Stop, listen and learn

Over the past four days I have grown up immensely. I want to share my story with you.

I first learned about the horrific words written in Prospect on Saturday afternoon while at Saturday’s football game. I was shocked and appalled, but stayed at the game and went about the rest of my day without much interruption. I went home, met up with alumni, watched college football and prepared to go out with friends. I was affected by the words but viewed them as an isolated incident. I comforted myself by saying that it was probably an Amherst student who wrote them. I told myself that Williams is a safe and inclusive place and that one idiot does not represent a campus-wide problem.

I did not check my e-mail on Saturday and did not know about the meeting at 7 p.m., but got a call at 9:30 p.m. telling me that students were marching to the police station. I put on a jacket and walked over with a friend. When I got to the station, I found myself in a state of shock. What could I say? How could I relate to the emotions that people were going through? I could not. I am a white male athlete from Williamstown who has never faced discrimination. Before this weekend I lived under the illusion that people in my isolated world always felt safe, always got along and always respected each other. What I heard that night and during the day on Sunday shook me to my core.

I heard stories of students sleeping in their friends’ rooms because they were afraid to sleep alone. I heard stories of students afraid to attend the Homecoming game and students who didn’t feel safe walking by themselves. I heard stories of students feeling isolated from their entries and classes because of their backgrounds. I heard stories of students contemplating transferring to other schools because they felt excluded from the Williams community that I love. I heard stories of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, religious intolerance and discrimination against those with disabilities and mental health disorders. I heard stories of students who were prevented from experiencing Williams the way I have experienced it.

These stories moved me. I felt a great deal of guilt for not hearing them sooner. I think of myself as a tolerant person, as someone who loves to get to know new people and enjoys listening to people’s stories. I realized on Sunday that I had failed to listen. There are often rallies, posters and Record op-eds that urge me to hear about the discrimination that people face daily at the College. I go to some of these events, I read most of the articles and I look at nearly all of the posters, but I have not taken the time to try and relate.

What this weekend and Monday’s events forced me to do was to listen. I listened for hours. I did not worry about schoolwork or sports, or even food or sleep for that matter. I put on hold all the things that have prevented me from really listening for three and a half years. It has been easy to look past the suffering that my classmates feel daily – not because I do not care, but because I have so much going on and it is hard to know how to help.

What I’ve learned is that the first step to providing that help is being there to listen. I cannot force people to treat each other with kindness. I cannot change the history of hatred and discrimination that our world has endured. I cannot fix laws and institutions that, to this day, suppress equality in America and elsewhere. What I can do is sit and listen. I can open my arms and my heart and embrace my classmates who suffer. I can hear their stories and bring them to my friends and family. I can use their stories to make our community stronger.

Over the past few days, I have heard many criticisms of Monday’s events.

People have asked me, “Are these terrible words really criminal?” I asked myself the same question Saturday night, but I believe now that whether it is legally a hate crime or not, does not matter. Congress and the courts may decide what the law stands for, but we as a community get to decide what Williams stands for. We can stand up against hate and discrimination. We can say that freedom of speech does not extend to words of hate and discrimination in our community.

People have asked me, “Why should we make a big deal about this when Williams is already so much more tolerant than the rest of the world?” After this weekend, I believe that we cannot take solace in comparing ourselves to a hate-filled world. If we believe that a cause is just and good, we must strive to attain it no matter the obstacles. We take pride in educating the leaders of tomorrow and, what better way to do that than by creating a campus culture that serves as an example for the world of today?

I am not the same person who showed up at Weston Field for Saturday’s football game. I have been transformed by the stories I have heard. I will continue to listen to anyone who wants to share their story, and I encourage you to do the same.


Nick Fogel ’12 is the College Council co-president and a political economy major from Williamstown, Mass. He lives on Hoxsey Street.

Comments (2)

  1. I’m extremely proud of the response on campus to this terrible occurrence. I just can’t help thinking (unfortunately) that all the perpetrator wanted out of this act was a reaction, which is exactly what we’ve given him/her. I’m not saying there exists a better alternative to what has happened in the wake of the event, but i just wanted to voice something that was frustrating me. There is a somewhat comparable situation happening at Penn State right now, where a community is being indicted solely due to the horrible acts of an individual (The administrations complacency is unacceptable, but now the whole university is suffering, including innocent ppl). I’m from the area, and i am more than confident in saying that Williamstown is an extraordinarily accepting place. It’s only after a catastrophic event like this, (something we aren’t used to seeing) that people begin to recount stories of hate. I’m not saying this is wrong, but i just hope that we don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a singular and unprecedented act of hatred in a historically tolerant community. Please don’t lose sight of the fact that one person is resposnsible for what was written in prospect, and he/she should be punished accordingly, not rewarded by some (definitely not all) of the discussions that have followed.

  2. Very well said, Nick Fogel.

    Sociopathy exists in the larger world, as well as the scrawl upon a Prospect bathroom door.

    Martha Stout, ph.D., of Harvard wrote “The Sociopath Next Door” in 2005 (Broadway Books, New York).

    My perspective is that Dr. Stout has made a quantum step forward from Freud, as Freud did in removing mankind’s good-evil dichotomy from the established church.

    Briefly, four in a hundred people have no conscience. Dr. Stout wrote her book for the 96%.

    Thank you for writing well, Nick, with a focus on compassion for others’ experience.

    Sincerely, Lindsay Fowler
    Williams College Class of 1975

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