Yesterday, a statement included in Daily Messages announced that the mural in the Black Room at the Log was uncovered last Monday to “provide an opportunity for the campus community to view and consider it.” As Karen Merrill, chair of the history department, former dean of the College and head of the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History, said, “The goal of uncovering the mural now is to reopen the dialogue.” After removing the plywood, a timeline was also added to give relevant information on the history of the mural, hoping to provide some of the background the committee had acquired over the course of its research into its history.
On Dec. 1, the College community received an email from President Adam Falk addressing controversy over the mural at the Log. The mural in question depicts some British colonists, members of the Mohawk tribe, Ephraim Williams and Theyanoguin, known by colonists at the time as “Chief Hendrick.” He was one of the most notable Native American political leaders in the colonies on the eve of the French and Indian War.
In the email, Falk appointed the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History. This committee included Joe Cruz ’91, professor of philosophy, Katarzyna Pieprzak, professor and chair of Romance languages, David L. Smith, professor of English, Keli Gail, secretary of the college, Ferentz Lafargue, director of the Davis Center, Kevin Murphy, curator of American art at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), Rick Spalding, chaplain to the college and Leila Jere ’91, president of the Society of Alumni. These faculty and staff members were joined by three students selected in consultation with College Council and the Minority Coalition. The committee was tasked with going beyond the mural in question to address how matters of art, memorial and decoration depicting the past can contribute to the College’s history and inclusivity. In his email, Falk instructed that the mural “be temporarily covered while the committee considers the larger questions with which it is charged,” asserting, “covering it now is not intended to be a prejudgment – of any kind – of the committee’s eventual recommendations, which we anticipate in due course.”
After a well-attended, thought-provoking forum in December, three more students were added to the committee to better represent student interests and articulate a clearer and more diverse campus voice. “It has enhanced the process so much to have more students on the committee – they have all been tremendous and represent more points of view on the campus than there would’ve been if there had just been three,” Merrill said.
Over the course of the semester, the committee consulted Doug Kiel, professor of American studies, and Annie Valk, professor of history and associate director for public humanities through the Center for Leaning in Action. For most of its history, the Log was primarily an alumni space, and the committee has therefore received extensive input from alumni on the matter as well. It also conducted extensive research on the mural and the history of the Log, identifying three dates for careful examination: the date of the event being depicted (1755), the date it was painted (1942) and the date in which discussion is taking place (now).
A student-driven and student-led forum will be held on Sunday, April 24 at 7 p.m. in Goodrich Hall to determine the campus’s pulse on the issue. The committee will release its recommendations to President Falk by the end of the semester and will at the same time also make them available to the entire College community.