Below the break is the second all-campus e-mail sent out with regards to last week’s poster defacement. Read the whole thing. (Apologies for the formatting and many thanks to the student who sent it to me.) I will pull out some highlights and provide my commentary.

We write to update you with some additional information regarding the events of last Wednesday night.

Have there been further e-mails about this event? (We posted the initial e-mail here.) If so, please paste them in the comments. Future historians will thank you! Also, we need a name for this controversy. Suggestions?

Now that we’ve had the opportunity to do a first round of investigation and to speak with the student whose image was defaced, we can provide further information about the defacement itself. The description that follows is very disturbing. An “I am Williams” poster depicting a recent alumnus, which included both text in Arabic and a statement that the alumnus is Muslim, was the target of
the defacement.

Which exact image was it? I can’t figure out a way to search the archive. Can you? The subject of the e-mail indicates that the poster was in Paresky, but we need some details as to its exact location. Was it in a well-trafficked hallway or in some third floor corner? Also, was it the only I am Williams poster in that area or was it one of many? (The former would suggest that the defacement might have been just (?) anti-Williams sentiment rather than specifically anti-Muslim.)

The defacement consisted of cutting out the eyes of the picture using a sharp object, and making a cut all the way across the throat in the picture, apparently using the same sharp object. In addition, a cross was marked on the forehead of the image using something that makes a dark mark. This appalling defacement appears to be both a crime and a very serious violation of our code of conduct.

1) Creepy!

2) A crime? Give me a break. I had some military posters defaced back in the day. The last thing that I would have done is to go running to the police. Moreover, it is not clear what the exact ownership is in this case. Let’s say that a student goes to the I Am Williams archive, prints out one of the images, defaces it and then hangs it in Paresky. Is that a crime? No! In fact, it is protected speech! Williams students are allowed (even encouraged) to put all sorts of posters up all over campus.

Now, more likely, the poster was already there and did not belong to the defacer, but even then it is not clear if a criminal complaint is possible, much less reasonable. Students have been writing things, often obnoxious things, on posters at Williams for decades. If the College or Williamstown has never prosecuted such cases in the past (have they?), they open themselves up to charges of selective prosecution if they were to try to do so in this case.

More importantly, the College has a sad history of over-reacting to these situations, at least in the last ten years. So, why even talk about this as a crime? The Code of Conduct provides the College with all the tools it needs to punish this act, if it should choose to do so. Leave the police out of it.

3) The painstaking nature of the defacement is very interesting. First, it makes it much less likely that this was a spur-of-the-moment (drunken or otherwise) attack. Someone had to plan this. Moreover, how many student walk around with something sharp (and pointed?) enough to for this sort of work and/or with dark material for the cross. Round numbers: None. So, someone knew that the poster was there, got the materials needed to deface it together, went to the location (when they knew (how?)) that no one would be around), and carefully did the defacement. Tricky!

Or, someone who works in that area (and thought that Williams was ignoring Muslim issues) performed the vandalism to raise awareness. Hmm. Does Williams have someone on staff who holds that view? Someone with private access to the area?

If we’re able to determine who’s responsible, they’ll be accountable to both the college code of conduct and to the law.

Who did it? As I highlighted when discussing this event on Monday, there is a good chance that this vandalism was done by a student or staff member (possibly Muslim himself) who thinks that Williams is hostile to Muslims and wanted to bring attention to the issue. That is what happened in the case of Gilbert Moore ’94 20 years ago.

A second possibility is that the act was driven by animus to someone associated with the poster and not by any animus to Muslims per se. This remains the most likely explanation for the Willy E. N-word controversy of last decade. Did someone have a beef with the student in the picture? (Doubtful, but it would be helpful to know who it was. If they graduated more than a few years ago, then this is highly unlikely.) Or was the poster part of a display on someone’s office and someone did not like that person and used defacing the poster as a way to get to them? (The Willy E. N-word case, the most likely cause was students who disliked a female first year because she ruined their parties. They attacked her race/gender, not because they were racist/misogynist, but because they thought that this was a good way to attack her. If she had been white and male, they would have attacked him just as viciously, but in some other way.

My guess: This was done by someone with no animus to Muslims who wanted to raise campus awareness. By the way, this is also the most likely explanation for the graffiti in Prospect several years ago.

This act does harm to every member of our community, and also appears to particularly target the Williams Muslim community. For many students, staff, and faculty this event also recalls other incidents of discrimination or hatred at Williams, either public or private.

Yeah, right! Williams College is just a hotbed of “discrimination or hatred.” Give me a break. Can anyone provide concrete examples of discrimination and hatred at Williams over the last few years? Is Williams a perfect place? No! But there are places in this world which can fairly be described as rife with “discrimination” and “hatred.” Williams College is not one of them. To pretend otherwise is to cheapen the experiences of those people unfortunate enough to live in much more trying circumstances.

By the way, the entire e-mail is beautifully crafted. Primary author? My money is on Steve Klass, the smoothest operator at Williams. Not that that is a bad thing!


From: Sarah Bolton
Date: Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 9:43 PM
Subject: Additional Information and Next Steps Regarding Last Week’s Poster Defacement in Paresky
To: WILLIAMS-STUDENTS@williams.edu

To the Williams Community,

We write to update you with some additional information regarding the events of last Wednesday night.

Now that we’ve had the opportunity to do a first round of investigation and to speak with the student whose image was defaced, we can provide further information about the defacement itself. The description that follows is very disturbing. An “I am Williams” poster depicting a recent alumnus, which included both text in Arabic and a statement that the alumnus is Muslim, was the target of the defacement. The defacement consisted of cutting out the eyes of the picture using a sharp object, and making a cut all the way across the throat in the picture, apparently using the same sharp object. In addition, a cross was marked on the forehead of the image using something that makes a dark mark. This appalling defacement appears to be both a crime and a very serious violation of our code of
conduct.

The response to the report of this defacement followed our bias incident response

protocol. Campus Safety and Security first contacted the Williamstown police,

who responded immediately and took the poster into evidence. CSS then informed

the two of us, and we informed President Falk and began contacting resources for

student support, including Deans, Davis Center staff, chaplains, and counseling services.

As is our protocol, we also worked to reach out directly to the students who

seemed to be most directly targeted by this act before the all-campus message was

sent.

The Williamstown Police Department is investigating what took place. CSS is

also conducting an investigation, involving interviews of students and employees

who may have relevant information, and reviews of pertinent electronic records.

This investigation is ongoing. The goals of both the Williamstown Police

Department and Campus Safety and Security are to determine who’s responsible

for this act. If you have any information at all, please contact Director Boyer at

(413) 597-4444 or the Williamstown Police Department at (413) 458-5733. If

we’re able to determine who’s responsible, they’ll be accountable to both the

college code of conduct and to the law.

This act does harm to every member of our community, and also appears to particularly target the Williams Muslim community. For many students, staff, and faculty this event also recalls other incidents of discrimination or hatred at Williams, either public or private. We’re all called on to respond in many ways, both to support and stand in solidarity with our Muslim community and to work toward a time when such terrible incidents do not happen at Williams. This past Saturday, many members of the Williams community came out to support those praying in celebration of Eid at Paresky. At the bottom of this letter, you’ll find a description of several other events happening in the coming days. We are certain that these are only the beginnings of the work that we will all do to respond and to further
strengthen our community this year.

We’ll continue to update you if there’s additional information to share, either

about the investigation or about community response. In the meantime, we

encourage you to be particularly attentive to the well being of those around you,

as these events have had profound impacts for many in our community. The

chaplains, deans, Davis Center Staff and counseling services continue to

welcome students who would like to talk at any time in the coming days. After

hours, you can reach deans and counselors on call through Campus Safety and

Security at 597-4444.

Sincerely,

Sarah Bolton, Dean of the College
Steve Klass, Vice President for Campus Life

Opportunities for Conversation and Next Steps:

Students, faculty and staff have talked with us about what next steps and opportunities for community conversation, action and support would be most helpful. We expect that the community’s responses will evolve and will be many and long lasting. At the moment, we wanted to let you know about two events for students that are immediately coming up.

1) Facilitated spaces: These are comfortable rooms where staff from the Dean’s office, the Chaplain’s office, and the Davis Center will be available. Students are invited to drop in if they would like to talk or sit in silence with a trusted staff member, or talk with other students with or without the staff member as a facilitator, or just hang out and do work or relax in a supportive space. Students are welcome to come and go as they wish, and support, conversation, silence and anger are among the many things that can happen in these spaces.

– Wednesday 10/8, 7-10 pm in the Interfaith Space in Thompson Chapel with

Chaplains

-Thursday 10/9, 7-10 pm in the Jenness House living room with Deans and/or

Davis Center staff

-Monday 10/13, 7-10 pm in the Stetson Hall Mabie Room with staff TBA.

2) Community Matters: This MinCo/CC co-facilitated series of open student conversations has ranged over many topics in recent years. Next Thursday night, at 7 pm in Dodd house Community Matters will focus on response to the violent poster defacement.

Please be on the lookout for more events and actions that will be forthcoming. We hope to see you at some of these gatherings, and invite you to contact any of us with your ideas for next steps as well.

With best wishes,

Aseel Abulhab ’15

Fiona Dang ’15

Emily Dziecziatko ’15

Karen He ’15

Erica Moszkowski ’15

and

Sarah Bolton, Dean of the College

Steve Klass, Vice President for Campus Life

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