Is “Paresky Defacer” a good name for our fall scandal? Reader suggestions are most welcome! In the meantime, below is the first part of a close reading of Record coverage by Lauren Bender.

College works to investigate hate crime

I am not sure if I like this title. (Normally, I would not blame the reporter (Lauren Bender) for the title, but, since she is the Managing Editor, some blame may be appropriate in this case.) As the article makes clear later, neither the College nor the local police have classified the defacement as a hate crime yet. Since “hate crime” has a specific legal meaning/implication, a better title would have used “vandalism” or “poster defacement” instead. Of course, this is a quibble, but I try to hold the Record to very high standards.

Also, imagine that the poster was of a white male alum — Well, actually, Williams classifies Arab students as “white” in its racial bean-counting, so a better counter-factual would be white, blond male alum — and that the same defacement occurred. Would the Record consider that vandalism a “hate crime?”

Anyway, back to the article.

On Oct. 1, Campus Safety and Security received a report from a student regarding a vandalized poster found in a service staircase in Paresky.

This is not a bad start, and I realize that space in the printed paper is limited, but there is a lot of missing information.

1) Who was the student who reported the poster? If CSS did not release his name, then why not? Did the Record even ask? I doubt that this student was anything other than an innocent bystander, but we need more information to be sure. In particular, why were they in a “service staircase?”

2) Where exactly was the poster found? (And when?) A current student told me that he thought the poster had been in a Paresky classroom. We need more details to make a better judgment. I don’t know the layout of Paresky as well as I should, but where is there a service staircase?

3) Where did the poster come from? In particular, was the poster already on the wall, and defaced in place, or did someone bring the poster to the stairwell. I assume that the poster had been up in this stairwell for quite some time, and that it was not the only poster in the stairwell, but clarification would be good. In particular, we are trying to figure out if this was random anti-Williams vandalism — local youths have been vandalizing things at Williams for generations — or whether this vandalism was specifically directed at this poster, presumably because of the student’s race/religion.

The photograph on the poster, part of the “I Am Williams” campaign, is a portrait of an Arab Muslim student who had already graduated when the poster was found.

Who was the student? If there was some reason why the Record did not want to publish his name, then Bender should explain that clearly. Perhaps the Record has a policy against reporting the names of “victims?” Even in that case, we should know the student’s class. Or, if the Bender does not know the student’s name, she should explain that. Did she ask Williams? What did the College say in return?

A good paper would find out and publish the name of the student in the picture, unless there was some compelling reason not to. Facts are facts, and it is Bender’s job to get the facts for her readers. Moreover, the student’s name/class is relevant because, as discussed yesterday, we readers are trying to determine if the act was directed at this student in particular or at Muslim students in general or at Williams students in general. If the student graduated in, say, 2012, there is unlikely to be anyone on campus who hates him enough to go to this trouble. If he graduated in 2014, then there might be.

The portrait’s eyes were gouged out, the throat was slit and a cross was etched onto the forehead.

We need a picture of the vandalized poster! I assume that Security took a photo of it. Did Bender ask for a copy? Was she given one? If not, then why not?

The reason this is relevant is that we now have competing descriptions of the vandalism. Bender described the eyes as being “gouged out,” which sounds like something that could be done with a pen, by repeatedly stabbing the eyes. Bolton/Klass reported that the deface included “cutting out the eyes of the picture using a sharp object.” That sounds like someone with a pen knife making careful incisions around the eyes.

Those are very different scenarios! Which is it?

I assume that Bolton/Klass are correct and that a pen would not have been a delicate enough tool for the defacement. And that provides some hints about motive (not a drunken spur-of-the-moment act) and timing.

Also, “cross was etched” (Bender) is different from “a cross was marked on the forehead of the image using something that makes a dark mark.” A pen could have etched something. But a dark mark — like the cross that Catholics put on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday? — requires material and planning.


This image is from Wikipedia. (Apologies for not getting the citation to work.) If the mark on the poster really looked like this, then this is “defacement” is looking a lot more like “speech.” (Again, the eyes/neck vandalism, make this much less likely, but that is why we need to see a photo of the poster.)

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