The College is currently investigating two instances of vandalism in Paresky that occurred over Thanksgiving Break. On Saturday morning, Nov. 24, dining services reported to Campus Safety and Security (CSS) that ’82 Grill employees had found condiments and napkins strewn all over the Luetkemeyer Lounge in the basement. On Monday, Nov. 26, the Office of Student Life reported that a few chairs were broken and crude drawings and writing were left on the blackboard in the Williams Minority Coalition (MinCo) office on the second floor of Paresky. CSS believes that the incidents occurred on Friday and Saturday night, respectively.
CSS, with the aid of the Williamstown Police Department and staff at local high schools, is leading the investigation. It believes that a group of local high school students were responsible for both incidents; however, it has not yet identified the individuals. According to Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass, once CSS does identify them, the College will likely issue a no-trespass order. “That process consists of sending a letter to each person we identify in which we specify a time period during which, if they’re caught on college property, they’ll be identified as trespassing and arrested,” Klass said. The typical timeframe for the order is one year, after which these students can appeal it to resume access to the College’s campus.
The two incidents were similar in nature. “They both occurred over break when there was open access to the building and not a lot of people around,” Klass explained. “The damage in each area was similarly juvenile in nature – objects tossed on the ground, broken chairs, a crude picture on a blackboard, etc.” Moreover, both spaces were relatively accessible; the basement area outside ’82 Grill is an open space and MinCo co-presidents Rodsy Modhurima ’19 and Tyler Tsay ’19 noted that they generally leave the MinCo room unlocked, as it is often used independently by MinCo’s several constituent student groups. From these facts, the administration believe that the high school students were not looking for a particular office and that the events can best be characterized as “the making of disrespectful mess.” Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Leticia Haynes, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom and Klass authored an email to the student body on Friday, Nov. 30, that affirmed this message: “Given all that we know now, we are quite certain it was neither bias-oriented nor targeted.”
When students first learned of the vandalism, however, it was unclear whether it meant to target MinCo. Modhurima and Tsay were first informed of the Saturday vandalism on the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 28, by the Davis Center (DC). However, Tsay reflected that “important information about the vandalism – that the event wasn’t targeted, that there were other things going on in Paresky – was not adequately conveyed.”
Modhurima would not have been surprised if the vandalization were more targeted. “It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for there to be a hateful incident somewhere on campus – it happens every year,” she said. After learning of the vandalism on Wednesday afternoon, Tsay stopped by the CSS office on Thursday morning and learned then that the MinCo office incident was neither isolated nor targeted.
Yet, before learning of further details from Tsay’s visit to CSS or the Friday student-body email, several students were aware of the MinCo vandalism but not that it was devoid of hate speech and not isolated. Just after hearing from the DC on Wednesday afternoon, Modhurima and Tsay informed MinCo’s constituent student groups of what they had learned. Modhurima commented, “There were a lot of a rumors and a lot of people not feeling safe in the meantime.” A student created a Facebook post on Wednesday, suggesting that the administration had been withholding important information with ulterior motives. It was shared 13 times. The comments on the post included relevant accounts from a couple of students who were at the College over the break, as well from a Sawyer Library employee and an editor at a local newspaper, The Greylock Glass.
The administration apologized for the delay in communicating the incident to the Modhurima and Tsay in the Friday student-body email, remarking: “This was an unintentional delay, which may have led to theories about the timing and nature of the vandalism. … We apologize for any distress this caused to students who worried that this may have been a targeted act.”