WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College canceled classes on Monday and held a campuswide rally after hate speech was discovered written on a dormitory hallway wall shortly after midnight Saturday.
"It was a hateful horrible thing," said President Adam Falk to the Williams community on Monday, describing the racist threat as "like being punched in the gut." "It was also criminal and I want to be clear about that."
Several meetings were held between students, faculty and administration over the weekend, and the students marched to the Williamstown Police Station demanding they investigate. According to an email to the Williams community on Sunday night from Falk's office, "Those of us at Saturday evening's meeting came away with a much deeper understanding of the sense of vulnerability that many members of our campus community live with ... ."
That prompted Monday's campuswide outdoor gathering in front of Paresky Hall at 11 a.m. and the cancelation of other activities, including athletic practice.
"We understand how this disrupts important college functions, but in the wake of a shock such as this, the campus community needs to take a pause," according to the statement.
The Selectmen expressed solidarity with the college's concerns on Monday night. Chairman Thomas Sheldon said the racist language had no place in this community but was glad to see the students empowering themselves.
A student apparently discovered the graffiti — "All N--- Must Die" — on the top floor of 50-year-old Prospect House on Driscoll Hall Drive. The four-story dorm is part of the Currier "neighborhood" of upperclassmen housing. The student immediately informed campus security, which has launched an investigation in conjunction with Williamstown Police.
Marches, forums and discussions were held throughout the day Monday around campus and Falk addressed some 1,000 students clad in ubiquitous purple from the steps of the Paresky Center.
He countered his expressions of pride in the turnout with the understanding it was a "terrible moment and a terrible thing has happened."
Falk said the threat was "an explicit attack on the African-Americans in our community," one that also called into question the safety of all.
"There nothing is more important than the safety of the people in our community," he said. It was more important than classes and sports, and that's why the entire campus was stopped "until we get this right."
"We have to have moral clarity at this moment about what we aspire to be ... no ambiguity," Falk continued. Not only was the perpetrator accountable, but the entire community had become accountable. The first step was standing in solidarity with each other and the victims of this act and aspring "to create a Williams that is free of racism, that is free of sexism, that is free of homomphobia and that is free of fear."
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Before I make my comments, let me state emphatically that I do not tolerate this kind of garbage. That being said. I do believe that cancelling classes is a bit overboard, and has anyone else thought this may be a repeat of an instance at Williams a few years ago where a minority student used racist graffiti to "generate dialogue?"
As a current Williams student let me start by saying what happened in response to the weekends events was powerful. I think canceling classes was the right thing to do. The reaction and support of the students, faculty and staff was powerful. I have never been more proud of my school than I am today, yesterday and tomorrow.
The open-mic forum and all campus address by the president was powerful. We came together, listened to each other and showed all the people affected by this event that we care. We care because we are family. We care because no one should have to feel unsafe. We care because we should care. We care because we dont tolerate attacks on our family.
Its easy to make comments and speculations about the events from reading articles, seeing pictures and watching videos but to have been there for the events, to have cried with my classmates, and to be here now, let me tell you.... I am very proud of my school. I am very proud we choose to say something and that we are discussing very real issues. Im proud I go to a school where the response is serious and where people are willing to learn, listen and pay attention.
The College was aware of this event very early (wee hours) Saturday morning. A truly serious attention grabbing response/event would have been to cancel the Homecoming Amherst-Williams game, instead.
Of course, that would have offended Williams' Wall Street - CIA - Corporate alumni and have been bad for college business.
Isn't the schools' rivalry a form of generational, institutionalized, civilized, acceptable prejudice?
To quote the November 16, 2011 Williams Record: "If you wish to be happy for three days, get married. If you wish to be happy forever, beat Amherst." Renzie Lamb Former Football Head Coach.
Thus, the football game could not be canceled; however classes were not nearly as important, and, business-as-usual, wall street, CIA, corporate class warfare was able to escape unscathed without pointing a finger of guilt in their direction.
It's also important to recognized that Williams' class canceling was the result of the students' actions and insistence. Without the students' response, it is unclear what would have happened.
Where's the outrage regarding the recent drug bust on campus? Two Hispanic kids from the Bronx with drugs and paraphernalia. Maybe if the kids were white and from Westchester we'd hear about it? If full scholarships are at stake here, do you think they will be revoked? An all-campus discussion regarding this would be interesting.
Editor: Why is the comment line closed in your article regarding one of the three drug busts? And how come no reports of the other two busts? Are you afraid of what the comments might say? The article is dated 11/11. You have many other, older comment lines still open. Why is this one closed? Editor, you seem to think that drug busts on a college campus is a "blah blah" topic. Why is that? Last time I checked, writing stupid things on a dorm wall is stupid and offensive (not criminal), but selling drugs is a crime. So you are blah about crime but outraged by graffiti? I have teenage kids. I worry about drugs in Williamstown more than I worry about morons writing on walls. How about we cancel classes and talk about this as a community? Why don't we invite the police and the emergency room docs to let us know just how bad things are at Williams? Just sayin.
Editor: We do not allow comments on crime and some accident stories. I am not "blah" about drugs on campus; I am blah about claims of some conspiracy - such as graffiti - supposedly providing cover for the busts. We don't regularly cover crime but the police notified us of the one bust.
The drug violations are also subject to the mandatory sentencing law (2 years in the slammer) of being within 1000 of school property if there was intent to distribute.
Interestingly, possession in Williamstown of marijuana results only in a civil fine, but in the Williams Mary Jane bust the charged was baking brownies. One could assume they were not going to eat all the brownies themselves, hence they had intentions to distribute. Hence, it could result in a 2 year sentence, unless it gets whitewashed. These are seriouis school zone offenses.
Just an observation ... we are careful to tiptoe around the "N" word in a situation like this. But as I was throwing out some old papers, the July 7 Berkshire Eagle stuck out. On the front page is a photo of Norman Rockwell's "The Problem We All Live With", a commentary on racism. Clearly visible in that painting is the N word, used as a racial slur against Ruby Bridges. So, it's OK to print the word when it's art, but not when it's a hate crime. But what about when the hate crime is PART of the art? Just an observation!