College community continues to respond to Nov. 12 hate crime

Following the racial hate crime committed on the morning of Nov. 12 and the cancellation of classes on Nov. 14, there continues to be wide-ranging conversation on issues of diversity, discrimination and racism. Members of the newly-formed Students Against Silence (SAS) movement, College Council (CC), the Black Student Union (BSU), the Multicultural Center (MCC) and the College’s senior administration are now seeking to continue the discussion of the campus’s “culture of silence,” reevaluate institutional procedures for handling bias incidents and address a variety of  student concerns regarding institutional policies and tendencies believed to foster discrimination.

Students Against Silence

The SAS movement grew out of a series of student meetings conducted throughout the weekend of Nov. 12, which brought together concerned individuals and student leaders from a variety of groups, including CC and the Minority Coalition (MinCo). Carrie Tribble ’13, an organizing member of the initial student response on Nov. 12, estimates that 80 students are currently involved with SAS through the movement’s listserv.

The group has developed a mission statement outlining the intended role of SAS and the essential means by which they hope to address the “culture of silence” at the College. The statement contains four goals, which include fostering an open dialogue regarding “identity, expression and experience,” educating members of the community to “stand up and speak out against all forms of discrimination and hatred,” identifying and implementing changes to address “institutional shortcomings in curricula, student life and College policy” and working to build a campus culture of “open-mindedness, respect for others, commitment to community and civic responsibility.” This mission statement has not yet been made available to the student body at large.

At present, the SAS movement is led by a loose consortium of student leaders, but according to Tribble, the group is in the process of developing and implementing a more permanent structure. On Nov. 28, Tribble sent an e-mail to students soliciting self-nominations for a student committee that will “serve as a logistical body to integrate and organize the various working groups and task forces over Winter Study.” The committee, which has not yet been given an official name, will provide organization and leadership for SAS going forward. The committe will comprise a group of between eight and 10 students which will be selected from the student body by a group of four students – Tribble, CC Co-President Francesca Barrett ’12, Chalita Washington ’13 and Haley Pessin ’13 – who were elected to an appointments circle by the student assembly on Nov. 16. “[The appointments circle has] self-noms from all the people who [applied] to be part of the committee … and then as soon as that committee is formed, the four of us will be stepping down,” Tribble said.

The group is planning to evaluate a list of 70 proposed changes to College policy, which were developed during the Nov. 16 student meeting that was open to all students. The policy ideas were divided into categories, which, Tribble said, will be addressed by student task forces selected by the SAS committee. “The task force’s job is going to be to look through and evaluate those different options and put together a strong, coherent proposal for evaluations,” she said. Unlike the SAS committee, which will not have open meetings, the task forces are meant to remain open to anyone interested in working on the policy issues being evaluated.

According to Dean Bolton, SAS has not yet approached the administration. She stated that administrators hoped to enter into “conversations with SAS as soon as they would like to,” but that SAS had not yet come forward with any demands or concrete proposals. While the means by which SAS and its constituent task forces will communicate with administrators have not been finalized, Tribble hopes to foster a close and productive working relationship with the senior staff.

While plans for specific discussions and events have not been released, Tribble’s Nov. 28 e-mail indicates that task force discussions will take place during Winter Study.

Social Honor Code

One of the 70 proposed policy changes discussed by SAS that will be considered is the creation of a social honor code, an issue that surfaced as a major point of discussion during the Nov. 14 student meeting in Goodrich Hall and in subsequent SAS meetings. Student responses to the proposed social honor code varied dramatically. On Nov. 16, Williams Students Online saw a heated discussion thread surrounding the issue that included accusations of racism.

On Nov. 17, CC Co-President Nick Fogel and Barrett sent an all-campus e-mail imploring students to be “patient and understanding” with their peers. Fogel said that the email was a response to the harsh tone of the conversations, which Fogel felt “were actually hurting people.”

College Council

Fogel, who has been involved with the SAS movement since its inception, indicated that SAS will remain independent of CC despite the significant involvement of both himself and Barrett.

“Hopefully, once the task forces come up with solutions, they’ll bring them to a lot of different groups,” Fogel said. He added CC will hopefully be one of those groups.

Independent of SAS, CC leadership will seek to address what Fogel called the “culture of silence” on campus through a new initiative, dubbed the Conversation Campaign. The idea behind the campaign, developed by Fogel over the summer, is to encourage people to talk to each other, empathize more and see the world in a different way.

“Given the events of the last three weeks, we figured that this is a really good time to push the Conversation Campaign because it brought to light that there aren’t enough meaningful conversations at Williams,” Fogel said. “For something like discrimination, you can’t preach, you can’t have a law that says you can’t be ignorant or that you have to be more tolerant or be a better person, but you can start by having people talk to each other and learn to empathize more and see the world in a different way.”

As part of the Conversation Campaign, CC will seek to provide spaces and incentives for people to talk. Among other initiatives, they will also encourage various groups on campus – Peer Health, the Junior Advisors (JAs), sports teams and a capella groups, among others – to initiate and foster meaningful conversations about difficult issues on campus amongst their respective groups.

While the Conversation Campaign remains in the formative stages, Fogel indicated that progress was expected during Winter Study.

BSU letter

On Nov. 22, students received an all-campus e-mail from Daquan Mickens ’12, president of the Black Student Union (BSU), containing an open letter to the College community on behalf of the BSU, the Williams African Students Organization (WASO) and Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SOCA). In the e-mail, the BSU, WASO and SOCA responded to student criticism of the group’s limited role in the student-organized response to the events of Nov. 12. “We can assure you that we have not been inactive; we’ve simply taken a step back to reevaluate the situation and not react solely based off emotion,” Mickens’ e-mail said.

The letter included a list of ten demands for the College, including institutionalized diversity training for faculty and staff as well as students in leadership roles, instituting hiring practices in support services to target people of color, reevaluation of the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI) requirement, establishment of Africana studies as an academic major as well as concentration and the hiring of an additional faculty member. The letter also demanded the designation of Siskind House as an additional space for the MCC and MinCo, and the reestablishment of Rice House as the home of the BSU, giving “ultimate agency” to the BSU on how to best use the space. Mickens was unreachable for further comment.

According to Bolton, the administration has reached out to the BSU leadership to discuss the letter sent to students as well as their “ideas for improving the campus.” Bolton also stated, “It is our understanding that the BSU, as well as WASO and SOCA, would like to take some time to further develop their proposals before meeting with [administrators].”

Administrative response

While much of the student response to last month’s hate crime has sought to address the paucity of conversation on campus, the senior administrative response has focused on the failure of its bias incident reporting protocol on Nov. 12. One of the initial criticisms of the administration’s handling of the incident was the failure of Security to alert the dean-on-call and senior administrators in a timely and effective manner. “These things, fortunately, don’t happen so frequently that we automatically can pull the trigger and know what to do,” President Falk said. “But they happen frequently enough that we need to have thought through ahead of time what we do when something like this happens in our community.”

According to Steve Klass, vice president for campus life, Falk will launch a task force to evaluate bias incident reporting protocols. This group will consist of faculty, staff, senior administrators and students culled from MinCo, CC and other leadership organizations.

The task force will seek to define and understand bias incidents, identify means of incident reporting, discuss how the College will communicate and work with external law enforcement agencies. The group will also describe current response protocols for use in future evaluations of the system and discuss how sanctions will work in the case of bias incidents. Klass hopes to have the task force formed in time to begin work early in Winter Study.

Administrators also expressed interest in evaluating the role of the curriculum in issues of diversity. In response to the changes to the EDI requirement proposed by the BSU, Bolton noted that the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) makes changes to the curriculum and divisional requirements.

According to Lili Rodriguez ’01, director of the MCC, a new course will be offered next fall that will focus on intergroup dialogue. The MCC is already set to sponsor a Winter Study course, taught by MCC Associate Director Taj Smith, titled “Understanding Similarities, Bridging Differences,” which, according to Rodriguez, will “introduce students to issues of social identity, social and cultural diversity and societal manifestations of power, privilege and oppression.”

Rodriguez also said that the MCC has been offering individual support for students since the Nov. 12 incident and that staff members have engaged in a number of “debriefing” sessions with JAs, entries and with the physics department.

Along with Smith, Rodriguez conducted a debriefing session with about 40 JAs during monthly JA snacks. “We wanted to hear their concerns and experiences with the aftermath so we could propose a series of activities or conversations that may help them turn this heinous event into a teaching moment,” Rodriguez said. “It was a solid conversation, demonstrating how challenging the last few weeks have been for campus as a whole, especially the new members of our community.”

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