To President Maud Mandel:
We write today to reach out to you with our experiences and provide a longer history for the current conflicts within the Williams English Department. As alumni, we are deeply disappointed and frustrated by the College’s response to Professor Kent’s harassment of Professor Wang, not least because it is being treated as a single event rather than a part of a long-standing and larger pattern. We write in support of Professor Wang and in echo of the demands articulated by protesting students and the Coalition Against Racist Education Now (CARE Now), enumerated in the open letter delivered to you this spring. Furthermore, we urge for the broadcast of these events in alumni publications and Ephnotes, as they often go unacknowledged. It is this lack of institutional memory and publicity that perpetuates these harmful dynamics, despite their documentation (see Margolis v. Williams College, the 2015 open letter to the English department, and the aforementioned CARE Now letter).
Because of our experiences of race, class, and gender in this department, many of us feel conflicted and ashamed about claiming Williams College as our alma mater. Besides our own painful memories, stories circulate about the English program’s treatment of women, its treatment of Black scholars, its treatment of trans people. At our graduate institutions and places of employment, we encounter curious questions: “Williams College –– what’s happening there? What the hell is that department doing so wrong?” And accounts of warnings: “I’ve told my friends not to apply for work there. They can’t seem to keep their faculty of color, and those that leave tell revealing stories.” We have our own stories, too.
Racism and its outbursts are a norm in this department, not a singular incident. Misogyny, too. Women of color, and especially Black women, have been ill-treated by their colleagues: plagiarized, harassed, undervalued, mocked, driven out, and more. What’s worse, the abuses we have witnessed or experienced are wallpapered over and forgotten, due to the regular work that the department does to quiet those who complain about departmental culture and to keep controversies private, whispered about, off the record. Just as hurtful as the abuses themselves is that work of closing doors and ranks, a gesture that treated us as interlopers in our own place of study. Our stories have been regarded as individual, unconnected events; the department looks into them temporarily and quietly, but few consequences (punitive or restorative) ever come of these cases. Individualizing these stories merely scales down the incidents into isolated confrontations and de-centers the violent structures, namely racism and misogyny, which deeply inform these interactions. In fact, these incidents interlock and inform each other, even when the precedent goes uncited. Professors Wang and Kent discussing the departure of black faculty at the time of this incident shows us just how connected these issues are. There is no way to address one without acknowledging the other.
The College’s painful history of denial and erasure continues to shape our relationship to Williams, and we are increasingly aware that the College is gaining a reputation in its unwillingness to address its structural shortcomings. Even the former chair of English, Professor John Limon, admitted in 2015 that his department was “effectively a department of white literature.” This admission is reflected in tenuring practices and course catalogs, which together demonstrate that courses on non-white literature have been overwhelmingly taught by visiting and/or outside faculty (83% from 2000-2014). In its multi-decade pattern of failed searches, pre-tenure departures, and tenure denials, Williams English has consequently denied its students consistent access to and support in those areas of study.
Renowned cultural critic Roxane Gay recently wrote, “What on earth is going on at Williams? This is quite the pattern they’re developing.”
Such questions and anecdotes suggest that the broader academic and literary world has begun to take notice of this small English department and its track record with faculty and students of color. This dynamic affects not only the well-being of faculty, students, and campus, but also the College’s public reputation. We ask that you treat the recent harassment of Professor Wang seriously precisely because this outburst is not an exception, nor can we respond to it as such. It is, rather, a product and example of the department’s culture of closed doors, of treating issues that affect students, faculty, and public alike as private matters. We ask that you address these patterns of racism both personal and impersonal head-on by listening to the student body rather than treating them as angry children (too often the institutional response to allegations of racism and misogyny). We must address these issues together, and on the record, in order to make any substantial change possible or permanent.
Our role as alumni is partly to speak to the precedent and context for this outburst. But the College’s role cannot be limited to listening. We urge the College to hire three minority literature faculty in English. One of these hires should be a senior scholar. These steps would not only help alleviate some of the continuing problems within the department, but strengthen the department’s position academically. We believe in this work.
On the next page, find testimony that grounds our demands.
Bushra Ali ‘17Eman Ali ‘20Parmalier Arrington ‘15Eve Avery ‘16Amina Awad 18’Jacquelin Magby Baker ‘11Adrienne Banks '20Alison Bunis '16Jazmin Bramble ‘20Taylor BraswellSabine Chishty ‘12Ariel Chu ‘17Gina Chung ’12Mia Dana '18Toby Delgado ‘21Lauren Drago ‘12Elena Faverio ‘15Olivia Goodheart ‘18.5Kaya Gingras '16Jacques Guyon ‘17Erin Hanson '19Estefani Hernandez '19Wendy Hernández ‘20Mia Herring-Sampong '20Brady Hirsch '16Harry Hvdson ‘14Surabhi Iyer ‘21Jordan Jace ‘18Gabriella Kallas ‘16Chaewon Kim '16audrey koh '21Wilson Lam ‘21Logan Lawson '16Clara Lee '22Dong Joo Lee '20Kirsten Lee ’16Allen Lum ‘12kara lynch '90Crystal Ma '21Nicholas Madamidolaremy malik ‘16Brandon Mancilla ‘16Leonel Martínez ‘20Soraya Membreno ‘12Alejandra Mejía ‘17Camille Nance '21Paula Natalia Mejía '19.5Bertie Miller '18Zsanelle Morel ‘19Annie Moriondo ‘14Abigail Murray-Stark ‘22Abdullah Nasir '20Jamie Nichols '21Andres Villasmil Ocando ‘21Christopher Ochoa ‘20Lourdes Orlando '14Ashay Patel '18Jonathan Pekar ‘14Nohely Peraza ‘20Alyssa Perea ‘21Katherine Preston ‘16Bee Sachsse ‘18Soha SanchorawalaEllie Sherman ‘20Kayla Shore '16Kerry Swartz '19Suiyi Tang ‘20Jenny Tang ‘13Marco Vallejos '20Vidya Venkatesh ‘17Allen Wang '20Tony Wei Ling ‘16Mariah Widman ‘15Natalie Wilkinson ‘19Dawn Wu ‘18Jenna Yoo ‘20Emma York '19nb zhong '15
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