Last Saturday, Williams College was confronted with a hate crime when graffiti reading "All N----rs Must Die" was discovered on the wall of a dormitory bathroom. In response to the event, Williams cancelled classes on Monday and a number of campus-wide discussions have occurred since. The episode recalls the bias incident that struck Bowdoin in March, when offensive graffiti was found scrawled on a white board outside a room in Coles Tower.
The response of administrative staff at Williams has been criticized by students who were frustrated with its hesitance to report the full details of the event, leaving students in the dark about the nature of the hate speech.
The Williams Record reported that an initial email from Williams President Adam Falk did not state exactly what the graffiti said, nor did it call the incident a hate crime or invite students to discuss the issue as a community. An email from the president providing further detail did not come until almost two days later. In the meantime, reported the Record, approximately 80 students marched to the Williamstown Police Department to file the incident as a hate crime.
When the bias incident was discovered in Coles Tower last year, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster sent a campus-wide email hours after the discovery identifying the message as "targeted hate speech" and inviting students to participate in an open discussion on the matter later that week. Not only did Foster include the exact text of the hate speech in his email, but he also attached a photograph of the message on the board.
The events at Williams have given us a new perspective on how colleges approach addressing hate speech, and we commend Foster and his staff for handling last year's incident in such a transparent, efficient and compassionate manner. The administration's candid and prompt response to the Coles Tower incident demonstrates the College's deep commitment to tolerance and reassures us of its preparedness to deal with bigotry head-on.
The experiences of Bowdoin and Williams in dealing with instances of hate speech should inform future actions taken to combat bias on college campuses, though we hope that such incidents are few and far between.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which is comprised of Nick Daniels, Carlo Davis, Sam Frizell, Linda Kinstler, and Zoe Lescaze.