Campus responds to bias incident

On Saturday afternoon, President Falk informed the College via an all-campus e-mail that a resident of Mission found the words “All beaners must die” written on the whiteboard outside of her room. The student discovered the words on her door on Friday around 3 p.m., but did not report the incident to Campus Safety and Security until around 2 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday afternoon, the student who wrote the statement admitted to his actions; as such, while the incident was originally classified as a hate crime, that classification may ultimately change as the investigation revealed that the statement was not a targeted threat.

Security received a call on Saturday at 1:49 p.m. from the victim reporting the writing on her door. Security responded to the scene within four minutes of receiving the call. By 2 p.m., Security invoked the recently created bias incident response protocol by notifying Falk, Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass and others on the bias incident response protocol (“Task force elucidates new protocols for bias incident reporting,” Oct. 31). Williamstown Police Department (WPD) was then called to begin an investigation.

On Sunday afternoon, students received another all-campus e-mail from Falk. According to the e-mail, the student wrote the phrase on the victim’s door after entry snacks on

Nov. 4 following a conversation about the hate crime committed on Nov. 12, 2011. According to Bolton, the student and the people with whom he was conversing were attempting to figure out how someone could think that writing “All n****rs must die” was acceptable. The student then wrote the words “All beaners must die” on the victim’s door, testing if the actions of the perpetrator of last November’s hate crime were really as easy as simply writing that message on the victim’s door. The student then attempted to erase the writing, but the words were still faintly visible, though no one noticed the writing until Friday. The individual on whose whiteboard the phrase was written was not part of this original Nov. 4 discussion. On Friday, other students informed the victim of the writing and the victim in turn informed Security of the writing. According to Bolton, the student who came forward definitely did not know on whose whiteboard he was writing.

“The individual who had written the words ‘All beaners must die’ on a whiteboard came forward voluntarily, came forward, actually, with the student on whose board those words had been written to talk to a dean in my office,”  Bolton said. “The student who had done the writing wanted to make clear what had happened, how those words came to be there and how they came to be in a place where the student whose whiteboard they were on was not aware of them for several days.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Bolton sent the campus an e-mail with an apology from the perpetrator. The e-mail expressed the student’s sincerest apology, clarified the events that led to the writing and affirmed that there was no malicious intent behind the writing. In particular, the student, who self-identified as being “of Mexican descent,” confessed that he chose to write the word “beaner” because it was a racial slur that had been used against him in the past. “Because the word is used to describe the Mexican culture, I was more comfortable writing that word than any other possible identity group,” the student wrote.

Security’s response 

Upon responding to the report from the victim, Security immediately initiated bias incident reporting protocol. Director of Security Dave Boyer explained Security’s sequential priorities are to respond quickly to the scene, gather information, determine the need of the students, secure and document the scene, arrange for support from the deans’ office, notify College officials and notify the WPD. According to Klass, upon arriving at the scene, officers remained with the student while initiating protocol, protected the scene and covered the whiteboard until it could be removed. The whiteboard was eventually removed from the student’s door, and Security preserved it as evidence.

The senior administration and Boyer were pleased with the effectiveness of the protocol. “The good news, if there is any in a situation like this, is that our new protocols for bias incident reporting and response work well,” Boyer said.

“We certainly know – from our end – in terms of communication, and especially with people all over the place with people being at [the football game at] Amherst, we were able to get things done within an effective timeframe,” Klass said.

The senior administration and Security determined that the writing posed an immediate threat to campus and chose to notify the campus via e-mail as quickly as possible. “When the wording contains an explicit threat, then we treat it as an immediate threat; we don’t try to judge differently from the outset,” Klass said. “Part of the protocol is not questioning that aspect of the evidence. If something contains an explicit threat, we deal with it as an explicit threat and then see where our investigation takes us.”

As a result of the incident, Security also increased its patrols and presence on campus. “We assigned an officer at the scene and in Mission Park until 8 a.m. the next morning,” Boyer said. “We significantly increased our campus coverage by calling off-duty dispatchers and officers. At the same time, we extended shifts beyond the normal eight hours and moved officers from athletic events and parties to campus coverage. By doing this, we were able to double and triple our normal campus coverage at times.”

After the initial investigation was begun, the senior administration also contacted the FBI officer who investigated last November’s hate crime to share details of the incident. “We shared the evidence [with the FBI officer] in case he had an immediate insight,” Bolton said. “He hasn’t physically come to campus. They’ve been in conversation with him about the evidence that appeared on Saturday, and of course, they’ve also let him know what happened on Sunday.”

Prosecution 

Given the circumstances under which the words were written, Bolton said the incident may not be prosecuted as a hate crime. In order for a crime to be classified as a hate crime, it must represent a targeted threat. Ultimately, the WPD will make the final decision as to whether the incident is prosecuted as a hate crime, and at press time, the WPD had not released its official decision.

The College will be responsible for determining whether it takes action against the student who came forward. It is not bound by an explicit policy to prosecute the student. “Our current impression from talking to the students involved … is that there was not a hate crime,” Bolton said. “That’s our current best interpretation. In terms of what happens down the road, that’s still yet to be determined.”

Early campus response 

Prior to the perpetrator coming forward on Sunday, the senior staff held a gathering for members of the community on Saturday at 6 p.m. The gathering was originally intended to be held in Hardy House, but was moved to the Jewish Religious Center (JRC) to accommodate more students. Over 200 students and faculty attended the gathering.

The diction and timing of Saturday’s incident evoked the hate crime committed on Nov. 12, 2011, in which a student wrote “All n****rs must die” on a wall in Prospect (“College confronts hate crime, campus unites in action,” Nov. 16). In conjunction with the Minority Coalition (MinCo), Students Against Silence (SAS), the movement that formed in reaction to the Nov. 12, 2011 hate crime, had already planned a day of events called “Looking Back, Moving Forward” to reflect on the hate crime committed last year.

As part of programming for Looking Back, Moving Forward to educate the first-year class on the hate crime committed last November, MinCo and SAS requested that the Junior Advisor Advisory Board (JAAB) forward two videos explaining last November’s hate crime to Junior Advisors (JAs) on Nov. 4 to be shown at entry snacks that evening. According to Bolton, it was after snacks on Nov. 4 that the student implicated in the incident wrote the offending phrase on the victim’s door while discussing the event. JAAB co-presidents Inan Barrett ’13 and Scott Fyall ’13 declined to comment on last weekend’s incident.

At the gathering in the JRC last Saturday, SAS announced that it would modify its programming to reflect Friday’s incident. Later on Saturday evening, MinCo co-chair Carrie Tribble ’13 and SAS co-chair Long Dang ’15 sent an all-campus e-mail announcing that the planning discussion between students and senior administrators scheduled for Sunday evening would be moved from Hardy to Goodrich Hall in order to accommodate more people. The e-mail also revealed that Sunday night’s “Cleansing of the Space” would end with a student walk to Mission in recognition of last weekend’s incident and in solidarity with the communities harmed by it. However, Tribble and Dang ultimately canceled the walk to Mission from Prospect at the conclusion of Cleansing of the Space in order to give students the opportunity to reflect on the cleansing and the day’s events.

Vista, the campus’ Latina/o student organization, sent an all-campus e-mail through Bolton on Sunday morning expressing its determination for the campus to move forward from the event. In a statement to the Record on Sunday morning, Vista co-chairs Matias Crespo ’15 and Charles Chirinos ’15 indicated that they believed the administration acted appropriately in attempting to address the situation.

“As of Sunday morning, the board feels that the administration has responded to the [incident] in a very prompt and efficient manner, allowing for the impressive mobilization of the Williams community on Saturday evening,” the board’s statement read. “The board, along with administration, staff, faculty and students, recognizes the importance of continuing the conversation on how to foster a greater sense of community on campus … Looking forward, the Vista board commits to furthering the cause for better educational and social policy changes at an institutional level.”

November is Latina/o Heritage Month, and Vista has already planned an agenda of programming for the month. The Vista board plans to continue its programming despite last weekend’s events. “We refuse to let this incident interrupt the celebration of our cultures through Latina/o Heritage Month. [This month’s] programming will not be effected and will proceed as scheduled,” the statement said.

Additionally, Vista requested that students wear red on Monday in an expression of solidarity with those effected by last weekend’s incidents. Additionally, Vista held a campus conversation on Tuesday evening to discuss appropriate next steps.

Response to Sunday’s developments 

As part of the planning for Looking Back, Moving Forward, SAS had scheduled a forum with the senior administration regarding the hate crime committed last November. In light of Saturday’s events and Sunday’s revelation, the meeting focused primarily on last weekend’s incident. At Sunday’s meeting, the senior administration clarified information about the incident and answered students’ questions regarding the administration’s response, bias incident reporting protocol and potential next administrative steps.

While Sunday’s meeting was refocused to address the weekend’s events, SAS largely continued its programming as intended on Sunday. “[Last weekend’s events] took some of the emphasis off of what happened last year, but that’s not necessarily a horrible thing since we’re all about just being against the silence,” Erica Moszkowski ’15, SAS co-chair, said.

“The way that it turned out – that people were not surprised, that people reacted the way they did, that this is still an endemic within our community – speaks to important work that still needs to be done in the community,” Quinn Solfisburg ’14, SAS co-chair, said.

Moving forward 

In response to last weekend’s incident and the requests of students, Bolton indicated that the administration is taking into consideration the importance of publicizing the repercussions of committing a hate crime. “It would be helpful for students to know right when they get on campus … the fact that we do take [hate crimes] to the police as hate crimes and ask the police to cooperate with us in prosecuting them as hate crimes,” Bolton said. “We should have transparency about that, and we should have publicity about that as well. We are committed to doing that, and we think people should know that.”

Additionally, the administration will attempt to address student concerns about how the administration handles hate crimes that arose from campus discussions on Saturday and Sunday. “The next steps that we have started to pull together, so for example, how do we talk to first-year students about hate crimes – about what is and is not okay, how do we make the commitments transparent about holding people accountable,” Bolton said. “That was already a chunk of work we’d laid out for ourselves regarding publicity and reporting with the bias task force. That work is already sort of queued up to be done. What we want to do is feed what we learned this weekend into those four implementation groups that were just getting started to roll. A lot of the work will be taken up pretty immediately there. [The Exploring Diversity Initiative] is already in conversation in other places. A lot of the ideas will feed into some of the working groups that are already operational.”

While the administration informed prospective students who had previously visited campus in a Windows on Williams (WOW) program of the Nov. 12, 2011, hate crime, the Admissions Office has no such plans to publicize last weekend’s incidents to prospective students, particularly after the circumstances of the incident were elucidated on Sunday.

“At the time of last fall’s hate crime, all attending WOW students had already visited campus,” Ahmmad Browne, diversity recruitment director, said. “The e-mail you are referring to — which came from President Falk – was sent to the roughly 150 WOW attendees and provided details about the incident and steps the Williams community was taking in response. There are no plans to duplicate last year’s communication as [last] weekend’s event has not been deemed a hate crime.”

SAS also plans to use the momentum and conversations from last weekend to continue a campus dialogue on discrimination. “I think, if anything, [last weekend’s incident] reinforce[s] the necessity of these conversations,” Dang said. “We have to be able to engage in these uncomfortable topics so that we can learn from one another. We’ll continue to spread this message to the community by working with first-years, the Davis Center, the deans’ office, etc.”

In response to the weekend’s events, MinCo will seek to gauge the campus’s temperature to inform how the organization moves forward. “Our initial hope is to get a pulse on how the campus at large … and the organization internally are feeling,” Rachel Hagler ’13, MinCo co-chair, said. “The board does not wish to unilaterally legislate any new programs or policies at this time.”

In particular, MinCo will seek to respond to the need to educate first-years about the social and legal importance of tolerance on campus. “On a more concrete note, I believe our greatest area of work in the future is going to be freshman orientation and figuring out how to equip students in their first days here with the legal knowledge, social consciousness and communicative ability to engage in dialogues about ‘tough issues’ such as race, gender, sexuality and religion in ways that are safe and constructive,” Hagler said. “I expect MinCo to be a strong proponent of such initiatives as well as an instrumental resource for working on structural changes that may be decided upon in the coming weeks.”

Despite last weekend’s events, Falk remains hopeful that the campus will heal and move forward positively from this incident. “I’m really optimistic about all of you; I’m optimistic about this College; I’m optimistic about these conversations and what they lead to,” Falk said. “This is our work. This is all of our work … and we’re going to keep doing it.”

  • Max G-Nugz

    Are you sure “bias” is the right word? sounds like racist hate speech to me.

  • Indeed…. max is right about it. Why use such a word to provoke other communities?

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