On Saturday morning at approximately 6:50 a.m. a student in Morgan Hall found a penis drawn on their whiteboard in black marker. The word “n****r” was vertically inscribed in the penis in blue marker. The student erased the writing first, removing the drawing at about 11 a.m. with board cleaner. The student reported the incident to Campus Safety and Security at 1 p.m. Security brought the incident to the attention of the Williamstown Police Department and contacted federal authorities, launching an investigation to identify the perpetrator and hold them accountable.
Dean Bolton sent an all-campus e-mail describing the event to the community Saturday evening. “We are appalled and heartsick – both at this attack on an individual and at this attempt to disrupt our community,” Bolton wrote. “Such an act would be reprehensible at any time, but it is particularly disgusting that this happened right after Claiming Williams, and at the beginning of Black History month. Williams cannot be truly whole as long as such racism occurs here.” No discussions or forums were arranged to immediately address the incident. “The strong sense I got after meeting with students Saturday night was that an immediate all campus gathering did not feel like the right thing,” Bolton said. “These incidents have really been different from each other along multiple dimensions,” Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass said. “Consequently, the way that the campus responds will continue to evolve as we experience these distressing events as a community, and as we find strength as a community.”
The administrative reaction to bias incidents is centered around support for the students most affected by the act. “The immediate responses that we’re responsible for span a whole range, from the initial communication from Campus Safety & Security to us, to the initial outreach to support the student who was most impacted and then the outreach to student groups and talking to other members of the community about what the larger response would be,” Bolton said. “That part all worked smoothly and quickly [this weekend].”
Security’s response to bias incidents involves protocol developed by the Bias Incident Response Task Force, a commission of students, faculty and staff designed to organize an institutional response to such episodes. “We have several duties in which we lead and/or participate,” Director of Security Dave Boyer said. “Some of which are: first response/scene evaluation, student safety and support, scene preservation and documentation, communications with senior administrators, notification to local and, as appropriate, federal law enforcement officials. We also engage in investigation of the incident immediately and over the long term.”
Though Security and the College have a defined strategy for addressing bias incidents, the response at large has to be determined on a case-by-case basis. “Unfortunately, you get better at these things the more frequently that you do them,” Klass said. “So the protocol piece continues to be refined and to work well.”
The College continues to rethink and adapt when appropriate its administrative reaction to bias incidents. “We are part of a larger society where these things still happen and, while we unfortunatly can’t expect to completely prevent these kinds of acts from occurring on our campus, we can certainly aspire to move beyond them as a community,” Klass said. “We can’t and shouldn’t prescribe a standard set of community reactions, but should create broadly supportive space for those most affected by the incident and should remain as flexibly encouraging as possible regarding the shape of community responses.”