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Deeply Disappointed and Frustrated

“Brutus” passes along the latest open letter:

We write today to reach out to you with our experiences and provide a longer history for the current conflicts within the Williams English Department. As alumni, we are deeply disappointed and frustrated by the College’s response to Professor Kent’s harassment of Professor Wang, not least because it is being treated as a single event rather than a part of a long-standing and larger pattern. We write in support of Professor Wang and in echo of the demands articulated by protesting students and the Coalition Against Racist Education Now (CARE Now), enumerated in the open letter delivered to you this spring. Furthermore, we urge for the broadcast of these events in alumni publications and Ephnotes, as they often go unacknowledged. It is this lack of institutional memory and publicity that perpetuates these harmful dynamics, despite their documentation (see Margolis v. Williams College, the 2015 open letter to the English department, and the aforementioned CARE Now letter).

Worth spending a week on? Entire letter and associated “testimony” below the break:

Brutus continues:

Quick follow-up on the previous email. According to the Williams English web page, the department currently has 0 white male assistant professors (tenure-track) and 0 white male associate professors (white men are still allowed to be itinerant adjuncts, it seems). Perhaps the College is taking the demographic approach to purging the English Department of its racism/sexism/heteronormativity/etc.?

True? I have not checked. But don’t forget! We need to get rid of the white women, like Katie Kent ’88, as well.

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

We write today to reach out to you with our experiences and provide a longer history for the current conflicts within the Williams English Department. As alumni, we are deeply disappointed and frustrated by the College’s response to Professor Kent’s harassment of Professor Wang, not least because it is being treated as a single event rather than a part of a long-standing and larger pattern. We write in support of Professor Wang and in echo of the demands articulated by protesting students and the Coalition Against Racist Education Now (CARE Now), enumerated in the open letter delivered to you this spring. Furthermore, we urge for the broadcast of these events in alumni publications and Ephnotes, as they often go unacknowledged. It is this lack of institutional memory and publicity that perpetuates these harmful dynamics, despite their documentation (see Margolis v. Williams College, the 2015 open letter to the English department, and the aforementioned CARE Now letter).

Because of our experiences of race, class, and gender in this department, many of us feel conflicted and ashamed about claiming Williams College as our alma mater. Besides our own painful memories, stories circulate about the English program’s treatment of women, its treatment of Black scholars, its treatment of trans people. At our graduate institutions and places of employment, we encounter curious questions: “Williams College –– what’s happening there? What the hell is that department doing so wrong?” And accounts of warnings: “I’ve told my friends not to apply for work there. They can’t seem to keep their faculty of color, and those that leave tell revealing stories.” We have our own stories, too.

Racism and its outbursts are a norm in this department, not a singular incident. Misogyny, too. Women of color, and especially Black women, have been ill-treated by their colleagues: plagiarized, harassed, undervalued, mocked, driven out, and more. What’s worse, the abuses we have witnessed or experienced are wallpapered over and forgotten, due to the regular work that the department does to quiet those who complain about departmental culture and to keep controversies private, whispered about, off the record. Just as hurtful as the abuses themselves is that work of closing doors and ranks, a gesture that treated us as interlopers in our own place of study. Our stories have been regarded as individual, unconnected events; the department looks into them temporarily and quietly, but few consequences (punitive or restorative) ever come of these cases. Individualizing these stories merely scales down the incidents into isolated confrontations and de-centers the violent structures, namely racism and misogyny, which deeply inform these interactions. In fact, these incidents interlock and inform each other, even when the precedent goes uncited. Professors Wang and Kent discussing the departure of black faculty at the time of this incident shows us just how connected these issues are. There is no way to address one without acknowledging the other.

The College’s painful history of denial and erasure continues to shape our relationship to Williams, and we are increasingly aware that the College is gaining a reputation in its unwillingness to address its structural shortcomings. Even the former chair of English, Professor John Limon, admitted in 2015 that his department was “effectively a department of white literature.” This admission is reflected in tenuring practices and course catalogs, which together demonstrate that courses on non-white literature have been overwhelmingly taught by visiting and/or outside faculty (83% from 2000-2014). In its multi-decade pattern of failed searches, pre-tenure departures, and tenure denials, Williams English has consequently denied its students consistent access to and support in those areas of study.

Renowned cultural critic Roxane Gay recently wrote, “What on earth is going on at Williams? This is quite the pattern they’re developing.”

Such questions and anecdotes suggest that the broader academic and literary world has begun to take notice of this small English department and its track record with faculty and students of color. This dynamic affects not only the well-being of faculty, students, and campus, but also the College’s public reputation. We ask that you treat the recent harassment of Professor Wang seriously precisely because this outburst is not an exception, nor can we respond to it as such. It is, rather, a product and example of the department’s culture of closed doors, of treating issues that affect students, faculty, and public alike as private matters. We ask that you address these patterns of racism both personal and impersonal head-on by listening to the student body rather than treating them as angry children (too often the institutional response to allegations of racism and misogyny). We must address these issues together, and on the record, in order to make any substantial change possible or permanent.

Our role as alumni is partly to speak to the precedent and context for this outburst. But the College’s role cannot be limited to listening. We urge the College to hire three minority literature faculty in English. One of these hires should be a senior scholar. These steps would not only help alleviate some of the continuing problems within the department, but strengthen the department’s position academically. We believe in this work.

On the next page, find testimony that grounds our demands.


Bushra Ali ‘17
Eman Ali ‘20
Parmalier Arrington ‘15
Eve Avery ‘16
Amina Awad 18’
Adrienne Banks ’20
Alison Bunis ’16
Jazmin Bramble ‘20
Taylor Braswell
Sabine Chishty ‘12
Ariel Chu ‘17
Gina Chung ’12
Toby Delgado ‘21
Lauren Drago ‘12
Elena Faverio ‘15
Olivia Goodheart ‘18.5
Jacques Guyon ‘17
Erin Hanson ’19
Estefani Hernandez ’19
Wendy Hernández ‘20
Mia Herring-Sampong ’20
Brady Hirsch ’16
Harry Hvdson ‘14
Surabhi Iyer ‘21
Jordan Jace ‘18
Gabriella Kallas ‘16
Wilson Lam ‘21
Clara Lee ’22
Kirsten Lee ’16
Allen Lum ‘12
Nicholas Madamidola
remy malik ‘16
Brandon Mancilla ‘16
Soraya Membreno ‘12
Alejandra Mejía ‘17
Paula Natalia Mejía ‘19.5
Bertie Miller ’18
Zsanelle Morel ‘19
Annie Moriondo ‘14
Jamie Nichols ’21
Andres Villasmil Ocando ‘21
Lourdes Orlando ’14
Jonathan Pekar ‘14
Alyssa Perea ‘21
Katherine Preston ‘16
Bee Sachsse ‘18
Soha Sanchorawala
Ellie Sherman ‘20
Kerry Swartz ’19
Suiyi Tang ‘20
Jenny Tang ‘13
Marco Vallejos ’20
Vidya Venkatesh ‘17
Tony Wei Ling ‘16
Mariah Widman ‘15
Natalie Wilkinson ‘19
Dawn Wu ‘18
Emma York ’19
nb zhong ’15

Last year, a potential advisor at my graduate institution asked me, “Where did you go to undergrad? Who trained you?” I froze and then turned the conversation in another direction. No one came to mind who did not at one point yell in my face, mock my last name, or make a rape joke in the classroom –– and the names that came up first were the ones I least like to think about. It is difficult to feel intellectually indebted to those who have treated me with such disrespect. And worse: I later did think of two teachers who challenged me only in the academic sense, who were kind and professional to me during my time studying with them. But their names were blotted out in the moment by the memory of the others. When asked who trained me, I saw the one who screamed, the one who mocked, and especially the one who smiled slowly as he inquired which women students in the room had experienced an orgasm.
Discussion was monopolized by students who seemed to share the professor’s point of view, who had taken classes with him before, and who looked like him (white and male).
Multiple white professors in the department have used racial epithets as provocations toward discussion.
I would not be doing the work that I am today without Professor Wang’s training and guidance. She is deeply invested in the wellbeing and success of her students, and a pioneer in the field of poetics. She is a role model of fearless commitment to social justice within and beyond the academy. Williams is incredibly lucky to have her.
I related a story about a lewd comment one of my English professors made to his visiting former student (one year graduated –– “Thank god, now I can tell you that you look so sexy in that dress”) in front of me, and the professor I told this story to immediately recognized and named the man. At first, I was comforted to think that I wouldn’t have to provide evidence for his behavior; afterwards, I felt uneasy about the blithe recognition –– “Oh, I know what colleague that is!” –– without any accompanying shame or desire to protect students from him. That taught me how regular such behavior is, and how open a secret. How little anyone in that department seems to think of it as notable or unacceptable.
Williams College, and the college’s English Department in particular, has a huge racism and sexism problem. I have heard far too many stories similar to the ones above, about female students being on the receiving end of lewd and inappropriate comments from male English professors, as well as of white professors targeting professors of color who dare to stand up to the racism within the department and the college as a whole. I stand with Professor Wang, who is one of the most talented and dedicated professors I have ever had the privilege of studying with during my time at Williams. I am ashamed and disgusted by the college’s continual dismissal of these racist and sexist practices that seem to be endemic to the institution, as well as the administration’s disregard and lack of support for faculty and students of color.
I would add that there is a deep element of classism entwined with the issues my peers have already raised. I personally experienced and witnessed on many occasions my peers being shamed or humiliated for not being familiar with what professors considered to be basic knowledge. All the students I saw subjected to this were first gen students, almost all of whom are POC. There was little empathy or even comprehension that many of us lacked the sort of education that middle class (usually white) peers received and thus we were treated as stupid or lazy in our ignorance, a treatment which serves the greater experience of alienation, otherness, and unworthiness many first gen and POC students face.
I didn’t realize that I was traumatized by my time in the English department until a specific professor came up in conversation, and I realized that I was shaking and couldn’t stop. When I was at Williams, he screened a film with multiple explicit and brutal rape scenes –– required for his class on literary theory –– and went on a rant about spoiled students when I tentatively asked him afterward if he’d consider warning students ahead of time that the movie had so many of those scenes.
I befriended Dorothy Wang when I was a second-year at Williams College. She was teaching an upper level poetry course, and despite not having much of a background in English, she encouraged me to take it and provided the guidance and mentorship to ensure my success. Ever since, she and I have been close and I have witnessed her commitment to mentorship, inclusivity, and student well-being. Her work for Asian-American Studies (AAS) and support for underrepresented minority students has been second-to-none. Furthermore, she has also been supportive of diverse faculty, and she continues working toward these causes regardless of her own time commitments and obligations.
She, along with many other faculty of color, have been subject to far too much institutional violence. Her continued commitment toward improvements at the college (and everything listed above is most certainly such) make the actions of Katie Kent and Williams College at large even more egregious, as there is a clear lack of appreciation for her efforts, let alone well-being. The continued violence imparted by the college toward faculty of color is causing professors to leave the college and head elsewhere.

The continued mistreatment and disrespect of Dorothy Wang is beyond disgraceful. As a graduate student and mentor, I am increasingly unable to recommend students to attend Williams College, knowing that students and faculty of color are subject to such violence and negative experiences. Katie Kent should not be in charge of a department where the departure of Black professors is considered “confidential” and she yells at other faculty. As said before, these events have only been coming to greater light because of the students who witnessed Katie Kent yelling at Dorothy Wang. However, they are neither novel nor isolated incidents. The college must make immediate amends and work on larger structures of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.
Queerness and race examined as “exotic” objects in the classroom.
I shouldn’t have had to bite my tongue when professors made racist or misogynistic remarks about my work. I shouldn’t have had to negotiate between my professional respect for faculty and my concern for my friends. I shouldn’t have had to tell my graduate school colleagues to reconsider applying for Williams teaching fellowships, or warn them about the mistreatment of Kai Green, Kimberly Love, and Dorothy Wang. For me to have had a good experience in the English Department, I had to keep my head down, speak softly, and seek counsel with my friends in private. This is not what an intellectually vibrant, honest, and safe community looks like.
People of color are not tokens, and Williams has needs to listen to the voices of students, faculty, and staff that are repeatedly (and calmly, which is more than it deserves) saying that we need justice for the racist, classist, and sexist culture that is not challenged by many who profit from the private institution’s current structure.
Less than a week after I was sexually assaulted on campus, I was forced to watch a film with multiple explicit rape scenes for my English class. I was traumatized by the film and left sobbing halfway through, but was shamed into returning. I was told if I did not watch the film I would be punished via my grade in the course. No warning was given that this film would contain such disturbing material.

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Deeply Disappointed and Frustrated"

#1 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On May 31, 2019 @ 12:13 pm

The vast majority of the signers (44 of 59) of the letter are from the class of 2016 and younger. Has the situation (from their perspective) deteriorated that much in the past few years?

#2 Comment By abl On May 31, 2019 @ 12:32 pm

I have two semi-related questions.

First, looking through the faculty list, I noticed that there are numerous Visiting Assistant Professors in the department (four!). Typically, a VAP is a impermanent non-tenure stream position, somewhat akin to a glorified adjunct. Does anyone know if that’s the case at Williams also? If so, is this a change in recent years? I don’t remember there being really just about any adjunct-esque professors at Williams in my day (~10-years ago), but it’s also possible that I was oblivious.

Also, does anyone know what the “lecturer” title denotes? Often, at schools, the position is used for people who are practitioners (in English, that would mean journalists and professional writers) who aren’t fully enmeshed in the department or the life of the school. Depending on the person and the field, having a high number of such lecturer positions can be good, bad, or neutral. Glancing through the list of lecturers in the English department, I notice a couple of names of folks who I had viewed in my time at Williams as being fully there at Williams. But I thought I’d ask anyway: does anyone know what the “lecturer” position means at Williams?

(One sign that Williams may use the title differently than some others schools is that Eva Grudin, who was a wonderful professor as well as one of the pillars of the Art History department, is listed as a “Senior Lecturer.” Ditto Cassandra Cleghorn, who I know less about but is the Chair of the American Studies Department.)

#3 Comment By John Drew On May 31, 2019 @ 12:38 pm

It is difficult for me to understand why it would be wrong to treat the student body as anything but “angry children.”

CARE Now activists are revealed as obscene hypocrites when their message of love is contradicted by the ugly reality of their hateful, verbally abusive treatment of white students. This year the overwhelming majority of anti-gay and anti-black hate speech came directly from the leadership of CARE Now: “to be here [at Williams] is like sucking white d*** every f***ing day.” “We want some money to f***ing cook some fried f***ing chicken and be n***ers.”

Meanwhile the student body’s elected representatives on the College Council are so inept and disorganized that they allow non-members to make motions, tolerate anti-Semitic remarks, empower proxies without the knowledge or permission of the elected representatives who are being replaced by proxies, and then violate their own bylaws by using an anti-Israel political test to deny the free speech of their fellow students.

I defy the authors of this letter to find anything as vicious or as “violent” as the video of the angry black female student telling white students on the College Council: “I know what kind of d***heads you are. I’ve had political science with you. It’s s*** that opens up all a yo white moderate f***ing liberal bullshit.”

I would have more respect for the folks that signed this letter if any of them spoke out against the angry children who are creating what Maud has accurately labeled a “culture of open antagonism.”

#4 Comment By Current Student On May 31, 2019 @ 6:18 pm

1. Sometimes ‘Current Student’ isn’t me. Just a heads up, don’t want people thinking that it’s always me when it isn’t. This has happened a couple times now.

2. @abl–I can’t give you an official definition of ‘lecturer,’ but to my understanding you definition is pretty much correct. It’s someone who’s not a professor or even a visiting professor but is teaching classes. It can be someone young (perhaps they have a spouse at the college and teaching is a part-time job) or someone in semi-retirement. My perception is that a lecturer is often a lecturer by choice, and can only offer the College a certain amount of their time.

#5 Comment By fendertweed On June 1, 2019 @ 9:20 am

The “angry children” brigade can also include certain former faculty members with obsessive grievances … just sayin’ … ;-o