Editorial: The College must provide more support for students in wake of three bias incidents

Editorial Board

In the first 54 days of 2022, the College community has witnessed three different bias incidents. On Jan. 4, a student tabling in Paresky to spread awareness about the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims returned from a break to find his family heirloom eagles missing and his Tibetan flag on the floor. On Feb. 12, two students watched three young men yell anti-Black slurs outside the First Congregational Church before entering the Paresky Center and swearing at the students for following them into their own student center. On Feb. 15, a College library employee found antisemitic and racist flyers in a section of Sawyer Library containing books about German history from 1933-1945. 

Each of these incidents is unique and horrifying in its own way and highlights the many forms of hatred and marginalization that students encounter at Williams. However, these three recent incidents share one key element: None have prompted a public response from the College or communication about the resources available to students who may need support.

We understand the College is limited in the information it may share regarding ongoing investigations, and we recognize that the perpetrators of these recent incidents have yet to be identified. However, institutional support and resources must serve the community immediately, and cannot wait until weeks or months after a hurtful event has occurred or until an investigation has closed. Community members are suffering from the pain of these incidents — and not just the students who directly witnessed the events. Students whose identities were targeted in these incidents deserve answers and support from the College, now. There is no excuse for leaving the College community in the dark. 

In October 2020, President Mandel emailed the community to inform us of a hateful letter sent to an unnamed staff member at their home. The campus community’s awareness of this letter prompted a Record investigation into the incident, which featured an anonymous interview with the staff member who received the letter. “I know that I have a right to exist, to live, to breathe, to feel, to move, and when I say to move I mean to move and to groove with the authority of being beautifully me, and to be Black, proud and gay and queer, and to be unexceptionally and unapologetically me, and I won’t allow anybody to take that from me,” they told the Record in 2020. 

The email and subsequent interview from October 2020 show what we seek to illustrate — that powerful messages can be sent to those who seek to perpetuate hate and bigotry — but this reckoning is best facilitated with an institutional message to the campus community.

When such incidents occur, as they did on Jan. 4, Feb. 12, and Feb. 15, the process of reporting them is unnecessarily confusing and the subsequent institutional investigations are opaque. When an incident occurs, it’s not obvious which administrative bodies need to be alerted, and what warrants the filing of an incident report with Campus Safety Services (CSS) or a bias incident report with the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (OIDEI). Even once a report is submitted to CSS or OIDEI, the trajectory of the investigation is unclear to the individual who filed the report. 

Topjor Tsultrim ’22, the student who reported the Jan. 4 bias incident, spoke to this issue in the Record’s recent coverage of the event. “The work has exclusively fallen upon the afflicted parties in our search for justice,” he said. “And at almost no turn along the way have we felt any sort of outside support.”

We can’t help but wonder — how many other similar incidents have occurred without our knowledge? Other incidents might not have received institutional attention or Record coverage simply because the steps to reporting them were labyrinthine and inaccessible to those that experienced or witnessed them. Even if reported, when the contents of bias incident reports are filed away and hidden from the community, how can we begin the essential process of learning about the event, reckoning with its implications, and healing the damage it has caused? 

The College promises to support students who have felt targeted in any way. However, it must first focus on building transparency and accessibility into the reporting process.

The College should also create space for students to gather, talk, and process the incidents together in a move towards community healing. This is not unprecedented; after racist and antisemitic flyers were found in Sawyer in 2018 (similar to the ones found on Feb. 15, 2022), the Davis Center sent an all-campus email inviting the College community to gather in Jenness House to process the event.

Even while some of these incidents’ perpetrators may not belong to the College community, they regardless leave students reeling from hurt, fear, and insecurity in what is supposed to be a safe space to learn and grow. While the College does not control the hate responsible for this hurt, it can control its institutional response when such harm is inflicted. 

This editorial represents the opinion of the majority of the Record editorial board. Executive editor Iman Shumburo ’24, who witnessed the Feb. 12 incident, did not participate in any part of the writing of this editorial.