Last Wednesday, Kaleido[scopes]: Diaspora Re-imagined published a letter, co-written by Ahmad Greene-Hayes ’16 and Cinnamon Williams ’16, addressing a variety of social and political issues relevant to the College community. Several of their concerns focused on the operations of the Record, and I want to publicly respond to those concerns. Although it is not the purpose of this letter to address the other issues that Greene-Hayes and Williams explore, I will say that I believe their letter communicates a number of important shared experiences that continue to be felt on this campus and require resolution.
That said, the statements they make about the Record misrepresent our organization. Greene-Hayes and Williams contend that our “features and perspectives consistently fail to represent or consider the perspectives of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, international students, students living in poverty or students committed to the eradication of oppression in any and all forms. Even further, The Williams Record rarely considers opposing views, of even the most controversial issues, on a campus as small as ours. When it does, responses are delivered in a belated and dismissive way.” To say that we rarely consider opposing views is false, and is not based in the reality of our day-to-day operations. As editor-in-chief, I stand by our content choices and our editorial pieces. Claims that we fail to represent a diversity of perspectives, and deliver belated and dismissive responses to controversial issues, need to be backed up by evidence. If readers have such evidence, I invite them to submit a letter to the editor or meet with me. The health of a student newspaper relies on the contributions of its students. The Record is not a monolith, and we want all students to have their voices heard in its pages. If you’re dissatisfied then get involved. Write an op-ed or a letter to the editor, apply to be a member of the editorial board or just drop by on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. to discuss your concerns. It’s as straightforward as that.
The rest of Greene-Hayes’ and Williams’ criticism focuses on a letter that we photographed and posted to our Facebook page. Before I address their statements, I’ll provide some background. Following the March announcement of Chance the Rapper as the headlining performer in this year’s spring concert, a series of community discussions were held that led an anonymous party to disseminate a flyer around campus entitled “PSA: Williams College Doesn’t Care about Black People.” We photographed the flyer and posted the photo to our Facebook page. Almost two weeks later, after subsequent community discussions, another anonymous party slid a letter in response to the flyer, addressed to the Record, under our office door. We photographed the letter as we found it and posted the photo to our Facebook page with the caption, “This morning, an editor found this note slipped under the Record office’s door. The note is referencing the ‘Williams College Doesn’t Care About Black People’ flyer distributed throughout Paresky two weeks ago, a response to the campus debate over the upcoming Chance the Rapper concert.” Two days later, another anonymous party taped a letter to our office door entitled “Response to a Bigot.” We again photographed the letter as we found it and posted the photo to our Facebook page. You may still find these photos on our Facebook page, and I encourage you to do so.
Before posting these photos, we discussed the implications of doing so and considered how best to do it. We do not publish anonymous letters or op-eds, so publishing the letters in the newspaper was never part of the discussion. In fact, we went to considerable lengths to clarify that the letters were not published submissions in our newspaper. To do so, we established a considerable degree of objective distance by photographing the letters where we discovered them and by making it clear in the captions that we only found them and had nothing to do with their production. We treated the letters in the same way we would have if they had been spray-painted on our door. Their appearances were news events, and it would have been irresponsible for us to ignore them. As such, I continue to be in support of our original decision-making.
Green-Hayes and Williams present a narrative of our journalistic practices that is divorced from the truth, writing, “The anonymous Record contributor from the week before Spring Break (we are acknowledging him/her/them as (a) contributor(s) because the Record, by transitive property, published a message of hate) encouraged students ‘of African descent’ to ‘know their place’ and to be satisfied with getting ‘80%’ as our white counterparts receive ‘100%.’” First, as established above, posting a photo of a letter is not the same as publishing one in our newspaper. When we do publish op-eds and letters, it is well established that the opinions of the writers are not necessarily the opinions of the Record. This is a universal practice among newspapers.
Furthermore, we do not consider writers in our opinions section to be among our contributors. Take a look at our opinions pages and you’ll find that writers there lack the titles that are present in other sections. Every writer for our other sections has a title, the lowest being “contributing writer.” Those writers are our contributors, not the people who submit op-eds or letters, because as contributors their work is vulnerable to any and all editing. This is a meaningful distinction, because we hold the work of our contributors to a completely different standard than op-eds or letters. Basically, Green-Hayes and Williams are saying that because we reported on the anonymous writer’s letter, that writer is automatically a “Record contributor,” and we “published a message of hate.”
I hope that this has served to clarify some of our practices. We take these sorts of accusations seriously because we value both our journalistic integrity and our responsibility to promote meaningful dialogue on campus.