On Oct. 1, Campus Safety and Security received a report from a student regarding a vandalized poster found in a service staircase in Paresky. The photograph on the poster, part of the “I Am Williams” campaign, is a portrait of an Arab Muslim student who had already graduated when the poster was found. The portrait’s eyes were gouged out, the throat was slit and a cross was etched onto the forehead.
Security immediately notified the Williamstown Police Department (WPD), as well as Dean Bolton, President Falk, Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass and the dean on call.
At 9:09 p.m., Falk and Bolton sent an all-campus email to students to notify them of “a defaced poster in Paresky.” They said that the poster of the Muslim graduate “had been defaced in a violent manner, including with what appears to be a cross on his face,” and said, “Horrific acts of this kind have no place on our campus and are profoundly incompatible with the fundamental values of our community.”
Chaplain Rick Spalding made himself available to speak with students in his office, and the dean on call was also available for students to contact throughout the evening.
Bolton sent another all-campus email last Friday morning, inviting students to show solidarity with the Muslim community at the College by attending Eid-al-Adha Saturday morning services, led by former Chaplain to the College, Bilal Ansari. Many non-Muslims attended the event.
Dave Boyer, director of Security, said that the College is working in tandem with WPD on the investigation of the incident. Because the investigation is ongoing, he could not reveal any details about how it is progressing. However, Boyer did say that the College has not yet determined how to classify the crime.
“Generally, an incident has to be thoroughly investigated before a determination can be made on how it’s classified as a crime,” Boyer said.
According to the Massachusetts Hate Crimes Reporting Act, passed in 1991, a hate crime is any criminal act coupled with behavior that shows the crime was motivated by bigotry or bias. Boyer said that he would soon be contacting the FBI regarding the classification of the incident.
“They were very helpful in previous incidents on campus – we have an ongoing relationship with them,” Boyer said.
The student body has received no further official communication regarding the crime, and was not notified in either email about the details of the defacement of the poster.
“At that very early stage of the investigation, it can be helpful not to have a complete description of what took place in the public domain,” Bolton said in an interview. “Sometimes information about what people know that is not yet public can be helpful in discerning whether someone was involved in the situation. The other reason was that we hadn’t talked to the alum who was involved yet, and we wanted to touch base with him first before more information that was more specific to him was made public.”
“There are a variety of kinds of updates that we can give to the community … I don’t think of that Wednesday email as the last word from us,” Bolton added.
The College notified a few students who were close to the student depicted in the poster before the all-campus email was sent, and held a preliminary discussion with them in Spalding’s office about their reactions and how they wanted to respond.
“We felt concerned about one another, more than for ourselves,” Firas Shannib ’15, a member of the Muslim Ephs, said. “I don’t think anyone felt overly fearful. It felt like a moment of strong community. People weren’t really afraid or angry … It was lovely to see everyone come together and make a show of support.”
Shannib added that Muslim Ephs are working with the deans and other student groups on plans for an all-campus discussion and “a campaign to unify the campus.”
“We want to stand with and support [the student] and bring the campus together,” Shannib said. “That’s the most important aspect. This can be framed in a way to divide or scare. We reacted in a way that was unifying, and we want to spread that unifying aspect to the wider campus. When a member of the Williams community is attacked, we all stand together to support him and his multiple identities. By defending him, we defend Williams itself.”
Cesar Roman ’15, president of the Interfaith Group, said he was concerned by the student body’s seemingly ambivalent response.
“We had a meeting on the subject of how we respond to violence,” Ronan said. “As the Interfaith Group, it was important to acknowledge violence and how it doesn’t have a place here … it’s a difficult question, a difficult conversation, and people don’t necessarily want to have those conversations.”
According to College Council (CC) co-president Erica Moszkowski ’15, CC will hold a “Community Matters” discussion this evening on the hate crime.
“This is about basic humanity,” Moszkowski said. “The whole idea of the ‘I am Williams’ campaign is that we are all unique and incredibly complex and fascinating individuals and we all belong here, and we can all claim Williams. This was a direct denial of that, and it should matter to every single person. So [CC] represents the entire student body and should do something active.”
The CC discussion will be open to any who wishes to attend.
“It’s really important to establish what’s okay for the Williams culture,” Moszkowski said. “The fact that it has been several days without meaningful discussion or meaningful reaction is unbelievable to me.”
Minority Coalition (MinCo) has also been discussing how they want to respond.
“Our aims are to empower affected individuals and to push for a restructuring of community standards,” Karen He ’15 and Fiona Dang ’15, co-presidents of MinCo, said in a joint statement. “We feel that as individuals of one shared community, we all have a personal stake in improving its quality, and we reprimand this act of discrimination against a student’s identity, agency and choice to showcase difference.”