Not on our campus

Over the course of the last four days, we have all been dealing with the aftershocks of a horrific, criminal act. In the early hours of Nov. 12, a member of our community discovered the words “All N****rs Must Die” written on the wall of a Prospect bathroom. As we move forward, it is crucial that we recognize this as a hate crime and as an assault on our community. This cannot be trivialized, and it cannot be considered an isolated incident. We must acknowledge that this act of hate speech is a manifestation of a comprehensive failure of our culture at the College. We must not facilitate the perpetuation of an environment that allows, excuses or enables this bigotry. We can no longer afford to be passive participants in our community. Regardless of race or ethnicity, we must all take an active stance against this expression of hatred.

It is clear that change is necessary. I have witnessed the incredible outpouring of strength and love from the students, faculty and staff who have banded together to demand that change. At 7 p.m. on Saturday, over 40 students, alumni and staff gathered in Hardy House for the first of many conversations about this hate crime with Dean Bolton and Vice President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity Mike Reed. At 9 p.m. that night, over 70 students, along with Bilal Ansari, the Muslim chaplain, marched on the Williamstown Police Department to encourage a thorough investigation of this hate crime and to request police protection at the Black Student Union-sponsored party in Goodrich Hall. On Sunday at 12:30 p.m. about 200 students, faculty and staff met in Goodrich Hall to discuss further action with President Falk, Bolton, Reed, and Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass.

In less than 24 hours, an impressive grassroots campaign was launched to address this hate crime. It is because of the work of those students involved, and because of the ultimate cooperation of the College administration, that classes were cancelled on Monday. It is because of these students that President Falk and other administrators have addressed the inadequacy of the College’s initial response to this hate crime. Their work brought us the We Deserve to Live Rally Against Discrimination and Hate March, the all-campus meeting on Paresky lawn, the open microphone forum in Baxter Hall and the evening’s constructive conversation regarding future action.

Some members of our community may feel that we have overreacted, that this is not an act of violence or that this is just something that happens and there is nothing to be done about it. Others have said that this was just a drunken student misbehaving, or that, since the perpetrator could have been a visitor, an alumnus or someone not affiliated with the College, we do not need to critically address the presence of discrimination on this campus. I have encountered many individuals who refuse to recognize the severity of this hate speech, but the students, faculty and staff who have gathered over the last four days refuse to accept that. I refuse to accept that.

I am a white student. This particular act of hate speech was not directed towards me, but from the moment I learned of this hate crime, I felt that it was my responsibility as a member of the Williams community to speak out against it. Regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality, we must work to eradicate the hatred and the apathy that allow many of us to remove ourselves from the conversation.

The pace of life at the College is, at times, frantic. In managing our academic, extracurricular, athletic and social commitments, we often willingly overlook the problematic aspects of our community. It is tempting to say, “That doesn’t affect me, so I don’t need to be involved.” But if I have learned anything over the last four days, it is that we are always involved, whether we want to be or not. This is our community, and it is our responsibility to protect it. Over the last four days, I have learned more about the world than I ever could in the classroom. As both a witness and a participant, I can say that I have never been sadder to be part of the Williams community, but I have also never been more proud. The strength and love that I have experienced during these days has been incredible, and it gives me great hope for the future. An incredibly diverse group of students, faculty and staff have committed themselves to fighting injustice here. This act of hate speech is not simply a minority concern – it is a problem that belongs to, and reflects on, the entire campus community. If we are all part of the problem, then we can all be part of the solution.

In the coming days, I challenge all members of our community to engage in open, honest dialogue about this vicious act of hate speech. Think critically about our culture at the College. What is it about our environment that allows, time and time again, such egregious violations of our community standards to occur? What is your role, as a member of the community, in speaking out against all forms of discrimination, hatred and bigotry?

 

Kate Flanagan ’14 is from Newbern, N.C. She lives in Brooks.