Racist graffiti inquiry dropped

College administrators have called off the investigation into the Feb. 2 incident of racist graffiti and phallic drawings in Williams Hall E. Over the last three weeks administrators have interviewed 38 students, including members of the entry in which the graffiti was found, but were unable to identify the responsible party.

The decision to close the investigation was made by Dean Merrill over the weekend at the recommendation of the investigative team of Dean Charles Toomajian, Dean Gina Coleman and Dave Boyer, associate director of security. Members of the investigative team conducted student interviews and followed up on any leads stemming from these conversations. “After finishing all the interviews and ironing out any inconsistencies, the investigative team recommended to Dean Merrill that the investigation come to an end,” Toomajian said.

Campus Security has been tight-lipped about the interview process, as both Boyer and Jean Thorndike, director of campus security, declined to comment on the investigation.

According to an all-campus e-mail sent by Merrill yesterday morning, the investigation into the Williams Hall incident brought several other incidences of harassment to the administration’s attention, including the possible use of a racial slur at a party in Prospect on the evening of Feb. 1, the repeated defacement of a female first-year’s personal white board in, the Record has learned, Williams E, and the use of the word “nigger” in a conversation involving six students.

The administration declined to comment on the number of students identified as responsible parties in the incidents, but would confirm the process resulted in “the administration of some disciplinary sanctions,” according to Toomajian.

Student interviews were also used to gain insight into student life at the College. “In addition to disciplinary sanctions, we have also talked to several students just about community life issues that have come up as a result of these incidents,” Merrill said in a phone interview.

Seeing a concentration of harassment on campus was somewhat unexpected, “but it was also disheartening, it was infuriating,” Merrill said. “I think it was something that also was galvanizing, certainly to me and other faculty and staff. It was such a multi-layered emotional response to see it come out relatively quickly.”

Among the administration’s concerns, Merrill cited a pattern of harassment that extends beyond racially motivated acts, including sexism and homophobia. “We do see a pattern, so I think the more we can understand the prevalence, the more we’ll be able to do something about it,” she said. “In my office, we might be able to do something about it in terms of consequences. And we can figure out the things we need to do institutionally to eliminate the most egregious behavior.”

Though the investigation has been suspended, administrators are quick to point out that new information could lead to further action. “I don’t want people to feel that if we found anything new, we wouldn’t follow-up,” Toomajian said. “If new information surfaces, then the College would take a closer look, as it might take the investigation further.”

In Merrill’s all-campus e-mail, she expressed support for the student group Stand With Us, which has a social honor code subcommittee. When asked about the administration’s position on a social honor code as a means of discouraging harassment, she proposed communication as the next step. “Let’s have the conversation, let’s talk about the language we use,” she said. “How do we want to think about the language to describe community standards? Let’s be deliberative about it and talk about it in a structured way. All of us are interested to see what comes out of it.”

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