Williams College is truly going the way of Evergreen State, and the trouble is happening today on three fronts. The College administration has lost control of the both the students and the faculty, and a student sit-in will happen this week. Here are the issues:
1.) Campus Security Officer pushes back against unfounded student complaints about university security. In a poignant letter addressed to students in the campus newspaper the Williams Record, Nancy MacCauley, a campus safety and security (CSS) officer, who happens to be black, has chastised the students for claiming that her office isn’t doing their job and is making the students unsafe. This comes from the customary accusations leveled against campus security and police when students feel they are victimized and unsafe. (My theory, which is mine, is that when students are unsettled, they blame the cops and campus security for their insecurities and grievances. Perhaps that’s because of the name “campus security.” ) In fact, as far as I know, Williams CSS is doing a good job and has not been found culpable of anything. (We see the same criticism of the campus police by students at the University of Chicago.) One of the student demands in the CARENow list (the list compiled by the Aggrieved, Offended, and Entitled Students) is this:
9. Fund a thorough external independent investigation into the practices and interactions CSS has with students, namely minority students.
Here’s part of MacCauley’s letter (my emphasis):
Dear Williams Students,
I see you, I hear you, I have helped many of you and I have been here for you. Therefore, I feel the need to share how disheartened I am about the recent article in the Record [JAC: I believe she’s referring to this article, which makes a lot of accusations against CSS but gives no specifics] and the negative perception about Campus Safety and Security. Not sure how this all happened, this change in perception. I have lived in Williamstown and walked on this campus since 1957. This college has brought me so much joy.
Since I was 10 years old, the students at this campus have had my attention. I witnessed the Hopkins Hall takeover. There have been so many new student faces, decades of history, and conversations which have always been about giving you the tools to change the future.
The allegations made against the men and women who work hard to keep you safe from yourselves and outside the purple bubble [JAC: Purple is the official college “color”.] saddens me deeply.
We didn’t ask to be a part of your struggle. You put us in it because it was easier to blame us. You didn’t work to make change in a productive manner that this college stands for. You fail to communicate.
I was raised, as a Black woman, to communicate my frustration and work for solutions. You choose to blame and not see it worthy to come to the table and meet us as people. You say, “why do I have to, we shouldn’t have to.”
I would suggest that you look at yourselves and history. Talk to those of us who have experienced racism, fear, struggles and injustice so that you can learn. It’s a journey. We’ve all taken it. . .
. . .Disappointed, saddened I am for you…
Campus Safety and Security
I’ve omitted some in the interest of conserving space. Note that MacCauley says “it was easier to blame us”, supporing my theory that campus security is somehow responsible for soothing sooth student anxiety. I have to add that MacCaulay is brave for doing this. Even though she’s an African-American woman, she’s now going to be demonized for telling the students that they are both wrong and overreacting. Her job might even be on the line. But she could hold her tongue no longer. Kudos to this woman (this information is on the CSS public page:
2.) Two English professors have a big public fight about racism. This is documented in both the article below, by the paper’s editors, as well as a letter in the newspaper from two students (Jamie Kasulis and Emily Zheng) who witnessed the altercation. The altercation involved a white English professor, Katie Kent, and a “woman of color” professor, Dorothy Wang, who is Asian. Once again it involves so-called “violent practices” and “structural racism” in the college. The fight broke out when Wang asked Kent if they were going to discuss these issues at a faculty meeting vis-à-vis another English professor, Kimberley Love, who took medical leave because of “structural racism”. The altercation is almost humorous in the extremity of the claims made, except this is not at all good publicity for Williams. From the article by the paper’s editors:
On April 17, two students saw Chair and Professor of English Katie Kent behave aggressively toward Professor of American Studies Dorothy Wang, a woman of color, in an approximately 15-minute verbal confrontation in Hollander Hall.
Wang, a former faculty affiliate in English, had approached Kent on her way to a departmental meeting to ask Kent if the meeting would discuss the recent leave of Assistant Professor of English Kimberly Love. Love had cited the College’s “violent practices” as a reason for her departure at the beginning of the spring semester. Wang had previously expressed concerns about the cancellation of recent English department meetings. For her, they were reflective of the department’s unwillingness to discuss what she sees as its longstanding history of hostility toward faculty of color (FoC) – a concern that had compelled Wang to disaffiliate from the department several weeks ago.
The two students who witnessed the event – Jamie Kasulis ’20 and Emily L. Zheng ’20 – have met with Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell and President of the College Maud Mandel about Kent’s behavior. The two have called for Kent’s resignation, citing her role in what they perceive to be issues of structural racism in the department. Kent wrote notes of apology to Wang, Kasulis and Zheng, but all three found the apologies insufficient and disingenuous.
The incident is then described for a second time in the same article:
According to Wang, Kasulis and Zheng, Kent reacted immediately and negatively, saying that sufficient conversations around Love had already been held.
“Professor Kent got immediately irritated,” Kasulis said. “She took a defensive posture. She raised her voice.” When Wang mentioned the particular relevance of Love’s departure for the English department, given Love’s critiques of feeling unsafe and unwelcome, Wang said that Kent responded, saying, “‘She was talking about the College, Dorothy. She wasn’t talking about the department; she was talking about the College.’”
For Wang, that statement was emblematic of what she sees as the English department’s continual inability to reconcile with its historical and present-day manifestations of racism.
Kent briefly left after making that statement, and Wang said to Kasulis, “This is why I disaffiliated from English.” Upon hearing Wang’s comment, according to Wang, Kasulis and Zheng, Kent immediately turned around and made an incensed statement closely resembling, “Are you talking shit about me to your students?”
“She was literally yelling in the hallway,” Kasulis said. At that point, Zheng, who had been listening from a chair across the hallway, walked up to Wang and Kasulis.
“I came over as soon as I heard her run back into the hallway and yell profanities,” Zheng said. “I didn’t really want to intrude … but I did so only after she started raising her voice, because that was alarming. I stood up because I couldn’t just sit there while she verbally attacked my friend and my professor.”
Zheng said Kent’s tone and physical posture made her fear for the safety of Wang and Kasulis.
If there were a National Enquirer for colleges, this would belong in it.
Kent is not going to resign: the dean asked her to write an apology and she did. I would love to have been a fly on that wall. The issue of Kimberly Love has already been settled—she’s taken paid medical leave for the semester—but Wang won’t let it rest. My best inquiries and investigations have not led me to find evidence for any structural racism in either the college or the department. In my view, this is an issue of unhinged faculty and of entitled students who want to be offended.
There’s a lot more in the article, but the upshot is that the students won’t accept Kent’s apology: they want her GONE. And the students are arguing that this yelling by professor Kent is an example of the “violence of the institution” and the “toxic culture” of the English Department. Meanwhile, the students are now going to have a sit-in about this. This should be interesting:
Students have organized a protest, “Love and Accountability: Occupy Hollander for FoC,” for Friday from 12:30–1:30 p.m., calling for recognition of what the organizers call “violent racism” in the College’s treatment of FoC [Faculty of Color]. Students have also invited the community to express gratitude and support for FoC, and have called for Mandel and administrators to address issues of racism at the College against people of color (PoC).
3.) Williams students refuse to recognize a pro-Israel student organization though they’ve already recognized a pro-Palestinian one. The college gives the pro-Israel group secondary status, probably without perks.
Meanwhile, as I reported a few days ago, the Williams College Council (the student governmental body) refused to recognize as a registered student organization (RSO) the group Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI), even though they had recognized the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as an RSO. As I said, this is manifestly unfair, constituting viewpoint discrimination. I also reported that President Maud Mandel made nice noises about approving the existence of WIFI, but didn’t demand that the students give it equal status to SJP. Mandel said this (my emphasis):
We’ve always expected the Council to follow its own processes and bylaws. I’m disappointed that that didn’t happen in this instance. College leaders have communicated to the organizers of Williams Initiative for Israel that the club can continue to exist and operate without being a CC-approved RSO. This is not a special exception. It’s an option that has been open to any student group operating within the college’s code of conduct. Even without CC approval, WIFI or any other non-CC organization can still access most services available to student groups, including use of college spaces for meetings and events. I see the communication of this fact to WIFI as a basic matter of fairness and people’s right to express diverse views. Differences over such views are legitimate grounds for debate, but not for exercising the power to approve or reject a student group.
Mandel’s tepid response has been called out by both The College Fix, which points out that the only guiding principle of WIFI is that Israel has a right to exist, and by The Algemeiner in the article below, which quotes a statement from the college rabbi:
Rabbi Seth Wax, Jewish chaplain at Williams College, told The Algemeiner on Thursday that while he is concerned about the CC’s decision, “by and large, it will not affect how the group functions.”
“WIFI organizers have been meeting with me, faculty, staff, and administrators since the decision last week,” he said. “Stakeholders at the college have made it abundantly clear that the club can exist without being an RSO, and I can assure you that it continues to do so.”
“The group can access almost any service available on campus, including campus spaces for meetings and events, even without RSO status,” Wax added.
He expressed particular gratitude to the college administration for supporting WIFI’s existence, and “viewing it as a matter of fairness and the students’ right to express their views.”
Gratitude to Mandel for allowing WIFI to exist, even with secondary status? This is like Jews in a ghetto licking the hand that gives them inferior rations. A group not recognized by the College Council, I’ve discovered, has no ability to request money from the College Council. Thanks for nothing, President Mandel, and thanks to you and Rabbi Wax for pretending that every group is equal (but some groups are more equal than others.)
I wrote Rabbi Wax (my letter is below the fold) politely expressing my dissatisfaction with his tepid words, but of course I haven’t heard back from him. The biggest issue is whether the second-class status conferred with sweet words by Mandel on WIFI denies them the financial support offered to registered student organizations like SJP. The College Fix reports that “Williams has not answered College Fix queries about what benefits are only available to ‘registered student organizations.'”
The pro-Israel organization Stand With Us wrote a strong letter to President Mandel, also protesting the unequal treatment of WIFI versus SJP, and saying that this hypocrisy violates Williams’s own non-discrimination policy, its code of conduct, and the Student Council’s own protocols. And they’re right. What Williams is tolerating here is discrimination against a pro-Israel organization in favor of a pro-Palestinian one. That’s in line with Authoritarian Leftist sentiments, but not with fundamental principles of justice, equality and decency. All groups should be treated equally.
Yet some students are objecting in the other direction: they don’t want WIFI recognized at all. The letter below from three students, which just appeared in the student paper, tries to justify why SJP is okay but WIFI is not. This straining at gnats is laughable:
Although it is the first time a club has been denied in years, it is also the first time someone has attempted to start a nationalist club. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organizes around issues related to Israel-Palestine; however, they are not interested in defending the interests of some hypothetical Palestinian state. [JAC: Hypothetical? That’s what SJP is pushing for!] Instead, SJP takes a human rights-based approach to the conflict; it is deeply troubling that WIFI could not commit to doing the same. It is this inability to take a human rights approach to the conflict that factored heavily into WIFI’s request for recognition being denied.
Clearly, Williams is melting down on multiple fronts, and everyone is to blame from the President and the administration, to the professors, and to the students, who are becoming unhinged and are not being reined in by faculty or administration.
If Williams doesn’t want its reputation to vanish the way Evergreen State’s has, they need to act now. President Mandel needs to stand up to unreasonable student demands and emphasize that there is no evidence for structural racism or violence at Williams. And if the administration finds no malfeasance on the part of Campus Security, they need to publicize that and tell the students to shut up about it (in nice words, of course). Finally, Williams needs to stop discriminating against the pro-Israel organization in favor of the pro-Palestinian one, and give them equal status and equal access to the perks allow for all registered student organizations. Unless the administration stops catering to this whining mob of entitled students, Williams will no longer be a place where parents will want to send their kids. After all, parents want their kids to get an education, not a course in grievance studies.
My letter to Rabbi Wax (of lesser interest) is below the fold:
My unanswered letter to Rabbi Wax (something tells me it might be answered if it gets some publicity):
Dear Rabbi Wax,
As a secular Jew, I’ve been following the WIFI controversy at Williams for the past couple of weeks, and was distressed to see that the College Council voted to deny that organization status as a registered student organization. This was particularly invidious in view of the fact that Students for Justice in Palestine, which I find viciously anti-Israel if not anti-Semitic, has already gained RSO status. There is no good reason why SJP should have registered status while WIFI does not. This is palpably a case of viewpoint discrimination, something prohibited by the First Amendment in public universities. (Williams should follow these guidelines as well.)
This double standard was recognized by President Mandel, who is allowing WIFI to coexist and use student facilities while not calling for the students to grant the organization its proper status. I’m not sure if she has that power, but she should certainly be calling for WIFI to have the same status as SJP.
I read in an article in Algemeiner that you had been somewhat of an apologist for how the WIFI affair has been handled, saying that it’s basically okay for the organization to exist without being an RSO, as they still have access to campus facilities. (I’m not sure, though, whether they have been denied the funds allotted to other RSOs.)
And while you’ve expressed gratitude to the administration for “supporting WIFI’s existence,” I’m not sure if you’ve been critical of the College Council for denying the organization RSO status.
Although I’m not a religious Jew, I am deeply concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in Western countries and on college campuses. I think it’s incumbent on all of us to fight the fulminating anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tendencies of colleges, particularly among the students. While I appreciate your position and need to get along with the students, I can only say that I wished you had spoken up more strongly against this odious infringement on student rights, which clearly reflect anti-Semitic tendencies.
If you have spoken up strongly against WIFI’s disenfranchisement, and I haven’t seen that, my apologies. But what I see in Williams is an increasing growth of the brand of extremist Leftism that demonizes Jews and Israel while at the same time extolling a regime in Palestine that is far less liberal and far more oppressive of human rights. I would hope that the Jewish community at Williams would stick up for its own, and fight hard against the kind of sentiments demonstrated by the College Council.
Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago