Website for bias offenses started

In the next step of the movement that originated with Stand With Us, a Web site that aims to chronicle incidents of community disrespect at the College, “Williams Speaks Up,” will go live by the end of the week.

The site is an attempt to overcome a lack of collective knowledge of discrimination at Williams, according to Haydee Lindo ’08, who is spearheading the initiative together with Jason Ren ’08. “We’re not saying that we actually know whether it’s a pervasive trend. At this stage it’s a lack of information,” Lindo said. “We’re all faced with a problem and we just don’t know, so it’s an official exploration of what’s going on.”

The Web site has its beginnings in February’s Willy E racist graffiti incident, which catalyzed the sharing of experiences with discrimination on campus. Efforts to collect the testimonials began with a paper survey designed by the Minority Coalition (MinCo), then evolved into an online bias-reporting portal.

“It then became a collaborative effort with the administration because we wanted to formalize it and establish credibility,” Ren said. Ren and Lindo, who are the outgoing co-chairs of MinCo, both noted that liaising with different offices had delayed the site’s launch, but agreed that the broad-based support and input strengthened the initiative.

The Web site will only be accessible on campus, and will require a unix ID login to view. “The login is important for two reasons: to act as a check against potential abuse, and to facilitate follow-up for egregious incidents,” Ren said.

However, users without unix IDs will be able to submit reports. This allowance is primarily intended to gather accounts from alumni, an addition which would supplement the bank of information from the MCC, Campus Safety and Security and Record articles.

Users can opt to keep their posts off the public archive. All other reports will be edited for confidentiality and sensitivity. Racial slurs, for example, will be edited off the main page but made available though links to original posts.

All follow-up decisions, as well as moderation of the posts, will fall to a review board, comprising both representatives from the administration – Security, the Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity, the Dean’s Office and Health Services – and the student body – College Council, MinCo and Junior Advisors.

“We spent a lot of time talking about the mechanisms for making this work, the role of the review board and how the site might evolve over time,” Dean Merrill said. “From the Dean’s Office perspective, the reporting of incidents is not very different from getting an anonymous tip through Campus Safety.” According to Merrill, Security will investigate such accounts, and disciplinary procedures will be imposed if there is “clear and convincing evidence that the student code of conduct has been violated.”

While organizers are optimistic about the site, they remain realistic about their expectations. “There are people who won’t be interested in reading the stories, and those who are have been very involved in the respect movement, but I think there’s a significant part that falls in the middle, who just want a fuller sense of what has been going on,” Ren said.

“We understand that it’s a very difficult thing to ask someone to tell their story to the campus,” Lindo said. “But if we want productive discussions we need to know what’s going on. Hopefully people won’t find that tradeoff too expensive.”

College administrators also expressed their support. “My hopes for ‘Williams Speaks Up’ is that it succeeds as a vehicle for educating and informing the entire Williams community about incidences of bias, discrimination and offensive behavior,” said Mike Reed, vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity.

Merrill agreed. “The Web site is there for several reasons: to make it clear to students that we take these things very seriously, to provide a very visible way for students to let us know when bias-motivated incidents occur and to make more transparent to the campus community that these events do occur,” she said. “It’s a very big step for the College, and I hope it will facilitate the conversation on campus about inclusiveness.”