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We Do Wonder

Thanks (?) to Professor Paul for pointing out this letter to President Mandel.

We write as colleagues and advocates of Professor Dorothy Wang, in response to her encounter with Professor Katie Kent, Chair of the English Department, on April 17. We are deeply troubled by that incident, and by the administration’s response to it, especially given that an increasingly public eye has now turned to the climate of adversity at Williams College for faculty of color (FoC) and the students they mentor, particularly students of color.

Paul writes “Just when you thought things at Williams College couldn’t get any more ridiculous . . .”

Do readers agree?

Enter letter is below the break. Note this paragraph:

We do wonder whether you have reached out personally to Professor Wang to begin a conversation as to how she and others might feel better supported, as per your pledge, and “able to work, and to live all aspects of [one’s] identities without hostility or limitations.” We wonder whether you discussed with Professor Wang your intention to make allusion to “a matter between two colleagues in an all-faculty email.” We wonder whether you provided her with an account of the rationale that led to your position regarding what you describe as an “interaction…in a hallway three weeks ago.” We do wonder, insomuch as to characterize in the neutral language of “interaction” what evidence suggests was rather a verbal assault is not to stand by students, faculty, and staff of color—who feel unsupported at best and denigrated at worst—but to side precisely with “the structures and practices that have allowed inequity to take hold and persist.” We wonder whether such panic was merited in advance of the May 10 student action, as reflected in your letter about the Williams College “code of conduct,” or whether such language served the effect of distracting from the structural causes that have prompted us to write you today.

The authors are almost certainly friends of Dorothy Wang. What are the odds that they didn’t talk with her ahead of time? Approximately zero. If so, then their “we do wonder” pose is absurd.

A Letter to President Maud Mandel: Crisis at Williams?
20 May 2019

President Maud S. Mandel
Williams College
880 Main Street Hopkins Hall 3rd floor, P.O. Box 687 Williamstown, MA 01267 USA

Dear President Mandel,

We write as colleagues and advocates of Professor Dorothy Wang, in response to her encounter with Professor Katie Kent, Chair of the English Department, on April 17. We are deeply troubled by that incident, and by the administration’s response to it, especially given that an increasingly public eye has now turned to the climate of adversity at Williams College for faculty of color (FoC) and the students they mentor, particularly students of color.

As reported in a May 8 article in The Williams Record, Professor Wang asked Professor Kent whether that day’s English Department meeting would address the open letter to English faculty and students, wherein Assistant Professor Kimberly Love announced the reasons she would not be returning this Spring (bit.ly/2EdcLlT). Professor Kent’s agitated response escalated into an accusatory tirade that resorted to language disparaging of a highly respected colleague in the field; this is behavior unbecoming of faculty in an administrative position representing your institution, and serving as the assumed diversity advocate within the department. As one of the students who witnessed the incident told The Record, Professor Kent only lowered her voice when she became aware that two students had witnessed her outburst.

Professor Wang is an award winning and pioneering scholar whose contributions have transformed the fields of English literary studies, poetry studies, ethnic studies, and American Studies, among others. Her book Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford University Press, 2014) has singlehandedly redirected the scholarly conversation, and her ongoing, innovative, and active research agenda has been acclaimed by such prestigious associations as the American Council of Learned Societies and the Poetry Foundation. Those of us who have been visiting scholars at Williams have seen first-hand how devoted Dorothy Wang is as a teacher and member of the College community.

We find it difficult to explain how it is possible that such a respectful and respected colleague has been so badly treated by the Williams community. We wonder whether it has become acceptable for fellow faculty to dismiss Professor Wang and to diminish her vital, influential scholarship and advocacy that works to make visible the social structures and cultural effects of racism and sexism. We take note, insomuch as various campus accounts have caught the national attention this year (bit.ly/2Ee0IVd, bit.ly/2VvmFF4). We worry that Professor Kent’s behavior is not an isolated incident but part of a larger pattern of hostility and defensiveness toward individuals who try to initiate conversations about the difficulty—and in some cases, impossibility—of remaining and thriving as a faculty member of color at Williams College.

Our unease gives way to further questions. As stakeholders committed to equity within institutions of higher learning we have serious concerns about a May 10 electronic communication you sent as President of the College to all Williams faculty. In response to student activism and advocacy around issues of the College’s workplace environment, your message acknowledges that many faculty and staff of color do not “feel supported and able to work, and to live all aspects of their identities without hostility or limitations” at Williams, and you profess a commitment to rectifying this. However, a much greater portion of that same message is devoted to the anxiety that a “hostile environment” might be created by students planning a peaceful action on campus whose aim was to “express overwhelming love, support, and gratitude” for FoC mentors (“Love and Accountability: Occupy Hollander for FoC”). While no one should be subject to a hostile work environment, we are troubled by the suggestion that you seem more immediately concerned with protecting against the risk of potential hostility than redressing the concrete hostile environment that Professor Wang and others are presently experiencing—and have been enduring, sometimes for years.

Recent coverage in The Record reinforces our sense that the College has been unwilling to take meaningful action to redress a campus culture in which FoC and students are unsupported and subject to hostility. As the article “Resurfaced 2009 report sheds light on struggles of minority faculty, staff” from February 13th makes clear (bit.ly/2LNrSbW), events of this year—Professor Kent’s verbal assault on Professor Wang (which two Williams students witnessed and described in a separate statement in The Record), the statements of Professor Love and Professor Kai Green, the comments of other faculty quoted in the related The Record articles, etc.—are only the most recent instances of problems that FoC have been formally reporting to the administration for at least a decade.

We do wonder whether you have reached out personally to Professor Wang to begin a conversation as to how she and others might feel better supported, as per your pledge, and “able to work, and to live all aspects of [one’s] identities without hostility or limitations.” We wonder whether you discussed with Professor Wang your intention to make allusion to “a matter between two colleagues in an all-faculty email.” We wonder whether you provided her with an account of the rationale that led to your position regarding what you describe as an “interaction…in a hallway three weeks ago.” We do wonder, insomuch as to characterize in the neutral language of “interaction” what evidence suggests was rather a verbal assault is not to stand by students, faculty, and staff of color—who feel unsupported at best and denigrated at worst—but to side precisely with “the structures and practices that have allowed inequity to take hold and persist.” We wonder whether such panic was merited in advance of the May 10 student action, as reflected in your letter about the Williams College “code of conduct,” or whether such language served the effect of distracting from the structural causes that have prompted us to write you today.

More generally, and in the spirit of moving forward, we wonder whether and how Williams College will find pathways toward the creation of a campus culture that honors human diversity and the ongoing practice of inclusion and mutual respect, while upholding AAUP guidelines in the reporting of grievances. Toward this end, we urge Williams to take seriously and act upon the findings in the 2009 Faculty and Staff Initiative report, with the active participation and guidance of the FoC who are being affected by the adverse structural and systemic conditions and hostile environment on campus. Is it not incumbent upon Williams, ranked in surveys as the leading liberal arts college in the United States, to do so? Most immediately, such a commitment within the English department would seek to successfully hire, tenure, and retain faculty of color whose work critically engages African American, Native American, Asian American, and Latinx civil rights and ethics as reflected in literary culture and the humanities writ large.

As the new president of Williams College, you have the opportunity to serve as a model of visionary leadership. We look forward to that vision and to specific action items we hope will inspire the greater Williams College community to remedy its current public image with regard to students, faculty, and staff of color.

Sincerely yours,

John Keene
Chair, Department of African American and African Studies
Professor of English and African American and African Studies
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellow, 2018-2023
Rutgers University-Newark

Roberto Tejada
Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor
University of Houston, English, Creative Writing, Art History
Clark-Oakley Fellow, Williams College, 2013-2014

Sadia Abbas, Associate Professor of English, Rutgers University- Newark

Vidhu Aggarwal, Professor of English, Rollins College

Alexander Alberro, Virginia Wright Professor of Art History, Barnard College

Ammiel Alcalay, Professor of Hebrew, Queens College, CUNY; The Graduate Center, CUNY

Esther Allen, Associate Professor, Department of Modern Languages, Baruch College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

Lauren Araiza ‘97, Associate Professor and Chair of History, Denison University

Anjali Arondekar, Associate Professor, Feminist Studies, UC Santa Cruz

Parmalier Arrington , Williams College Class of 2015

Hilarie Ashton, CUNY Grad Center; Williams ’05

Josselyn Atahualpa, Queens Neighborhoods United

Nichole Beiner Powell-Newman , Class of 2009

Kevin Bell, Associate Professor of English, the Pennsylvania State University

Susan Bernofsky, Associate Professor of Writing and Director, Literary Translation at Columbia, Columbia University

Joel Bettridge, Associate Professor of English, Portland State University

Julia Bloch, Director, Creative Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania

Emily Bloomenthal, Williams ’05

Mary Pat Brady, Associate Professor, Department of English, Cornell University

Christine Case, Alum Class of 15, Current PhD Student University of Pittsburgh (English, WGSS, Childhood Studies)

Antoinette Charfauros McDaniel, Adjunct Faculty, Arrupe Scholars Program

Christopher Chen, Assistant Professor, Literature Department, University of California, Santa Cruz

Marilyn Chin, Professor Emerita, Department of English and Comparative Literature, San Diego State University; Chancellor, Academy of American Poets

Don Mee Choi, Winner of the 2011 Whiting Award, 2012 Lucien Stryk Translation Prize, 2016 Lannan Literary Fellow ship, 2019 DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Fellowship

Merlin Chowkwanyun, Donald H. Gemson Assistant Professor, Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University

Samuel Delany, Professor Emeritis, English and Creative Writing, Temple University; two-time Hugo Award winner

David L. Eng, Richard L. Fisher Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

Tonya Foster, Assistant Professor, Writing and Literature Program, California College of the Arts

Harris Friedberg, Associate Professor of English, Wesleyan University

Carmen Giménez Smith , Professor, Department of English, Virginia Tech

Teresa Gonzales, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Massachusetts – Lowell

Elena Gutierrez, Assoc. Prof., Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois, Chicago

Arcelia Gutierrez, University of Michigan

Linda Gutierrez , Class of 2006

Stefania Heim, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of English, Western Washington University

Cole Heinowitz, Associate Professor of Literature, Bard College

Walt Hunter, Assistant Professor of World Literature, Clemson University

Harry Hvdson, Doctoral Student in Cinema and Media Studies, University of Southern California

Michael Ingham , Professor, Department of English Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong

Mayumo Inoue, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Language and Society, Hitotsubashi University (Tokyo)

R. A. Judy, Professor of Critical and Cultural Studies, Department of English, University of Pittsburgh

Bhanu Kapil, Core Associate Professor, Naropa University

Ruth Ellen Kocher, Professor, Department of English, University of Colorado – Boulder; NEA Fellow

James Lee, Associate Professor, Asian American Studies, University of California, Irvine

Michael Leong, Assistant Professor, Department of English, University at Albany, SUNY

Natasha Lightfoot, Associate Professor, Columbia University Department of History

Lydia Liu, Columbia University

Allen Lum, Class of 2012

Uri McMillan, Associate Professor, Department of English, UCLA

Lyra Monteiro, Rutgers University-Newark

Katie Nash, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mae Ngai , Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and Professor of History, Columbia University

Viet Nguyen, University Professor, Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity and Comparative Literature, University of Southern California; Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2016; MacArthur Fellow, 2018-2022

Hoang Tan Nguyen, Associate Professor, Literature, UC San Diego

Christine Nieves, 06

Priscilla Page, University of Massachusetts Amherst

David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, and Professor of Comparative Literature, Stanford University

Gregory Pflugfelder, Associate Professor, Department of History, Columbia University

Peter Pihos, Assistant Professor of History, Western Washington University; Visiting Assistant Professor, Williams College, 2017-2018

Sonya Posmentier , Associate Professor of English, NYU

Nisha Ramayya, Lecturer in Creative Writing, Queen Mary University of London

Anjuli Raza Kolb, Associate Professor of English, University of Toronto

Anthony Reed, Associate Professor of English, Associate Professor of African American Studies, Yale University

Teemu Ruskola, Professor of Law, Emory University

Jeffrey Santa Ana, Associate Professor, English Department, Stony Brook University,

Vince Schleitwiler, Acting Assistant Professor, Department of American Ethnic Studies, University of Washington; Assistant Professor, Department of English, Williams College, 2008-15

Sarita See, Professor, Department of Media and Cultural studies, University of California Riverside; Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, English Department and American Studies Program, Williams College, 2000-2002

Sophie Seita, Junior Research Fellow, The Faculty of English, University of Cambridge

Gayatri Sethi , Independent Educator

Prageeta Sharma, Henry G. Lee ‘37 Professor of English, Pomona College

Christina Sharpe, Professor, Department of Humanities, York University

Dale Smith, Associate Professor, Department of English, Ryerson University

Stephen Hong Sohn, Professor, Department of English, University of California, Riverside

Samuel Solomon, Senior Lecturer in Creative and Critical writing, University of Sussex (UK)

Celina Su, Marilyn J. Gittell Chair in Urban Studies at the Graduate Center and Associate Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College, City University of New York

julie sze, UC Davis (former Bolin Fellow)

Renee Tajima-Peña, Professor of Asian American Studies, UCLA

Rea Tajiri, Associate Professor, Film Media Arts Department, Temple University

Chie Togami, Williams College Class of 2013

Ji-Young Um, Seattle Pacific University

Manu Vimalassery, Barnard College (for Mellon postdoctoral fellow in American Studies at Williams)

Ronaldo Wilson, Professor, Literature and Creative Writing, UC Santa Cruz

John Yau, Associate Professor in Critical Studies, Mason Gross School of the Arts (Rutgers University)

Rachel Zolf, Lecturer, English/Creative Writing, University of Pennsylvania

cc. Denise Kimber Buell, Dean of Faculty

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6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "We Do Wonder"

#1 Comment By 0xEph On May 28, 2019 @ 11:09 am

Nothing about this is all that ridiculous, but I doubt that a collection of pseudo-rhetorical questions posed by a relatively small group of mostly non-affiliated academics is going to move the needle with the Williams administration, which is hard at work at threading a very difficult needle vis-a-vis campus politics, off-campus politics, and what they believe is ‘right.’

#2 Comment By John Drew On May 28, 2019 @ 6:54 pm

Objectively, I think it is more fair to observe that the leftist proponents of identity politics are the ones who are creating what Maud has called a “culture of open antagonism.”

It is clear to me that Dorothy Wong provoked Katie Kent. I can’t imagine what sort of snide, passive-aggressive nonsense promoted by Wong ended up being enough to cause Kent to lose it.

The disruption of the April 9 College Council meeting was led by two CARE Now students who harangued innocent white liberal students with a vicious, bigoted, hateful, profanity laced rant.

Likewise, it was Dr. G. and Dr. Love who sparked hatred against white professors with their sick and twisted notion that they were experiencing “violence” at Williams College. Dr. G’s capacity for rational observation was so diminished that she ended up walking through the streets of Williamstown naked and needed to be institutionalized for her own good.

Williams College is increasingly looking like another Evergreen State College as empowered leftists lord their power and authority over those who have the temerity to disagree with them.

#3 Comment By Mrs. Anonymous On May 28, 2019 @ 10:57 pm

Johnny Drew,

Be sure to use Dr. G’s pronouns in the future.

#4 Comment By fendertweed On May 29, 2019 @ 9:17 am

Few things are more arousing and moving than watching Our Hero defend “innocent white liberal students.” ;-)

#5 Comment By Zinzendorf On May 29, 2019 @ 8:51 pm

Object newspaper accounts:

Professor Kent berates Professor Wang, sparking broader concerns over racism in English department
https://williamsrecord.com/2019/05/professor-kent-berates-professor-wang-sparking-broader-concerns-over-racism-in-english-department/

Bearing witness to aggression against faculty of color: Calling for accountability from the College for structural racism
https://williamsrecord.com/2019/05/bearing-witness-to-aggression-against-faculty-of-color-calling-for-accountability-from-the-college-for-structural-racism/

#6 Comment By 0xEph On May 29, 2019 @ 10:12 pm

I posted the following on “Bad Science” but John hasn’t approved my comment:

The Washington Insider article to which you link appears to have been translated from a different language (Russian? Chinese?). This is the first paragraph:

Williams Faculty is without doubt one of the most unique and costly liberal arts schools within the nation. It additionally has a fame as a closely left-leaning faculty and it has been dwelling as much as that fame these days. Three weeks in the past the scholar authorities refused to approve the creation of a pro-Israel pupil group on campus, a choice which even the school’s president felt was improperly selected partisan grounds.

Bizarrely, the Washington Insider article in question includes a blockquote from Majora’s piece that also has numerous similar errors. As an example, here’s what Majora wrote:

I challenged the supposed intelligence differential between Americans and Brazilians.

And here’s how the Washington Insider piece quoted here:

I challenged the supposed intelligence differential between People and Brazilians.

This isn’t a typo, but seems likely to also be a translation-related error. There are numerous such errors throughout.

Another example:

Majora:

In fact, IQ can certainly be measured, and it has some predictive value. While the score may not reflect satisfaction in life, it does correlate with academic success.

Washington Insider:

In actual fact, IQ can definitely be measured, and it has some predictive worth. Whereas the rating might not replicate satisfaction in life, it does correlate with tutorial success.