Case Study

Hateful graffiti found on Williams College campus


In the fall of 2011, a phrase including a racial slur and suggesting a threat of violence was written on a Williams College building. The administration responded by canceling classes and athletic practices on the next school day and instead hosting an outdoor “community-wide gathering,” where Williams’s president, Adam Falk, spoke out against the incident and other forms of racism and discrimination. The gathering was attended by over a thousand students, who were able to discuss the incident and generate ideas on how to address on-campus hate in the future. A series of similar events, including a rally against hate, an open mic night, and a discussion of future steps that the administration should take, were held during the rest of the day. The next day, the Office of the President sent an email informing the campus community of the full facts of the case, the status of the investigation, and campus resources available to students.

PEN America Analysis

Williams administrators responded effectively and thoroughly to the racist incident on their campus, and administrators at other schools should take note. President Falk’s speech and subsequent email emphasized the malicious nature of the incident, directly condemned it, provided resources for the students affected, and outlined upcoming disciplinary steps and community-building events. Moreover, the administration took advantage of a teachable moment, utilizing creative methods and incorporating educational activities.

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