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College Censorship Anniversary

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On or about two years ago today, Williams College began to censor historic artifacts founded by previous generations of Ephs. This mural in the log came from the World War Two generation. A war memorial that depicted Chief Hendrick Theyanoguin standing over a map being inspected by Ephraim Williams on the morning of the Bloody Morning Scout, during the battle of Lake George in 1755. Hendrick and Ephraim were both killed in combat during this joint reconnaissance mission.

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#1 Comment By Dick Swart On November 26, 2017 @ 5:12 pm

PTC,

I am one of those who was appalled that the mural was covered and mightily relieved when it reappeared.

I have trouble understanding how an informed community cannot understand the shifts in meaning of memes (that may be redundant) which occur and the application to physical objects created at moments in history.

I am very happy to see this mural on display at The Log!

Dick

#2 Comment By Alum-Anon On November 26, 2017 @ 6:22 pm

Librarian: “We are confused again here today. This is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to misplace things.”

Jonathan E.: “Misplaced some data?”

Librarian: “Hmmm.” [Looks at a computer punch card] “The whole of the 13th century. Misplaced the computers, several conventional computers. We can’t find them. We’re always moving things around, getting organized, my assistants and I. This – this is Zero’s fault – Zero, he’s the world’s file cabinet. Pity, poor old 13th century.”

– from Rollerball (1975).

The future is now.

#3 Comment By abl On November 26, 2017 @ 6:36 pm

Removing a representation that offensively depicts a long-oppressed minority as primitive or subservient because, in the period that representation was made, said minority was not considered fully human /= censoring or erasing history. I am not saying that’s what happened here — but I think there’s a problematic tone to the posts on this subject that implies that such a removal would be unacceptable.

#4 Comment By Alum-Anon On November 26, 2017 @ 6:50 pm

Removing a representation that offensively depicts a long-oppressed minority as primitive or subservient because, in the period that representation was made, said minority was not considered fully human /= censoring or erasing history. I am not saying that’s what happened here — but I think there’s a problematic tone to the posts on this subject that implies that such a removal would be unacceptable.

Somehow I get the impression you’re looking hard and finding something that isn’t there. But go ahead, make your argument.

#5 Comment By Dick Swart On November 26, 2017 @ 6:59 pm

Jon a thon, Jon a thon, Jon a thon …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BB1LuCUovW4

released 1975 with a date set in the future as 2018

#6 Comment By Alum-Anon On November 26, 2017 @ 7:07 pm

Jon a thon, Jon a thon, Jon a thon …

released 1975 with a date set in the future as 2018

I’d forgotten that! Makes it somehow even more timely…

#7 Comment By abl On November 26, 2017 @ 8:26 pm

Somehow I get the impression you’re looking hard and finding something that isn’t there. But go ahead, make your argument.

Can someone post any article detailing the decision to remove this?

#8 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On November 26, 2017 @ 9:25 pm

This has been widely covered at EphBlog. Start here and follow the links. I had fun with this one . . .

#9 Comment By abl On November 26, 2017 @ 9:55 pm

DDF —

Thanks! So…what’s the problem? Adding a caption giving the painting context sounds like a win-win for everyone.

#10 Comment By PTC On November 26, 2017 @ 10:14 pm

David-

Yes, great coverage.

I took this “money shot” of the plywood with Eph Banners covering the art on this day two years ago. Right after the College covered the mural. Before it became news.

Not sure if anyone else captured an image of the censorship?

#11 Comment By PTC On November 26, 2017 @ 10:49 pm

One of the interesting things about this image of the censorship captured as it existed in November 2015 is the way in which the lighting for the mural remained, and that the censor(s) used the lighting to highlight Williams banners on the plywood. I would imagine it was either a contractor or a Williams employee that cut the wood and tacked it up to cover the mural, but someone with institutional power must have decided to use the banners?

Someone had to collect these banners for this particular purpose.

Why?

The highlighting of the Williams banners using a large center banner and then the banners for the current student graduation years made it appear as if the student body had come together in outrage to endorse this decision.

We do not find out until later that this depiction of unified community support for the censorship of the log mural was a false creation.

The adding of this bit of propaganda to censorship “by accident or on purpose” is an interesting thing to think about it. When was it actually covered and who placed the banners? Why did the censor(s) choose to use the banners in this space in this way?

It’s not just the covering of the mural which is fascinating, it is the liberty that the censor takes with other symbolism which creates a false assertion. A monopolization of perception that supports a false narrative of a community united in this decision.

I find the way the censorship blends with this propaganda fascinating.

#12 Comment By abl On November 27, 2017 @ 12:31 am

PTC —

My guess is that some college employee looked at the plywood, thought to themselves “that looks crummy,” and made the quickest and least controversial fix that they could think of in the moment (Williams banners).

Also, why is this such a point of distress for you if the painting was ultimately uncovered? This all seems reasonable to me — someone in the administration grew concerned that the mural could be problematic/offensive (likely because a student complained), the college sought input from students and faculty, and ultimately concluded that, with minor modifications (an explanatory plaque), it should remain. Both the outcome here and the process here sound pretty solid to me. (I’d be curious if any Native Americans or Native American scholars were consulted on the subject, but I doubt that’s contributing to your concern.)

I agree that there’s reason to be cautious in not overreacting to the current movement against offensive/problematic representations–overreactions that lead to the removal of non-offensive or non-problematic images/monuments do not make anyone happier (except, potentially, for the administrators in question who get to claim the mantle of proactiveness). But I don’t see how a little administrative prudence — temporarily cover the potentially offending piece while quickly convening a broad-based panel to consider the issue — is a bad thing, especially where the ultimate result of removal is not pre-ordained by the process (which here it was not).

#13 Comment By PTC On November 28, 2017 @ 5:20 am

:

My guess is that some college employee looked at the plywood, thought to themselves “that looks crummy,” and made the quickest and least controversial fix that they could think of in the moment (Williams banners).

Highly unlikely! It is too organized using the current class years and the layout is planned. The placement of the banners is measured and symmetrical. It had to be done from a ladder.

This was done by someone (planned by someone who probably told B&G to do it) who wanted to, and did, send a message.

That is what makes it interesting.

#14 Comment By PTC On November 28, 2017 @ 5:24 am

And placing current year college banners over legacy art that has been censored by this generation of Ephs is controversial. It makes a statement.

“Out with the old, and in with the new.”

But the old guard said- “not so fast, we pay the bills around here!”

#15 Comment By PTC On November 28, 2017 @ 5:26 am