Community responds to homophobic graffiti

Community members were informed via an all-campus e-mail on Sunday that homophobic graffiti was found inscribed in the door of a student’s room in Brooks House that morning. Campus Safety and Security and the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) visited the scene and opened investigations. Following the incident, senior administrators and concerned students convened late on Sunday to discuss the incident and future courses of action.

In Sunday’s all-campus e-mail, President Falk and senior administrators informed students, faculty and staff that the word “fag” had been scratched into the door of a room in Brooks. While the administration has not released the name of the student whose door was vandalized, Samuel Flinn ’14 has come forward as that student. According to Director of Security Dave Boyer, “The writing is at least a week old and may be older, which will make it very hard to identify the responsible person.”

According to the administration, the specifics of the vandalism remain unknown. “We don’t know that it was targeted, but we don’t know that it wasn’t,” Dean Bolton said. “We don’t know why someone would have written that on the door.”

WPD was contacted following the discovery of the graffiti because the vandalism “could have been an act of intimidation,” Falk said. “We will do our very best to find out who did it, [and] if we find out who did it, we will hold them accountable,” he continued. “But I think it’s going to be very hard to actually find out who did it, and that’s just the reality.”

Students and administrators met at 8 p.m. on Sunday evening in Hardy House to support affected members of the community and to discuss a response. Over the course of the two-hour meeting, students discussed their frustration and anger over the incident with a number of senior College officials, including Falk, Bolton, Boyer, Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass, Chaplain to the College Rick Spalding and Multicultural Center Assistant Director Justin Adkins. In addition to expressions of fear and frustration over the incident, many students proposed institutional changes to prevent future discriminatory acts from occurring on campus, including changes to the admissions process, a social honor code and the introduction of a mandatory first-year seminar addressing issues of diversity at the College.

This meeting was followed by a campus-wide e-mail, sent on Monday afternoon, from College Council All-Campus Representative for Community and Diversity Kate Flanagan ’14, which stated, “It is a time to be an ally.” Flanagan also drew attention to the fact that this incident comes in the midst of Queer Pride Days at the College and just before the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Dively Committee on Human Sexuality and Diversity.

Following discussion between students and the administration in Hardy House on Sunday, the decision was made to refrain from planning additional programming in response to this event this week, according to Bolton. “[We did] not want to sap any energy from the people who have been organizing Queer Pride Days all month and particularly Sex Week this week and the Dively anniversary celebration this weekend,” she said.

Bolton indicated that those discussions also explored the possibility of planning an event to take place at the end of April, coinciding with the last week of classes. The proposed event would be “an embodiment of a community sentiment around embracing a respectful community, and one that might be something that we could help organize that would actually speak to a series of events over the year and not just this one,” she said.

Administrators also said that they will continue to explore institutional initiatives to address bias incidents on campus. The Bias Incident Reporting Task Force, which was formed following November’s hate crime, will continue to gather feedback from staff, faculty and students in advance of its final report, to be released in June or September. According to Klass, however, the task force’s work was already visible in this weekend’s incident: “The fact that some students in the meeting expressed gratitude for the way that the response was managed this time as opposed to the controversy over how it was handled last time has a lot to do with all of the pieces of that that we had internalized and then begun turning into policy and procedure,” he said.

Other institutional changes may include modifications to First Days program. “We need to be even more explicit about our expectations of people when they are part of our community,” Falk said. “So we’re thinking about how we inculcate that in First Days.” Bolton added that First Days planning is the subject of frequent discussion and that “there’s a bunch of more incremental moves people are interested in making.”

Falk was less optimistic, however, regarding broader institutional changes governing student behavior. “The truth is that a college isn’t a place where the administration can, in a kind of micro way, control the behavior of every student, and you don’t want us to,” he said. “So we can be supportive and encouraging, and again, hold individuals accountable for behavior when we know that they’ve done that, and set the right tone and set the right priorities, but I don’t know how much of that is a change, and how much of that is really just a restatement of things we’re already doing.”

Both administrators and students are expected to discuss proposals for a community response on Thursday evening during a MinCo-sponsored event in Greylock at 9 p.m. Event organizers say that they will seek to discuss “concrete and positive ideas for change moving forward.”

Administrators also said that they will continue to explore institutional initiatives to address bias incidetnts on campus. The Bias Incident Reporting Task Force, which was formed following November’s hate crime, will continue to gather feedback from staff, faculty and students in advance of its final report, to be released in June or September. According to Klass, however, the task force’s work was already visible in this weekend’s incident: “The fact that some students in the meeting expressed gratitude for the way that the response was managed this time, as opposed to the controversy over how it was handled last time, has a lot to do with all of the pieces that we had internalized and then begun turning into policy and procedure,” he said.

Other institutional changes may include modifications to First Days programming. “We need to be even more explicit about our expectations of people when they are part of our community,” Falk said. “So we’re thinking about how we inculcate that in First Days.” Bolton added that First Days planning is the subject of frequent discussion and that “there’s a bunch of more incremental moves people are interested in making.”

Falk was less optimistic, however, regarding broader institutional changes governing student behavior. “The truth is that a college isn’t a place where the administration can, in a kind of micro way, control the behavior of every student, and you don’t want us to,” he said. “So we can be supportive and encouraging, and again, hold individuals accountable for poor behavior when we have proof that they’ve done it, and set the right tone and set the right priorities, but I don’t know how much of that is a change, and how much of that is really just a restatement of things we’re already doing.”

Both administrators and students are expected to discuss proposals for a community response on Thursday evening during a Minority Coalition-sponsored event in Greylock at 9 p.m. Event organizers say that they will seek to discuss “concrete and positive ideas for change moving forward.”

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