Last Thursday, College Council (CC) and the Minority Coalition held a Community Matters about the recent hate crime on campus, in which an “I Am Williams” poster of a Muslim alumnus was violently defaced. The discussion centered on the crime, the student and administrative response and potential action in the future.
The Community Matters leaders started the meeting and then opened up the room for discussion. Student comments focused on how the current crime fits into the larger context of past hate crimes at the College and points to the possibility of a pathological problem.
“Something like this happens,” one student said. “We’re shocked. We talk about it. Then it happens again.”
Several seniors recollected the hate crime from their first year at the College. In this case, someone wrote a slur and a threat targeting African Americans on a bathroom wall in Prospect. In response, the College canceled classes the following day and students organized a march around campus.
Seniors and juniors also recalled a hate crime two years ago that targeted Latino students. Many students expressed frustration about the reoccurrence of these crimes, and were upset at the lack of student response to the most recent act. Many felt fellow students had become desensitized to such hate crimes, and simply ignored or did not read the email because it was just another message in their inbox.
One student explained that every time a hate crime occurs on campus students, especially first-years, are shocked: “There is a disparity between the Williams on the website and the Williams that has a hate crime very year.”
Several students wondered whether the administrative response, including an all school email and the police report, was beneficial or harmful. The students voiced concerns that the email did not elicit an emotional response from most students, but instead made students feel as if the hate crime was handled with just another routine college procedure. some felt as though the severity of the crime was played down and relevant, disturbing details were ommitted on purpose. Those in attendance offered suggestions as to how to improve attitudes on campus. Ultimately, however, some students seemed to indicate that it was better to protect those that feel unsafe as a result of the incident than to attempt to get everyone to share their outrage over the defacement of the poster.
“Its most important to support the people [who feel unsafe] first,” one student said.
“One suggestion that arose was that if professors feel that they are prepared to have short conversations about these issues at the beginning of class, they should do that, because classes are built-in communities for the whole school,” Emily Dzieciatko, CC co-president, said.
“People decided that these conversations should happen more organically than in, for instance, a big forum on Paresky steps. Students wanted to see a response from people they see as authority figures, like professors,” Erica Moszkowski, CC co-president, said.
The meeting concluded on a hopeful note: several students offered ideas about how this incident might wake up the community. Although a terrible crime, one student argued, the defacing of the poster in Paresky could encourage other students to become allies for those who still feel unsafe in the College community.