Before it disappears in a fit of historical memory-holing, let’s archive portions of the Bias Incident Response Task Force Report from October 2012:

On November 11, 2011, the words “All Niggers Must Die” were written on a wall on the fourth floor of Prospect Hall. This hate crime caused a large number of our Black community members to feel targeted and unsafe and, overall, placed extraordinary stress on the fabric of the campus. A variety of associated issues and concerns were exposed in subsequent open mic events, campus conversations, and related gatherings. Among the concerns that were raised by many members of the campus community were pointed criticisms of the administration’s initial response to, and early communications about, the crime.

President Falk commissioned the Bias Incident Response Task Force (BIRTF) as the central component of a detailed debriefing of both the initial incident response and related protocols.

This was written almost a year after the event, by which time it was obvious that the entire incident was a “hate hoax.” This graffiti was written by student of color Jess Torres ’12.

Perhaps most important, we affirmed the need to ensure that we’re providing immediate, meaningful, and effective support to the most affected parties, after which we should expand our support to individuals and groups as we track the impact of the incident across campus and over time. This includes the establishment of physical and virtual safe spaces for post-event processing and dialogue, as well as additional components of an institutional infrastructure of counseling and support.

The best “support” that Williams could provide is to tell people that this was a hoax, that minority students have nothing to fear from white racists wondering the hallways of Prospect.

If the Record were a better paper, it would revisit this topic next fall, call up the members of this task force and ask them some hard questions.

The “Culture of Silence”

Perhaps the most frustrating – and enabling – campus condition is what students and others have termed the “culture of silence.” In fact, the name of the student organization that developed in response to the Prospect hate crime is Students Against Silence. While we recognized the highly complex nature of this phenomenon, our conversations focused on a couple of related questions:

What prevents students, faculty, and staff from taking advantage of the reporting websites and formal support structures that exist? If people want to talk about their experiences and concerns, are there unknown barriers to using existing channels more frequently and consistently?
What is it about our campus culture that allows students to believe they can behave like this? Once they leave here for graduate school or the workplace, their behavior changes, by and large, because they know this isn’t acceptable anywhere else. Why does it feel acceptable to them here?

The students on the Task Force explained that this is such a small, interconnected place that if you do something that leads to a falling-out with your team or your close circle of friends, you have few places left to turn. The prevailing social pressure – particularly on women – is not to make waves, not to “make life harder than it needs to be.” There was a strong perception that more people would report acts of discrimination, harassment, and assault if the social backlash to reporting weren’t so strong.

This perception that Williams’ size and distinctive social interconnectedness – typically considered to be positive features – work against us in this way resonates with our perceptions of why staff and faculty also hesitate to report the incidents of discrimination that they deal with.

Or, just maybe, there are fewer instances of actual discrimination at Williams than there are almost anyplace else in the world.

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