Administration formed the task force in response to several incidents conducted by unidentified individuals
Williams College in Massachusetts is creating a new “anti-racist task force” intended to address recent and older incidents on campus with anti-bias strategies and institutional change.
Maud Mandel, president of the elite liberal arts college, announced the creation of the task force in an email that also appeared as a news release on the college’s website November 10.
“We have had multiple incidents this semester involving racist words and phrases written on college or personal property on campus,” Mandel stated. “They also fit into a longer lineage of problems with racism here. Today I am writing with the intention of moving Williams beyond incident reports to try and address the underlying problem.”
The College Fix reached out to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression to ask how the Williams task force could safeguard civil liberties and avoid assigning guilt by group membership.
“The task force may be tempted to ban hateful or offensive speech—a prohibition that will harm marginalized groups by giving the university the power to punish minority voices,” Zachary Greenberg, FIRE senior program officer, wrote in an email to the The Fix on November 29.
Instead, “the task force should ensure its recommendations comport with Williams College’s commitment to protecting its students’ free speech and due process rights,” Greenberg said. “The task force should refrain from recommending punishment for expression protected by free speech standards, as defined by the First Amendment.”
No suspects in alleged racist incidents have been identified by the college or local news media
There have been no suspects publicly identified in the three alleged racist incidents that occurred this semester at the private institution, which charges $70,000 annually. The incidents include slurs scribbled in dust on cars.
For each of these incidents, Williams has not indicated whether a suspect had been identified, whether the perpetrator is believed to be affiliated with the college, and any possibility that it could be a hate-crime hoax.
The College Fix reached out to Mandel and the Williams media team to ask how the task force would address future incidents and how its efforts would differ from existing anti-discrimination policies.
A representative from Mandel’s office stated she has no further comment beyond what is in the announcement, and the media team said the same.
Mandel, as well as Leticia Hayne, vice president of institutional diversity, equity and inclusion, will lead the project. The Fix also contacted Hayne, but has not received a response.
“At a high level the group will propose strategies for confronting and addressing race-based bias,” Mandel wrote in her email.
“Later this semester we will publish a page with the formal charge and membership—which will include students, faculty, staff and administrators—as well as a plan of action, backed by a supporting plan for keeping campus informed of and engaged with the task force’s work.”
“We need to resist the ugliness,” Mandel continued. “Doing so will require analyzing social ills, imagining solutions and carrying out strategies for positive change.”
The announcement included a link to an anonymous contact form for Williams students to submit questions and comments regarding the task force.
Mandel stated 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,” according to a November 16 article in The Williams Record, the student newspaper.
The alleged racist incidents to which the president referred include three reports made in October and early November, one of graffiti on the college’s Griffin Hall’s Soldier’s Monument and two reports of of racist slurs written on a chalkboard and on car windows on campus.
Mandel addressed the campus in an October 10 email: “On Sunday morning, a Campus Safety officer, responding to a call from a local resident, found that the pedestal of the Soldiers Monument in front of Griffin Hall had been defaced with graffiti of a Confederate flag and the word ‘Rebel,’ each about 6 inches high.”
Campus security conducted an investigation with the support of the local Williamstown Police Department.
According to a November 1 article in The Williams Record, Writing Center director Julia Munemo found the “n-word” written in black marker on a chalkboard in the center’s meeting room.
Earlier this month, several students discovered the “n-word” and “similar offensive words and drawings” written in dust on six cars parked near the Center for Theater and Dance, The Williams Record reported.
Williams is ‘committed to furthering racial justice’
Ollie Saleh, co-chair of the Minority Coalition Steering Committee, told The Williams Record that 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.”
“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.”
The Fix reached out to Selah, but no response has been received.
Williams is “committed to furthering racial justice in the United States and abroad,” according to a statement from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Williams College defines “racial justice” as “the systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.”
Even more, “racial justice and equity is not achieved by the mere absence of racial discrimination or the perceived absence of harmful racial bias, but rather through deliberate action to dismantle problematic and build positively transformational systems – action must be carried through with the conviction, commitment and dedication of advocates,” according to the college.
IMAGE: Williams College/Facebook