Williams College closed on Monday as a precaution for the members of their community after the scrawling of a racial slur — “All Niggers Must Die” — in a dormitory hallway. A student reported the incident to Campus Safety and Security (CSS) of Williams around 12:30 AM on Saturday. Not only were the Williamstown Police notified, but CSS also launched a college investigation.
In order to identify the perpetrator(s), residents of the dorm where the incident took place were interrogated about their activities. Additionally, students who swiped their cards for access to the dorm were also questioned.
In a press release to the Williams community, the Office of the President stated, “Since there is no excuse for behavior so offensive, hateful, and harmful — anywhere, but especially at Williams — we will continue to do all that we can to hold the perpetrator(s) accountable.”
This incident causes a continuation of the offensive vandalism that has occurred as Williams in the past few years. In February 2008, similar vandalism occurred in a freshman dorm. During the following academic year, obscene images were drawn on doors in student dorms.
“I was shocked,” said Rachel Durrant, a junior at Williams. “I was off-campus for the weekend, and when I returned … I was in utter disbelief. I always considered Williams to be a very open place, where people are free to be themselves. It’s upsetting to realize that not everyone agrees with this idea.”
On Saturday, around 50 students and other members of the college community marched to the Williamstown Police Station to ask for their involvement in the investigation of what they called a hate crime.
“A lot of people were terrified. I heard about one girl who was too scared to leave her room even to get food. Suddenly, Williams didn’t feel safe anymore. I think this insecurity also led people to seek out the help of the Williamstown Police,” said Durrant.
Several meetings and forums were formed for the student body to start discussion of the incident throughout the weekend.
On Monday, Williams conducted a series of events throughout the day, including an address to the Williams’ community by President Adam Falk.
“This was an attack on an entire community,” said Falk during the speech, a video of which was posted to YouTube. “It is our job now to respond to heal our community. We have to hold ourselves accountable for the quality of community that we have here.”
An open-mic forum was also among the Monday events, in which students shared traumatic experiences.
“These personal experiences shared ranged from stories about growing up in a racist setting, to being discriminated for not only being a certain race but also for having a disability, to being raped,” Durrant said. “A lot of people also talked about how we need to take advantage of this horrible situation, and start caring for and listening to the people around us.”
Balk participated in a number of these weekend events, recalling how enlightening the personal accounts were to attendees.
“I thought the administration made a good decision in choosing to cancel classes yesterday and in the events that were held,” said Durrant. “I just worry that this incident will eventually be pushed under the rug.”
Nicholas Fogel, Co-President of the Williams College Council, learned of the incident during the Amherst-Williams game. Since then, he has given two speeches and written an op-ed for The Williams Record on the incident.
“Schools like Williams and Amherst are not immune to prejudice and discrimination,” Fogel said. “The most important thing we as students can do is break the culture of silence that prevents us from listening to the stories of those who suffer on a daily basis,” said Fogel. “It is not enough for schools like Williams and Amherst to take pride in being more tolerant than a hate-filled world. We, as institutions that educate the leaders of tomorrow need to work to create a culture that can set an example for the world of today.”