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Bias Incident Response Task Force Report

Before it disappears in a fit of historical memory-holing, let’s archive portions of the Bias Incident Response Task Force Report from October 2012:

On November 11, 2011, the words “All Niggers Must Die” were written on a wall on the fourth floor of Prospect Hall. This hate crime caused a large number of our Black community members to feel targeted and unsafe and, overall, placed extraordinary stress on the fabric of the campus. A variety of associated issues and concerns were exposed in subsequent open mic events, campus conversations, and related gatherings. Among the concerns that were raised by many members of the campus community were pointed criticisms of the administration’s initial response to, and early communications about, the crime.

President Falk commissioned the Bias Incident Response Task Force (BIRTF) as the central component of a detailed debriefing of both the initial incident response and related protocols.

This was written almost a year after the event, by which time it was obvious that the entire incident was a “hate hoax.” This graffiti was written by student of color Jess Torres ’12.

Perhaps most important, we affirmed the need to ensure that we’re providing immediate, meaningful, and effective support to the most affected parties, after which we should expand our support to individuals and groups as we track the impact of the incident across campus and over time. This includes the establishment of physical and virtual safe spaces for post-event processing and dialogue, as well as additional components of an institutional infrastructure of counseling and support.

The best “support” that Williams could provide is to tell people that this was a hoax, that minority students have nothing to fear from white racists wondering the hallways of Prospect.

If the Record were a better paper, it would revisit this topic next fall, call up the members of this task force and ask them some hard questions.

The “Culture of Silence”

Perhaps the most frustrating – and enabling – campus condition is what students and others have termed the “culture of silence.” In fact, the name of the student organization that developed in response to the Prospect hate crime is Students Against Silence. While we recognized the highly complex nature of this phenomenon, our conversations focused on a couple of related questions:

What prevents students, faculty, and staff from taking advantage of the reporting websites and formal support structures that exist? If people want to talk about their experiences and concerns, are there unknown barriers to using existing channels more frequently and consistently?
What is it about our campus culture that allows students to believe they can behave like this? Once they leave here for graduate school or the workplace, their behavior changes, by and large, because they know this isn’t acceptable anywhere else. Why does it feel acceptable to them here?

The students on the Task Force explained that this is such a small, interconnected place that if you do something that leads to a falling-out with your team or your close circle of friends, you have few places left to turn. The prevailing social pressure – particularly on women – is not to make waves, not to “make life harder than it needs to be.” There was a strong perception that more people would report acts of discrimination, harassment, and assault if the social backlash to reporting weren’t so strong.

This perception that Williams’ size and distinctive social interconnectedness – typically considered to be positive features – work against us in this way resonates with our perceptions of why staff and faculty also hesitate to report the incidents of discrimination that they deal with.

Or, just maybe, there are fewer instances of actual discrimination at Williams than there are almost anyplace else in the world.

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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

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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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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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Hockey Rink Vandalism

The hockey rink was vandalized this week-end.

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1) The most (in)famous graffiti vandalism of the last few decades was one some Tufts students spray painted J-U-M-B-O-S on the columns of Chapin Hall. If memory serves, they were caught — and forced to pay for the clean up — when the authorities figured out where they had bought the paint (with a credit card!) on their trip to Williams. Does anyone remember the details? Lesson for our current artists: Lose the paint now!

2) The graffiti has led to some discussion on Yik Yak. Example:

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3) What happened at Schow?

4) Some Yakkers are suggesting that this was directed at the hockey team. I doubt it. Very few of the people who care enough about Freddie Gray to vandalize in his time would ever bother with hockey, or with Williams athletics in general. They needed a big wall in an out-of-the-way (no cameras?) location.

5) Some Yakkers are complaining that the College ought to send out an all-campus e-mail. I disagree. If you want less vandalism, pay less attention to what the vandals write.

6) By the way, is the word “vandalism” racist? The Vandals were my peeps!

7) I doubt this controversy will last long enough to deserve an official nickname/category but, if it did, what would readers suggest?

8) Could someone more versed in leftist lingo explain the intended meaning?

9) I doubt this was either a Williams activist or, even less likely, someone trying to make Williams activists look bad. More likely is a local teenager. Is Buxton still a school for rich but troubled teenagers kicked out of places like Milton? Look there first.

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