Williams faculty, students, and staff,
Last week I sent an email sharing that some materials from the memorial in the first floor hallway of Hollander Hall had been moved by a faculty member. I explained that we were gathering information, and I now want to share what I’ve learned. I welcome the chance to hear from anyone else who was there and still wants to share their perspective.
As many people know, students and others had placed notes and objects in Hollander to demonstrate support for Assistant Professors Kai Green ’07 and Kim Love. In my first message I noted that Senior Staff and I had decided these materials weren’t impeding movement through Hollander and should be left undisturbed for a period of time. To clarify, we were aware the materials would eventually have to be moved due to their placement in the hallway. However, our plan was to allow them to remain until we could discuss long-term options with students.
While we were working to initiate that conversation, staff members responsible for campus and environmental safety, as well as Associate Professor Keith McPartland, the faculty chair of the building use committee responsible for Hollander Hall, exchanged calls about their shared concerns that the materials violated the fire code and posed a potential risk to people in the building. Professor McPartland, having clarified that they did violate both state law and campus policy, relocated the portion of the memorial that was on the floor, where it could have impeded evacuation or passage by people with disabilities. He moved it to a nearby location where students could reclaim it and didn’t disturb materials along the walls or in front of office doors. He also offered to help students reinstall the work in an alternative location that would be visible without creating an obstruction.
Students confronted him in Hollander and objected to any tampering with the memorial. People who were present report that the interaction was tense and emotional.
The following night, an unknown individual or individuals entered Hopkins Hall after hours, when the building was closed, and papered the outer doors of many office suites with flyers vilifying Professor McPartland by accusing him of extreme racism. I’ve been told these images are now also circulating on social media. This incendiary, offensive and damaging attack has no place at Williams. Senior Staff and I removed the Hopkins Hall flyers immediately on Friday morning. Flyers and materials that have been placed on and in front of Professor McPartland’s office door in Schapiro will also be removed. Williams is not as inclusive as it must become, but these acts have hurt our efforts.
I’ve had many conversations with people and groups concerned about the issues raised on our campus over the last few weeks: issues of identity, bias and racism in our college climate, and also of respect and basic humanity towards each other. Here are some of the steps that are happening as we move beyond individual meetings to community solutions:
Students who were stewarding the Hollander memorial have removed materials that violated the fire code and ADA. There are serious concerns about racism and other forms of bias on campus. We want students involved in addressing them and will work to find ways to do so, knowing that the process will require us to confront discomforting truths.
Starting the week of March 4, I’ll hold a series of small gatherings in my home where anyone concerned about campus climate and our support for faculty, students, and staff can communicate to me directly. We’ll continue to schedule such gatherings as long as there’s interest. People will be welcome to sign up individually or in groups. We’ll send a Daily Message later this week with instructions on how to do so.
With Senior Staff, faculty leaders, and others, I’m going to make sure all the takeaways from these and other conversations are imported directly into the college’s ongoing work on inclusion and into the strategic planning process.
Meanwhile, I’ve also begun talking with the Faculty Steering Committee, members of the student body, and other staff and faculty about ideas for a way forward. Individuals have been publicly maligned. Relationships have been strained or broken and now need to heal, so that we can all return to the work we have to do together. I include everyone in that mandate: Faculty, staff, students, and administrators all need to address issues within our discrete communities, as well as broader problems among constituencies and across our community as a whole.
This is a long message because the situation is complex and campus deserves as much information as I can provide. But it’s just a starting point. Each of us came to Williams to engage in a truly great learning community. We define that greatness by the reach of our intellectual ambitions and the openness and inclusivity of our culture. Such commitments are simple to express but hard to achieve. The actual work has tested our resolve and our bonds, and we’ll almost certainly be tested again in the future. But I also believe Williams has what it takes to persevere and transcend its challenges to become a better place. In fact, I believe we have to. I’m grateful I’ll be working toward that goal in partnership with all of you.