An all-campus e-mail from last week.

To the Williams Community,

We are appalled and saddened to report that earlier this evening a student reported to CSS that an “I Am Williams” poster of a recent Muslim graduate had been defaced in a violent manner, including with what appears to be a cross on his face. The poster was found in a remote area of Paresky.

The college notified Williamstown police and is cooperating with their investigation. Anyone with information that might aid this investigation should call the WPD at 458-5733 or CSS at 597-4444.

Chaplain Rick Spalding is in his office on the second floor of Paresky this evening and available to speak with any students in need of support. Students can also reach the dean on call through CSS.

Horrific acts of this kind have no place on our campus and are profoundly incompatible with the fundamental values of our community.

It is deeply disturbing to us that such an act would occur at Williams. As we consult with students and others on the ways we’ll respond as a community, we’ll be back in touch.

Adam Falk, President
Sarah Bolton , Dean of the College

I will post the follow up e-mail later this morning. In the meantime, some comments:

1) I hope/trust that security is looking closely at the student who reported this. People who start fires (and/or fake hate crimes) are often the first ones to report the news.

2) I am glad that Falk did not overreact in the same absurd fashion — canceling classes for the day — that he did after the Prospect House graffiti of a few years ago. Even theoretical physicists can learn from experience.

;-)

For those who don’t recall, racist graffiti — “All Niggers Must Die” — was found on the top floor of Prospect after a Saturday night party three years ago. Falk cancelled all classes and athletic practices for the following Monday.

The cynics among you might draw the lesson that the College cares much more about the feelings of African-Americans in the Williams community than it cares about the feelings of Muslims. But I am not a cynic! Instead, I hope that Falk has decided that paying too much attention to these actions will only generate more such actions in the future.

3) “defaced in a violent manner” is a strange phrase. As opposed to a non-violent, Ghandi-esque defacement?

4) “Horrific acts”? Please, a little perspective. Imagine that a student, for a Studio Art project, had done the exact same defacement to a poster of, say, former President Bush. Would the College object in any way? Of course not! (Nor should it.) Such a poster would be proudly displayed by the College on College property and as a part of a College-sanctioned showing of student work.

5) What makes these events fun, from a philosophical point of view, is the search for meaning. What was the intent of the poster-defacer? And how should his intent — and, odds are, the defacer was male — affect the College’s interpretation of the event.

6) How should Falk handle this event? Ignore it. Or, rather, let Security deal with it in the most boring, bureaucratic way possible. Take down the defaced poster, put up a replacement and make a (public) description of the event in the security blotter. The President of Williams has better things to do than deal with poster vandalism on campus.

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