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Diversity at Williams

A regular but anonymous commentator at College Confidential writes:

Diversity at Williams

I’m interested in learning students’ and alumna’s opinions concerning inclusivity at Williams. Let me be clear, by ‘inclusivity’ I am referring to the degree to which different racial and socioeconomic groups actually meaningfully interact, not statistical diversity. This thread is intended to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive. Personal biases tend to detract, rather than add, to constructive discourse.

I’ll begin.

As a minority male upperclassman, I have had the privilege of experiencing firsthand social interactions between different “groups” of students at Williams. The central issue surrounding inclusivity (or lack thereof) at Williams, I believe, is the disparity between different racial and socioeconomic sections of the student population. Williams, like other elite institutions of higher learning, has lost its racial homogeneity in the decades following educational integration and the inception of affirmative action policies. Unlike other institutions, however, Williams’ undergraduate student body numbers a mere 2,000. The result is carefully partitioned groups of students that share little in common.

Simply put, Williams lacks a large enough “middle section” of middle class ($50,000 and below) students that, despite racial differences, possess commonalities that create the ‘glue’ that allows students to feel comfortable enough to pursue intimate social interactions. The tendency at Williams is to avoid that which might expose one to social criticism, with the result being a social chasm between different social groups.

When I visit the campus of my local state university (an institution with an undergraduate population numbering 15,000) , I do not feel that such a chasm exists. While there are certainly instances of extreme intolerance (this same campus was the site of a nationally covered racial incident 2 years ago), such incidents reflect the views of individuals rather than those of wide cross-sections of the student body.

But, let’s dig a bit deeper. With regard to such sensitive issues as inter-racial relationships, views on affirmative action, etc., the chasm that divides the student population at Williams widens. When I go on walks with white female friends at Williams, I see and feel the “unsureness” of passersby that creates a palpable tension. In addition, the sexual exotification of black males in particular, leads me to believe that some Williams students carry deep-seated misperceptions of who, and how, a minority student is, and should, behave.

After the racial incident my freshman year, in which a racial slur was sprayed across an entry door, there was a decided gulf in the reaction of the student body that produced a split between those who advocated for a social honor code, and those who went as far as to advocate against it. As the rallying cry was “Stand With Us!”, a small cadre of students responded with the corollary “Or Against Us?”, indicating that one did not have to voice one’s opposition to intolerance to be ‘against’ intolerance. To me, this indicates a degree of complicity with regard to the specific incident that mirrors social attitudes at Williams – not only does no one seem to care about the divide between race and class that exists here, but no one condemns it, as well.

So, that’s my perspective. Yours?

I would be interested to read what current students and recent graduates think about this. Read the posts in our Willy E. N-word category for some background. My thoughts later.

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Claiming Williams Day

Claiming Williams Day, “dedicated to campus-wide consideration of invisible and visible practices that can create or disrupt community,” will be a complete failure, although its proponents are unlikely to admit as much this year. See the Record for background. This program is one of the most concrete results of the Willy E. N-word controversy last spring.

Start with the calendar.

2009
Jan. 5 Monday First day of Winter Study Period
Jan. 28 Wednesday Last day of Winter Study Period
Feb. 3 Tuesday Organizational Meetings for classes that don’t meet the first two days of classes 7-9 p.m.
Feb. 4 Wednesday First day of classes Spring Semester (classes to follow a Thursday schedule)
Feb. 5 Thursday Claiming Williams Day, no classes
Feb. 6 Friday Classes resume a normal schedule

Pretty confusing, eh? The faculty were smart enough to realize that, if Claiming Williams were on a Friday, everyone would just enjoy the three day week-end. And if Claiming Williams were on the first day of the semester, no one would show up. So, by forcing students to show up for Wednesday classes (although be sure to use that Thursday schedule!) and then having them stay for Friday classes, the College can ensure that almost everyone will be in town on Thursday.

But nothing (reasonable) that the College can do could force students to attend the events associated with Claiming Williams. Since none of those events will be anywhere near as fun as Mountain Day, few students will go to them. And those students who do go will be precisely the 10% (2%?) that see Williams as a infected with a “culture of hate and indifference.” There will be much preaching to a small choir.

The central problem is that the people in charge of planning Claiming Williams Day are “hyperbolic and accusatory” in their view of Williams, to quote Professor Robert Bell. “Hate and indifference?” That’s absurd. And, more importantly, 90%+ of Williams students think it is absurd. Why would they bother to attend programming put on by a committee that they think is run by extremists? They won’t. You can cancel classes but you can’t make students pay attention to your cause.

I predict a big day on the ski slopes!

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Empty Star Chamber

What if Williams organized a star chamber and no one showed up? Williams Speaks Up is a “Web site on which campus members can report and share incidents of unwanted, abusive, or harassing behavior.” (See background here.) Turns out that only one brief comment has been submitted after several weeks of advertising. Possible conclusions:

1) The WASP patriarchy of Williams is so powerful that the oppressed fear even recording their complaints.

2) There are very few actual bias incidents at Williams.

3) There is abusive behavior, but victims are too lazy to report it or too cynical to think that any good will come from their reports.

I choose door #2.

No one denies that there are actual incidents of racism at Williams. Indeed, I have gone out of my way to document and report them. Without my efforts, few would know that Professor Aida Laleian used the term “nigger” to attack Professor Layla Ali in an Art Department meeting. Without my reporting, the identity of the creepy boyfriend behind Mary Jane Hitler would have remained a mystery.

The issue is: How common are such events? Not common at all, hence the lack of participation in the Williams Speaks Up star chamber.

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Williams Speaks Up

Not sure I like the capitalization but here is williamsSpeaksUp:

To advance cultural understanding and community engagement, Williams has established a Web site on which campus members can report and share incidents of unwanted, abusive, or harassing behavior. Over time, it will develop into a historical record, as a resource for dialog and education on issues of inclusion. Each submission is reviewed for authenticity by a group made up of * The Dean of the College * The Vice President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity * The Minority Coalition Co-chairs and one representative each from * College Council * Campus Safety and Security * Junior Advisors Anyone can submit an incident for review, but only members of the campus community (students, faculty, and staff) can access postings. The postings will be anonymous, though the identity of each poster must be known by the review group to verify authenticity.

Regular readers expect an old reactionary like me to mock this idea, to draw analogies to the Star Chamber or self-criticism during the Cultural Revolution. Not today! Suggestions and comments below: Read more

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What Happened in Willy E

What really happened in Willy E? Previous discussions collected here. Note, in particular, my close textual analysis, including the claim that “Something weird is going on in Willy E . . .” I did not know then how right I was, just two days after the event.

Big picture: There have always been a handful of possibilities. First, generic drunken stupidity. This was never plausible because there was too much graffiti and it was too clearly directed at specific students. Second, a hoax by a student (black or not) who wanted to force the community to confront campus racism. I was initially taken with this theory, seeing the echo of a similar event at Williams in 1993, but it now seems unlikely. Third, some weird dynamics within Willy E itself. This would provide an interesting parallel to Nigaleian. (For new readers, Professor Aida Laleian employed the phrase “used as a nigger” in a Art Department meeting as a way to intimidate/attack Professor Layla Ali ’90.)

I now suspect that 3) is our answer, that there are some very weird dynamics in Willy E, unhealthy personal relationships which spilled over into that graffiti. My evidence? This Record op-ed by Jacquelin Magby.

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Yalta Conference

Some WSO comments are brilliantly concise and well-written. Like this one from Eric Maier about Willy E. N-word:

Is anyone out there saying there isn’t a problem? This is a problem. The question is how to DEAL with the problem, i.e. what the response should be. It’s not about ‘waiting around for something bad to happen’ versus ‘taking action'; this is a simplistic viewpoint. Instead, it’s about asking WHAT we want to do. There’s a difference between indifference and tact, and those of us who feel like, in this situation, the megaphone/rally vibe makes things worse rather than better shouldn’t have to feel like we’re the enemy. I don’t want to implicitly support racism by not taking action, but I also don’t want to take myself so seriously that nobody listens to me. The best way to convince people that race is something they should be thinking about is not to act like this is the Yalta Conference. Instead of posting 600 mission statements across campus in a tone that suggests that people who haven’t seen the light are stupid, how about 600 stories, or even jokes, that subtlety and gently push people in the right direction? This tongue-in-cheek approach seems to me to be a much more practical way to reach the people whose minds you want to change; otherwise you’re just preaching to the choir, and at that point the whole thing becomes rather self-congratulatory.

What mission statements were plastered all over campus? Who did the photocopying? Who paid? Who put them up? Did anyone take pictures?

And, yes, if I were clever I would have photoshopped the Yalta picture in some fashion. Left as an exercise for our readers.

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Anti-Boob

Some readers are quick to claim that my relish in anticipating PC Buffoonery in the context of Stand With Us is unseemly. Perhaps! But PC Buffoonery there will certainly be. Consider Anna Weber’s story:

So there’s this cartoon/letter-sized printout that’s posted in the computer lab of Clark Hall, along with a bunch of other geology jokes. The cartoon features a nerdy-looking guy flanked by some swankily dressed women, and they’re walking down the sidewalk. A policeman/bodyguard type is pushing a passerby off the sidewalk and saying “Get out of the way, you swine! A geologist is coming!” In the background, a nicely dressed lady with big hair is looking at the geologist and little hearts are all around her.

Not the funniest or even the most tasteful cartoon in the world, but, hey, we kinda like it. It’s been in Clarklab practically since the Mesozoic. But sometime between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning someone took a marker and wrote in big letters on the cartoon: “exploitative! Are women with boobs status symbols? Accessories? EFF THIS!” They circled said boobs and also wrote “BUTT” on a second, totally unrelated poster.

No way is this an extreme case of vandalism, by any stretch of the imagination. But, still. Come on, people. First of all, if you don’t like our jokes, don’t come to our lab. There are plenty of other places to hang out on a Saturday night. And Clarklab may be a public space, but I would argue that the bulletin boards belong to the department. (So does the food–for example, the loaf of sandwich bread that was stolen from my shelf a few weeks ago–but that’s a different story!) Second of all, this isn’t one of those Danish cartoons. I mean, the department is full of high-achieving female students and professors (and I’m pretty sure we’ve all got boobs) and we’re not accessories and no one has ever said anything about it before.

Anyway. Of course this isn’t really about our geology cartoon.

The student body is apparently making big strides against “discrimination of every kind”–so bully for us. But I feel like there is no reason to go into someone else’s space and seek out “discrimination.” Even if you do, there’s really no reason to deface something that belongs to someone else and that could maybe, out of context, be construed as inflammatory. Or is that [insert sarcasm here] just a couple of really un-PC assumptions on my part?

1) Why the sarcasm? This is how PC works. Someone — perhaps a prankster, more likely a supporter of Stand With Us — finds your cartoon offensive. For starters, they deface it. They expect you to understand their displeasure. They expect you to respect their feelings. They want you to remove it and, better yet, apologize. Don’t believe me? Ask professors like Wendy Raymond and Dorothy Wang. Professor Wang says:

“The rally was great, but we need to move beyond the symbolic to concrete institutional changes to make a permanently better situation for minorities at Williams,” she said. “Students graduate after four years, but these things have been happening for Williams for decades.”

Think that Professor Wang believes that individual students and professors in Geology should be able to hang up whatever sorts of cartoons they like? Even cartoons that someone else finds offensive? Ask her. After all, cartoons that some people find offensive (and others find funny) have been hung up around Williams “for decades.”


2) See Wikipedia for an explanation of Weber’s reference to “Danish cartoons.” One of those cartoons is pictured to the right. The artist responsible has been in the news recently.

On February 12, 2008, Danish police arrested three men (two Tunisians and one Danish national originally from Morocco) suspected of planning to assassinate Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist who drew the Bomb in the Turban cartoon. Westergaard has since been under police protection. He said he is angry that a “perfectly normal everyday activity [drawing political cartoons] which I used to do by the thousand was abused to set off such madness.”

It is not clear why Weber thinks that Westergaard’s cartoon is more offensive than the one she describes. Isn’t offensiveness in the eye of the beholder? Recall what William Bennett ’65 wrote two years ago about the US media’s refusal to reprint the cartoons.

But for the past month, the Islamist street has been on an intifada over cartoons depicting Muhammad that were first published months ago in a Danish newspaper. Protests in London — never mind Jordan, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Iran and other countries not noted for their commitment to democratic principles — included signs that read, “Behead those who insult Islam.” The mainstream U.S. media have covered this worldwide uprising; it is, after all, a glimpse into the sentiments of our enemy and its allies. And yet it has refused, with but a few exceptions, to show the cartoons that purportedly caused all the outrage.

What has happened? To put it simply, radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation. They have cowed the major news media from showing these cartoons. The mainstream press has capitulated to the Islamists — their threats more than their sensibilities.

The SATs no longer have an analogy section, but perhaps our older readers will recognize:

Danish Cartoons:Radical Islamists as Geology Cartoons: ?

My mocking is more in disrespectful fun than actual sadness, much less fear, but censors come in all shapes and sizes. Yet they always start out small and harmless. Does Stand With Us believe that student/professors have the right to put whatever cartoons they like on their walls/doors? Someone ought to ask.

3) Think that an analogy between these two situations is crazy? Consider the behavior of some Stand With Us members during last week’s march.

Katie Stack ’08 was studying in Schow on Wednesday night, and, among other things, had a student aggressively call, “Stand with us,” in her face. “The way it was carried out, I wasn’t given an option,” Stack said. “If I didn’t stand up, to them it said I didn’t care about decreasing discrimination, which I thought it was unfair and polarizing.” She added that it was the most uncomfortable peer pressure she had felt at the College.

Nice. Think Stack is nuts? Consider:

Three first-years from Sage Hall were doing homework in their common room when the Stand With Us march passed through the Frosh Quad. They joined the march briefly, then attempted to return to their entry but were stopped by other marchers. “A few people were yelling at us – not in a malicious way, but making us feel guilty for going back in, like we were disrespecting them,” said Jack Killea ’11.

Well, as long as the yelling wasn’t “malicious,” no worries right? “Disrespecting” any member of Stand With Us will, one hopes, be against the forthcoming Social Honor Code.

The Record editorial board reports that:

In several instances those in the library that didn’t join in were yelled at and made to feel uncomfortable. Some who did not immediately stand with the rest of the group were intimidated into doing so.

The whole point about a “Pact Against Indifference” is that you are either with Stand With Us — yelling at students quietly studying, forcing first years to keep marching, defacing Geology Department cartoons — or you are not.

First they came for the geologists who love cartoons, but I was not a geologist, so I said nothing.

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Just Say No

A reader points out this Facebook group organized to fight against the imposition of a Social Honor Code at Williams.

Say NO to hate! But also say NO any social honor code.

As Morty said in his emails to community the use of racial slurs and the blatant disrespect of those that use such words is disgusting and has no place at Williams. I think that everyone that heard about this incident was shocked and upset.

We support all efforts to bring awareness to campus when people spread hate – individuals in a community can play a powerful role by raising their voices and decrying injustice when they see it.

Hate has no place at Williams, but neither do ANY mandatory codes or pacts.

Together we can stand against hateful speech, but we should all also stand together against ANY social honor code.

Good luck. These students should, separately, e-mail Morty and request the chance to apply to the (apparently) soon-to-be-named committee. After all, the committee should reflect the range of opinions at Williams.

I bet that Morty doesn’t want a social honor code either, but he is too smart to ever say that out loud. How does a smart college president kill bad ideas like this? Not by fighting them! Instead, he creates a committee, gives it 6-12 months to report (so that passions cool) and ensures that some of the members feel the same way he does. Such a committee — once confronted with the conflict between freedom of speech and “hate,” and once forced to deal with specific cases — is likely to conclude that the Student Handbook already provides the Dean with all the freedom she needs to punish anti-social behavior.

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One Night In May

Last year I speculated that the most prominent racial incident in the 2004-2005 school year might not have happened. (See here for a recent summary.) Turns out that the event did happen. David Rivera (the other witness besides Rondelle Trinidad) tells the story.

I was going towards Schow Library, Ron was comming back. We started talking as a large group of drunk people passed us by. At one point Ron started talking about this facebook group called “Clinton for Dictator”. At that point a drunk strageler began to take a piss between the area between Morgan and Jesup, piing on the Jesup part. After Ron mentioned the group I cracked a joke saying: “Well, I rather have Clinton for dictator than Bush for President”. A second later the drunk guy screamed at me: “Fuc-k you, N*” Since I had little knowledge about the conotation of the word I responded: “I’m not a N*”. Then he said: “Oh okay”. Then he started walking towards us. Once he got to us he kept looking at us and Ron asked him: “Can we help you?”. That I recall, he didnt respond to that. Then Ron and I started speaking Spanish and he responded by speaking “Mock Spanish”, speaking spanish for the sake of demeaning the language, and walked away.

Ron sent a letter to Shapiro saying how wrong that was and then posted a blog in WSO. In the latter version I was kept anonymous because I didnt want an uncomfortable tag for the rest of my college career (I was a freshman back then). Many blogs were created by other students discussing this matter. Then there was a discussion meeting with Shapiro and Dean Roseman. At security, I identified the perpetrator, but the evidence did not work because of a confusion of the time I indicated and the time he swiped his card. He was not caught.

Now, all the blogs, including the one started by Ron, disappeared over the summer of 05′. A lot of people were talking about it, but no one understood why. This happened before WSO was completely redone, so no one from the class of 09′ and up was able to see them.

There have been people saying that this did not happened. I can guarantee you 100% that it did happen and I am not a liar, you can ask anyone that knows me.

Just last night I spoke about this incident in front of almost 500 people (I’m guessing the number, I dont know for sure) during the testimonial section of the rally.

Good stuff. Kudos to Rivera for sharing this painful episode, both with WSO readers and at last night’s rally. Comments:

1) Who was the perpetrator? If you want to make Williams the sort of place where drunks don’t shout “Nigger!”, then you have a responsibility to identify the guilty party. Since Rivera was able to identify him, the rest of us should learn his name, especially since he was never (?) admonished by anyone at the College. I realize that some might take exception to a policy of naming-and-shaming — I am happy to have that debate in the comments. At the very least, we should know his class year. (If you want to understand the Williams culture, then it matters if these incidents are mostly from first years or seniors.)

2) Although it is true that WSO has undergone changes between now and then, there is no doubt that Trinidad deleted the blog discussions which he started (and which I linked to and participated in). This happened before the revamp of WSO. Other threads from that same time frame were still available after Trinidad’s disappeared. This isn’t necessarily sinister. We are all tempted to delete conversations from time to time. But I checked this out thoroughly back in the day, going as far as contacting senior WSO folks to try to retrieve the information.

3) Sure would be fun to have more details about Rivera’s experience with the Administration.

At security, I identified the perpetrator, but the evidence did not work because of a confusion of the time I indicated and the time he swiped his card. He was not caught.

A Record reporter ought to interview Jean Thorndike. So, Rivera identified the perpetrator. (That’s consistent with my claim from two years ago that, if you know that someone is a student, you can figure out his name, even if you have never met him.) That would, one would think, set the College’s disciplinary wheels in rapid motion. If Rivera identified him, then surely he was “caught” in the sense that the Dean’s Office brought him in and grilled him. (And his friends?) This happened, when? The day after the incident? (Schapiro’s campus wide e-mail went out the same day.)

And then what happened? Rivera (and Trinidad) claimed that the event happened at time X, but they were honestly mistaken. The perp showed that he had swiped in (for the last time that evening?) at sometime (well?) before X. And, so, the College did nothing. But why? If I were Dean Roseman, I would not have let things go so easily. Why not cross-check with the perp’s friends? Why not use Rivera’s and Trinidad’s own card swipes to set the time-line? Just because Rivera made an incorrect rough estimate of the time is no reason for the guilty to escape justice. Did the perp have some pull with the Administration? It would be easy, so soon after the fact, to corroborate various parts of the story. Was the accused out drinking late that night? Was he wandering around with a bunch of other people? And so on. Roseman and Thorndike know their business. Surely they did this . . .

But, again, kudos to Rivera (and Trinidad) for coming forward. If we are to improve Williams, we must first catalog, in detail, what is wrong. Tell those stories. Write them down.

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Whole Nine Yards

Curious how the rally/march went last night? Peter Nunns ’08 reports:

I went. It was, to put it lightly, incredible. It started out with speeches, testimonials, poetry, and proceeded with a march to the libraries and Frosh Quad. The whole nine yards – chanting “Stand With Us!” and “Eliminate Hate!”, bullhorns, banners, marching through the slush on a cold New England night. I was staggered by the sheer number of people marching: there were perhaps 500 people there. On a campus of 2000 students, that’s huge. The noise was amazing.

I saw a bunch of people taking photos and videos – I’ll try to get ahold of some of those. Stand with us!

Good stuff. Five hundred people at 10:30 PM on a cold slushy New England night is a stunning achievement. Congratulations to all the Ephs at Stand With Us on a brilliant event, well-planned and well-executed. Comments:

1) Video and pictures would be great. And more descriptions too! If you were at the event, write down (here or elsewhere) what happened. Who spoke? What did they say? What was the march route? It all seems clear now but, in 2028 when you are preparing for your 20th reunion, you will be glad to have as much first-hand testimony as possible. Tell your future selves the story now.

2) Nunns mentions that the slur “was written across a Barack Obama poster on a black student’s door, and several other doors in the vicinity.” This is helpful information. I was concerned that the slur was directed at the student who lived in that room (and it might well have been). But drunken racist idiots would tend to use any Obama poster for purpose of self-expression, without worrying about who lived behind the door. Were all the slurs written on Obama posters or just one? If we are stuck with racist Ephs, it is better/safer if their hatred are directed outwards toward Obama (whom I voted for in the Massachusetts primary) rather than inward at a Williams undergraduate.

3) Nunns is a great writer. Consider: “Hate is the enemy, of course, but indifference is its ally.” He ought to write at EphBlog! He should certainly take the time to record several pages of his thoughts and observations of the march. It will be some of his most important writing at Williams.

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What Happened

I shouldn’t get too involved in the WSO back-and-forth, but this thread mentioned an EphBlog post, so let’s review some history!
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Profs in Class

Has Stand With Us reached the stage of PC Buffoonery yet? The audience has filled the theater. Curtain opening can not be far away.

To put it more clearly, I don’t think people are indifferent to racism in general, but they are relatively indifferent to the minor acts of a select few drunk idiots on campus.

If you had attended the meetings, you would realise that there are incidents involving sober perps, including profs in class, entrymates etc.

So, it is common for Williams professors in class to use racial slurs? You learn something new everyday.

Again, if we are to make any progress, we must catalog the events that happened, or are alleged to have happened. First we need the facts. Then we can talk about what those facts mean. Which professor? What class? What did she say? What was the context? Did anyone object, either in class or afterwards? What happened then?

Judging by many of the comments on WSO, many (a large majority?) of students have never experienced, first-hand, actions that might plausibly be covered by a social honor code. They, unsurprisingly, see no reason for such code. Many members of Stand With Us, on the other hand, have experienced such events, not uncommonly. But if the second group is going to convince the first group, they need to tell those stories in writing. Since 2000 students can’t come to a meeting, it is ridiculous to say, “This was covered at the meetings.” Stand With Us needs to tell those stories, with as much messy detail as possible but allowing students to remain anonymous if they wish.

That’s one incident. There are other less “apparent” examples. Some students will be speaking at the rally tonight about their own “incidents.” If anyone wants to hear more, it might be useful to check out the rally. I’m assuming that there are a decent number of incidents, because I’m only a freshman and even I heard some insensitive things said to me just last semester. I’m not going to write about them here, though.

Again, it is impossible to tell whether or not Williams has a problem unless someone is willing to spell out just what those “insensitive things” are. “You ought to clean up the common room,” might be perceived, depending in the context, as “insensitive,” but you can hardly ask for a Social Honor Code to govern all aspects of student interaction. Again, I am not asking this student, a member of Stand With Us, to put her name behind descriptions. That would be good but is not necessary. But no one should take her concerns seriously unless and until she spells them out, even anonymously.

Yet the best part is the behind the scenes PC brainwashing. Here we have a student who has spent 6 months at Williams. If the College has a real problem with racial slurs one would expect, you know, that she had heard one now and again. If she hasn’t, then isn’t Williams doing fairly well? What is the problem? But instead of trusting the evidence of her own eyes, this student is “goad[ed]” by faculty into thinking of Williams as overrun with racists. She just hasn’t been around long enough to see them! Perhaps she needs to have her consciousness raised. Beware! There are racists everywhere! Don’t believe me? Ask the faculty!

Can we please have some more details on the faculty who have “goaded” students on this topic?

Best part:

Testimonials will probably be recorded down in the form of artwork to be put on display, if I remember correctly.

Artwork!? I love it. Do I get to start complaining about PC buffoonery yet? The actors are taking their places on the stage . . .

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Actuals and Hypotheticals

Will Slack ’11 makes two important points in this WSO thread.
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Afraid to Voice

Still think that the student movement to do “something” about Willy E. N-word is nothing but sweetness and light? Consider Timothy Geoffrion’s viewpoint:

Today, I am writing to you today to express an opinion I think many students hold, but are too afraid to voice in the fear of being summarily denounced. I have talked with numerous students this past weekend who share the same views as me, but are too afraid to speak up. One objection I am sure someone will raise is why haven’t I or these students been more involved in the night meetings in Paresky. In fact, I have gone, and so have many of my friends, however the tone of the debate has hardly been conducive to the free exchange of ideas. I cannot speak for my friends, but after going twice I have no interest in going back again.

There is no doubt that there is a large amount of pent up anger and hatred held by many students and faculty members here on campus. That fact is deeply disturbing and sad. That said, I am extremely disturbed by certain dangerous trends toward overreaction–most troubling to me is the effect that some of these actions will have on interpersonal interactions as well as institutional policy.

The demands coming out of these groups are serious and require real debate and research. Changes should not be made so swiftly without serious consideration of their long term consequences. In the heat of the moment I fear that we are no longer always acting in the best interests of this place. Several of the items listed on the student website would move the community in a dangerous direction.

The most problematic “demand” is the creation of a “social honor code.” This mode would take the power away from the deans to make certain disciplinary social decisions and create a social honor committee. From my two years on the Honor and Discipline committees I want to stress how problematic and counter-productive such a committee would be for this community and diversity issues for a variety of reasons. I have numerous reasons for making this statement that I would be happy to discuss with any of you in person.

These policies could be helpful, but they could also be quite pernicious. The demand for speed in implementing these ideas is deeply troubling to me.

Robert Frost once said you should never tear down a wall until you know why it was built. Today, in our desire to have change now, we are steam rolling “real” dialogue and research. The current movement is dangerously pushing ahead with radical changes like a social honor code that would overturn years of policy without understanding why it is shaped the way it is.

Furthermore, the movement is feeding off its own indignations in a destructive way. The situation is being exacerbated be certain professors and the staff members seem to be goading the movement on for their own reasons. When I went to listen to them one night, one professor (not sure who) invoked a past hunger strike to impel the administration to action – she didn’t list any specific goal of a new hunger strike – but stated that drastic action is needed.

Read the whole thing. Comments:

1) Students are “afraid to voice” their opinions at cuddly PC Williams? Say it ain’t so! Why should they be afraid? After all, it isn’t like Williams fired baseball coach Dave Barnard after he expressed un-PC views. Oh, yeah! Williams did fire Barnard, primarily (if not completely) because of his political beliefs. You think that a student who, say, applied to be a JA would be accepted if he voiced similar opinions? I have my doubts . . .

2) Staff and faculty members “goading” students? Say it ain’t so! We aren’t quite to the stage of PC buffoonery, but we have entered the theater. Who are these faculty and staff? What are they saying?

3) Saddest part?

Before I go any further and I am decried or defined as a racist I want to state that I am not someone who has sat on the sidelines during diversity issues during my time at Williams. I have been very involved with diversity issues on campus during entire time at Williams, including serving two years on the Williams Diversity Committee. While it is true that I come from a privileged background (I am white and male) I care passionately about diversity issues and have worked hard to bring about changes during my time here.

Too late! Your opponents will soon be defining you as a racist precisely because you oppose their desired changes. And, moreover, it should be possible to have an opinion similar to Geoffrion’s even if you haven’t spent endless hours listening to diversity prattle. And, since when is being a white male the same as being privileged? I know plenty of privileged non-whites and non-males (starting with my wife and daughters) and plenty of white males who can not reasonably be described as privileged. If you allow the PC-niks to begin the conversation by defining you as “privileged,” you have already lost the debate.

Anyway, good luck and a thick skin to Geoffrion. If he publicly fights the folks who define their opponents as, by definition, racists, he will need both. Been there and done that.

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Learning from History: The Social Honor Code Proposal of 2004

Readers may recall that I have made the point a few times that, when it comes to social issues, controversies, and student self-governance at Williams, there is a certain circularity that seems to escape the notice of most on campus. The last time I wrote on this it was to cover 2007’s resurrection of the idea to “lock down” campus dorms to non-residents after a certain hour, in the name of descreasing vandalism. This same idea had been almost foisted on students four years ago, nearly to the day. Thankfully, Security showed forbearance in 2003, and student voters showed good sense in 2007.

The present project of a large group of students to consider adopting a Social Honor Code is another case of nothing new, and as intrepid and proud of their work as today’s students rightly feel, I hope proponents and opponents alike are aware that their peer predecessors had the same concerns and solution. Once again, nearly precisely 4 years ago, a draft of a Social Honor Code was on the floor at College Council. Sabrina Wirth ’05 was its author and main proponent, and she brought it to the floor during the 14 January 2004 Meeting of College Council. The text of her draft and the debate over it are recorded in the linked minutes from that meeting, and included below the break for (highly) interested readers.

Back then, the project was allowed to be forgotten. A number of people including myself volunteered to work with Sabrina on the project, but it was never followed up on, due to a combination of timing, disinterest or suspicion by some in Council, including myself. Then and now, I did not believe in implementing such a code, largely because I knew it would be actually enforced by the dean, and not what I considered a true representative body of the community. The ability to “enforce community standards” is the most broad and vague source of disciplinary power for the Dean, and I had no desire to see it strengthened.

I don’t at all wish to impose my views or arguments on the students of today, though I do hope this:

  1. Students will read Sabrina’s work and the discussions of their predecessor peers.
  2. Students will not make the interpretation of community standards the discretion of a dean, who is already the executor and need not be made judge or jury as well.
  3. If they draft a code, students make it one amendable by students alone. The Academic Honor Code is amendable only by faculty and, in this way, is not a good model for a code of the community. Only a tiny percentage of the faculty are any meaningful part of the social community.
  4. The code be publicly deliberated and voted on, and written records kept of all deliberations. All of this will be crucial to properly implementing and revising such a code in the future.

Awful as scrawling “nigger” is, arguably worse incidents took place shortly before and after Sabrina’s code proposal, and it was not taken up by enough believers to continue her effort. I’d have to bet on the side of the idea of this code being eventually dropped—doing it right would take so much time and thought, and doing it wrong would be awful—but if a code is implemented, one thing is certain: administrators now and ever after will describe it as a mandate, as “the restrictions students convened to place upon themselves.”

They had better be smart ones. When you hand over the freedom to determine community standards informally—through public shame and subtler private mechanisms—no one ever hands it back to you.
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Willy E. N-word, Super Penis

Apologies for the crudity, but this seems like a good first draft for the name and official mascot of the Spring 2008 Williams Campus Controversy. I asked for reader feedback on several occasions, but only “batman” chimed in with the suggestion for “Willy E N-word” and so he wins our contest. We needed to include some reference to the n-word, obviously, but using the slur itself seems over the top. There is some debate as to whether or not the “E” should have a period or the “w” in “N-word” should be capitalized.. And what about the font? Comments welcome! Given that the original event was in entry E in Williams Hall (generally abbreviated as Willy E on campus), the Road Runners’ friend is the obvious mascot.

Readers of a certain age will recall these cartoons. See Wikipedia. One of the more amusing aspects was the Coyote’s claim to be a “super genius.” Given the penis drawings in the original vandalism, the young-at-heart Eph in me could not resist the pun.

As best I can tell, many of the students involved in the Pact Against Indifference (folks like Kim Dacres, Morgan Goodwin and Will Slack) are very sensible. Indeed, the initial set of goals is something quite reasonable.

1) Construction of a social honor code, to which people would be held accountable in a similar manner as the academic honor code.
2) A discussion day, in which we will raise awareness about issues on campus in a positive way.
3) Addressing subgroups on campus so that everyone is in some way involved in the discussions and honor code (subgroups being clubs, sports, musical ensembles, etc.).

The first is, obviously, not that far away in spirit from an Eph Style Guide, although the “held accountable” part would need to be via a naming/shaming mechanism and not the College’s official disciplinary process. But, again, reasonable people can have an open-minded discussion about these goals; I was certainly wrong to worry that the goals would be some throw-back to the PC 80’s.

But knowing what I know about some of the faculty at Williams and seeing the tone of some of the student comments on WSO, I still think that this might turn into some major PC buffoonery. I am not betting that way but, if it does, our mascot above will work on many levels . . .

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Concrete Demands

Looking for the latest updates on Willy E N-Word, Super Penis? EphBlog is your go-to source! Start with Andrew Goldston’s ’09 report on the meetings.

Of course there have been “incidents” before, and forums to discuss them, but never before have I seen the discussion turn truly productive. But that’s what happened here — a lot of people came together last night to talk about the problem and then figure out what to do about it. The meeting went for more than three hours before breaking, only to meet again tonight at 10 to get even more organizing done. I planned on being there tonight, but my schedule got complicated at the last second, and all I could do was drop in for a few minutes. There were even more folks there at 11-ish tonight than there were on Thursday night at 10, and several faculty were in attendance, as well as Mike Reed, VP for Strategic Planning and Diversity. People care and people are doing something about it. So, encouraging stuff.

Indeed. It is especially nice to see folks like Mike Reed ’75 involved. I still hope that someone is taking notes and will share those notes with the rest of us. Unfortunately, although we all agree on the sentiments here — vandalism, especially bigoted vandalism, is a bad thing — it is not clear what else we might agree on. Consider this WSO thread:

Julian Mesri: The meeting was an incredibly meaningful experience, not just because it managed to have a lot of different voices speak up on an issue that is not resolved on this campus, but because we resolved to make a change and came up with actual concrete ideas that we want to work on. The pact was a way of binding us to those goals, but keep in mind Nick we came up with 9 or so concrete goals that we will demand the administration take up, and the student body recognize. Rahul: If there were 9 concrete demands to the administration, post them here. Simple. Everyone wants to know what those were.

Indeed. With luck, the folks leading the efforts will tell us what those 9 demands are so that the rest of us might comment ahead of time. I suspect that many from the diverse tribe of Ephs will have some complaints. You can see hints of that in the WSO thread. Do any readers know what the demands might be, even in a rough draft form? Help us Will Slack!

UPDATE: I do not think that this is going to turn out well.

Rahul: Now hold on there. I smell bullshit. Fine, it’s not formal, but if there are ‘9 or so concrete demands’, let everyone know what they are. I get the feeling that nothing useful came about from all of this hoopla other than people generally agreeing that racism is bad and shouldn’t be tolerated. Good work. My 4 year old niece understands that.

Ellen Song: See, you assume that without any basis. You assume incorrectly, because we did come up with a lot of stuff. From the 9 goals that Julian mentioned, we narrowed it down to 3 things on our agenda at the second meeting yesterday. We split up into committees to delegate tasks. I’m not going to state those 3 things at the moment, because yesterday we agreed that we would be really sensitive about the message we send out to the campus, and be really organized in our methods. So I’d rather not haphazardly state those things here for people to misconstrue on WSO. If you don’t believe us, okay. That doesn’t hurt my feelings or anything.

No one wants hurt feelings, but I wonder if this is the best strategy. If you want the Administration to do X, then you need to unify the campus as best you can. The more open you are in the process of deciding on your goals (and I certainly agree that “goals” is a better word than “demands”), the more likely you are to succeed.

But, if your group decides on three items that large numbers of students disagree with, and then you put forward those goals as the only reasonable response to Willy E N-word, Super Penis, you are less likely to be successful. You want people like Rahul on your side, not fighting you.

Of course, if your goals are controversial enough (i.e., unlikely to command broad support), then perhaps keeping quiet about them at the start is a good idea. But that doesn’t prevent we kibitzers at EphBlog from playing a guessing game! What three items do you think are on the agenda? My guess: more faculty/staff diversity, more sensitivity training during First Days and more affirmative action in admissions. But, then again, perhaps the organizers are more original/sensible then I give them credit for . . .

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Committee on Perfection

Longtime readers will recall Oren Cass’s ’05 Record op-ed: “The Committee on Perfection.”

“We can do better.” It is the politician’s response to an unhappy constituency: acknowledge the problem, form a committee and shake some more hands. Sen. John Kerry used the refrain six times in his acceptance speech, to much applause if little movement in the polls. It is politically invincible. No one will argue with it.

President Schapiro may not be on any ballots this November, but he is the quintessential politician. His letter to the community, notifying us of last spring’s faculty incident, predictably concluded with, “We can do better. We will do better. It will take the efforts of all of us.” At the risk of losing my own post-convention bounce, let me say this: We can’t do better, we won’t do better and the efforts by all of us will be wasted. Help is not on the way.

The professor who used a racial slur at a departmental meeting behaved despicably, as did the student who sent the homophobic e-mail last year. The thinking behind the “Kechley Krazy Kookout” flyer might be better questioned for its sanity than for its prejudice, but it nonetheless deserves a place on the list.

And so we should look at these three incidents over the past year, and ask the cold but necessary question, “Is this too many?” Thank you in advance to the Captain Obvious who responds, “Every incident is one too many.” Yes, every incident is one more than we would like. But not every incident represents an opportunity to “do better.”

Bad things happen. Communities in which no one ever says or does anything offensive – ever – only exist in dystopic 10th grade novels and John Lennon ballads. In a community of 2000 students and hundreds of faculty and staff, in which literally millions of interactions occur every week, there will be prejudiced individuals and instances of offense. Anyone who believes otherwise is headed for a long life of frustration and disappointment.

Indeed. I am still more optimistic than Cass, still think that small changes, like an Eph Style Guide, could make the campus a better place. But, big picture, bad things have always happened at Williams and will continue to do so. Yet hope springs eternal.

The group that met tonight to discuss the recurring problems with racism on our campus will meet again Thursday at 10pm in Henze lounge, Paresky, to organize a series of events and lobbying, with the goal of extinguishing hate on this campus and getting over our past indifference. Over 120 people showed up tonight, passionately discussed issues of bigotry, intolerance and how we can do better.

We can do better! Oren Cass’s commentary is just as relevant today as four years ago. The WSO post is entitled “A Pact Against Hate in Our Community.” Or did I just make that up as parody? Hard to tell, eh? More comments below.
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Slurs Update

Thanks to “aparent” for pointing out this Record article.

Students discovered racial slurs and several drawings of male genitalia on the walls and doors of Williams Hall E early Saturday morning. The word “nigger” was written on two second-floor common room door signs and on the door sign of the nearby custodian’s office. A Security investigation is ongoing.

Ahh. This explains the differing reports about whether the slur was written on two doors or three. It was written on two student doors but on three doors in total. I can’t find the on-line floor plan for Williams Hall, but is the custodian’s office on the second floor as well? So, our perp walked up to the second floor and did his deed on all the doors that were there? Is it obvious to a non-resident that the custodian’s office door is not a student door? Much of this seems to make a hoax less likely. If you are a hoaxer, you want to be certain that people interpret your actions as an attack. Writing on the (white) custodian’s door mixes up your message.

More analysis and commentary below.
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All-campus email

Hello Campus,

College Council was shocked and dismayed to learn of the use of racial slurs in Williams Hall this weekend and we are personally and deeply offended. We want to update you a little on the details of this incident and lay out a plan for what we’ll be doing in the near future to strengthen our community and deal with this incident and others like it.

What happened?

Over Friday night, ‘nigger’ was written on three posters in Willy E. Since the writing was found, two deans and Campus Safety have been working hard to find out as much about the incident as possible. When and if the students who did this are found, discipline will be at the discretion of the dean’s office. Any help that anyone can give on this matter should be directed to the anonymous tip line, either online or on the phone. (x4444 or http://www.williams.edu/admin/security) In addition, you are encouraged to seek out any trusted faculty or staff member and your information will be forwarded on.

What can you do?

We are also shocked to learn that there have been other incidents in Williams hall this year, as well as anecdotal evidence that says this type of incident is not rare. We want to raise this point now to show that there are many incidents that are not reported, but are still viewed by students as hurtful and malicious. We are asking you for your stories about things like this that you have experienced. If you have any stories to share, and don’t feel comfortable posting them on WSO or sharing them with your friends (or even if you do) please email me (08mjg) or Kim (08kmd). These stories will not be
made public, but will be read by a few all-campus leaders to help us address broader issues of community.

What will we do?

This incident is hurtful and alarming, but it is also an opportunity. We can focus the community around issues of respect, student citizenship and residential life, and have those late-night discussions with friends. We can think about how the college should deal with incidents like this and what sort of community we want Williams to be. There will always be those who take advantage of events like this to be divisive, but I can assure you that College Council will not allow this to create more conflict, and I encourage you all to help us work together for a positive solution.

Many schools have student run discipline boards, others have social honor codes. We want to engage the campus and ask, what can we do, both structurally and on a very informal level to foster respect and protect our community against harm.

College Council will address this type of process during the second half of our meeting on Wednesday night. Please come and share your views for a way forward. We will meet at 8:30 in the Henze Lounge (upstairs in Paresky).

Thank you for your concern,

Morgan Goodwin and Kim Dacres
College Council Co-presidents

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Slurs

Can someone provide details on this?

Racism on this campus won�t be tolerated. If you have any information about the racial slurs posted in Williams Hall please come forward. And, if you feel uncomfortable and want to talk about this or other instances please contact me at 08kmd or x. -Kim Dacres �08, College Council Co-President

The announcement is entitled “Racism WON’T be tolerated!” I have edited out Dacre’s phone number. Comments:

1) What slurs were posted and when were they discovered? EphBlog has hundreds of alumni and parent readers who would like to know the details.

2) If you did this, be very careful. The Administration will leave no card-entry date unchecked to find you, and the punishment is unlikely to be light. Will you be caught? It depends on how careful you were. Williams Hall has enough traffic that the exact timing of the slur-writing will not be hard to determine. Only X number of people entered and exited the dorm around that time. Many/most/all swiped their card keys. All will be interviewed. Your best defense if caught? Free speech and the Mary Jane Hitler precedent.

3) There is a good chance (50%?) that this is a hoax, that the slurs were posted by a member of the very group which they purport to “attack,” all in a well-intentioned (?) effort to raise awareness about racism at Williams. In fact, the last (?) such slur in Williams Hall was in the 1990’s (?) and was a hoax of exactly that type. Can anyone tell us the details of that story?

UPDATE: There was an all-campus e-mail from Dean Merrill. Could someone post it? Students seem confused.

As usual, the e-mail mostly just left me confused, as it offered virtually no information other than “a racial slur happened in Williams Hall.” Nothing about exactly what was said, the manner in which it was presented / who (not specifically, but generally) it was directed at, etc. Although I agree that it isn’t really necessary to know what they were, like Morgan I would like to learn more about the details, and it frustrates me that details so often get left out of any sort of notification about things like this.

Hmmm. An interesting mystery. There is a chance that this is a bit of PC-run-amokness (calling, say, anti-affirmative action opinions a “racial slur”) or a misunderstanding (harmless use of a racial term by a member of that group, not as a hoax but just to be funny or whatever); but I like to think that Merrill has better sense than to use a term like “racial slur” for anything but the real thing.

Why doesn’t the Administration publish all the details that it has? Doing so can only help in identifying the guilty party. (An EphBlog specialty!) A student who saw something “weird” last night might provide a clue if she knew the details. If the Administration does not tell us till next week, or ever, then the student can’t know that what she saw would help identify the perp.

Note that these sorts of suspicions made me doubt the last big-time racial slur at Williams. Perhaps the famous Rondelle Trinidad will provide further commentary.

[Isn’t “amok” a racial slur? — ed. Caught that one, huh? Time for my monthly sensitivity training!]

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