Incomplete disclosures of hate incident investigations produce fear, division, and social damage

Luana Maroja and Michael Lewis

We write as a Mt. Greylock School parent and a Williamstown resident. It was with some relief that we learned about the resolution of the first reported high school Zoom-bombing incident of Jan. 21 (a second Zoom bomb took place on March 1, as we were writing this piece). That day, parties unknown crashed a Zoom classroom to play a rap song containing the “n-word.” The incident was promptly reported on by the Record — Racist Zoom attack at Mt. Greylock HS targets College employees’ child. Further, President Maud S. Mandel sent an open letter to the Williams community, pointing out that Williamstown is not immune to the ills of racism and offering assistance to educate students about racism. 

It was reassuring to learn that this was not a hate incident and that no white supremacists were involved. According to the investigation by Mt. Greylock, the perpetrators were themselves students of color who, the school claims, had no intention of causing harm. However, we are concerned that Mt. Greylock has not released the full results of its investigation. Important questions remain. How many students were involved? What were their motives? Was the “victim” a friend of the perpetrators? The school should disclose everything it found out, omitting only the students’ names. Nothing is to be gained by withholding the findings. 

We are particularly disappointed that Mt. Greylock, instead of calming fears by celebrating the outcome of the investigation, has used it to reemphasize that there is pervasive racism in our community. It acts as if anything that calls attention to racism is good, even if it is a falsehood. But there are psychological and societal costs to this sort of thinking. Such a crisis-framing narrative drives people to resignation and fatalism, and generates division and unreasonable fear in our communities. People may feel that they are never safe, that the community is unwelcoming, and even that it is dangerous to walk the streets. 

Bias and racism are real, and should be opposed, but we should also realize that not every event is proof of widespread racism. In fact, Black political scientist Wilfred Reilly demonstrates empirically in his Hate Crime Hoax: How the Left Is Selling a Fake Race War (2019) that a significant percentage of alleged hate crimes turn out to be, on investigation, not hate crimes at all. Rather, they are often “inside jobs” in which the perpetrators, for various reasons, pretend to attack their own group. This is why it is essential to give the retraction of every false hate incident the same publicity and attention that the original incident received. 

Williams has done this on three occasions: an incident in November 2012 involving an erased racial slur on a whiteboard in Mission, another in October 2015 the so-called “Taco 6” costume affair, and one in November 2016 when “AMKKK KILL” graffiti was found in Griffin. In each case, the administration communicated that its investigation had determined the event was not an act of hate. 

We hope that future and current investigations will be made fully transparent to the community so we can continue to work towards inclusion without accepting false narratives that sow division. 

Luana Maroja is an associate professor of biology. Michael Lewis is a professor of art history.