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The leadership of the Record — Matthew Borin, Zoe Harvan and Christian Ruhl — faces some difficult questions in covering “Safety Dance,” the latest sexual assault controversy at Williams. Reader comments are wanted on all the below.
1) Do they mention the real name of the accused, currently called John Doe in the legal filings? We all know his name, both because of anonymous unmaskings at EphBlog and because his attorney was sloppy in her initial legal filings, as pointed out by MRL ’91. I am unaware of any journalistic standard which protects privacy in a case like this. But the Record, out of sympathy for a fellow Eph, may not want to out him for all of Google to see.
2) Do they mention the real name of “Susan Smith,” the student who accused Doe? There is a journalistic standard — as a Williams official has repeatedly told me! — that reputable publications do not publish the names of reported victims of sexual assault. But, in those cases, the reported victim has no other status in the story beyond that of victim. In this case, Smith is an admitted perpetrator. No one contests that she slapped Doe.
Imagine if the Record had gotten a copy of this March 13, 2016 cease-and-desist letter (pdf) from Doe’s attorney to Smith. It accuses a college employee (Smith) of assaulting a student (Doe). Would that be newsworthy? Of course! Would the Record be justified in publishing both Doe and Smith’s real names? Of course! So, Smith’s name would (should) have appeared in the Record back in March. Her actions alone justify a lack of anonymity. But then, two months later, she accuses Doe of a sexual assault that occurred a year prior. Does that after-the-fact accusation mean that the Record is not allowed to publish her name with regard to a different, albeit connected, news event? I don’t know.
3) Should the Record use material that was (incompetently?) redacted from the filings? Consider page 42 from exhibit 13 pdf. In the PDF, it looks like:
Many of the filings feature this sort of heavy redacting (for reasons that are unclear to me). But, if you just copy-and-paste that into a text processor, you get:
Susan’s Third Interview
The alleged incident of non-consensual sex occurred on Labor Day in 2014, on the night that Matias Crespo hosted his first party of the semester. Susan responded to John’s contentions as follows:
o Susan estimates that she and John only attended two parties in Matias’s room that semester.
o Susan maintained that, with the exception of the September incident, she and John never had sex after consuming any alcohol. She disputed John’s contention that on some occasions, they would have sex after drinking between one and three drinks each. She stated that when they went out they would drink to the point of such intoxication that they would throw up together in their room, but they never had sex after drinking.
o With respect to Susan’s level of intoxication that night, she believes that John observed her shot-gunning a beer because he was also shot-gunning beers. She also recalls that she was drinking shots of Fireball.
o Susan’s last recollection before engaging in sexual intercourse was of her leaving Matias’s room. During sex, she recalls that she was “physically trying” to get away from John by attempting to “shift out from under him,” but he was restraining her, using his body weight and strength to “hold [her] down.” NB: Susan described herself to Ms. Kurker as “lying on her stomach.”
And so on. Everything in the filings that has been redacted is actually available. Should the Record use that information in its reporting?
4) Should the Record give EphBlog credit and/or reference our reporting in any way? If it only uses documents that it, on its own, got from PACER, then it probably does not have to, unless the reporter first found out about the case by reading EphBlog. Or maybe it should credit KC Johnson? Either way, if the Record uses filings that we have provided, then it ought to credit EphBlog. Specifically, I bet that if the Record uses the non-redacted (or sloppily redacted) filings — which it almost certainly got from us — it ought to mention EphBlog. It should not pretend that it is using documents from PACER unless it has gotten them from PACER itself.
We need a name for the latest Williams controversy. Let’s go with “Safety Dance.” Why? Recall this detail from the complaint:
On the night of December 5, 2015, John attended a party on the Williams campus. While dancing with another woman, employee Smith confronted him for dancing with someone other than herself as she wanted to dance with him. When John walked away, Smith followed John. The time was sometime between 11:30 pm of December 5, 2015 to midnight of December 6, 2015. Smith followed John all the way to his dormitory. John pointed out Smith’s wrongdoing, that she had violated the terms of her employment by attending a student party, as Smith held the position of Alumni Coordinator at Williams. Smith slapped John. She also grabbed and took away his phone. John retreated to his room. Smith escalated the situation even further afterwards by telephoning John’s sister, Lady Doe.
And the lyrics from the song “Safety Dance”:
We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
‘Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance
Well they’re no friends of mine.
I say, we can go where we want to
A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
And we can dance
Alas, John Doe has discovered that, leaving the real world far behind, is not so easy when it comes to the sexual assault bureaucracy at Williams . . .
PS. Not too late for readers to suggest a better scandal name . . .
UPDATE: Following conversations with both sides, and feedback from the EphBlog community, we have decided not to publish either John Doe’s and Susan Smith’s real names. We ask that commentators abide by this decision, although everyone is free to continue to argue about whether or not this decision is the correct one. Some post-hoc editing of prior posts will now begin. Apologies for any confusion that this causes in making sense of the comment threads.
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:
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:
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?
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:
1) 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.
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:
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.”
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.
2) 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?
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.)
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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 . . .
Latest all-campus e-mail:
From: Adam Falk
Date: Monday, November 14, 2016
Subject: An update on the vandalism in Griffin Hall
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
There was an event — sit-in? rally? protest? — in Baxter today. Quote from a private Facebook page:
Today is a day filled with emotions beyond articulation. For those of us–immigrants, LGBTQQIA/trans*/queer, femme or female-identifying, undocumented, low-income, disabled, people of color–for whom Donald Trump’s victory means violence, means fear, means physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual dislocation: this is for us. For those of us who recognize that proximity is but a matter of perception, that we are not safe, not here in New England, not here in Massachusets, and certainly not here in the Berkshires or Williamstown; for those of us who must grapple with the truth that we have not and will not be safe for a very long time: this is for us.
Join us to talk, to heal, to organize. We will be making posters, hosting an open mic, and demonstrating with our bodies and our minds, claiming the space as a space of love and resistance, for our existance is resistance.
Were any readers there? The report I heard was that a) It was well-attended and b) Some/many speakers complained that the Williams Administration was not taking student reactions to the election seriously enough. In particular, one/some/many protestors wanted the Administration to cancel classes. True?
This event may explain why Falk and Sandstrom felt obligated to send out this morning’s e-mails . . .
A politically more diverse faculty would have helped in a) preparing students for the possibility of a Trump win and b) calming students as they prepare for a Trump administration. Alas, Williams has only a handful of Republican/conservative/libertarian faculty and not a single public (or private?!) Trump supporter.
Before it drops down the memory hole, let’s remember the hate hoax of 2012:
On Saturday afternoon, President Falk informed the College via an all-campus e-mail that a resident of Mission found the words “All beaners must die” written on the whiteboard outside of her room.
Cancel classes! Organize a march! Claim Williams! We must stop at nothing to root out white racism from the College!
Or, we could just remember that many/most of the “hate crimes” at elite colleges like Williams are actually “hate hoaxes,” staged events designed to create controversy and not evidence of actual animus.
On Sunday afternoon, the student who wrote the statement admitted to his actions; as such, while the incident was originally classified as a hate crime, that classification may ultimately change as the investigation revealed that the statement was not a targeted threat.
Huh? As a matter of law, is it really true that hate crimes are not hate crimes if there is not a “targeted threat?” Not according to the FBI:
A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
Vandalism is a crime, so writing “Go Amherst!” on a Williams door (without their permission) is a crime. Writing “All Beaners Must Die” is vandalism with bias, so it is a hate crime. Whether or not the vandalism is “targeted” has nothing to do with it. I think that the Administration cynically spun a naive Record reporter.
But I welcome comments from Eph lawyers! Does the hate crime classification require looking into intent? That is, does someone need to have a heart filled with anti-Mexican sentiments to be prosecuted for a hate crime in this scenario? Just writing the words is not enough, if the person really loves Mexicans? Back to the article:
On Sunday afternoon, students received another all-campus e-mail from Falk. According to the e-mail, the student wrote the phrase on the victim’s door after entry snacks on Nov. 4 following a conversation about the hate crime committed on Nov. 12, 2011. According to Bolton, the student and the people with whom he was conversing were attempting to figure out how someone could think that writing “All n****rs must die” was acceptable.
Ask Jess Torres ’12! Her legacy of pot-stirring lives on.
On Tuesday afternoon, Bolton sent the campus an e-mail with an apology from the perpetrator. The e-mail expressed the student’s sincerest apology, clarified the events that led to the writing and affirmed that there was no malicious intent behind the writing. In particular, the student, who self-identified as being “of Mexican descent,” confessed that he chose to write the word “beaner” because it was a racial slur that had been used against him in the past. “Because the word is used to describe the Mexican culture, I was more comfortable writing that word than any other possible identity group,” the student wrote.
I suspect that a white student would not have received such sympathetic treatment from Bolton.
The senior administration and Security determined that the writing posed an immediate threat to campus and chose to notify the campus via e-mail as quickly as possible. “When the wording contains an explicit threat, then we treat it as an immediate threat; we don’t try to judge differently from the outset,” Klass said. “Part of the protocol is not questioning that aspect of the evidence. If something contains an explicit threat, we deal with it as an explicit threat and then see where our investigation takes us.”
That is a good way to encourage more such nonsense! If every troublemaker can cause Klass and the rest of the Administration to dance the protocol dance, then he is just asking for more dancing. Whatever happened to common sense?
As a result of the incident, Security also increased its patrols and presence on campus. “We assigned an officer at the scene and in Mission Park until 8 a.m. the next morning,” Boyer said. “We significantly increased our campus coverage by calling off-duty dispatchers and officers. At the same time, we extended shifts beyond the normal eight hours and moved officers from athletic events and parties to campus coverage. By doing this, we were able to double and triple our normal campus coverage at times.”
What an absurd waste of money! Although none of us like unwanted graffiti, there is no evidence that any Williams student has ever been at risk of physical harm because of racial animus, much less anonymous scribbling. By the way, what sort of incentives is Williams creating for security officers looking for some more overtime?
After the initial investigation was begun, the senior administration also contacted the FBI officer who investigated last November’s hate crime to share details of the incident.
Isn’t anyone else embarrassed by this sort of wolf-crying? There might be a day when Williams really needs the help of the local (?) FBI. Bothering them with this tripe makes that help less likely.
“We shared the evidence [with the FBI officer] in case he had an immediate insight,” Bolton said. “He hasn’t physically come to campus. They’ve been in conversation with him about the evidence that appeared on Saturday, and of course, they’ve also let him know what happened on Sunday.”
Ha! So, you called up the FBI on Saturday, crying about the racists over-running the Williams campus, and he tells you to stop being such a baby. Then you have to call him up on Sunday and admit that it was another stupid hate hoax.
Prior to the perpetrator coming forward on Sunday, the senior staff held a gathering for members of the community on Saturday at 6 p.m. The gathering was originally intended to be held in Hardy House, but was moved to the Jewish Religious Center (JRC) to accommodate more students. Over 200 students and faculty attended the gathering.
Two hundred people gathered to worry themselves about a hoax! Should we laugh or cry about the state of Williams?
The rest of the article is so hilarious that I ought to spend a week making fun of everyone involved. But not this week! Kudos to reporter Nicole Smith for an excellent job.
Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 6.
Buell said that the faculty will vote on EDI this year and that the Committee on Educational Affairs, led by Professor David Edwards, is already reassessing EDI. “We will be hoping to make some pretty major changes,” Professor Gail Newman said.
The vision is for EDI to adopt a greater focus on social justice.
The Committee on Educational Affairs is the (somewhat neutered?) successor to the old Committee on Education Policy. Comments:
1) Background: My sense of the politics behind this change is that the Administration found the CEP to be (excessively) independent and hard to control, both because the CEP had student members and because Administration allies were too small a percentage of the votes. So, they split the CEP’s responsibilities between the CEA and the Curricular Planning Committee, which has no student members and is where the real power lies. Informed commentary on this speculation is welcome.
2) It would nice to have some more transparency about this proposed change. Has the College studied how well the current EDI is (or is not) working? Has it surveyed students and/or faculty? Has it compared the results of EDI in practice with the promises made by its proponents? Background reading here, here and here.
3) The evolution of
Political Correctness course requirements at Williams would make for an interesting senior essay. First, we had the “Peoples and Cultures” requirement.
The peoples and cultures requirement is designed to ensure that all students graduate with at least some basic understanding of the cultural pluralism of American society and of the world at large.
Now, we have “Exploring Diversity Initiative.” Is that really going to change into a “social justice” requirement of some sort? Or does this seem like another one of EphBlog’s stupid parodies of political correctness run amok? Can you even tell the difference? Without checking, can you be sure that I just didn’t make up that quote in the Record?
4. The best solution is to remove all requirements, other than 4 courses per semester and a major. There is no need to micro-manage student course selection beyond that. Suggestion: Remove the EDI, quantitative and writing requirements for one Williams class, say the class of 2021. This is an easy experiment! Then, examine the choices that those students make. I bet that their choices will be almost indistinguishable from the choices made by current students. And, to the extent there are differences, I bet that those differences would be sensible and would reflect well on those students.
Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 5.
Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell then shared some statistics regarding the College’s efforts to diversify the faculty. Of last year’s 13 newly hired tenure-track faculty members, nine identify as persons of color, and 10 are women.
Are you a white male interested in a faculty position at an elite college? Your chances are much worse than you think. Williams would much rather higher a woman or a person of color or, ideally, someone who is both.
There are actually 15 tenure-track faculty beginning this year (some were hired prior to last year’s hiring season and some folks hired last year have deferred their start dates). Of those 15, 9 identify as people of color and 11 as women. For purposes of institutional reporting, we are now keeping track of the stats for each entering cohort, so this is probably the best information to report out.
During the 15-16 hiring season itself, the college hired 16 faculty members into tenure-track positions. 12/16 identify as faculty members of color and 12/16 identify as women. But what [you] may be citing refers to the results of hiring from national searches. During the 2015-16 academic year, Williams College hired 13 tenure-track faculty into 11 academic departments and programs from national searches. 9/13 identify as persons of color; 10/13 are women. 3 additional tenure-track faculty members were hired through opportunity appointment requests.
Below the break are links for all the new faculty. Comments:
1) The Record could do a fun article comparing the qualifications of the white male hires versus the POC female hires. Even more fun would be interviewing Administration officials about what the comparison should show! The trap is that Williams wants us to believe two contradictory things: first, that the qualifications are the same and, second, that the College gives preferences to POC/female hires. Both can’t be true!
2) No time today for detailed racial bean counting, but it is unclear how Buell gets to 9 POC starting this year. Some googling suggests that this number might include: Chen, Constantine, Ford, Harris, Saint-Just and Tokeshi.
But what about Eqeiq, Nassif, Singh and Yacoob?
This is 10 (plausible?) POC, without even trying to figure out if any of the other new faculty and have a grandfather from Spain.
3) As always, the fun is in the details. Should someone with Indian (from India) ancestry be classified as Caucasion or Asian, either according to the US Census (yes) or to Williams College (as long as they check the box)?
4) The most important potential change to these numbers concerns the proposal to include a MENA designation on the next census. This would allow people from the Middle East and North Africa to select a category other than “white.” If this passes, then there would, in an instant, be a much higher percentage of POC faculty at Williams. Or does Williams already count faculty from MENA countries as POC?
5) Since MENA includes Israel, it would not be unreasonable for an American Jew of European descent to check the MENA box since his ancestry derives, ultimately, from the Middle East. The Williams faculty could, in this scenario, be majority POC by 2020!
Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 4.
John Herrera ’17 urged the administration to revise the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI) requirement.
EphBlog agrees! The EDI is PC nonsense that ought to be abolished. As a reminder:
Williams College is committed to creating and maintaining a curriculum, faculty, and student body that reflects and explores a diverse, globalized world and the multi-cultural character of the United States. Courses designated “(D)” in the College Bulletin are a part of the College’s Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI); they represent our dedication to study groups, cultures, and societies as they interact with, and challenge, each other. Through such courses, students and faculty also consider the multiple approaches that engage these issues. Rather than simply focus on the study of specific peoples, cultures, or regions of the world, in the past or present, however, courses fulfilling the requirement actively promote a self-conscious and critical engagement with diversity. They urge students to consider the operations of difference in the world and provide them with the tools to do so. The ultimate aim of the requirement is to lay the groundwork for a life-long engagement with the diverse cultures, societies, and histories of the United States and the rest of the world.
Should we spend a week on EDI? In the meantime, back to the Record:
He [Herrera] said that EDI classes could be more successful if professors designed courses specifically to focus on diversity.
That is a strange comment. Does Herrera think he knows more about course design than the average Williams professor? I have my doubts! Consider some current classes with the “D” designation like AFR 343: Racial-Sexual Violence with Joy James or AFR 129: 20th Century Black Poets with David Smith. Does Herrera think that these courses are poorly designed, the readings too narrow, or the assignments ill-conceived? Perhaps. If so, he should give us some details!
Herrera suggested that the College increase the requirement from one credit to two and spread EDI classes more evenly across divisions.
Ahhh. Herrera is a Social Justice Warrior, Eph Division. He has no complaints against courses like AFR 343. He wants more such courses and he wants to force more students to take them. What a proper little Leninist!
Think that is too harsh? Perhaps. But what is the appropriate terminology for a student who wants to force other students to take courses they don’t want to take? As Morty Schapiro described it, Williams students have 32 Golden Tickets, just 32 chances — and only 24 if the spend junior year abroad — to study fascinating topics with amazing professors. Every time you force them to take a class that they would not otherwise take — whether because of requirements for EDI, divisional distribution, writing or quantitative reasoning — you steal from them.
One might argue that, for the faculty, this is an obligation. Part of their job is to make students do things — like take 4 courses a semester and major in something — that not all students would willingly do. But for a student like Herrera to argue that his peers are too stupid (or racist?) to willingly select the courses that (he thinks!) they ought to is to display the sort of arrogance that can give (some!) Williams students a bad reputation.
Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 3.
Matthew Hennessy ’17 then provided an update on the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History (CSIH). CSIH spent the spring semester of 2016 investigating the history of the Log mural and surveying students about the mural, he said. The committee concluded that the College should keep the mural but add written contextualization.
President Adam Falk praised CSIH for its work and stressed the importance of student engagement with complicated issues. Hennessy said this semester CSIH will continue to look into objects, spaces and names on campus that no longer align with the College’s current institutional beliefs.
1) The CSIH is one of the great wins at Williams in the last year. See our previous coverage here and here. I am still hopeful that readers will want us to spend a week on this topic . . . No takers so far!
2) Can’t we start calling this the “Merrill Committee?” That would be much catchier than CSIH.
3) The CSIH ought to tell us exactly which “objects, spaces and names on campus” they are looking at. Perhaps they are planning another open forum? We have tried (and failed!) to come up with issues that might enrage the student SJW crowd. Perhaps the Haystack Monument?
In the spring of 1806, Samuel J. Mills matriculated at Williams. The son of a Connecticut clergyman, Mills was eager to spread Christianity throughout the world.
One Saturday afternoon in August 1806, Mills and four other students gathered for one of their regularly scheduled prayer meetings. On this particular day, it is said that the skies opened up and the students sought refuge in the shelter of a large haystack. While gathered at the haystack, the students conceived of the idea to found an American missionary movement focused on spreading Christianity worldwide, particularly to the East.
Whoa! I just realized, after writing about Williams for 13 years, that “Mission Park” refers to the religious missions that these white male cisgendered Christians launched 200 years ago. Could be problematic!
engaged in missions in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, in the Southwest United States, and in New Orleans. He influenced the founding of the American Bible Society and the United Foreign Missionary Society before he died in 1818 while returning from a short-term mission trip to Africa with the American Colonization Society.
I suspect that the activities of the American Colonization Society might not meet with the approval of the current Williams faculty . . .
Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 2.
Wilkinson also asked that counseling services be more available. Students with mental illness often do not know how to access help, she said.
Wilkinson, who is on the Mental Health Committee, added that the College’s geographic isolation makes on-campus psychiatric services the only option for students. The availability of those services, as a result, is essential.
Vice President of Campus Life Steve Klass said that the College has greatly improved its mental health services in recent years and is looking to hire a new director of counseling services in the near future. The College has doubled the number of counselors on staff in the last six years.
“We’re paying attention, and we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
The Record provided more coverage of his topic yesterday.
This week, Erin Hanson ’18 launched a petition on change.org titled “Williams College: sell 4–5 marble slabs to pay for a new therapist at the Health Center.” In the petition, which is directed at the College administration, Hanson references the multi-million dollar renovation and quad project.
Hanson also quotes the Williams Committee of Transparency and Accountability, a new committee on campus: “There are only eight therapists and one psychiatrist who serve a community of 2200. At least one in five college students … have some kind of mental illness. Even if all eight worked full time, there would not be enough time for all students with need to be served. Furthermore, three of eight are fellows, who [are not licensed, paid less, and on short term contracts]. Of the three people of color on staff, two are fellows. There are few LGBT staff, and no transgender staff.”
1) I am always in favor of moving a dollar from other stuff to student spending. For example, the College ought to close the Children’s Center and spend that money on students.
2) This is clearly a topic that many students feel strongly about. The Record should report more about it. Are there really 9 full time employees working as therapists? How many students are treated? How many total hours of treatment are provided? How does all of this compare to peer schools? Without knowing more facts, it is hard to make an informed judgment.
3) The total number of non-faculty employees at Williams should stay constant. Williams has enough employees. Anyone making the case for more employees in category X should be challenged about which category Y of employees should be cut. The marginal dollar of spending should be devoted to matching the financial aid packages provided to students at Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford, at least for admitted students who are accepted by those schools.
4) Does therapy for Williams students work? I have my doubts! I am ready to believe that hundreds (?) of Williams students today will make use of therapy if it is free and convenient, just as they will make use of free massages and other luxuries. Ten or 20 years ago, only scores (?) of students made use of the (less free? less convenient?) therapy that was available. But what is the causal effect of that therapy?
5) Never forget The Tablecloth Colors! Ainsley O’Connell ’06 warned us a decade ago:
I am frustrated by many of the ways in which the campus has changed, most particularly the sudden prominence of the well-intentioned but detrimental Office of Campus Life [OCL], which is locked in a stagnating cycle of its own design. By in effect naming itself “the decider” when it comes to student life, the campus life office has alienated the College’s best leaders. As a result of this rift, the office has become inwardly-focused, self-promotional and deeply resistant to constructive criticism. Student life is student-driven no longer.
The more therapists the college hires, the less room there is for students who fulfill similar roles. Should Williams replace RASAN, for example, with paid employees? I hope not! But, the more counselors we hire, the more likely that outcome. Back in the day, a melancholy first year would talk to her JA. Do we really prefer a Williams at which this JA is told (required?) to send her student to a paid therapist?
Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 1.
On Thursday, students and administrators discussed major campus issues at the first diversity and equity forum of the year.
The forum was held in Griffin 3 and was hosted by Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Leticia Haynes. Haynes began hosting the forums last year and plans to continue them this year.
The article is well-done but not perfect. First, tell us how many people were there! The picture that goes along with the story shows 15, but perhaps it was taken early or late in the proceedings.
Of course, even a forum with 10 (?) students may be worth running, but Record readers (especially trustees!) need to know if this is a topic that truly engages the student body. As best I can tell, it doesn’t. Students don’t really care about diversity/equity, or at least they don’t care enough to show up at a forum.
Students raised concerns about the high standards and expectations brought on by the student culture. They said that many students feel the need to aim for perfection in all facets, a pursuit that can cause unnecessary and unhealthy stress.
“It’s an absurd ideal, and it’s not achievable,” Natalie Wilkinson ’19 said.
Recall Brandi Brown’s ’07 work on Eph-ailure almost a decade ago. (EphBlog has been around so long that a student who participated in that discussion is now a Williams professor!) My thoughts have not changed much.
First, it is unsurprising that Williams students are stressed, competitive and fear failure. That’s what Williams selects for. If you are comfortable getting a C on a paper in high school, then you don’t get into Williams. You may be a happier, more well-adjusted person, but you won’t be hanging out with Natalie Wilkinson in Paresky.
Second, I don’t mind a little stress and competition. I want students to be worried when taking a math test from Steve Miller. I want them to think twice before handing in something sloppy to Joe Cruz. Moreover, stress and competition require failure (or at least low grades). There is much less value in getting an A from Bill Wagner for a well-done paper if even sloppy work gets the same grade.
Third, I worry much more about problems where one can make a plausible claim that Williams is worse off than other schools. Is there any reason to think that this is more of a problem here than elsewhere? I doubt it.
Fourth, stress and failure are a part of life. Want stress? Try losing your job and still having a big mortgage to pay. It would be a bad thing if the first stress/competition/failure that Williams students encountered happened after they graduated.
Trustee Board Chair Michael Eisenson ’77 writes in the Record about climate change and green finance. Since Eisenson is speaking on behalf of the trustees and the Administration, we should spend a week deconstructing his article. Today is Day 2.
The divestment movement at the College and at other institutions has inspired many to consider climate change more urgently and fully than ever before. In response, we are endeavoring to invest the College’s endowment in projects, companies and technologies that benefit the environment. As President Falk described in his letter to the campus earlier this month, we have already committed to significant investments in two solar projects that will enable a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use in Williamstown.
The problems with this approach are the same as they have ever been: priorities, accountability and transparency.
First, why is climate change more important than other problems, like police violence, war in the Middle East or income inequality? Climate change might — and even strong believers must allow some uncertainty, I hope — be a bigger threat on a hundred year horizon, but ending police violence (assuming it is possible) would save thousands of more lives over the next decade or two. Why spend dollars on public policy problem X and not on public policy problem Y?
More importantly, why should Williams spend dollars on climate change rather than its fundamental mission of providing a quality education? Every dollar spend on solar power is a dollar not spent on financial aid or more faculty. The easiest way for the Williams community to reach agreement on priorities is for us to focus every dollar of spending and ounce of intellectual energy on our fundamental mission: To be the best college in the world. Everything else is a virtue-signalling distraction.
Second, where is the accountability with regard to past Williams spending? Recall the College’s installation of solar panels almost a decade ago. That project was supposed to pay for itself in 10 to 20 years. Has it? If not, has the Administration learned a lesson? If not, why should anyone think that Williams, as an institution, is competent about spending money to fight climate change?
The central point is that the whole carbon offsets business is 95% scam, a scam to which the College has fallen (willing) victim. We wanted to believe that, by writing someone else a check (especially a nice PC someone?), we could reduce the amount of carbon that would have been emitted had we not written the check. But that check just went in to some hustler’s bank account.
Where is the accountability? How much did the College spend? What paperwork did it receive? What follow-up was done? Thousands of dollars and all we seem to have gotten is a few feel-good lines in a graduation press release.
Again, this is not an anti-Boyd or anti-Johns screed. I want Boyd to go from “Acting” to permanent Director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. (The College should do more to hire faculty spouses and promote from within.) I want Johns to work on my special projects, environmental and otherwise, for the College. (The more alumni that work for Williams, the better.) I am just tired of the College’s endless gaze into a green tinted mirror of fantasy.
Amy Johns ’98 is now the (excellent!) Director of the Zilkha Center. I don’t (necessarily) blame her for the embarrassment of the Owl Feather War Bonnet — Not making up this name! I swear! — scandal, but there is no excuse for the College covering up what happened. (Great story for the Record, assuming that they have the cojones to stand up to the Administration.) We need an accounting of what the College has spent on climate change in the past.
Third, if the College is going to spend money on items not directly related to its fundamental mission, it should provide complete transparency about that spending in the future. Are the Trustees committed to providing that transparency? Is the Administration? Please start with all the relevant details — including the budget and revenue projections — for these two solar projects.
Trustee Board Chair Michael Eisenson ’77 writes in the Record about climate change and green finance. Since Eisenson is speaking on behalf of the trustees and the Administration, we should spend a week deconstructing his article. Today is Day 1.
To the many members of the community who have urged the College to lead in the fight against climate change: Thank you. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to express my appreciation for your passion and your conviction that the College must make a serious commitment to address this urgent crisis.
Is the Earth warmer today than it was five years ago? Definitely! EphBlog believes in data. But temperatures today are not meaningful different than they were in 1997-1998, almost 20 years ago. And “climate change” has been a crisis at Williams since at least the mid-80s. Recall that Professor Ralph Bradburd was hosting discussions about climate change in 1998! If we had told Bradburd, in 1998, that the average temperature in 2016 was going to be the same as it was then, would he still have claimed that there was a crisis? Perhaps. If I could guarantee than the temperature in 2034 would be the same as today, would you still think there is a crisis?
Of course, I realize that these arguments are largely pointless. Trying to convince the Williams faculty/trustees that climate change is not an “urgent crisis” is about as productive as, in 1866, trying to convince the Williams faculty/trustees to doubt the divinity of Christ. So, I will spend the rest of this week arguing that, even if we accept the danger of climate change, Williams is acting sloppily. Contrary opinions welcome!
Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.
[Emphasis added.] The most prominent cancellation of a controversial speaker at an elite college was, of course, President Falk’s cancellation of John Derbyshire. Questions:
1) Do you think the author of the Chicago letter had Williams in mind?
2) Has Williams sent out anything like this to incoming first years? I doubt it. Should it? You betcha!
3) EphBlog, while sadly a pale shadow of its former self, is starting to become a useful place for discussion. See this comment (in a dead thread) which jump started a 20 comment back-and-forth discussion about the Chicago letter. Kudos to participants like sigh, Trigger, anon-liberal and anon, all of whom make good points in the spirit of open discussion and debate.
If I were a Trustee I would ask President Falk why Williams itself does not provide a forum on which students, alumni and faculty might discuss these issues.
In our on-going efforts to make Williams more transparent, here (pdf) is a 2012 presentation on faculty diversity. A representative chart:
1) Graphs in Excel give me a headache! Please use R, like all the cool kids in the Williams statistics major.
2) I think that “US Minority” includes Asian Americans who are, of course, significantly over-represented among Ph.D. recipients and, I think, on the Williams faculty.
3) What is the latest count of Hispanic professors at Williams? Recall our detective work 11 (!) years ago on the magnificent 14. At that time, we though that these were the only Hispanic faculty at Williams:
Gene Bell-Villada (Romance Languages)
Maria Elena Cepeda (Latino Studies)
Ondine Chavoya (Studio Art)
Joe Cruz (Philosophy and Cognitive Science)
Antonia Foias (Anthropology)
Soledad Fox (Romance Languages)
Berta Jottar (Theater)
Manuel Morales (Biology)
Enrique Peacocke-Lopez (Chemistry)
Ileana Perez Vasquez (Music)
Merida Rua (American Studies and Latino Studies)
Cesar Silva (Math)
Armando Vargas (Comparative Literature)
Carmen Whalen (Latino Studies)
Some of those folks have left. Others have joined. What is the current count?
In The Economist in June:
Next consider the swelling range of opinion deemed to fall outside civilised discourse. To be sure, some opinions do, and the boundary shifts with time. The trouble now, says Zach Wood, a student at Williams College in Massachusetts, is that many people want to banish views that remain widely held among their compatriots, believing that, on neuralgic topics such as homosexuality, “It’s all said and done.” He runs a campus group that hosts challenging speakers. “Silence does nothing,” he reasons. Two of its invitations—to Suzanne Venker, author of “The War on Men”, and John Derbyshire, a racist provocateur—have recently been rescinded: Ms Venker was disinvited under pressure from other students, Mr Derbyshire by the college’s leadership. Mr Wood has been insulted, ostracised and (he is black) told he has “sold out his race”. Other prominent figures deterred or blocked from addressing university audiences include Condoleezza Rice, a former secretary of state, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, and Jason Riley, an African-American journalist who wrote a book called “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder For Blacks To Succeed”.
Activists are entitled to their protests. But when, as at Williams, they decry counter-arguments as tantamount to violence, they stray into censorship.
I think that censorship is what they want . . .
By the way, calling Derbyshire “a racist provocateur” is sleazy. Most of his opinions (at least the ones Falk found objectionable) are held by a majority of people in, say, China. If most Chinese are “racist” — by the definition that The Economist is currently using — then it ought to start using a more useful definition.
Also, when was the last time that The Economist — easily the most important English language news magazine in the world — mentioned Williams? I can’t recall. But any article that talks so much about us and Yale is probably a net positive for admissions. So, well done Zack!
From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Dear Mr. Wood,
While I am not interested in an extended dialogue with the National Association of Scholars regarding matters at Williams College, I am prepared to give a brief response to your question about John Derbyshire’s canceled appearance here. To that end, please see his opinion piece “The Talk: Non-Black Version.” This article was considered so racist by the National Review (no bastion of left-wing orthodoxy, I assure you) that upon its publication the editors severed their association with Derbyshire and refused him further access to their pages. Typical of its content is the following excerpt, in the form of advice to “nonblack” children:
(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.
(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.
(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).
(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.
(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.
(10f) Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.
(10g) Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.
(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.
(10i) If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.
As for Derbyshire’s views on white supremacy, I would point you to the following passage that appeared on the website VDare:
“Leaving aside the intended malice, I actually think ‘White Supremacist’ is not bad semantically. White supremacy, in the sense of a society in which key decisions are made by white Europeans, is one of the better arrangements History has come up with. There have of course been some blots on the record, but I don’t see how it can be denied that net-net, white Europeans have made a better job of running fair and stable societies than has any other group.”
Frankly, this is the kind of material I would expect to see distributed by organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Derbyshire’s rhetoric, as typified in these passages, isn’t the explication of provocative, challenging or contrary ideas. To speak to what I’m sure is a particular concern of the National Association of Scholars, his work on race isn’t remotely scholarly. Derbyshire simply provokes. His racist bile would have added nothing to the complicated and challenging conversations occurring every day on our campus, across a wide range of ideologies and experiences. No educational purpose of any kind would have been served by his appearance at Williams.
I hope this clarifies matters.
Related article and discussion here.
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