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Globe on Brackenridge

EphBlog failed to provide sufficient coverage of this high profile sexual assault case from four years ago. Before this history disappears, let’s spend a few days reviewing the record. From The Boston Globe on May 24, 2014:

Williams College roiled by report of rape
Students, alumni outraged, say case was mishandled

Allegations that administrators at Williams College mishandled a student’s report of being raped and subsequently harassed has sparked outcry among students, faculty, parents, and alumni, some of whom have vowed to withhold donations until changes are made.

Hundreds have signed a petition calling for action by the liberal arts school in Western Massachusetts. On Friday, the school’s president issued the latest in a series of statements assuring the community that it takes sexual assault seriously.

“This has gone off like a pack of fireworks in a pack of fireworks,” said Anne Lindsay Fetter, who graduated from Williams in 1985 and is vowing to withhold donations to the college. “I’ve never seen the alumni association so enraged over anything before.”

The uproar began when Lexie Brackenridge, a 19-year-old from Boston, wrote in a student newspaper column last week that she had been raped in October 2012 when she was a 17-year-old freshman.

Administrators, she wrote, persuaded her to not seek legal action against her alleged assailant, a 21-year-old student who played for the men’s hockey team. Instead, school officials had her file a complaint through the school’s judicial system, Brackenridge wrote.

During that three-month process, she said she was repeatedly harassed by other members of the hockey team.

“In one instance, they surrounded me, threw full beer cans at my head and chanted that I should have kept my mouth shut,” she wrote. “When I spoke to the deans about the incident, I was told that everyone was ‘exhausted’ from dealing with the case and that perhaps it would be better if we all just ‘took a little break.’ ”

She said her alleged assailant was ultimately found responsible for the act, and administrators suspended him for three semesters, a punishment she described as “a mere slap on the wrist.”

An attorney for the alleged assailant, who could not be reached Friday night, told WBUR previously that he denies the allegations against him.

Brackenridge has since transferred to Columbia University in New York, where she was a sophomore this year.

Brackenridge and her parents, who are Williams alumni, have launched a campaign to raise awareness about what happened and to try to stop it from occurring again. Hundreds of fellow students and alumni have backed the family’s demand that the school take steps to improve.

An online petition launched this week by Brackenridge calls on the school to change how it investigates sexual assault and disciplines offenders. It has collected more than 650 signatures.

“I was really blown away by the response I received,” Brackenridge said in a phone interview Friday, noting how classmates, alumni, friends, family, faculty, advocates and even strangers have expressed support.

“I was not expecting anything of this magnitude,” she said. “I’ve had so many people say I’m proud you came out and told your story.”

School officials, citing privacy laws, have said they cannot comment in detail about the case. Williams spokesman Jim Kolesar on Friday reiterated previous statements from the college that it feels “very confident” it has followed proper policies and procedures “in every case including this one.”

“The college has been working intensively on this for years,” he said. “It’s urgent work that needs to be done, and we’ll continue to work on this.”

Administrators have issued numerous statements about the topic since Brackenridge’s account was published. College dean Sarah Bolton wrote a lengthy reaction to the petition, responding individually to its demands.

On Friday, the college’s president, Adam Falk, sent a letter to alumni and parents saying that Williams has a “culture of commitment to ending sexual assault.”

“Sexual assault is horribly, devastatingly destructive,” he wrote. “Williams is not immune from this destructive force.”

He assured that battling the problem is a priority.

“Addressing sexual assault at Williams — through prevention, awareness, and education efforts; support and care of survivors; and the strengthening of our disciplinary processes — has been a primary concern of mine since I became president in 2010,” he added. “We want more light on this issue, not less.”

But many said they are not satisfied with the school’s reponse.

“I view it as pure PR spin drafted by a lawyer to skirt any legal problems,” said Fetter, one of the alumni upset with the sexual assault report. She is vowing not to give another penny to her alma mater “until I see some concrete action.”

Fetter said she, too, was a victim of a sexual assault when she attended Williams some three decades ago. She alleged that her complaint was dismissed by school officials.

“I see there’s a clear need to address the issue of social justice, and I think Williams is a premier school and it needs to take the lead on revamping the policies in place,” said Fetter, who now lives in California and is a researcher and teacher at Walden University. “I’m outraged. This is not acceptable.”

Brackenridge said she is “frustrated, offended, and hurt” by the school’s response and that no one from the college has reached out to her directly.

“If the school truly wants to reform their policies they should talk to the victims themselves,” she said.

But, she vowed she and her supporters won’t quit.

“The large amount of support I have backing me — whether it’s in the Williams community or the countless women from across the country backing me — it’s not going to go away,” she said.

Brakenbridge’s father, Alex, said he has been inspired by his daughter coming forward and called the outpouring of support “tremendously heartening.”

He said the school’s response has been cold and lacking respect.

“We want a constructive dialogue and we hope something positive can come from this,” he said.

The controversy comes amid growing activism around the problem of campus sexual assault and three weeks after the White House unveiled new guidelines for schools to follow in their efforts to address the issue.

Federal officials disclosed this month that six schools in Massachusetts, one in New Hampshire, and another in Connecticut were among 55 nationwide under investigation for potentially mishandling complaints of sexual violence and harassment.

Since that time, the number of schools being probed has grown from 55 to 60.

The five additional schools under investigation by the US Department of Education for possible Title IX violations are: The University of Alaska, the University of Delaware, Elmira College in New York, The University of Akron in Ohio, and Cisco Junior College in Texas, according to an updated list the US Education Department provided to the Globe Friday.

Meanwhile, in the past several weeks, administrators from at least two other local schools have been accused of failing to address rape reports appropriately.

A former Northeastern University student who said she was raped there filed a federal complaint with the Department of Education two weeks ago against the school alleging that administrators improperly handled her case and violated Title IX, a law that mandates gender equality in campus life.

Another alleged rape victim, a student at Brown University in Providence, this week filed a federal complaint against her school, accusing administrators there of similar violations.

As of Friday, neither of those schools, nor Williams, are under investigation for their alleged violations. But federal officials have said that they review directly filed complaints as well as public allegations before determining whether to launch a probe.

Northeastern spokeswoman Renata Nyul said in a statement that while privacy laws prevent the school from commenting on specific cases, “we take reports of sexual assault very seriously and we investigate every allegation promptly.”

Brown spokeswoman Marisa Quinn said the university has not been formally notified of a complaint, but administrators “recognize the seriousness of our obligations under the Clery Act and Title IX.”

If I were John Doe’s attorney, I would highlight the pressure that Williams is under to demonstrate that it is serious about combating sexual assault. Would Doe be punished as severely if Brackenridge and her parents had not raised such a hue and cry?

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Latest Documents from Safety Dance

Here (Proposed TRO Order2, Motion and Memo for Ex Parte TRO and 12_8_16 Court Order) are the latest court documents from Safety Dance.

1) Comments from our lawyer readers are welcome! What do these documents mean?

2) New argument is that the College’s refusal to give Doe his degree prevented him from applying to law school early. They are demanding that the College give his degree now so that he can apply via the regular decision process. This strikes me as smart (even if going to law school would probably be a bad idea for Doe.)

3) Is there another college sexual assault case in which the accused has completed all the requirements for a degree but the college refuses to grant it to him? I have not heard of one.

4) Looks to me like Williams has to provide an answer by December 22. Why won’t they just settle and give Doe his degree?

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Ashe Schow on Safety Dance

Ashe Schow, writing at Watchdog.org, provides a useful timeline of the events associated with Safety Dance. I have put the entire article below the break for posterity. Comments:

1) Would be great to get a shout-out for EphBlog or at least a reference to our name for the scandal: Safety Dance. How about it Ashe? ;-) At the very least, Schow ought to report how the initial version of the filings included both Doe and Smith’s real names. That is interesting!

2) The article is, by far, the best source for a clear timeline of the event associated with the case. Highly recommended.

3) However, is there a mistake in the first paragraph?

A male student from Williams College in Massachusetts accused his ex-girlfriend of sexual assault. A month later, she made a counterclaim against him. Guess whose accusation was taken seriously.

I don’t think (corrections welcome) that Doe ever accused Smith “sexual assault.” He accused her of assault (and/or battery) because she slapped him after the dance from which the scandal takes its name.

4) Given the editorial positioning if the Watchdog, I am surprised that Schow does not use Smith’s real name. Should I be?

Read more

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College Fix on Safety Dance

They start with a great headline:

College employee falsely accused student of rape so she wouldn’t get fired, lawsuit claims

This is much better than our first effort since it mentions the (obviously false) rape accusation. After reading the material associated with the case, no reasonable person would believe that John Doe sexually assaulted Susan Smith. However, I don’t think that Smith used the false rape accusation to avoid getting fired. The timing does not work out. This is much more likely to be a women-scorned scenario.

Williams College is withholding a former student’s diploma based on transparently false rape accusations by a college employee – his former lover – who believed her job was jeopardized by him, a new lawsuit claims.

The former student accused the once-religious private school of conducting an “inherently flawed” and “fundamentally unfair” rape investigation, in violation of his Title IX rights, and violating federal education privacy law.

1) Again, the most important (and indisputed!) facts of the case are that Smith/Doe were having sex for a year, then something happened one night, then they continued to have sex for another year. Now, obviously, sexual assault can occur in the middle of a long-standing sexual relationship. But there ought to be a fairly high standard of evidence required if you are going to ruin someone’s life in this scenario.

2) Why the College Fix uses the (accurate) description of “once-religious private school” for Williams is a mystery to me. Is this some sort of weird right wing tic?

To investigate the employee’s claims, the college hired the same person named in a lawsuit against nearby Amherst College that said her work was rushed and one-sided in favor of the accuser.

That would be Allyson Kurker, another person who makes money off of the weaponizing of sexual relationships in college. If you are accused of sexual assault, the last thing you want is Kurker to investigate the claim. From KC Johnson:

In the deposition, Kurker made clear that when accusers change their minds about whether they were sexually assaulted, what they previously said about their attack isn’t relevant to her inquiry. She added that she was interested in contemporaneous writings from the accuser only “to the extent that the incident is being described as nonconsensual.” Kurker continued: “The only e-mails that I would have found material” were those in which A.S. had described the incident as nonconsensual. This standard suggests that Kurker sees her job as not searching for—indeed, arguably concealing—potentially exculpatory evidence.

And Williams still hired her! There are dozens of Massachusetts attorneys who would love to get money from the College to investigate sexual assault claims. Why would Williams hire someone like Kurker who is so obviously biased against the accused? The naive answer is that Williams is incompetent, that it did not know about Kurker and did not bother to check out her previous work. The scary answer is that Williams knew all about Kurker, knew that she was biased against the accused and hired her anyway because, after all the complaints over the Lexie Brackenridge case, the College wanted to collect some scalps.

In May [2016], with less than a month before Doe’s graduation, Smith filed a counter-complaint with the Title IX office alleging that he had “displayed abusive behavior towards her during the past two years.”

Smith’s initial complaint provided few details as to the nature of her claim. During the Title IX investigation, which took place over several weeks and included several interviews with witnesses provided by Smith, she made several new allegations.

That timing is the strangest part of the case. It is May 2016. Smith graduated in 2015. Doe is weeks away from graduation. She tried to get him thrown up on trumped up honor code violations and failed to do so. She has been employed by Williams for almost a year but has been (I hope!) told that, given her behavior in striking (!) a student, the College will not be renewing her contract. The relationship between Doe/Smith has been over (really??) for months. So, why file a complaint now?

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First Impressions of Record Coverage of Safety Dance

A week and 2 days after its release, the lawsuit filed against Williams for botching a Title IX case (and violating FERPA, Mass. Privacy Act, etc.) has finally found its space on the Record.

First impressions/issues:

1. Why does the reporter keep using the word “allegedly” to describe materially factual events? For example:

After this event, Smith allegedly emailed former Dean of the College Sarah Bolton, stating that she had written essays for Doe in violation of the College’s Honor Code.

This is not an allegation. This is a material fact that is founded on material evidence, i.e. the actual email. So either there is confusion about the definition of the word “allegedly” or this is sloppy reporting.

2. The only contribution this coverage yields are neutered quotes from the college, but alas, we can only go to war with the army we have. Notably, Dean Sandstrom is quoted saying “Williams is committed to the safety of all its students.” This is logically equivalent to when someone says “I’m not a/an____…” and then later follows with an inevitable “but…” One example that comes to mind (first pointed out by Professor Michael Lewis earlier this year in the Record) is President Falk when he said, in an all campus email, “Free speech is a value I hold in extremely high regard” and following with his inevitable “but” of disinviting speakers. Draw your own conclusions, but I see a pattern.

3. Why did it take 9 days from the release of the lawsuit for this to be published if all we get is an “alleged” summary of “alleged” events?

Either way, the article is suggestive of a first in many, since it leaves many crucial questions unanswered, so hopefully, we can anticipate that more substantive reporting will follow.

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Student Commentary on Safety Dance Complaint

Much of our best material comes from our commentators. For example, “wasting his tuition ’17” — who really ought to join us as an author — shared these thoughts:

As I ponder this case, there are two things most immediately clear to me: (1) given that this is John Doe’s lawsuit, the reporting of some details may have inevitably been skewed to his benefit, and as we don’t have the full side of Susan Smith, it is hard to ascertain who did what, and (2) what is factually verifiable by the complaint is the manhandling of the case by the College administration. Although Williams graces us with the luxury of choice with this case, I think that Pandora’s box is what should be investigated. There are many dimensions to this.For example, we can consider the different, colorful ways the Dean’s Office engages in college policy:

52. On the basis of information presented by Bolton behind closed doors and without affording John the opportunity to respond, the Committee said that it had no choice but to recommend expulsion as John’s sanction.


It is interesting that around this time, a group of Williams students were fervently campaigning for student representation in the Honor Code Committee (see: 8+4 Resolution). Was that related?

Another:

63. On March 8, 2016, Dean Johnson admitted to John and John’s sister, Lady Doe, that the disciplinary process is “unfair to students” and that the procedures are deliberately written in a way that allows Williams to maneuver itself in its favor. Johnson also stated that Pelaez should not have been aware of the outcome of the hearing or the likelihood of an appeal.

This knowing, explicit admission by a ranking Dean in Hopkins Hall of a flawed investigatory process suggests either tacit acceptance of this “unfair” process by a longtime administrator, or this longtime administrator’s incompetence at failing to do anything about it. If it is the latter, we ought to remember that Dean Dave’s experience prior to his current role is in coaching tennis, so we surely can’t blame him.

From the complaint that keeps on giving, we have:

The code of conduct, honor hearing procedures, violation reporting procedures, appeal procedures, etc. are ever-changing and continually edited with no notice to the students. The students have no way of knowing what the policies and procedures were at a past time unless they had downloaded the information themselves. A relevant example exists at http://sites.williams.edu/honor-system/suspected-violations/. Sometime at the end of March 2016, Plaintiff’s attorney cited the procedure when preparing this Complaint copying the standard for staff-reported infractions (see above). Since transcribing that information, changed sometime in April or May 2016, the procedure now states, “It is up to the Faculty Chair, in cooperation with the Student Chair and the Dean of the College, to determine whether to proceed with a hearing.” Before, it was solely up to the Faculty Chair and Student Chair to determine whether to proceed with a hearing.

Where are the accountability measures for changing policies? Who makes these changes? I’ve been here for three and a half years, and while I’ve yet to hear of any such procedures, there are many examples of the enforcement of these mystery policies by the Dean’s Office. One such example can be gleaned from our trove:

Also on March 8, 2016, Bolton told John and Lady Doe that John was “not allowed to appeal the sanction,” and that he can only appeal the fact finding portion of the hearing. The Honor Committee Appeals Procedures contain no provision barring students from appealing the sanction.

I’ve tried, and have yet to find any such procedures as well. This issue is not limited to the Honor Code Committee. The Committee on Academic Standing is gaining quite a reputation for making backwards decisions and telling students they are unable to appeal them, and then not saying why. Notably, there is also an athletics coach on that faculty standing committee. Same in the Honor Code Committee.

We further see how this just keeps getting better for Dean Sandstrom in an email she sent to John Doe:

The investigative report carefully lays out the relevant college policies that were in effect in 2013-2014, 2014-2015, and currently (see pages 4-8). While there were some shifts in specific language over time, there was always a code of conduct which prohibited sexual misconduct of any kind.

Who approves these “shifts in specific language”? Do the trustees? Does President Falk? I’ve also never seen these policies on printed paper; most are online, which makes it very easy for Dean Sandstrom slip in a word or two, as she or someone over there at Hopkins Hall clearly had. Again, where is the accountability? Who makes these decisions, and what processes and considerations do theses “shifts in specific language” go through?

For yet another example of curious specific language:

The College’s procedures limit appeals to i) significant procedural lapses or ii) the appearance of substantive new evidence not available at the time of the original decision. As such, the accused’s right of appeal remains highly circumscribed.

I find the word “lapses” in the phrase “significant procedural lapses” pretty interesting, but seeing as the college prefers to operate with a generous degree of flexibility with its definitions, I think one question we can reasonably ask is, lapses by whom? Since there was no new material evidence and it doesn’t seem like he did anything material in between appeals, did the Dean’s Office explicitly admit to incompetence by way of “significant procedural lapses” on their part by allowing him the opportunity? Is this the reason behind the last day (June 30, 2016) ex-Dean Bolton and Susan Smith shared at Williams?

Last one, I promise:

On October 21, 2016, the Hearing Panel convened. The Panel consisted of Ninah Pretto from the Dean’s Office; Steve Klass, Vice President for Campus Life; and Aaron Gordon, Administrative Director of Divisional Affairs and Vice President for Campus Life.

College policy says that the hearing panel is appointed by the Dean of the College and the three are drawn from a pool of staff who have been trained on such matters. I am curious as to what the policy means by “trained”. Steve Klass, who may warrant the benefit of the doubt given his experience here, and Aaron Gordon have careers built on operational roles and financial matters, it would seem, not sexual abuse cases. See here and here. Ninah Pretto, based on her LinkedIn, spent much of her career prior to Williams on immigration documentation and compliance, which, while valuable, do not constitute training in handling such cases. Why were three individuals inexperienced in these matters appointed to the hearing panel?

Curious to know your thoughts on these, and if you think they’re worth looking into as well. This is what I’m bothering my friends in the Record about right now, since a bunch of them are currently “torn” because they know either both or one of the parties.

The top few are great points that the Record ought to cover in detail. Contrary to some ill-informed commentary earlier, the Record comes out tonight. Perhaps you would join us as an author to provide a detailed analysis of their coverage?

But your later points are less relevant because they are the inevitable result of weaponizing Title IX in order to control the sexual relations among Williams students. Once you try to do this, endless language changes, regardless of who approves them, are unavoidable.

My current position: The College should dial back its sexual assault bureaucracy dramatically and stop using expulsion in such a ham-handed fashion. Give John Doe his degree and call it a day. To continue down this path is to ensure numerous embarrassing law suits — and destroyed lives — for years to come.

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Are Sexual Assault Investigations Biased Against Poor Minority Males?

Will the Record mention some of the sensitive PC issues associated with Safety Dance? For example:

only

True? Probably. Certainly, 90%+ of the cases must be against men. But the Record ought to find out the truth. Williams can’t reveal the students involved in individual cases, but it can discuss the overall statistics. It probably won’t but the Record should push the College to explain why not. If students in category X are much more likely to commit sexual assault, shouldn’t Williams admit fewer of them and/or devote more energy to educating them?

Even if Williams can’t admit fewer men, should it change the mixture of men which it admits?

ecu

I have talked to enough recent students to know that minority men on financial aid are much more likely to be charged with sexual assault at Williams and punished for it. John Doe fits this pattern. (The same is also true of varsity athletes, especially those playing helmet-sports.)

Recall that in the recent Amherst case (investigated by the same attorney (Kurker) who Williams employed on this case), the accused student’s lawyer claimed that:

After the College [Amherst] adopted its new policies and procedures regarding sexual misconduct in May 2013, it aggressively began to prosecute alleged perpetrators. On information and belief, in doing so, the College targeted male students of color. In particular, on information and belief, the only students who have been sanctioned with separation from the College (forced leave, suspension, or expulsion) as a result of allegations of sexual misconduct have been male students of color.

My friends on the Alt-Right would claim that, first, minority men are much more likely to commit sexual assault than white men in the general population, so it stands to reason that the same dynamics would apply to elite colleges. Second, they would be perplexed at how often “minority” in this context means “Asian-American,” as in the headline cases at Amherst and Vassar. Asian-Americans are, of course, much less likely to commit sexual assaults than whites. Is sexual assault by Asian-American men on college campuses more likely than we might naively expect or is it that the college justice system is biased against them? Save this debate for another day.

The last PC issues worth pondering concern class and culture. Consider some of the speech/actions that John Doe is accused of:

Susan brought John as her date to her 100 Days Dance. They had an argument, and she told him that she wanted to leave the party because they weren’t enjoying it. John and Susan walked towards the door, but as she walked out of it, he stayed at the door and said something like, “Oh, you can’t come back in now.”

(Susan stated that once a person left the dance, the College did not allow reentry.) At the time that John tricked Susan into leaving the dance without him, he knew that she did not have her phone or ID with her because he was holding them. Without these things, she was forced to sit outside of her dorm (Dodd House) in 19-degree weather, in only a dress and heels, as she waited about an hour for someone to come by to let her in to the building.

This is one of many (not uncontested!) examples of John Doe acting like a cad. But, as the Exploring Diversity Initiative at Williams is designed to teach, cultures differ. In Ecuador, men are expected to treat women in a certain fashion. That particular example of diversity may not be what Williams is interested in having more of. Should the College, therefore, prefer applicants from some cultures over those from others?

Side note: John Doe, on his Linked-In reports that he is Williams College 2011-2015. The first problem, obviously, is that he is implying that he has a Williams degree when, in fact, he does not. The second problem is that this suggests (since he didn’t complete the required course work until the spring of 2016) that he took time off from Williams. There is at least one anonymous suggestion that the College forced him to take time off because of his behavior towards a female student. Any truth to that? Would that explain why Williams has come down so hard on him when the facts of this case, alone, would not justify such an extreme punishment?

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Notes for Record Reporting on Safety Dance

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:

redact

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.

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Scandal Name: Safety Dance

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.

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Should EphBlog Remove the Accuser’s Name?

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:

panel

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:

panel2

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?

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College Employee Assaults Student

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:

dcp11) 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.

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One year ago, I took this picture.

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How Were the Griffin Hall Hate Hoaxers Caught?

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:

Baladine Pierce, a freshman at Williams College, holds a sign during a protest of the election of Donald Trump in Williamstown on Saturday. The safety pin has become a symbol that communicates protection to anyone who is a victim of bigotry.

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.”

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Questions about Griffin Hall Hate Hoax

11-12-16-Griffin-Hall-stairs-going-up-to-rooms-6-and-7-pic-8 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.

11-12-16-Griffin-Hall-main-entrance-landing-near-room-4-pic-112) 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?

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College Fools Boston Globe Reporter Dylan McGuinness

11-12-16-Griffin-Hall-pic-15-1

Background reading on the Griffin Hall Hate Hoax in the Record, the Eagle (here and here), and the Boston Globe. Reporter Dylan McGuinness comes off looking like a fool.

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.)

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Hate Hoax in Prospect V

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.

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Sanctuary Campus Rally

sanctuary

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?

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Hate Hoax in Prospect IV

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.

Me either.

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?

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Hate Hoax in Prospect III

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.

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Hate Hoax in Prospect II

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 . . .

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Griffin Vandalism was a Hate Hoax

Latest all-campus e-mail:

From: Adam Falk
Date: Monday, November 14, 2016
Subject: An update on the vandalism in Griffin Hall
To: WILLIAMS-ALL@listserv.williams.edu

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.

Sincerely,

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

1) EphBlog told you so! To be pedantic, this was perhaps not so much a hate hoax — as in 1993, 2011 and 2012 — but just simple politically-inspired vandalism as in the hockey rink vandalism of 2015.

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!

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Notes for the Record on Griffin Vandalism

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.

Good luck!

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Hate Hoax in Prospect I

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.

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Baxter Hall Sit-in

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.

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Hate Hoax at Williams in 2012

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.

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Diversity and Equity Forum VI

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.

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Diversity and Equity Forum V

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.

The Record’s reporting does not really line up with College’s announcements (here and here). Professor Buell kindly provided me with this clarification.

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.

fac

But what about Eqeiq, Nassif, Singh and Yacoob?

fac2

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!

Read more

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Diversity and Equity Forum IV

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.

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Diversity and Equity Forum III

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!

Mills House is named after Samuel J. Mills who, after leaving Williams,

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 . . .

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Diversity and Equity Forum II

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?

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