A strange tweet/link from the Davis Center on Friday:

portrait_vandalized

Did anyone else get this? What portrait was vandalized? Where? When? Details, please.

And, as always, please don’t make assumptions about the person who did this. Know your history:

[T]hree racial slurs against blacks written on pieces of notebook paper were found posted to the door of the Black Student Union’s building on the Williams College campus.

The messages were condemned by a multitude of campus voices.

The incident has created racial tension on a campus that had not seen a major act of racism since March 1990, when two black male students were assaulted by a white high school student just a few yards off campus. Of the college’s 2,100 students, 504, or 24 percent, are from minorities and 162, or 7.7 percent, are black.

The Black Student Union at first responded to the messages by blanketing the campus with posters condemning the act and challenging all students to examine themselves for racist attitudes.

Attentive readers will be curious at this stage: Has there really not been “a major act of racism since March 1990?” Depends on your point of view, I guess. This article is from The New York Times in 1993.

But the incident soon became something else: three days later, on Jan. 30, Gilbert Moore Jr., a black student, told administrators that he had posted the messages. The administration then suspended him for a semester.

Mr. Moore, a junior from Georgia, said he had posted the epithets as part of a project for a course on anarchism he was taking during winter study, a one-month term between the fall and spring semesters.

1) Where is Gilbert Moore now? Google is failing me. Did he ever return to Williams? Did he ever graduate college? Although the story is 20 years old, the Record ought to re-interview the people involved. How has Williams changes and how has it not changed in the last two decades?

2) Suspension seems a bit harsh. Perhaps there is more to the story? I would view putting up posters as, more or less, protected speech (assuming that a specific person is not being harassed and so on). After all, Mary Jane Hitler was not punished by the College. Too bad EphBlog wasn’t around in 1993 to help Moore out.

Although he acknowledged that his professor had not approved the idea, Mr. Moore said his act had been meant as a response to actual racism at Williams and that he hoped to promote more campus discourse on race relations. “There was no malicious intent behind it,” he said.

Which professor/class was it? If EphBlog does not keep track of this history, who will?

The Black Student Union at first responded to the messages by blanketing the campus with posters condemning the act and challenging all students to examine themselves for racist attitudes. Even though Mr. Moore told the group about his action soon after he told the administration, the posters remained on the walls of campus buildings for the rest of the week.

Twenty years later, and isn’t this a common attitude among BSU members? Perhaps things have changed . . .

Without specifying the student’s race, Dean Joan Edwards informed the campus in a letter on Feb. 1 that a student had taken responsibility for the messages. On Feb. 5, after a hearing before the college disciplinary committee, Mr. Moore was suspended. College officials have refused to comment on the suspension.

As the campus rumor mill churned for a week after the messages were posted, most students were not aware that a black student was responsible until Feb. 9, when The Williams Record, the campus newspaper, reported that Mr. Moore had been suspended. The newspaper also printed an editorial critical of the Black Student Union for perpetuating “an implicit lie” through silence.

Kudos to the Record!

Irene Gruenfeld, a junior from White Plains and the newspaper’s editor in chief, said, “We were bothered by the fact that the campus was left with only rumors for information, and that posters which were accusatory towards so much of the college community were left up for so long.”

Irene Gruenfeld ’94 is now a teacher in Wellesley, MA. The Record should interview her, and the other reporters that were involved in the story. How did they find out about Moore? Did they have a source on the Honor and Discipline Committee?

The Black Student Union issued a statement the day after the editorial appeared, supporting the college’s disciplinary response. “We denounce all racist activity,” the statement said. “Regardless of the intent, we did not condone the action.”

Harsh! I would have expected the BSU to stand behind Moore.

But others thought Mr. Moore’s suspension too harsh a punishment. Nathan Malloy Jr., a senior from Richmond who acted as an adviser to Mr. Moore during the college’s disciplinary proceedings, said he and about 14 other black students had contemplated walking out of the college in protest. After the college denied Mr. Moore’s request to appeal the suspension, Mr. Malloy again talked of a walkout.

Nathan Malloy ’93 is now an attorney in Baltimore. What is his take, 20 years later?

But Mr. Moore released a statement Sunday night expressing unease with that possibility. “I have advised the students who are considering to leave the school as a result of my suspension to remain in school because their efforts can be best directed from within the system,” he said. “However, I am gravely concerned because they believe the system will fail them as I believe it has failed me.”

I agree. Freedom of speech does not stop at the top of Spring Street. As long as he is not repeatedly harassing a specific student (or otherwise violating the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), there is almost nothing a Williams student could say or write or put up in a poster that should merit official punishment from Williams. (I have no problems with a Dean yelling at a student and trying to firmly show him the error of his ways but suspension is something else entirely.)

Would Moore have been suspended from Williams if he were white, if he were female (like Mary Jane Hitler), or if he were a trustee’s son? I don’t know.

Though surprised by the uproar he created and the severity of the punishment leveled against him, Mr. Moore said he thinks his action was successful in creating its desired effect. “I definitely don’t think it worsened race relations,” he said. “I think a lot more people are talking now.”

Then, and 20 years later.

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