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Should EphBlog Remove the Accuser’s Name?

A faithful reader strongly (albeit privately) suggested to me that EphBlog ought to remove the name of the Williams employee provided in this post because she is “the reported victim of a sexual assault.” Most (all?) major publication do not publish the names of reported victims. Strangely (?) enough, John Doe’s ’16 attorney, Stacey Elin Rossi, made the same request.

What do readers think? As always, the measure of a good Williams education is how well you can argue both sides.

For removal, the case is simple: This women, while a Williams student, was sexually assaulted. No reputable publication makes the names of sexual assault victims public without their explicit permission. Although EphBlog does not have to comply with this standard, it ought to.

For non-removal, the case is also simple: This women, while a Williams student, was not sexually assaulted. The people, including my faithful reader, who want to us to remove her name are either honestly confused or purposely misleading. Consider this section from the Complaint:

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You need to read the report for all the messy details, but the central claim is that these students were having sex for a year. One day something may have happened. Then they continued to have sex for another year. Then they fought, broke up, she hit him and tried to get him thrown out of Williams on a trumped up honor code violation. Then she mentioned the sexual assault, more than a year after it allegedly happened. Nothing suspicious there!

Most importantly, I want to reserve the term “reported victim of a sexual assault” for cases of actual, you know, sexual assault. Or at least for cases where a sexual assault might have occurred. If everyone is a victim of sexual assault than no one is. Consider:

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Here (pdf) is the highly redacted copy of the investigators report. And here (pdf) are John Doe’s ’16 comments. Just because Williams College wants to railroad this (minority!) student does not mean that EphBlog needs to go along with it.

What do readers think?

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Announcing Free University 2017!

Hello Williams,

College Council is happy to announce the Free University 2017 Winter Study Program!
Free University was founded in the 1980s to promote the diversity of interests and ideas at Williams by organizing classes taught by students, for students. For the only time in your Williams career, grades don’t matter; there are no papers to write or tests to take. Free University gives you the chance to do something truly unique with your peers.
Past courses have included “A Smashing Time: Advanced Super Smash Bros. Theory, Strategy, and Technique”, “Bake It Till You Make It”, and “Twerk”.

This year we are also encouraging any clubs, teams, and student organizations to sign up. You can do either a full Free University program or a 2-hour evening workshop. This is a great way to get exposure for your organization for potentially interested students and a way to share what you’re passionate about with the general college body.

If you have any idea at all, teach a course! Free University is a great, no pressure space to share your talents and interests with the student body. If you are interested in teaching a course, please contact me (ajb7) with your idea by Monday (December 5th) at 11:59pm. Please include a course title and a short description. Funding and logistical support will be provided by College Council, if needed. Soon after, I will email the campus with a course listing and sign up information.
Please join in on a great Williams tradition!

Best,
Alex Besser
Vice President for Academic Affairs

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College Employee Assaults Student

That is a misleading headline. But it isn’t untrue! From former Williams faculty member KC Johnson:

Adoption of the Dear Colleague letter in 2011—coupled with campus pressure from activists and their faculty and administrative allies—has paved the way for all sorts of procedural abuses in campus sexual assault cases. This new system is one that’s ripe for abuse and favoritism, in all sorts of ways. The latest example comes in a lawsuit filed against my former employer, Williams College. (You can read the complaint here.)

The case revolves around the actions of a former Williams employee, who worked in the Alumni Relations office for the 2015-2016 academic year. She came to the job after graduating from Williams. For more than a year before she graduated, the employee dated another Williams student—identified as John Doe in the complaint—who was one year behind her academically. The two were close enough that the employee knew Doe’s computer password and (allegedly) his Facebook and Snapchat passwords.

It seems to have been an uneven relationship; in October 2014, the employee (then still a student) wrote to Williams dean Sarah Bolton indicating that she and Doe had a (verbal) argument. (Bolton departed Williams last summer and is now president at the College of Wooster.) Because “he ended up calling me selfish and telling me he can’t even look at me,” the future employee reported, she’d need to take a week off from school to recover emotionally. The e-mail contained no hint of any allegation of physical misconduct by Doe. Bolton responded very sympathetically, despite the extreme nature of the request (a week off from classes) given the conduct alleged (a personal insult).

Read the whole thing. It is off the hook, as the kids say. At one point, the Williams employee slapped the Williams student. Even though the student has completed all the requirements for graduation, the College has since expelled him, without a degree. Comments:

dcp11) We need a scandal nickname. Suggestions? The Williams employee accused of assault is REDACTED ’15. Perhaps “REDACTED?” Maybe “Safety Dance?” (The big fight between Doe and REDACTED started when Doe danced with someone that REDACTED did not want him to dance with. “We can dance if we want to, we can leave our friends behind. …”)

2) I could spend all of January going through the details. Many friends of EphBlog (Dean Dave, Brooks Foehl ’88, Steve Klass) make cameo appearances. Would readers be interested?

3) The facts in the complaint are absolutely damning to Williams. (I realize that this is just one side of the case, but read it for yourself.) Why doesn’t Williams just settle and allow Doe to have his degree? Taking this to trial seems like madness to me.

4) I used to congratulate Williams on being fairly competent when it came to sexual assault investigations. There were certainly no absurd cases as at Vassar and Amherst. That is no longer true. Is new Dean of the College Sandstrom to blame?

5) If the Record does not have multiple front page articles on this story tomorrow, it is incompetent.

UPDATE: Student names redacted. Going forward, we will refer to the female student/employee as Susan Smith and the male student as John Doe, following the latest version of the legal filings.

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Gaudino Scholar Appointment

To the Williams Community,

I am pleased to report that Susan Engel, senior lecturer in psychology and the Class of 1959 Director of the Program in Teaching, has agreed to serve as the college’s next Gaudino Scholar. Her two and a half year appointment to this post will begin January 1, 2018. Susan will be the 16th faculty member to hold this title. The position has been active since 1982 and is named for former political science professor Robert Gaudino. The Gaudino Scholar creates and promotes opportunities for experiential education and uncomfortable learning.

Susan will bring to this role her considerable expertise as a scholar of developmental psychology and education. Her areas of specialty include teaching and learning, the development of narrative and autobiographical memory, and the development of curiosity. Her most recent book, co-authored with her son, is titled A School of Our Own: The Story of the First Student-Run High School and a New Vision for American Education.

For her Gaudino project Susan intends to explore the processes that lead to deep intellectual change, particularly among college students. She is especially interested in exploring how engaged conversations in the classroom and beyond promote the consideration of unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable points of view and, ultimately, influence how students form opinions and change their minds.

Susan will succeed Lois Banta, professor of biology, who has served in this role since July 2014. My thanks go to Susan and Lois for their willingness to serve the college in this capacity.

Regards,

Adam Falk
President

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This guy has Alec Baldwin down pat …

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Chief Communications Officer Appointment

To the Williams Community,

I’m delighted to announce that after a national search the college has appointed Jim Reische as Williams’ next chief communications officer. He’ll arrive in Williamstown and begin in his new role in early January.

Jim brings a wealth of experience and expertise in strategic communications, including five years as vice president for communications at Grinnell College, where he worked closely with President Raynard Kington and served as Grinnell’s first VP for communications, developing a staff of creative professionals and enhancing internal communications while helping to increase alumni and volunteer engagement and position the college nationally on issues of importance in higher education, including affordability and access.

He comes to Williams from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., where as chief communications officer he has, among other things, overseen the development of new admission marketing and communications strategies and the successful launch of a new website for the college.

Jim’s career in higher education began at the University of Michigan, where he served as a senior acquisitions editor and then executive editor of the University of Michigan Press. He then moved to the university’s development office, working as an editor and senior writer and then as assistant campaign director, helping to guide the strategic planning of the university’s $4 billion Victors for Michigan campaign.

Jim earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from the University of Michigan, and master’s degrees in history and in Russian and East European area studies from Michigan and Harvard, respectively.

My sincere thanks go to the members of the search committee—Denise Buell, Liz Creighton, Lew Fisher, Brent Heeringa, Fred Puddester, and Danielle Gonzalez—for their dedicated work that has led us to this wonderful result, as well as to all those who participated in the interview process and who provided me with valuable input and perspective, including the terrific members of the communications office. And I’m especially grateful to Jim for his willingness and ability to get here so quickly, to ensure a smooth transition as outgoing chief communications officer Angela Schaeffer heads to her new role at Trinity College at the start of the new year.

I look forward to welcoming Jim and his wife Aimee to Williams and the community.

Regards,

Adam Falk
President

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What Happened to Sophia Wilansky ’16?

From The New York Times:

Cause of Severe Injury at Pipeline Protest Becomes New Point of Dispute

Sophia Wilansky, 21, who grew up in the Bronx, rested in a Minneapolis hospital bed, her father by her side, recovering from surgery to try to save her left hand and arm after an explosion at a pipeline protest in North Dakota this week.

“From an inch below the elbow, to an inch above her wrist, the muscle is blown off,” her father, Wayne Wilansky, said from the hospital, Hennepin County Medical Center. “The radius bone, a significant amount of it, is blown away. The arteries inside her arm are blown away. The median nerve is mostly blown away.”

All the while, the protests have gone on, and the polarization between the police and protesters extended to their sharply differing explanations of how Ms. Wilansky was injured early Monday. Law enforcement accounts suggest that fellow protesters caused the explosion; the demonstrators insist the police are to blame.

Mr. Wilansky, who spoke by telephone and checked details with his daughter as he did, said the explosion had taken place around 4 a.m. Monday, when most of the protesters were gathered around a bonfire near the foot of the bridge.

His daughter and a handful of others were farther up on the bridge, he said, “playing around,” using pieces of plastic and wood as sleds to skid across icy sections of the highway, when an officer began firing foam or plastic bullets at her and another person.

“She was backing away as they were shooting her,” Mr. Wilansky said, adding that someone from the police lines then threw a device, which he called a grenade, that hit her in the forearm and exploded.

Lt. Tom Iverson of the North Dakota Highway Patrol offered a different version of the episode, which he said was being investigated by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Around the time of the explosion, Lieutenant Iverson said, officers fired sponge and beanbag rounds at three people who had shielded themselves behind a length of plywood near a burned vehicle on the bridge. The three were thought to be acting suspiciously and refused orders to emerge, he said.

Officers saw someone roll metal cylinders to the protesters by the burned vehicle, Lieutenant Iverson said, and then heard an explosion. Afterward, he said, several protesters ran up, pulled a woman from under the vehicle and ran off. Three propane canisters were recovered from the vicinity of the explosion early Tuesday, he said.

Lieutenant Iverson said that officers did not use concussion or flash grenades at any time. Instead, officers used tear gas, pepper spray canisters and what are known as stinger balls, round grenadelike objects that spread tiny rubber pellets to try to disperse protesters, he said.

Mr. Wilansky said that doctors in Minnesota had removed fragments from his daughter’s arm that he hoped could be used to find out what caused the injury and to hold someone responsible.

Be careful what you wish for. The truth is that Wilansky was almost surely injured by an IED that the protestors (including she?) were constructing themselves. From Bearing Arms:

There were actually several 1-pound propane canisters recovered from the site of the explosion by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). You’ll note that the more severely damaged of the two canisters, shown in two different angles in the second and third photos above, seem to have coagulated blood and tissue upon them.

If testing does confirm that the material on the propane cylinder is blood and tissue, then there is clearly enough to get a DNA match to the person who left that genetic material behind.

While the ATF was cataloging the apparent components of a faulty improvised explosive device (IED, a kind of bomb) that domestic terrorists/protestors attempted to deploy against police lines, agents with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) went to the hospital to acquire Sophia Wilansky’s clothes, and they confiscated it into evidence.

A reasonable person would be forced to ask themselves a simple question: “Why would the FBI and ATF focus like a laser on the propane canisters and Sophia Wilansky, if there is plausible evidence that Wilansky was so grievously injured by a concussion grenade?”

The answer is glaringly obvious: both the ATF and FBI know precisely what less-lethal crowd-control munitions MCSO and NDHP have to deploy, and these federal agencies tasked with the investigation know that nothing that law enforcement agencies have could cause plausibly cause Sophia Wilansky’s injuries.

Exactly right.

Back to The Times:

Friends said they were not surprised that Ms. Wilansky would gravitate to the North Dakota protest.

She had also protested the construction by Spectra Energy of a natural gas pipeline in New York. In June, she locked herself to an excavator at a natural gas pipeline dig in Vermont. About three weeks later, she was arrested in Massachusetts after lying down in a trench dug for the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline.

“Every time I talked with her she was doing something new, going to a rally,” said Rebecca Berlin, 23, from Yorktown Heights, N.Y. “She was really plugged in, really passionate.”

The FBI is not impressed with rap sheets that look like this, no matter how “passionate” their creators.

We all pray for Sophia Wilansky and hope that the authorities can see that she has been punished enough.

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One year ago, I took this picture.

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How Were the Griffin Hall Hate Hoaxers Caught?

How were the students caught? Details, please! I assume that they were smart enough not to use their own swipe cards to enter Griffin. (The news reports suggest that the building was “open,” which I assume means that no cards were required.) Old timers will recall that the Tuft’s vandals — who wrote JUMBOS in big letters on the columns of Chapin 30 years ago — were caught by tracing their purchase of the paint. Where did these vandals get the substance (paint?) that they used? I would guess that this wasn’t how they were caught since it happened so quickly . . .

I am especially curious to know if the vandals had any connection to the anti-Trump protest that occurred that Saturday:

Baladine Pierce, a freshman at Williams College, holds a sign during a protest of the election of Donald Trump in Williamstown on Saturday. The safety pin has become a symbol that communicates protection to anyone who is a victim of bigotry.

More than 400 people appeared at Field Park on Saturday morning to demonstrate their support for minorities in the wake of the election of Republican Donald Trump to the presidency.

The event was organized by North Berkshires for Racial Justice, a group formed a few months ago in Williamstown that hosts regular monthly meetings.

“We’re here because we are concerned about the safety of our black, brown, Latino, gay, lesbian and immigrant brothers and sisters,” said Margeret “Peggy” Kern, one of the organizers of Saturday’s event. “We’re concerned this recent election has validated white supremacy, racism, sexism and transgenderphobia.”

Saturday’s event attracted a multi-generational crowd. And the crowd showed up almost all at once. At 10:53, Kern arrived with several posters. At 11:01, there were almost 180 people in the park. By 11:15, the number had swell to at least 300. By 11:20, that number was up to about 400.

There were dozens of hand-made signs. Some reading “Love Trumps Hate,” “Black Lives Matter,” “You Cannot Unify With Hate” and many other slogans.

The demonstration was suffused with good will. Although some of the demonstrators chanted slogans, many just held up signs. Passing cars honked in support.

Neal Sardona of Williamstown, another organizer said “for me, the election results were shocking. A lot of people are really scared.

“There is a feeling among the minority community that we’re not wanted,” he said.

“We wanted to show that we won’t accept racism, homophobia, xenophobia,” said Jane Burger of Williamstown.

“I think the election has made many people feel that white supremacy will protect them in a way that policy would not have,” said Meg Bossong, director of Sexual Assault and Response at Williams College. “”I’m here for people who are afraid for their safety. I don’t think we can be silent. we have to speak up.”

At least two anti-Trump students did a lot more than “speak up.”

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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to Ephs far and wide. On this day, we give thanks to our student readers:

thanks

EphBlog would be a sadder place without you!

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Vigil for Sophia Wilansky ’16

​To the Williams community,

By now, many of us have learned the dreadful news that Sophia Wilansky, class of 2016, was severely injured ​while demonstrating as a water protector ​on Sunday night ​in connection to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota. Sophia is now undergoing a battery of surgeries on her left arm.

We invite you to join us tonight at 7:30pm as we gather in reflection and prayer for Sophia, her family, friends, and all those affected. As we focus our thoughts and prayers on her recovery and healing, our space this evening aims to link up with the wider circle of vigils being convened elsewhere nationally for Sophia during this period of intensive surgeries.

​We will assemble at the Matt Cole Reading Room, located on the first floor of the Class of 1966 ​Environmental Center (home to the Zilkha Center and CES).

​In peace and prayer, ​


Sharif A. Rosen
Muslim Chaplain /
Asst. Dir. for Community Engagement, Center for Learning in Action (CLiA)

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Questions about Griffin Hall Hate Hoax

11-12-16-Griffin-Hall-stairs-going-up-to-rooms-6-and-7-pic-8 Kudos to Record reporter Ryan Kelley for a solid article about the Griffin Hall hate hoax. (By the way, any ideas for catchy names for the scandal? I miss that EphBlog tradition!) Kudos, also, to the Record for publishing (and the Office of Communications for providing) crime scene photos like the one to the left. What questions should Kelley and other reporters answer for the next issue?

1) Why haven’t the criminals been arrested? The College claimed that it was a crime, hence the need for local police, Mass State Police and the FBI. Now that they knew who did it, have they informed Williamstown police about their identities. If not, why not? I suspect that the College has either declined to inform the police or (better?), it has informed them but also reported that no charges would be pressed, so no arrests were necessary. Either way, there is a cover up in progress. The Record ought to get to the bottom.

11-12-16-Griffin-Hall-main-entrance-landing-near-room-4-pic-112) Mary Detloff claimed in the Globe that identifying the students would violate Federal law. This is utter gibberish. The College is no more prevented from reporting the identity of these students than it is from telling us who scored a goal in the last soccer game. (Comments from lawyers welcome!) Federal law prevents the disclosure of certain student records. The College can’t hand out your transcript, nor can it (probably?) report that you were suspended for cheating (or sexual assault?). But a student’s confession? Or the fact that the College determined, on its own, who the guilty students are? The College can report that all day long. The Record should push Detloff hard on this untruthful claim, perhaps by insisting on an interview with the college’s in-house lawyer: Jeff Jones.

3) Follow the money. What is the total cost of fixing the physical damage? What is the cost of overtime for security officers involved in the investigation? Will the guilty students be expected to pay those costs? If not, why not? If a student breaks a living room window in Carter, he is expected to pay for it. (And, if the College can’t identify him, all the students in Carter pay.) Shouldn’t the same apply in this case?

The Record has done a solid job covering these events. But there is much more to investigate. Will they?

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College Fools Boston Globe Reporter Dylan McGuinness

11-12-16-Griffin-Hall-pic-15-1

Background reading on the Griffin Hall Hate Hoax in the Record, the Eagle (here and here), and the Boston Globe. Reporter Dylan McGuinness comes off looking like a fool.

First, consider the article’s title: “Two students take responsibility for ‘AMKKK KILL’ message at Williams.” Usually, when someone confesses to a criminal act, we say that he “confessed,” not that he took “responsibility.” Moreover, there was lots more vandalism in Griffin than just one “message.”

Before you argue that McGuinness is not responsible for his article’s title (which might be true), consider his opening sentence:

Two students at Williams College have claimed responsibility for a cryptic message that was painted on a wall in one of the school’s buildings, officials said.

The purpose here is to portray the students as idealistic political protestors who are (bravely!) taking “responsibility” for their “message.” You can be certain that McGuinness’s portrayal would be less generous if he/Williams disagreed with the political views of these vandals.

The students who stepped forward told officials they were going to write “AMERIKKKA” but “for whatever reason” didn’t, Dettloff said. The students said they didn’t do it with racist intent; instead, “they said they wanted to draw attention to what they felt was racism in the election of Donald Trump,” Dettloff said.

[S]tepped forward?” Is McGuinness just relying on a conversation with Dettloff? Did he bother to read Falk’s message? Recall:

We write to inform you that Campus Safety and Security has identified the people responsible for the vandalism in Griffin Hall that occurred over the weekend. Two students were identified and interviewed, and during interviews they admitted that they alone were responsible.

Security identified the students before the interview! They knew who the perps were! (And, yes, we are still working on the story about how they knew. Perhaps an anonymous security person could tell us the backstory in the comments. PTC: Don’t you have some contacts to help us out?)

When the cops arrest someone for a crime and bring them in for interrogation, we don’t say that the criminals “stepped forward” even if they admit the deed. We say that they “confessed.”

The students were not identified because it would violate federal law, Dettloff said.

This is the part where McGuinness should turn in his reporting credentials. There is no federal law which prevents Williams from reporting these students to the local police. They committed a crime! They caused hundreds (thousands?) of dollars worth of damages. They terrified (?) scores of students. No federal law protects them.

Which raises the key question: Why has the College not reported these students to the local police? Why haven’t they been arrested and charged? Consider how former president Morty Schapiro has handled a similar situation at Northwestern: here, here and here. Summary: Two students who vandalized a campus building with Trump-related slurs were arrested and are now enjoying the gentle ministrations of the US justice system.

Possible explanations: First, the vandals are related to insiders (either faculty or powerful alumni) and the College wants to protect them. Second, the vandals are minorities are the College does not want to go through the embarrassment of seeing minority students punished. Third, the Administration agrees with the political views of the vandals and is, therefore, treating them more leniently than it would pro-Trump vandals. Fourth, the College always protects students from local law enforcement, even white Republican students with no connections. What do readers think?

UPDATE: Thanks to the Record and the Office of Communication for the photo. (And to Bill for reminding me below to give credit.)

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Hate Hoax in Prospect V

Five years ago someone wrote “All Niggers Must Die” on the door of a bathroom on the fourth floor of Prospect House. (Record coverage here, here, and here.) That someone was almost certainly student of color and campus activist Jess Torres ’12. Evidence here: pdf. Let’s spend 5 days reviewing the case. Today is Day 5.

The discussion between David Michael ’13 and Parker McClelland ’13 concludes:

Michael: Is change possible? Even if these hate crimes go unsolved? I asked Parker what he thought about the investigation.

Parker: I don’t think there’s any excuse to be brushing things under the rug when it’s that serious, and I don’t think anyone should be receiving preferential treatment or harsher treatment than someone else who committed an act like this. I think it’s a horrible thing to do.

Michael: How do you feel about the fact that people don’t know who did it?

Parker: Well I think a lot of people have the same belief, hold the same belief, that I do. But, yeah it makes me angry to think that someone, who I’ve seen commit a lot of very selfish acts, can get away with something like that because a lot of other people wouldn’t have gotten away with it and I don’t think that’s fair.

Michael: And so the pattern repeats itself, like clockwork. Some graffiti is discovered, then the president emails the text to the entire student body, the relative identity group mobilizes and releases its list of demands in response to the incident. Depending on the amount of political capital they have, some of those demands will be met, in a never ending cycle of Claiming Williams, piece by piece. It’s happened before and it’s going to happen again. David Michael, class of 2013.

“Claiming Williams, piece by piece” is perfect phrasing. It captures the inevitable tension which, rightly or wrongly, surrounds campus activism. Has any single student done more harm to Williams in the last decade than Jess Torres ’12? Not that I can see.

Have you listened to the audio? You really should! David Michael ’13 did an amazing job. I doubt, alas, that Williams will thanking him any time soon.

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Caring for Our Undocumented Students

To the Williams Community,

Caring for everyone in our community is what defines us at Williams. So it’s no surprise that in recent days a great many faculty, students, staff, and alumni have expressed worry about the possible effects of the incoming presidential administration on our most vulnerable populations, especially our undocumented students. Our community has come together to ask Williams and me, in particular, to do all we can to protect and support our undocumented students.

I assure you we will. The concern is a serious and well-founded one, given that we heard from the president-elect throughout the campaign that among his first actions as president would be to rescind many of the executive orders enacted by President Obama, including the one that established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program grants certain undocumented immigrants who arrived as children renewable two-year work permits and exemption from deportation.

At Williams, as at colleges and universities across the country, we are working to do all we can to support DACA students and prepare for what might come. The many petitions to create “sanctuary campuses,” including the one I received this week, reflect this broadly shared commitment to care for our students. The petitions vary in what they seek, but they are inspired by sanctuary cities, where local laws prevent police from asking about people’s immigration status and generally don’t use local resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

How that concept might apply to a private college isn’t clear, and how such a declaration might inadvertently harm our undocumented students is a deep concern of mine. This concern is shared by immigration law experts with whom we’re consulting, as well as by many other college presidents with whom I’ve spoken this week. We worry, for instance, about the possibility that the new administration might seek to deport first those students at campuses that announce publicly that they intend to shield their students in some way from federal authorities.

What we reaffirm now is that we will not release information about students’ immigration status unless compelled to do so by a court order or legal action. That’s our current practice, and we adhere to it strictly. Indeed, all confidential student information is similarly protected, as we abide faithfully by the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Some of the sanctuary petitions and related activism have called on institutions to prevent federal authorities from entering campuses to enforce immigration policy. Legal counsel tells our peers and us that private colleges and universities do not have the ability to offer such absolute protection, and it would be a disservice to our students to promise what we can’t actually provide.

There are many things we’ve already been doing to protect and support our undocumented students. Indeed, many of the measures articulated in sanctuary petitions are standard practice at Williams. We welcome undocumented students, and we evaluate their applications in the domestic applicant pool under our need-blind admission policy. And we meet 100 percent of their demonstrated financial need—as we do for all students—providing them with additional grant money if they are not permitted to work in the U.S. (and therefore couldn’t fulfill a work-study requirement). We will continue to do all of this.

A number of staff members in the Dean’s Office and elsewhere provide support and guidance to undocumented and DACA students, including: Rosanna Reyes, who serves as the advisor to undocumented and DACA students; Ninah Pretto, who provides support and guidance on seeking legal advice and immigration assistance and helps students navigate U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and other resources; Tina Breakell, who supports and advises undocumented and DACA students interested in study-away opportunities; Michelle Shaw, who serves as the primary Career Center contact for undocumented and DACA students; Gary Caster, their primary contact for emotional and spiritual support through the Chaplain’s Office; and Molly Magavern and the entire Davis Center staff, who offer myriad support and resources to help all students, especially those from historically underrepresented and underserved groups, thrive at Williams.

Our most immediate concern is for our undocumented students. We also are worried about others in our community who may face an uncertain future with regard to immigration law, as well as those with undocumented family members. Staff in the Dean’s Office are caring for our undocumented and international students, and we are working with immigration law experts, peer institutions, and higher education associations not only to understand any potential policy changes and their effects, but also to do everything we can to prevent policy changes that would bring harm to our students and to promote policies that protect everyone in our community.

We are deeply committed to this work, and we ask you to do what you can as citizens to demand from our government that it continue to uphold our country’s fundamental values of equality and freedom.

Sincerely,

Adam Falk
President

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Sanctuary Campus Rally

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Thanks to Martin Kohout’s ’81 excellent Twitter feed, we know about today’s class walkout. Comments:

1) I have been trying to cajole Martin into posting his daily Williamstown photos to EphBlog. They are amazing! No luck so far . . .

2) How many “undocumented” students are there at Williams? I have expressed skepticism on this topic in the past. I would bet that there are less than 5 and, quite possibly, there are zero. But, ultimately, this is an empirical question that the College should be willing to answer . . .

3) How many students (and professors?) will participate in this protest? I assume that lots (scores? hundreds?) would attend a rally/protest at Paresky. I would be surprised if many walked out of their 11:00 AM Division III class to do so. Predictions from our readers?

4) Note that the College allows chalkings, as it has the in the past. Nothing wrong with that! How long have these chalkings been there? But, having set that standard, it had better be viewpoint neutral. If I were one of the 200 (?) students on campus that supported Trump, I would chalk some pro-Trump (but non-offensive!) slogans around campus. What would the College do? What would anti-Trump students do?

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Hate Hoax in Prospect IV

Five years ago someone wrote “All Niggers Must Die” on the door of a bathroom on the fourth floor of Prospect House. (Record coverage here, here, and here.) That someone was almost certainly student of color and campus activist Jess Torres ’12. Evidence here: pdf. Let’s spend 5 days reviewing the case. Today is Day 4.

The following dialog is between David Michael ’13 and Tim Kiely ’11:

Kiely: All I did was write a simple statement which at its core was a criticism of the Office of the Deans for taking unilateral and unjustified action against a single student, in favor of another student. And then I was convicted of a rule that didn’t exist, I was placed on academic probation with no justification. After I appealed that case, later on, I was found to have all charges dropped.

Michael: I asked Kiely that if she did it, what might have motivated the student he spoke out against.

Kiely: If I were to guess, she was the type of personality that wanted to take radical action, to see, to get what she saw as positive change pushed through what she saw as an oppressive environment. At the end of the day though, she began to feel that, or she was encouraged to feel that, by elements within the administration within her mentors and whatnot, that if she made big enough lies and emotional enough lies, that she could pretty much convince anyone of anything she wanted. And one lie just fed into the next lie, and she thought she could get away with something as drastic as that, as committing a hate crime in order to get more attention.

Michael: He was similarly cynical about the quality of the investigation.

Kiely: I mean we sort of knew that didn’t we, when we, when the investigations were called off when the evidence was squashed, when we had inspectors and security officers telling us that they had to “run things up the flagpole” before they pursued legitimate leads. I mean we knew what that meant. So it doesn’t surprise me.

Me either.

Where is the Record on this story? Note their 2012 follow up article:

Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the hate crime in Prospect that shocked the College on Nov. 12, 2011. Last year, a student found the words “All n****ers must die” inscribed on a bathroom wall in Prospect. Two YouTube videos describing last year’s events and students’ reactions were sent to all students last Thursday to kickstart a week’s worth of discussion and reflection leading up to the anniversary of the hate crime on Sunday.

By 2012, suspicions about the “racist” vandalism were widespread on campus and Jess Torres ’12 was the primary suspect, with much discussion on Yik Yak and elsewhere. The Record, however, reported none of that. Perhaps that is excusable given the evidence they had at the time. But now we have three alumni willing to publicly claim that the event was hoax, including one who was an eyewitness. How can the Record avoid the story and still claim to be a real newspaper?

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Hate Hoax in Prospect III

Five years ago someone wrote “All Niggers Must Die” on the door of a bathroom on the fourth floor of Prospect House. (Record coverage here, here, and here.) That someone was almost certainly student of color and campus activist Jess Torres ’12. Evidence here: pdf. Let’s spend 5 days reviewing the case. Today is Day 3.

The discussion between David Michael ’13 and Parker McClelland ’13 continues:

Michael: While we do not know for certain what happened that night, we still do know a few facts that can paint a picture of what might have happened. This student was seen drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana with her friends earlier that evening. Then, after being placed at the scene of the crime by Parker, she was seen at the nearby Red Herring bar shortly before 1:00am. The investigators interviewed residents extensively. They examined door opening and card access logs and even WiFi access points cell phones connected to. They concluded that there was “a narrow window of time” which leaves either this student or “a lone gunman” who unaffiliated with the college, entered and exited the building completely unseen.

Michael: Ultimately, says Parker.

Parker: Because of everything I saw that night and the fact that I know that she lied to security in her statement about ever coming above the basement of Prospect dorm that night, I believe that she did it, there’s no other reason I can imagine for her being up on that floor at that time, and it struck me as very odd that she didn’t approach me and exchange some sort of greeting that night when we saw each other.

Michael: As for why.

Parker: I think she wanted everyone to see her as part of a victimized group, in which she considers herself a powerful person. It puts everyone else in the position of sympathy for people in marginalized groups, and that benefits her.

Exactly right! This is precisely the motivation for “hate hoaxes” around the country. (The term comes originally, I think, from Steve Sailer):

Orwell’s version of what later came to be known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis emphasizes that human beings are better at noticing patterns for which they have been told names. The term “hate hoax” is a catchy name for a common pattern of events that have taken up a lot of space in the media since, say, Al Sharpton promoted Tawana Brawley’s hoax in 1987, but the term “hate hoax” isn’t really a thing you are supposed to know. So, the media is constantly surprised by each dreary repetition of hate hoaxes.

As is the Williams community.

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Advice and support: Friday’s the last day to switch a class to pass-fail or to withdraw

Dear Students,

 

As we make our way towards the final weeks of the semester, I’m writing to remind you about options that may be helpful, including support and also the pass-fail option for courses.  Please note that the deadline for changing a class to pass-fail is this Friday, November 18th.  That is also the deadline to withdraw from a class.
Read more

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Hate Hoax in Prospect II

Five years ago someone wrote “All Niggers Must Die” on the door of a bathroom on the fourth floor of Prospect House. (Record coverage here, here, and here.) That someone was almost certainly student of color and campus activist Jess Torres ’12. Evidence here: pdf. Let’s spend 5 days reviewing the case. Today is Day 2.

This is dialog between David Michael ’13 and Parker McClelland ’13:

Michael: What do you think happened?

Parker: I think she went in there and wrote that graffiti.

Michael: While the case remains publicly unsolved, Parker McClelland, a student at Williams, had a unique perspective on the event.

Parker: So I lived in Prospect dorm on the 4th and a half floor. I lived a ways down the hall from the bathroom that the graffiti was written in.

Michael: While most students were out partying, Parker, a varsity Basketball player had to stay in .

Parker: I was just watching TV, you know, waiting to get tired so I could go to sleep.

Michael: Then he saw something that would come to haunt him in the upcoming weeks.

Parker: I saw a girl up there that I knew, umm, I knew quite well actually, because of connections she’s had with people on my Basketball team, and I saw her up at the end of that hallway near that bathroom, umm, I thought it was a little peculiar that she didn’t come down the hallway to say hi to me or you know, just exchange any casual greetings, because that’s what I think I would have normally expected to happen with a friend who was up on my floor. But she just went down the further stairwell away from me after we made eye contact.

Parker: I didn’t make anything of it. I figured it was homecoming, people were out, you know, drinking, partying, here and there. I didn’t make anything of it.

Michael: But once campus safety and security interviewed him, he sent the student a text message warning her that he had mentioned her in an affidavit.

Parker: In reply to my message she said, “Ohh, haha, I forgot I was up there smoking with you that night.” Basically that she forgot that she was up there doing something with me. And this was probably a week and a half after the night I saw her up there, she said she forgot seeing me up there, she mentioned that she forgot that we were doing something together, which we weren’t doing, hanging out or doing something together, smoking was what she said, which wasn’t the case, didn’t happen that night, so I was kind of confused by that at first.

We have an eye witness who places Jess Torres ’12 at the scene of the crime, during the very narrow window when the graffiti was written and with no good reason for being there. Torres then tries to cover her tracks. And the College still claims that there is “no evidence” for a hoax? There is a juicy story, one that might generate national attention, for an enterprising Record reporter . . .

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Griffin Vandalism was a Hate Hoax

Latest all-campus e-mail:

From: Adam Falk
Date: Monday, November 14, 2016
Subject: An update on the vandalism in Griffin Hall
To: WILLIAMS-ALL@listserv.williams.edu

To the Williams Community,

We write to inform you that Campus Safety and Security has identified the people responsible for the vandalism in Griffin Hall that occurred over the weekend. Two students were identified and interviewed, and during interviews they admitted that they alone were responsible.

The students told CSS that they had committed the vandalism to bring attention to the effects of the presidential election on many within our community. The use of “AMKKK” was not a specific reference from anyone affiliated with or supportive of the Ku Klux Klan, nor was it intended as a threat. Rather, we understand it was meant to signify AmeriKKKa, a spelling of America that references racism in our society.

The students will be held accountable for their actions through the college’s disciplinary procedures. Their actions did much more than damage property; they harmed our entire community and caused considerable fear, among students in particular. We are deeply distressed that anyone in our community would feel compelled to express themselves in such a destructive and harmful way. We understand that many continue to experience anxiety and fear in the wake of the election. Acts such as this vandalism are not the answer, and they will not be tolerated in our community.

Our thanks go to CSS for its tireless and thorough investigation and to all those who offered assistance in this effort. Please know that the deans, chaplains, Davis Center staff, and Psychological Counseling Services staff are available to provide support at any time.

Sincerely,

Adam Falk, President
Leticia S.E. Haynes, VP for Institutional Diversity and Equity
Steve Klass, VP for Campus Life
Marlene Sandstrom, Dean of the College

1) EphBlog told you so! To be pedantic, this was perhaps not so much a hate hoax — as in 1993, 2011 and 2012 — but just simple politically-inspired vandalism as in the hockey rink vandalism of 2015.

2) Instead of getting the campus all riled up with those absurd e-mails, a smarter Administration would have, from the start, raised the possibility of a hoax and mentioned the historical examples. Why terrify students, especially students of color, with a claim that white racist KKK members were roaming the Williams campus? (Cynical reasons would include both that students like to be terrified and that, without constant racial controversy, there would be no need for a highly paid “VP for Institutional Diversity and Equity.”

3) EphBlog should have guessed the “AmeriKKKa” usage. Who else recalls the Amerika mini-series of 1987?

4) “caused considerable fear, among students in particular.” But that was because of Administration incompetence! Will Falk et al be held accountable? I have my doubts!

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Notes for the Record on Griffin Vandalism

Here are some suggestions for the Record with regard to the recent Griffin Hall vandalism:

1) Get a picture of the vandalism! The College/Police certainly took some. The College may be reluctant to share them with you. If so, shame them by threatening to write, “The College refused to release pictures of the vandalism.” That is the sort of press that the College does not like, especially if you follow up by demanding to know the reasoning behind their refusal. (The real reason is that the College hates bad press, but they can hardly admit that.) Also, the Williamstown police might release photos, especially if you start to threaten them with an FOIA request.

2) If you can’t get photos, make sure to get multiple descriptions from different sources. Don’t just rely on Falk’s e-mail.

3) Make sure to explore, by talking with various observers, the two most likely scenarios: First, there are white supremacists roaming the Williams campus, putting up hateful graffiti, just as they did in 2011 and 2012 and all the way back to 1993. Second, there are liberals/progressives/leftist roaming the campus committing “hate hoaxes,” just as they did in 1993, 2011 and 2012. I would bet 20:1 on the second scenario.

4) I think that the most relevant history is the hockey rink vandalism of 2015. In other words, this is not so much a hate hoax in which someone is pretending to be racist vandal as it is people very upset about outside events and feeling the need to “raise awareness.” I would not be surprised if outsiders were involved.

5) Please tell us more about what AMKKK means, even speculation would be helpful.

Good luck!

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Student Support and Resources During a Challenging Time

Good Evening,

We understand that this is an uncertain and challenging time for our community and wanted to reiterate our support for the student body and our interest and investment in student safety.

We wanted to take the time to remind you of the resources available to us all during this difficult time:

1. Peer Health (Call-In-Walk-In hours Sun-Thurs from 7-10pm in Paresky 212)
2. Campus Safety (available 24/7 at 413-597-4444 and can direct you to other resources)
3. Davis Center
4. Chaplains
5. Deans
6. Psych Services
7. Office of Student Life
8. Student Groups/Peers
9. Additionally we want to make ourselves available as another resource for support. Please feel free to text, call, email, or stop us: Michelle (mcb6@williams.edu; (414) 793-5727); Caitlin (cab4@williams.edu; (845) 803-6854).

Please contact any of these resources at any point. Also, please look out for one another—we’ve been so impressed by the student support being shown and hope to see that continue.

We also hope you’ll consider these two events tomorrow as well:

You Are Not Alone- This is an amazing evening of solidarity and support for students who have been impacted by issues affecting their emotional, psychological, or social well-being, organized by Mental Health Committee from 7-8:30 tomorrow in Goodrich. We highly encourage your attendance, as it is an incredible way for our community to show support for one another.

Open College Council Meeting w/ V.P. Klass and Dean Sandstrom- We had already planned for Dean Sandstrom and V.P. Klass to come to our meeting tomorrow, but as always our meetings are open, so if you have any questions, ideas or concerns, especially in light of recent events, we will be meeting with them both at 7:30pm in Hopkins 001 tomorrow evening.

We recognize these events unfortunately overlap, so please attend whatever feels most helpful for you at this time. If you don’t make it to the CC meeting, feel free to reach out to your class reps and the exec board, or attend our next meeting on Tuesday, 11/29.

Again, we are here as a resource as well, so feel free to reach out. Please take care of yourselves and look out for one another.

Warmly,

Michelle Bal & Caitlin Buckley
College Council Co-Presidents

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student support

Dear Students,

We understand that news of this weekend’s vandalism in Griffin Hall has hit many of you hard, and that it was especially troubling for this to happen during what was already a very fraught and difficult time for many members of our community.

I am writing to remind you that the deans, chaplains, members of the Davis Center staff, as well as members of the Psychological Counseling Services are all available to support students at any time. Please don’t hesitate to contact any of these people if you’d like to talk or are concerned about the well being of a friend. We all stand ready to help.

All best,

Dean Sandstrom

Marlene J. Sandstrom
Dean of the College and Hales Professor of Psychology
Williams College

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Hate Hoax in Prospect I

Five years ago someone wrote “All Niggers Must Die” on the door of a bathroom on the fourth floor of Prospect House. (Record coverage here, here, and here.) That someone was almost certainly student of color and campus activist Jess Torres ’12. Evidence here: pdf. Let’s spend 5 days reviewing the case. Today is Day 1.

David Michael ’13 tells the story in this audio, a transcript of which is the evidence above.

Too lazy to listen to Michael’s amazing audio? Start with this claim by Williamstown police sergeant Scott McGowan:

I believe one of the motivating reasons the responsible persons wrote the message was to instigate and ignite tensions among people, which regrettably, was successful.

In other words, this graffiti — like so many of the “hate hoaxes” that rile colleges across the country — was not the work of an actual racist, someone with animus against African Americans. Instead, it was written by a minority student who sought to raise awareness of what she viewed as the racist nature of the Williams community. This is most similar to the 1993 case at Williams:

Five days before the start of Black History Month, three 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. 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.

Minority students have been committing hate hoaxes at Williams for more than 20 years. A competent president/administration would not have panicked, would not have cancelled classes, would not, to this day, pretend that there are actual racist vandals wandering around the Williams campus. But that is not the president/administration we have at Williams. I sought comment about Michael’s analysis from Williams. Mary Detloff kindly provided this statement.

Williams investigated every possible lead and piece of information, including all specific claims brought to our attention, and have no reason to believe it was a hoax.

How absurd! (And we will examine Michael’s evidence closely over the next week.) There is ample evidence that the graffiti was a hoax, including statements by multiple Williams students with firsthand knowledge of the people involved. Why doesn’t Williams give a statement like:

Williams treats all vandalism, both racially-motivated and otherwise, seriously. After thorough investigation, we concluded that there was no threat to our community from the events of November 2011.

In other words, Williams does not have to accuse Jess Torres ’12 of engineering the hoax. It does not have to admit, directly, that the graffiti was a hoax — i.e., that it was not actually written by a white racist. But it could suggest, indirectly, that there was not as much going on here as we first thought.

Instead, Williams doubles down! It claims, even in the face of widespread knowledge of the hoax among students, that it has “no reason to believe it was a hoax.” Williams insists on continuing to terrify members of the community who, in all honesty, fear for their physical safety. For shame!

If the Record were a better paper, it would use this blanket denial as a reason to revisit the case.

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Vandalism in Griffin Hall

To the Williams Community,

We write to share with you news of a disturbing incident of vandalism that occurred over the weekend in Griffin Hall. The vandalism was discovered and reported to the Williamstown Police Department around noon on Saturday by a visitor to campus.

Police determined that the vandalism, while abhorrent, did not create an immediate danger, nor did it constitute a specific threat toward any individuals or groups. Had there been a confirmed threat to our community we would have communicated with you about it immediately. We worried–without any information about the intent behind the act of vandalism–about the impact of an immediate campus-wide notification on our community, including the possibility that it would cause fear. We thought it important and responsible to wait until we investigated further, in the hope we would soon have more complete information to share.

Here’s what we know. Sometime on Saturday morning, what appears to be a wood-stain type substance was splattered down the stairs inside Griffin from the top to the first floor. The visitor who reported it to police described the stain as looking like blood. In addition, “AMKKK KILL” was written on the wall along the stairs in red paint. The same paint was found on some posters on the bulletin board outside Griffin 3.

WPD and Campus Safety and Security began an investigation, and WPD has notified the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police. Both WPD and CSS have continued an active investigation ever since, with CSS interviewing more than 40 individuals.

This vandalism is disturbing and intolerable, no matter what motivated it. In the current post-election climate, we have a heightened awareness for any actions or expressions that may be bias incidents. So far it has not been determined that this vandalism was a bias incident, but we will inform you if that changes, and we hope to report to you soon that the responsible person or people have been identified. If you have any information that might aid the investigation, we urge you to call CSS at X4444.

Sincerely,

Adam Falk, President
Leticia S.E. Haynes, VP for Institutional Diversity and Equity
Steve Klass, VP for Campus Life
Marlene Sandstrom, Dean of the College

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Utter Bankruptcy of Their Concept of Diversity

A faculty member writes in:

I hope that Ephblog will publish all of the pathetic memos from the various deans and our College’s president about Trump’s victory. They all speak to the utter bankruptcy of their concept of diversity, i.e. the notion that visible diversity equals intellectual diversity. It doesn’t and never will.

1) Thanks to this faculty member and all are other contributors and readers! The EphBlog community — especially parents and alumni — appreciate hearing directly from you.

2) EphBlog has tried to cover “all of the pathetic memos.” See here and here for the latest ones. It would be great if you, or someone else, were to perform a line-by-line deconstruction.

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Yesterday I passed a protest at Field Park …

Where I witnessed the pretense of those who claim the moral high ground in this election. Many held signs professing support for “peace” and “love.”

Is there anyone “here” who can honestly claim that Hillary Clinton does not have a record as a hawk who has been involved in the escalation of war for decades?

How can you legitimately claim the moral high ground of “peace love and understanding” when you voted for a war candidate?

The lesser of two evils argument I understand. That is very different than claiming the moral authority of “peace and love.”

A vote for Hillary Clinton was a vote for war. War is not peace and love.

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In Solidarity

Are non-tenured non-Hillary-voting Williams College faculty voters being pressured by their senior colleagues? Consider:

Dear Tenured Faculty of Williams College:

In light of the Presidential Election results, a few of us have drafted a letter to President Falk calling on him to declare the College a “‘sanctuary center for higher education’ committed to safeguarding to the best of our abilities the members of its community from unfair deportation, mandatory registration, surveillance, or other intimidation, and committed to providing legal, emotional, and financial support to the most vulnerable members of our community.” Similar efforts are taking place at other institutions, and so we thought we should start with our tenured faculty (though please circulate to other faculty as you see fit). The text of the letter is linked here; please consider signing your name in support of the petition.

In solidarity,
Mérida M. Rúa
Kashia Pieprzak
Mark Reinhardt
Jacqueline M. Hidalgo

1) If you were a non-tenured member of the faculty in, say, Political Science, and your tenured colleague Mark Reinhardt forwarded this message to you, would you feel pressured to sign? I would!

2) What advice would you give to non-tenured faculty? I would tell them to sign, regardless of their actual political beliefs.

3) There is so much nonsense here that I don’t know where to begin:

  • “unfair deportation” — Hasn’t the Barack Obama deported hundreds of thousands of peple?
  • “mandatory registration” — Doesn’t every male US student at Williams have to register for the draft?
  • “surveillance” — Haven’t these professor heard of Edward Snowden? Barack Obama’s NSA has been reading all your e-mails for years.

I am certainly happy to join these professors in their complaints about (at least two of) these three issues. But I am embarrassed that they saw no need to protest as long as a Democrat who they voted for was president. If you are fine with Obama’s surveillance, then you have no grounds to complain when the other side wins an election.

4) Here is the entire letter to Falk:

Dear President Falk,

Thank you for the caring and compassionate message you sent to the Williams community the morning after the election. We particularly appreciate your making clear that, “It is essential that we recommit ourselves today, as American society at large and as a Williams family here, to the fundamental respect and care for each other that underlie all healthy communities.”

Indeed the mission statement of the College affirms this commitment in stating: “To serve well our students and the world, Williams embraces core values such as welcoming and supporting in the College community people from all segments of our increasingly diverse society.” (Board of Trustees 2007).

We believe that now is the time to show how these values yield a sustainable and concrete commitment from the College at large. We worry about the physical well-being of members of this community — students, staff, and faculty — whose safety and security may be compromised due to their legal status, racial profiling, intimidation, or other serious forms of harassment. And to that end, we ask that the College publicly declare itself a “sanctuary center of higher education” committed to safeguarding to the best of our abilities the members of its community from unfair deportation, mandatory registration, surveillance, or other intimidation, and committed to providing legal, emotional, and financial support to the most vulnerable members of our community.

Through these actions, we believe, the College would further its leadership role within both the larger Berkshire community and American higher education.

Sincerely,

Should we spend a few days deconstructing this pap?

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E. Williams Armigeri

sealEphraim Williams was a career soldier who died in battle. For most of its 200-year history, the College has had a comfortable relationship with the armed forces. Williams graduates and faculty served in times of peace and war. Even the College’s motto, E Liberalitate E. Williams Armigeri, makes reference to the benefit we have all derived “From the generosity of E. Williams, soldier.”

Over the last 50 years, the connection between Williams and military service has atrophied. Virtually no active member of the faculty has served in uniform. Only a handful of graduates enter the military each year. If one admits that the military plays an important role in society and that having an informed opinion concerning the use of force in international relations is a critical part of being an educated citizen, then the failure of Williams to have a substantive connection to military life and culture is troubling.

ar_1991And, unfortunately, unavoidable. Williams-caliber high school seniors are unlikely to consider serving prior to college. Williams-caliber Ph.D. recipients almost never have a military background. There is little that anyone can do about this state of affairs. But I think that we all have an obligation to be cognizant of it.

The estrangement of Williams from things military first struck me during a mini-controversy in the pages of the Alumni Review. The Summer 1991 issue featured a cover photo of a graduating senior, Jonathan Dailey, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Former Professor Mark Taylor, one of the best, and most opinionated, teachers on campus was so incensed by this affront that he felt compelled to write to the editor. His letter, published in the subsequent issue, is worth quoting in full.

I was deeply disturbed by the photograph of three Marines in uniform standing besides the Declaration of Independence in Chapin Library that was on the cover of the most recent Review. Many of us at Williams have struggled throughout the year to raise the critical awareness of our students about the disturbing implications of the glorification of military power in the Gulf War. In my judgment, this photograph sends precisely the wrong message to our students and alumni. taylor_emeritusIt is little more than another example of the reactionary flag-waving mentality that has run wild in the wake of our supposed “victory” in the Gulf. Such an attitude runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education. I would have hoped that the editor of the Review would have been more thoughtful and more sensitive to the power of images to communicate cultural values.

Taylor is a great proponent and practitioner of deconstruction, of looking for the meaning behind the simple words of a text. Let us deconstruct his letter.

First, it is unclear what, precisely, has made Taylor “deeply distressed.” Is it the very existence of the Marine Corps? Or does Taylor except the need for some sort of military establishment and simply object to the tradition of clothing members of that establishment “in uniform”? Or is it the juxtaposition of these Marines and the Declaration of Independence, which, after all, contains the first claim by these United States to have “full power to levy war”? Or was Taylor distressed that this scene was chosen as the cover shot for the Review? I suspect that it was the last of these which moved Taylor to write. The military, while perhaps necessary, is a distasteful part of modern life. According to Taylor’s “cultural values,” it is worthy of neither celebration nor respect.

Second, note the reference to “students and alumni” as opposed to the more common trio of “students, faculty and alumni.” Obviously, Taylor is not concerned that faculty members will receive the “wrong message.” Presumably, they are smart enough not to be swayed. He worries, however, that the same may not be said for the rest of us.

Third, consider his concern over the “reactionary flag-waving mentality” which “runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education.” Did 2nd Lt Dailey USMCR and Williams ’91 missed out on some important lectures? Is Taylor suggesting that individuals like he and Dailey, who aspire to the liberal arts ideal, should not wave flags or that they should not do so in a reactionary manner. Perhaps lessons in progressive flag-waving are called for.

The typical comment which an ex-Marine (like me) should make at this point involves the irony of Taylor’s denigrating the very institution which secures his freedom to denigrate. Or perhaps I should note that Marines like Dailey stand ready to sacrifice themselves for causes, like protecting Bosnian Muslims, which Taylor might find more compelling than combating the invasion of Kuwait. But, in this case, the irony is much more delicious.

parishBefore moving to Columbia, Taylor was the Preston S. Parish ’41 Third Century Professor of Religion. In other words, an alumnus of the College, as his contribution to the Third Century Campaign, endowed a chair which Taylor now holds. And who is Preston S. Parish? Besides being a generous alumnus, he is a former officer in the United States Marine Corps and veteran of World War II. He won a bronze star for leading infantry units from the First Marine Division in combat on Guadalcanal and Peleliu.

For Marines fighting the Japanese in World War II, combat looked like this:

Not much “reactionary flag-waving” going on there . . .

In the beginning of his book Tears, Taylor reminds us of Kierkegaard’s aphorism that it is not the job of an author to make a book easy; on the contrary, it is the job of an author to make a book hard. Reading a good book, like attending a college which aspires to the ideals of the liberal arts, should be difficult. It should challenge us. Taylor was one of the best professors at Williams precisely because of his ability and inclination to challenge his students — question their preconceptions and to encourage them to question his. When my sister-in-law entered Williams in 1994, I told her that the one course that she shouldn’t miss is Religion 101 — or, better yet, 301 — with Mark Taylor. He made things hard.

It is supremely fitting, then, that Williams, via the medium of the Review has challenged — or at least “deeply distressed” — Mark Taylor. It has made him think, however fleetingly, about the worth and purpose of military preparedness in an unfriendly world. A great college, like a great book, should challenge, not just its “students and alumni” but its faculty as well. Ephraim Williams’ generosity, like that of Preston Parish ’41 and Jonathan Dailey ’91, is of money and blood and spirit. They make things hard for all of us.

—–
Originally version published in the Spring 1995 Williams Alumni Review, by David Kane ’88. Modified since then by EphBlog.

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