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Falk on Dennett Graffiti

A message from incoming President Falk:

Dear Tracey and Michael,

Thank you for including me in the conversation about this terrible incident and the campus’s response to it. The vandalism was a hateful and horrible thing, and I am so sorry that the students in the entry, as well as the entire campus, have had to endure it. To say that such behavior is unacceptable is simply to scratch the surface of the outrage that I feel.

I agree completely that, especially in the aftermath of this incident, students and administration must come together around the critical purpose of eliminating from the Williams campus homophobia and other forms of discrimination against the many varieties of sexual expression. As it is with all expressions of bigotry, this is neither an easy task nor a quick one. I understand that you have started a productive conversation with the current College leadership about steps that could be taken in pursuit of this goal. I support that process fully, and look forward to becoming engaged in the dialog myself when I arrive on campus in April.

For now, let me just say again how appalled I am at what happened in Mills-Dennett 1 last weekend. I know that this is hardly representative of the views, or behavior, of the marvelous Williams student body. But as true as that may be, it does not diminish the importance of taking this opportunity to acknowledge and address the very real homophobia that does exist on campus. And to do so now.

I look forward to meeting you and your colleagues in the spring, hopefully under somewhat happier circumstances.

With my best regards,
Adam Falk

Adam F. Falk
President-elect
Williams College
Adam.F.Falk@williams.edu

1) Seems like a reasonable statement, if a little overwrought for my tastes. Good to see that Falk is already involving himself in Williams affairs. (My total guess is that the College wanted him to start on January 1 but that Falk’s family would have preferred June 30, and so we ended with an April 1 compromise.)

2) Is it officially “Adam F. Falk?” The College had some sort of standard for referring to Morty which always include, in official communications, his middle name and/or initial. Does Falk want us to not forget the “F”? If I were President of Willams, I would want a cool, friendly e-mail address like dave@williams.edu. Maybe someday if I suck up enough to my friend in OIT enough!

3) I think that framing this as mainly an issue of “homophobia” is absurd. Would these actions be any less objectionable if the same vandalism occurred but the word “fags” was replaced by “losers” or “mother-f**kers?” No. Is there any evidence that the vandals were actually motivated by anti-homosexual feeling? No. In fact, all the evidence we have suggests that this event was caused by personality conflicts with no connection to anyone’s sexuality.

Perhaps it would be better if Williams vandals were taught to use “mother-f**kers” instead of “fags” since the later makes more people more upset than the former. But, keep in mind that the vandals wanted to make more people more upset! The more that the Williams Administration makes a big deal of this event, the more likely future vandals will draw the (in)correct lesson about word choice.

4) Are the grammar pendants among our readers going to mock Falk’s use of “hopefully?” Give him a break! He is a physicist . . .

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#1 Comment By hwc On December 4, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

Apparently the students who have seized their own building sent their list of demands to the President-elect. The nature of the response by the LGBT leadership at Williams continues to leave me scratching my head. The demands seem so detached from what may (or may not be) an incident of homophobic vandalism. It’s almost as if they cribbed a set of demands from some of kind of college LGBT website. Their actions seem designed to prevent cooperation with the College administration at a time when the administrators are likely on their side. I don’t understand the strategy.

Updates from Hardy House

As of 10 this morning, students have continued to reconceptualize Hardy House as a space for the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center. Since 9 PM last night we have had over 40 students come to help in this endeavor and over a dozen students spent the night brainstorming and responding to comments and questions regarding the homophobic incident that occurred and the student-led response.

We will continue to remain in Hardy House until the demands previously posted are met by the Administration.

Moreover, students have contacted President-Elect Adam F. Falk, Interim President William Wagner, the Dean’s Office, Campus Safety and Security, and the Admissions Office regarding our demands. We have also notified student newspapers, Multicultural Centers, Women’s Centers and LGBTQ organizations at our peer institutions such as MCLA, Amherst, Wesleyan, Yale, Dartmouth and Brown about the incident and provided them with copies of our letter to the Williams Community and the list of demands. Similarly, we have sent copies of these documents to The North Adams Transcript, the Berkshire Eagle, The New York Times and the Boston Globe. We are currently working on contacting college-news related websites such as Collegeprowler.com and The Princeton Review.

#2 Comment By jfw On December 4, 2009 @ 10:14 pm

….Grammar “pendants”? Unlikely campus jewelry. Maybe pedants, or impediments, or something along those lines.

#3 Comment By kthomas On December 4, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

@hwc:

This occupation not seem to be an off-the-shelf protest (qua “annoy others”). There are demands which have not been expressed here on ephBlog or on the website you quote. There is no quid-pro-quo; and though I am “out of touch,” I doubt it is accurate to say Hardy is “their building.”

@David:

I think this post highlights (as well as demonstrates) how mixing a news item with authorial commentary ‘confuses the topic’ and is not idea. FWIW.

#4 Comment By hwc On December 5, 2009 @ 12:18 am

ken:

I’ve read the “letter of demands”. Seems like a boilerplate wish list to me. Awkward timing to call for new academic programs, new faculty, and new full-time positions in the middle of major budget cutting that will likely reduce faculty, reduce staff, and cut academic programs. Meanwhile, the actual event itself (the homophobic grafitti) is being overshadowed by tangetial demands that can’t possibly be met.

To top it off, sending the demands to media outlets is an aggressive adversarial move in a situation where the administration is probably more of an ally than an adversary.

#5 Comment By kthomas On December 5, 2009 @ 12:37 am

hwc: no fundamental disagreement with your assessment in the center of your first paragraph. (There is, however, more going on.) (For that matter, I’m no advocate of identity politics and think the boilerplate call for faculty… )

Media/adversarial: from what I’ve seen, there is a historical perception that the administration is not an ally. I will say this– the current administration is not … not the most …

#6 Comment By hwc On December 5, 2009 @ 1:03 am

ken:

I have long felt that there was something dysfunctional in the Williams administration’s approach to “diversity”, but I’ve never really been able to put my finger on why there is so much friction from so many directions.

It doesn’t really matter because the way these “demands” are being presented turns the whole thing into an adversarial affair, whether that is warranted or not. They have painted the administration into a corner where it is impossible to meet the “demands”. I think these students are getting horrible advice. The tactics are out of phase with the situation on the ground viz-a-viz the incident. It’s like they’ve used a real issue (the incident) as a transparent trip wire for a slate of largely unrelated initiatives.

This kind of incident is exactly why I think it’s important for various identity groups to feel like they have an advocate or a voice at the high levels of the administration. Carried one step further, they need to feel like stakeholders in the institution, not a group to be “dealt with”.

#7 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On December 5, 2009 @ 7:18 am

Now that clothing is 60’s retro (tie dye shirts, peace symbols), maybe the current hot trend is to stage a college building occupation allied with impossible demands, similar to SDS antics at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia in the late 1960’s.

Or, the students could just be stupid. I mean, calling for more faculty in the midst of this economy and Williams’ endowment meltdown is just not allied with reality.

#8 Comment By Dick Swart On December 5, 2009 @ 9:39 am

@hwc: hwc : Hear, Hear! Guy: Yes! The wrong tactic in a situation calling for positive, non-adverserial actions.

A ‘demands against the administration’ sit-in is easier and far more attention-getting than sitting together on the same side of the table to work on constructive discussions of issues.

Is there no existing advocate already seated at the table to present issues?

#9 Comment By ebaek On December 5, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

@Guy: To the contrary, I believe the QSU is being very smart about taking this situation as a leverage to get exactly what they want. I’m very reluctant to believe that the graffiti was meant to target a specific individual or be a hate message to anyone. I’m pretty sure the QSU feels the same way, but they’re taking this incident and using it as their way to get a faster reaction from the administration.

#10 Comment By JG On December 5, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

I guess I missed the day where the 1960s protest movement and the now-older folks who either witnessed it or participated were granted the right to judge any social action taken by any group ever after. My bad. I’d suggest all of you consider what older folks thought of you at the time and reflect on your comments a little.

#11 Comment By hwc On December 5, 2009 @ 9:26 pm

I believe that, in the United States, we’ve always had the right to judge and comment as we see fit.

There were plenty of protests in the 1960s that I thought were ill-advised, too.

It’s fine if the Williams QSU just wants to play act at a big sit-in protest. It’s probably a lot of fun. I doubt that it will accomplish much.

If I were an administrator, I would ask them for:

a) detailed presentation on the curriculum and implementation of student training of JAs

b) detailed report on gender-neutral housing including details from peer colleges and a specific list of recommended gender-neutral rooms for next year’s lottery

c) Recommendations on which faculty position(s) should be cut to make room for the LGBT studies faculty slot.

d) Recommendation of which full-time staff member should be fired to make room for a full time LGBT staff position.

Those four written reports should keep them busy and productive during their sit-in until at least when Falk arrives in April.

#12 Comment By kthomas On December 7, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

4) Are the grammar pendants among our readers going to mock Falk’s use of “hopefully?” Give him a break! He is a physicist . . .

The question is based on a number of false premises. As usual. As for pedantry: Addison or Fry?

#13 Comment By tracey On December 10, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

If anyone is interested in the 20 page report we have presented to the Administration and College Council, we are more than willing to send it to you personally. It addresses all the issues in hwc’s post (and more), including where the money is coming from to support all of these demands. We would love to show you what we’ve done thus far. Last night, College Council unanimously voted to support all of our demands and we will be meeting with Mike Reed and Karen Merrill over the next few days. Moreover, 78 faculty members signed a letter supporting the demands put forth by the GSRC. Queer.williams.edu also had over 2000 hits yesterday and the signatures on the petition to support our actions on queer.williams.edu are continuing to flow in.

#14 Comment By David On December 11, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

Please do! The alumni and parent readers of EphBlog would love to take a look. Is it posted anywhere?