College to create anti-racist task force

Gabe Miller and Julia Goldberg

President Maud S. Mandel and Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leticia S.E. Haynes ’99 will form an anti-racist task force to address race-based bias at the College, Mandel announced in a Nov. 10 all-campus email. More information regarding the task force — which will be composed of students, faculty, staff, and administrators — and plans to keep the campus informed about its work will be released later this semester, according to her email.

The College created the task force in response to recent bias incidents this semester and the College’s “longer lineage of problems with racism,” Mandel wrote. In October, a Town resident reported Confederate graffiti on the Soldiers Monument outside of Griffin Hall, and a staff member found a racist slur written on a chalkboard in Sawyer Library. In November, students discovered racial slurs scrawled on the dust of car windows in the Whitman Street parking lot. 

As Mandel and Haynes create the task force, they encourage community members to provide suggestions or feedback for its development. In her email, Mandel linked a contact form which allows community members to anonymously submit comments. Mandel told the Record that she will be able to provide more information regarding the task force after compiling feedback and solidifying the group’s purpose but that she had no further comment at the time of publication. Neither Haynes nor other representatives for the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion responded to Record requests for comment by the time of publication. 

Karla Cabrera ’25, a member of the Black Student Union (BSU) who expressed interest in joining the task force, said her first reaction to Mandel’s email was, “It’s about time.” 

“I’m glad that this is happening, but it should have happened after the first [incident],” she said.

The College’s response to the incidents of racial hate that have occurred on campus has been inadequate, Cabrera added. “It was left to Black students to take care of each other,” she said. “That was really intense.” 

Cabrera emphasized her desire to see the task force drive real action. “I definitely think Black students are willing to voice their concerns and their strifes, but I don’t think it would be fair to expect students to do that and then have the task force not accomplish anything,” she said. “What is the purpose of having Black students continuously relive their traumas … if they aren’t getting listened to?”

Co-Chair of the Minority Coalition (MinCo) Steering Committee Ollie Saleh ’24 said that MinCo plans on contacting the College to ensure at least one of its members is present on the task force. 

Saleh added that the language the College has used thus far is inadequate. “It is essential that we reframe our labeling of these recent events as not merely ‘bias incidents’ but [as] hate speech.” 

He also said that the College has failed to respond to what he characterized as a culture that emboldens those who perpetrate such incidents. “The goal of the task force should be to send a clear message to the community that Williams College has zero tolerance for hate speech,” Saleh said. “Whether it be expulsion or legal action, only the harshest and most decisive responses to the perpetrators can ensure that these disturbing events never occur again.”