The conversations and investigations that stemmed from the Nov. 12 hate crime have continued in full force in the months following the initial incident. Upon arrival back on campus after winter break, students received an e-mail from Dean Bolton that outlined the various responses to and continuing investigation into the hate crime.
The investigation by the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) is still underway with aid from Campus Safety and Security and the FBI. Contrary to rumors that the team has focused in on a specific person as the perpetrator, no such person has been identified.
The e-mail also highlighted several faculty, student and staff members invited by President Falk to serve together on a task force which will focus on understanding, and thus improving, responses to future bias incidents.
Additionally, the Students Against Silence (SAS) Logistics Committee, created in the wake of the hate crime to organize student ideas on proposed improvements at the College, is taking steps to create student task forces to identify pertinent campus discrimination issues.
Logistics Committee holds open forum to organize
The e-mail from Bolton stated, “President Falk has asked the group to determine the best protocol for response to bias incidents of all kinds, to include support, communication, investigation and other aspects of response that will work as well as possible for those targeted by incidents and for the Williams community as a whole.” This task force’s work, according to the e-mail, is currently underway and will continue until the group “reaches a consensus that it has accomplished its objectives.”
Bolton closed her update e-mail with a call for the continued strengthening of the College community “so that neither daily incidents of bias and exclusion nor crimes of the sort that happened on [Nov. 12] are part of the experience of being at Williams.”
An open forum was also held by the SAS Logistics Committee with the goal of identifying the types of task forces needed to look into the various aspects of life at the College that students deem important to help make informed decisions. These task forces will “work toward reducing and eliminating discrimination at Williams College,” said Emily Hertz ’13, a member of the committee who chaired the meeting. The group that met was composed of both students already involved in the committee as well as other interested students, some of whom had also been involved in past activities immediately surrounding the hate crime.
“We wanted to make sure that all of the concerns on campus had an ability to be voiced and were not just determined by a very small body of the Williams population,” said Maya Hawkins-Nelson ’14, a member of the SAS Logistics Committee. “We wanted this movement to remain driven by the general student population and not just by the [SAS] Logistics Committee because in reality, we are nothing more than just that: a [SAS] Logistics Committee here only for organization and communication with all campus,” she said.
The group identified eight distinct task forces: the first-year experience, residential life for upperclassmen, classroom culture, identity, social life, community values and public discussion. According to Hertz, each of the eight members of the SAS Logistics Committee will serve as point person to one of the task forces specified.
Hertz elaborated on the goals for the public discussion task force, which will encompass a broader role on campus. “The central purpose of the public discussion task force is to ensure that issues of discrimination continue to be thought about and discussed on campus,” Hertz said. “We hope that as many people as possible get involved.”
Themes and conversation at the meeting also revolved significantly around possible task forces for addressing issues of discrimination in extracurricular activities and athletics and for training faculty and staff in diversity issues.
A proposed task force for the social honor code was the most divisive topic presented. Questions surrounding perceived social culture constructs such as the drinking culture were discussed, but they were deemed separate from the incidents of hate and discrimination that these task forces were designed to investigate.
Official descriptions of the task forces as well as information about how students can join were publicized via an all-campus e-mail on Tuesday night. Students have been asked to notify the SAS Logistics Committee by Feb. 3 if they are interested in joining any of the task forces.
“Everyone is invited to join as many task forces as he or she wants to,” Hertz said. She added that the task forces will begin meeting at the beginning of the spring semester.
Hawkins hopes that students will take the time to consider joining a task force this spring. “I hope that people will join the committees so that real progress can happen and we can begin to fix the issues that still plague our community,” she said. She also hopes that students of all backgrounds, and not just minority students, will join the groups because “these really are all-campus issues that affect everyone, and can lead to changes that will change all of campus life, not just a select few [groups].”
Bolton was also present at Saturday’s open forum. “I think a lot of the issues that were discussed on Saturday were things that had already been discussed in different forums, even things that were on our minds and things that we had been working on over the course of the last several years, as well as things that people were talking about more specifically immediately following the hate crime,” she said. Bolton saw the forum as “more about pulling together the central issues to think about in the task forces” rather than focused on the discussion of new ideas.
Bolton added that the bias reporting committee is at the point of looking forward to the formation of these task forces, “listening to the SAS discussion and figuring out how we and the staff we work with can be most helpful going forward.”
Hertz was pleased with the conversation at the Saturday forum. “It was very helpful to us in developing what I think are eight really important task forces that have the potential to do a lot of great work. We’re very grateful to everyone who came and shared their knowledge and ideas,” she said.
It was also mentioned at the meeting that College Council (CC) is working toward creating an anonymous online forum for student comments on classes, in addition to the course evaluation forms that are filled out by student in each class every semester as a method of evaluation. The idea behind this forum is to allow students who feel uncomfortable submitting comments on a blue sheet to anonymously e-mail their professors about a problem or situation they have encountered in class.
Another idea discussed was a way to preserve the memory of the hate crime so as to both learn from the incident and prevent similar acts of hatred in the future by presenting a strong reminder of a path not to follow. The community members gathered in Goodrich Hall on Saturday focused parts of their discussion around ensuring that the events of these past few months would not be forgotten.
College continues criminal investigation into Nov. 12
Additionally, the investigation into the perpetrator of the hate crime is still underway and has involved collaboration between Security and the Dean’s Office as well as the WPD and the FBI. “When the initial investigation began, the police department asked us as we identified any red flags or points of interest to keep them up to speed … and as we did that they brought in the FBI,” said Dave Boyer, director of Security.
According to Security, the team has interviewed over 140 people, some receiving multiple interview requests, in an attempt to narrow the suspect field.
The WPD has also handled additional interviews as a part of its own investigation into the crime. “The police department is doing their own investigation, including interviews and other analyses of evidence,” said Bolton. “They confer with Campus Safety regarding questions they may have, including questions about observations or issues that have come to our attention.”
A perpetrator has not yet been identified by any of these groups, but information is still being processed. “We’re continuing to do what we can with new information. We are investigating all tips that come forward, but we don’t have a perpetrator in hand,” Boyer said.
Rumors that Security has been tracking a specific person have been dispelled by both Security and the College administration. “There are always those kinds of rumors … but unfortunately we don’t have someone,” said Steve Klass, Vice President for Campus Life. “We would never keep the successful conclusion of an investigation secret.”
The College has also been responding to feedback from a variety of constituencies since its first few informational e-mails were sent out to students and their families as well as members of both the faculty and staff. Most responses were simply a call for more information, but there were also calls from parents of students who lived at farther distances from the College with renewed concerns regarding safety on campus. “Immediately after the hate crime we (both Deans and Campus Safety and Security) had a number of calls from parents, especially those living far from Williams, who wanted to get a sense of what was happening regarding safety and the precautions we were taking,” Bolton said. She also noted that families of African-American students in particular took steps to seek out more information from the College.
“Those calls did not entail requests for particular changes or additions in services,” Bolton said. “It was more that people wanted to know we had a close eye on things.”
Boyer echoed Bolton’s statements, indicating that Security had not been asked by the student body to make any changes to its services. “Most of the contacts we had were actually people either offering information or services,” Boyer said. “We got a lot of help in terms of information, so there wasn’t really that much concern expressed to Campus Safety and Security, just people wanting to know how they could help and submitting information via the tip line.”
Boyer also commented that an increase in the usage of the College escort system – in which students can call Security and have an officer escort them to their desired location if, for any reason, they feel unsafe – had not been observed. “We thought that perhaps there would be more requests for that, and it didn’t really generate the way we thought it might,” said Boyer.
Bolton added that she considers it a positive development that students, faculty and staff are sustaining momentum after the events of November and directing that momentum towards constructive change on campus. “After all of the things that were hard and all of the energy that people were put into thinking in the fall and then [students] focusing on their finals for a little bit and then being away, having the chance to be back together and thinking again together [was great],” she said. “It was just nice to re-gather and come together moving forward.”