the sexuality (or glaring style) of anyone involved. It was just used as a standard slur and might just as likely have been replaced by some other slur like “mother f**kers” or something else.

My assumption would be the second case but I just want to be sure. If there is an openly homosexual student who lives in the room that was vandalized, this is a much more serious problem. If not, then I think that Dean Merrill is overreacting, just as she did with Juicy Campus.

#9 Comment By akamom On December 2, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

My son is in the entry where this incident occurred.It happened in Mills actually, not Dennett. He said they all just figure it was some student in a drunken stupor, and people are just going about their business as usual. Of course, my son sometimes isn’t aware of everything going on around him if he is wrapped up in his work and friends…

#10 Comment By wslack On December 2, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

There is discussion on campus, I don’t know yet where it will go.

#11 Comment By ebaek On December 2, 2009 @ 11:07 pm

I’ve never been heckled by these specific students but I’ve heard stories of people getting glared at by a group of students (must be more than just a couple… and I don’t believe any of them were openly gay, or at least if one was, is not really known by the rest of the community…) And then the group apparently started dropping a few nasty verbal comments and bothering the students who were just passing through the common room. It was to a point where a friend of mine wanted me to accompany her downstairs on her way to the laundry room because this group was there and she felt slightly threatened by their actions.

#12 Comment By md1farend On December 3, 2009 @ 2:46 pm

ebaek,

As a resident of the Mills/Dennett 1 entry, I personally look up when the door of the common room opens, which may or may not be interpreted as a glare. What you should first understand is that when our private lives are thrown into the public arena, we respond accordingly. When the door opens, we glance up out of curiosity, when someone walks through the entry during a movie, studying time, or Gossip Girl, we may or may not ask them to be quiet. And, often times, people walk through the entry speaking loudly, oblivious to the happenings of the common room they walk through. Walking through the Mills/Dennett common room is a necessity, but the way some people go about it suggests that they do not care about the privacy of the people in the common room, thus prompting our “glares”.
If at some other point you or your friends were accosted in our entry, I sincerely apologize, and if it happens again, feel free to stop by and talk, we don’t bite.
Also, about the vandalism, our behavior does not justify having our walls written on.
Sincerely,
MD1

#13 Comment By akamom’s son On December 3, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

I am a member of the Mills/Dennet entry that was vandalized – “Fags” was written in large red lettering on a wall outside of my bathroom.

First, to address the issue of “glaring”: Every single person in a Mills or Dennet entry above the 1st floor must walk through our common room to get to the stairwell. I, personally, always look to see who is walking through when I hear the door open. Many of my friends live in the upper levels of Mills/Dennet, and needless to say, I enjoy seeing them. If the student walking through is not an acquaintance of mine, I merely return to my work or drop a quick “hi” before looking away. When my entrymates and I glare at students passing through, it is always warranted. It’s not uncommon that a group of students will walk to the stairwell, talking loudly and obnoxiously while they pass through our common room – while we are trying to watch a movie or a T.V. show.

Next, to address “nasty verbal comments”: This is certainly news to me. I’m in the common room during about 80% of my free time, and I have never heard anyone antagonize passing student, or rudely comment on them in any way. I’m guessing that students hear comments dropped in conversation, take them out of context (as it is impossible to hear an entire conversation in the 2-second span that most students spend walking from the door to the stairwell), and interpret them as offensive. If I am wrong – and ebaek’s friend was actually verbally attacked upon passing through the common room, then I apologize on behalf of my entry.

Finally, to address the primary issue at hand, the vandalism: I am disappointed in whoever chose to trash our entry. Glares and comments don’t even warrant that kind of offensive behavior, so even if, unknown to me, someone happens to be antagonizing the odd passing student, no one deserves the kind of treatment that came upon our entry. I’m not sure what can be done about it, but I certainly hope measures are taken to prevent this kind of thing happening again in the future.

#14 Comment By David On December 3, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

ebaek: Would your friend mind telling us the details of her story, either anonymously or otherwise? The more facts/experiences we can gather, the better.