On active indifference: In response to a recent incident on campus

We write on behalf of the Junior Advisors (JAs) to the class of 2021 to address the act of vandalism that occurred last Thursday when one of our peers painted a swastika on the door of another student. This act was not a hate crime. It was an act of thoughtless negligence, but one that reflects active indifference toward a symbol of hatred and its effect on people on this campus. The goal of this piece is not to confirm, deny or proliferate the details of that night. We write to confront its broader implications in our community.

As JAs to the Class of 2021, we feel a responsibility to engage fully with the experience of being a Williams student. For the past few weeks, we have ushered in the year with First First Fridays, entry snacks and cheesy icebreakers. But our presence extends beyond common room hangouts – our role calls us to break the silence that has followed this incident. If we do not speak out, we are complicit in the apathy and acquiescence that exists in the wake of this act of symbolic violence.

Only one student this week chose to paint a swastika on another student’s door, but the incident reminds us that it is naïve to assume displays of hate can’t happen at the College. While this event does not reflect the culture of the College, and while the administration has condemned it in the strongest terms, we cannot rest here. What seems like an isolated incident, followed by a few murmurs and general apathy, indicates a widespread failure to care. 

First-year orientation every year includes a Davis Center discussion about creating a “culture of care” on campus and in the broader community. First Days may have ended, but these conversations did not and cannot. We need to talk about this incident and ones like it. We need to draw support from each other, we need to heal together and we need to care.

This incident provides a chance to remember and reflect upon our position not just within Williams College, but also Williamstown, the greater Berkshires, this country and the world. Every one of us lives and operates in a larger framework than just the purple bubble. The choices that we make during our time at the College are not actions in a vacuum. Rather, they mold our community members long after they leave it for the world beyond. In turn, here on campus, we are not immune to the challenges of the national political climate at large. We witnessed an outbreak of racist and anti-Semitic violence in Charlottesville, Va.; this upwelling of hatred and bigotry does not appear to be on its way out.

Caring is not easy. It requires time and emotional energy that many students don’t feel they have at the beginning of the semester. But no matter how busy we are, each of us interacts with and lives in this community. It only requires attention to fill the relationships in our lives with a little more compassion. When we have nothing to say, there is always something we can ask: not just to solicit information, but because we care about how our friends feel. We must make time to connect with each other in the wake of a crisis, no matter how isolated it may seem. If we fail to do so, we cease to exist as a community.

 Anna Ringuette is a chemistry major from West Bloomfield, Mich. She lives in Armstrong. Caleigh Forbes-Cockell is an economics major and Jewish studies concentrator from New York, N.Y. She lives in Mills. Kyle Walker is an economics and women’s, gender and sexuality studies double major from Indianapolis, Ind. She lives in Dennett. Erin Kennedy is a Music major from St. Paul, Minn. She lives in Mills.

  • Ironically, there seems to be little concern on campus regarding images drawn from Islamic or Communist sources, two causes which are responsible for contemporary violence on a daily basis. The Horns are celebrated on campus, and even have a building named after them, despite treating their Filipino au pairs like virtual slaves. It looks to me like there is an insensitivity among students and faculty to the full range of evil at the school.