Transcript covers the Hardy House sit-in.

A group of students at Williams College have staged a sit-in at the Hardy House on campus after a rash of vandalism over the Thanksgiving holiday damaged a freshmen dormitory and left homophobic slurs painted across a wall.

Have we established just how many students were in Mills/Dennett from 10:30 to 3:00 on Saturday. I would have expected fewer than 50.

The students, who are members of the Queer Student Union and the Women’s Center, have demanded that the college establish the following: a Gender and Sexualities Resource Center on campus; a more comprehensive LGBTQ/Women’s Issues-oriented training for junior advisors; gender neutral housing; more queer and sexuality studies courses and professors with the knowledge to teach them; and a full-time Queer Life Coordinator position (as the director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center).

Are students “members” of the Women’s Center? I thought that this was a room in Hardy House and not a student organization. Isn’t the Women’s Collective the name of the group? Clarifications welcome.

More quotes and commentary below.

The vandalism occurred on Saturday between 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Dennett House dormitory according to campus security. In the residence’s common room, a jar of paint was spilled across the kitchen, condiments were smeared across the floor, white boards were stolen from students’ doors, a fish tank was vandalized, phalluses were drawn on doors and a homophobic slur was painted across one of the walls.

Initially, the reports did not mention that there was so much vandalism involved. Given that, and the time of day, it is highly unlikely that this was a drunken escapade.

“This sparked a response because it is not the first known incident in the college’s history,” said student leader and senior Tracey Vitchers. “Things like this have happened numerous times and have set a past precedent not just involving homophobia but racism, sexism and even classism.”

I follow Williams events fairly closely. When was the last reported incident of “classism?” If readers have heard of such events, please tell us about them, anonymously or otherwise.

Or it “sparked a response” because Williams students love an excuse to act out? Not that there is anything wrong with that!

From the previous testimony about the dynamics between this entry and others, we can probably conclude that the underlying problem has nothing to do with “homophobia,” at least directly. The vandals thought that the residents of this entry were jerks, so they decided to mess up their stuff. They used the term “fags” and drew penises because they thought (correctly?) that this was the best way to mess with the entry residents. They did not think that any of the first years that they wanted to annoy were homosexual.

Again, this is very reminiscent of Willy E. N-word, Super Penis. In that case, the driving force was not racism per se but the classic tension between partiers and non-partiers.

Of course, the Willy E vandals might also be racists and the Dennett vandals might also be homophobes. But, in both cases, there probably would have been graffiti. That doesn’t excuse the graffiti but it does help to understand the context.

Vitchers said previous examples include vandalism in the form of phallic drawings and comments and vandalism using terms derogatory to homosexuals.

James Kolesar, public affairs director for Williams, said the protesting students have brought up some interesting and important points that the school is looking forward to discussing with them. The college has already hosted two discussions on the incident, and in an e-mail to the student body, Dean of the College Karen Merrill made clear the institution’s stance on the incident.

Why doesn’t the College collect all official communication (i.e., e-mails sent to all-students and other mass e-mail lists) and put it in some public listing? Transparency is a good thing. (And future historians will thank you.) I am not asking Williams to put this material at, but if we have letters from the President and letters from the Provost, why not letters from the Dean of the College?

By the way, did you check those links? The letters from the Provost have disappeared. Nice! Here is our discussion of the last one (I think). Do we need to start saving all of these ourselves? I hope not.

But, in general, I would say that Wagner/Merrill are handling this OK. Let the students vent. Tell them that you are on their side. Let them have their occupation. Finals and vacation will be here soon enough. Their dedication/interest will fade soon enough.

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

Vitchers and her fellow student organizer Michael Semensi said Williams is a generally tolerant and safe community but added that their actions are geared toward increasing that feeling.

“This is a tolerant community, but we want it to keep moving forward to being an embracing community,” Vitchers said. “We want to continue to educate people on the subject so it is more commonly known. That’s why we want [Hardy House] to be a Gender and Sexualities Resource Center — we want it to be used by all, not just the queer population. The idea is to attract people that wouldn’t have come here before.”

“[E]mbracing community?” Hmmmm. That deserves a post of its own. Does Vitchers embrace everyone at Williams? Even the practicing Catholics who honestly believe that homosexuality is a sin?

Hardy House is currently home to the college’s Women’s Center and contains the offices for the Queer Student Union. Semensi said they want it to become a place for education on sexuality and, more importantly, a safe place for the discussion of sexual orientation and gender where students won’t feel judged or intimidated. He added that he does not want to use the term “sit-in” to describe their actions at Hardy House because of the more negative connotations it brings.

“Sit-in creates a divide of people either being for or against us,” he said. “It also implies that we don’t want other people using the building or that we’re disrupting it and that’s not the case. But we will be here to create an open forum on the topic.”

The students are already getting support from the campus community as professors have stopped by to offer moral support and even food.

Isn’t that cute? Are these students starving or something? It would be interesting to know which professors have stopped by. (I congratulate any/all Williams professors who actively participate in student life outside the classroom. This should count, for tenure and promotion purposes, as community service.)

Semensi said campus security has stopped in to make sure they are not being harassed and there has been a steady flow of students in and out to supporting them.

I would love to read the minds of the security officers stopping by. I bet that concern about possible harassment is not at the forefront of their thinking.

Vitchers said they are prepared to occupy the building “as long as [they] need to” to get the attention of the administration, and it seems to have paid off. The college agreed to meet with Semensi and Vitchers on Tuesday night to discuss their demands and concerns.

“[P]aid off?” First, I am not sure that this is neutral reporting. Second, I doubt that this sit-in which isn’t really a sit-in will convince Williams to do anything that it wouldn’t have been happy to do anyway.

Merrill said in her e-mail to the students that the college is encouraging anyone with information on the vandalism to contact campus security and pledged to resolve the matter so the college can move on.

“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.” she wrote.

Free of “disrespect?” That is not the sort of language that College officials ought to be using. Consider a student who honestly thinks that the College’s reaction is overwrought and that these students are spoiled brats looking for an excuse to rebel. Is he allowed to voice that opinion or would that be disrespectful?

Vandalism is, obviously, illegal. What are examples of actions that constitute “disrespect” Merrill’s view and which are not already covered in the student handbook?

Time to bring back the Star Chamber? (Background reading here.)

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