WE ARE CALLING ON THE STUDENTS OF WILLIAMS COLLEGE TO BOYCOTT THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT.
In the face of yet another incident of the N-word being uttered by tenured, white English professors (in a creative nonfiction course, in a poetry class, in a criticism class, the list goes on)...
In the face of an exodus by faculty of color...
In the face YEAR after YEAR of casual and formal racism against faculty and students of color; of treating literatures of color as "second class"; of failed searches for professors of ethnic literature; of formal and informal complaints with NO MEASURES OF ACCOUNTABILITY...
WE SAY NO MORE.
The English Department has a long, well-documented, disturbing history of racism, sexism, transphobia, and other violences. We -- "we" as in not just the authors of this particular page, but generations of Williams students and faculty -- have petitioned for accountability, justice, and meaningful change for decades. Past administrations as well as the current administration under President Mandel have consistently failed to take meaningful action. We're not asking for a committee to talk about talking about these issues. We're asking for real structural change and redress NOW.
Did you know that the English Department has never tenured someone in an ethnic literature position?* Did you know that there have been multiple incidents of English professors saying racial slurs such as the n-word in classes (in recent history)? Did you know that the current Chair of the English department verbally abused a faculty person of color last semester and received no disciplinary measures from the administration? Did you know that racism and sexism in the English Department have inspired two open letters by students/alums in the last four years?
As such, we have no choice but to call for an indefinite boycott of all English Department classes (ENGL) that do not engage substantially with race. A token assignment of ethnic literature in an otherwise whitewashed syllabus is not enough. Refusing to enroll in English classes is one way that we can create the pressures necessary to promote change.
WE NEED ACCOUNTABILITY.
WE NEED CURRICULAR REDRESS.
WE DESERVE MORE.* This means that no one has ever been tenured specifically to teach Ethnic Literature at Williams.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
We are so excited about several classes being taught in the upcoming semester which are cross-listed in ENGL and engage critically with minority issues. We hope students will enroll in these classes, using their cross-listed titles if possible.*** This boycott is aimed at all other ENGL courses.
We, the undersigned students of Williams College, pledge to an indefinite boycott of all English classes that do not take seriously the matter of race – that is, those classes which do not include more than a token discussion of race and more than a token number of writers of color. If I am registered for any such English classes, I will unregister as soon as possible. The following are my demands.
We are receiving an inadequate education from the English Department that not only hinders our learning but also enables the Department’s racist culture. We are undergoing this boycott to create the pressure necessary to force the Department, and the Administration, to take these issues seriously and to redress past and current harm with urgency. We will not end the boycott until each of the following demands are met:
1. We demand a faculty search for a senior faculty specializing in Ethnic Literature (African American, Native American, Latinx, Asian American) from outside Williams College to chair the English Department.
It is unacceptable that Professor Kent still holds the position of English Department Chair after her actions and lack of personal accountability. During her tenure as Chair, she has constantly evaded questions of racist violence within the Department; publicly harassed a senior faculty person of color; and failed to hold herself or her Department accountable for its harmful actions. The English Department needs a Chair that will take seriously the need to dismantle its racist culture and redress its harms. We are calling for a faculty search for a senior faculty specializing in Ethnic Literature to be hired into the Chair position. No such person is currently available for the Chair position at Williams College, and so this search should look for candidates outside of the College. This search should start by the beginning of the Fall 2019 academic semester.
2. We demand that the Department immediately run a search for four new faculty tenure-track hires– one in African American literature, one in Latinx literature, one in Native American literature, and one in Asian American literature.
We begin with this fact: there are no tenured faculty in English who were hired into an ethnic literature position. As such, the College’s coverage of ethnic literary studies is currently in a weak and tenuous position. This curricular deficiency has many harmful effects. For one, it places Williams College well behind its peer institutions and creates an incomplete and inadequate education in English for Williams students. But more importantly, it directly perpetuates racist hierarchies in the study of literature and in the lives of the students who study it. Because both of these consequences are largely harmful for the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of both faculty and students of color, it is crucial that the College take a firm stance on amending the English curriculum by not only hiring scholars of ethnic literature, but tenuring them as well.
3. We demand that there be an external investigation of the English Department.
An external investigation of the English Department is necessary to uncover its problematic history and provide recommendations for structural changes in the Department. This demand is not novel— the Art Department has been subject to a similar external review as a result of claims of racism within the department. A similar investigation into the English Department will also produce actionable recommendations to make the Department a safe and more equitable space for all students and faculty.
*** Classes which have been reported to include serious treatment of race and ethnic literature include:
A BRIEF HISTORY
(Content Warnings: racism, transphobia, sexual violence, + more)
PART I: THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT
Collected over the course of two years and closely corroborated across multiple sources, these are a scattering of data, information, and incidents that have occurred with the English Department over the years. Overall, this section documents the English Department's issues with race and diversity.
As a discipline, English achieves its rarified status due directly to the legacy of the British Empire. For much of the discipline's history, there has existed both a formal and informal hierarchy between what is considered "Proper" English (that is to say, British and American literature) and "Other" Englishes (postcolonial, non-white English literatures). In both the hiring practices, curricular models, and major requirements of the Williams ENGL Department, we see the continuance of this colonial legacy, whereby the principles of white superiority are raised, at the cost of non-white literatures, peoples, and fields of study.
A Statistical Summary (2000 - 2014)
The study of literatures of peoples of color effectively have second-class status in the department, as evidenced by the staffing record—a revolving door of failed searches, pretenure departures, and tenure denials.
A clear dividing line can be drawn at tenure—since 2000, 31 faculty have taught in ethnic literature in English, of which 12 came from outside the department, 13 were visitors, 4 did not reach tenure (2 of whom were denied). Only 1 has tenure, having received it in the 1980s.
It's important to note that though Professor DL Smith now teaches African American literature, he was not hired into an African American literature position and was not tenured in an African American literature position.
Williams has played temporary host to numerous scholars whose subsequent reputations placed them at the top of the field (Robert Stepto, Melvin Dixon, Wahneema Lubiano, Rafia Zafar), as well as other emerging stars and talented individuals who have found homes at institutions with which Williams should be competitive in hiring.
The department’s record of tenuring faculty of color is not significantly better than its record with regard to curricular diversity.
Given the department’s difficulties with diversity, particularly with respect to failed searches, pretenure departures, and tenure denial, the College reallocated positions in Africana, Asian American, and Latina/o literatures and cultures to programs, thereby establishing a successful precedent for redressing these problems by transferring the authority to evaluate junior and prospective faculty in these areas from the department.
Collected examples of the kinds of violence faced by Faculty of Color:
Since 2014, there have been no faculty hired in Latinx Literature by the ENGL Department since a former Latinx Professor was denied tenure, and there has never been a faculty hired in Native American or Asian American Literature in the ENGL Department.
Aforementioned Latinx Professor, a specialist in Latinx literature, was reportedly denied tenure at an unknown time (2002-3). Other sources state that her denial of tenure was tied to very ethically questionable practices by the Department regarding her personal life.
In 2010, a Professor of Africana Studies resigned from the college as an assistant professor of Africana Studies. He noted in his resignation letter that the marginalization of interdisciplinary programs as “second-class” to departments was a primary reason for his departure; though he does not name ENGL in his letter, his courses were in African American Literature (his specialty). These courses were often co-opted by the English Department to contribute to its curriculum without creating lasting or permanent change amongst the ENGL curriculum in itself.
A WoC Professor tenured in SY 2017-18. However, her line was dedicated to World Literature, not minority literature, maintaining the English Department’s refusal to include minority literature as critical to its curriculum. [It's important to note that "world literature" or "comparative literature" or "global Anglophone" are often categories used as a way of sidestepping the question of minority literature. Minority literature from the colonial center (US & UK) are distinct from postcolonial literature or foreign literatures translated into English. However, all three are commonly conflated as "non-white English" and sidelined as "second class" English literatures.]
During the 2016 ENGL search process for an African Americanist, a candidate gave a talk in which one of the quotes had the N-word. This candidate was careful not to say the word out loud, but a senior white ENGL Professor, currently at the College, is reported to have repeatedly and aggressively used the N-word and tried to provoke the candidate (“It says N---!” he said, repeatedly). This incident has never been addressed, either in the moment, or after. The administration has never publicly addressed the incident. This candidate turned down the tenure-track offer. The search that year failed.
A MoC Professor, a specialist in African American literature and an Asian Americanist, was also denied tenure in 2016. When this professor was originally hired in 2007, he was hired in conjunction with a WoC Professor who was offered a 3-year position split between ENGL and AMST; her specialty is also in Asian American Studies and Cultural Studies. However, as soon as they arrived, the WoC Professor was soon pushed more entirely into American Studies. During the tenure process, the MoC Professor noted that the low attendance of his courses (which was brought up in his tenure case in 2016) was due to the fact that minority students were suspicious of ENGL courses in minority literature and generally stayed away. When he tried to include documents about the English Department’s racist history in his appeal of tenure, he was not permitted to include these documents.
Drs. Love and Green, two junior faculty specializing in Black Studies and Trans Studies, arrive on campus to teach in the ENGL Department on tenure-track positions. In January, Drs. Love and Green publish an op-ed in the FEMINIST WIRE (see below) revealing the extraordinary measures of anti-Blackness and transphobia that they have experienced, together and individually at the College. They withdraw from spring semester. A powerful student-run campaign, part of CareNOW, ensues.
Student support of Drs. Love and Green, organized by CareNOW, takes form as a memorial in Hollander Hall, a petition, and a March for Love and Peace. However, the memorial is removed by Prof. Keith McPartland (Philosophy).
In spring of 2019, Professor Dorothy Wang disaffiliated from both CompLit and ENGL due to racist treatment towards her by both departments. Later on, when Wang mentioned whether the ENGL department was going to discuss Love’s departure in passing to Professor Kathryn Kent, Kent screamed and cursed at her in front of two students (see below and here).
On the evening before a planned student protest in response to Prof. Kent’s mistreatment of Prof. Wang, President Maude Mandel sent an all faculty email supporting Kathryn Kent and voicing a concern for speech that threatens to create a “hostile environment."
Over 300 students, artists, and faculty across the country sign an open letter in support of Prof. Dorothy Wang (organized by Prof. John Keene and Roberto Tejada; see below), calling on the College to respond to “the climate of adversity at Williams College for faculty of color (FoC) and the students they mentor, particularly students of color.” Over 80 students and alums sign a parallel student letter, which includes examples of students’ personal experience of racism in the English department, and testimonies of racism and sexism that they witnessed. The administration has yet to respond to either letter.
It is incredibly difficult to speak truth to power in the face of a powerful institution like the ENGL Department. To protect the personal and professional wellbeing of the aforementioned faculty of color, we have chosen to omit their names unless their cases have already been made public. We do not presume to speak "for" aforementioned faculty of color, but note their experiences and hold them seriously. All incidents have either been directly told to us, publicly witnessed, and/or cross-referenced between several sources.
PART II: FACULTY OF COLOR IN 2019
Given the large number of faculty of color leaving in 2019, it is important to share the following information.
The following professors of color have recently left the College or will be leaving at the end of 2019:
Shanti Singham (retired), Kenda Mutongi (moving to MIT), Anjuli Raza-Kolb (moving to University of Toronto), Joy James (on personal leave), Nimu Njoya (on leave Spring 2020), Kai Green (“violent practices,” returned in SY 2019-20), Kimberly Love (“violent practices,” returned in SY 2019-20), Rhon Manigault-Bryant (on leave), James Manigault-Bryant (on leave), Kasumi Yamamoto (on sabbatical), Jinhwa Chang (received offer at Mount Holyoke College), Mamoru Hatakeyama (received offer at a university in Canada), Mérida Rúa (moving to Northwestern), Amal Eqeiq (on sabbatical), Lama Nassif (on sabbatical), Man He (on sabbatical).
In total, this represents 16 professors of color in Div 1 and 2 who are leaving or have left the College by the end of SY 2019-20. Please note that this may be an even lower number than the true number of professors of color who are leaving this year.
From the data in TABLE 1, this represents a departure of 28% of the faculty of color in Div 1 and 2 (16 out of 57 total faculty of color in Div 1 and 2).
All data was collected from the OIDE and individual help from professorial sources. For the large part, in the collection of this data, the Dean of Faculty’s Office and the OIDE were extremely resistant to releasing racial breakdown information by division due to identifying factors; they eventually sent this information under confidentiality of certain information that we are not allowed to produce. As a general principle, it is entirely unclear how the College compiles its "diversity statistics," and access to specific statistics of race, gender, and class are almost impossible to obtain under the College's privacy measures.
From TABLE 2, please note that there are a large number of junior faculty of color on campus awaiting tenure review process; the next few years will be critical to retention of tenured faculty of color.
TABLE 1: Growth of Faculty of Color in Div 1 and Div 2 ; TABLE 2: Tenure Rate of Faculty of Color in Div 1 and 2
Departures en masse likely indicate the ways in which the College is a hostile environment for faculty of color. Faculty of color also often end up being key mentors for students of color and act as key support systems for these students' survival (even though they shouldn't have to!). Thus, their departure en masse also presents significant challenges to students of color.
OPEN LETTER 2015
An Open Letter to the Williams College English Department
Or, Uncomfortable Learning at Williams
To Whom It May Concern and to Those Who Think It Doesn’t:
We are writing to you today to describe some of our experiences as English students at this College, specifically as women of color. We’ve noticed some similar trends among our experiences in the department across our different trajectories through the program in English here. It seems best to talk to you directly, as our professors, our mentors, and our counselors. We’ve already talked about these encounters with some of you, but after a recent surge in such incidents, we felt it was time to bring our concerns to the department as a whole. We do not present this account as an open question, or as a collective journal entry, but rather as a reflection on the growing number of incidents that the department routinely dismisses and suppresses.
We have found ourselves in your classrooms, your offices, your homes, your lectures, being asked to engage only in ways of reading that – whatever their tangential or direct claims to feminism or anti-racism – expect we will eventually yield the stance of critique. It is no longer cutting edge or radical to merely mention race or gender in class. Talking about race and gender without an underlying understanding of the ways that these issues inflect the classroom at the very moment of their verbalization is not anti-racist or feminist work. The particulars of sexual or racial violence are not only textual details but also the lived experiences of the students that sit right before you. So when you throw around racial epithets casually, or joke about PTSD and gang-rape, you create an academic environment that dissuades us from speaking.
Moreover, what is (in the best case scenario) a non-committal feminism and anti-racism in your classroom only reinforces for other students the idea that classroom conversation is automatically egalitarian, representative. Deploying the language of these frameworks to scandalize, titillate, or placate students is disrespectful to the vocabulary of struggles against oppression. In truth your terms of engagement require us never to contest your racist or misogynist teaching practices. When we do object, you often suppress those critiques by suggesting they are necessarily subjective and not critically rigorous, that we are guilty of poor scholarship. You think we are “getting offended” by the material and not the method. At best, you tell us you are sorry and then do the same thing, again and again.
“You misunderstand. ‘Sweetheart’ isn’t a diminutive, it’s a gesture of solidarity. I call my male students ‘brother’ because that word’s been deracialized, whereas ‘sister’ hasn’t.
Sweetheart, sweetie, dear... I say these things because I respect you.“
We understand all too well how our grievances have been explained as our own misunderstanding. We understand too that there can be a gap between what you intended to do and what you’ve done. But this is a department populated by professors who ask us to re-read their behavior as well-intentioned or well-thought out pedagogical strategies. You tell us that we have misinterpreted, misrepresented what you have taught, even as you willfully misunderstand and misquote our criticisms.
This is not about offense. But it is convenient to say that it is. You are already in the habit of shifting over to language of offense and insensitivity; you say, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended,” but rarely are you sorry for what you did. You address us as though the issue at hand is our emotional reaction rather than your behavior. You insinuate that the real problem is our sensitivity, imagining in us some naive desire to be “protected” from harsh “realities.”
In a class hailed as a cornerstone of the department: “It’s shocking and comical –
see here’s this hooker being intelligent and educated and well-spoken,
and it’s supposed to be a comical moment because what prostitute can talk like this?”
We are not arguing for a policed classroom. We are not trying to police your classrooms. We are demanding that you examine and then dismantle the academic environments you’ve created or allowed to be made. The existing discussion spaces are not just hostile but also uninteresting – you too often frame material such that we can’t address sexual or racial violence in meaningful and ethical ways. When you pretend that we are trying to police you, that we are the ones who set the agendas for discussion, it only distracts yourself and your students from the truth: you are the ones who wield power in the classroom. You police what can be said and who can speak.
Respect for your students and critical thinking are not at odds with each other. Again, this is not about language; this is not about offense; this is about the actual intellectual work being passed off as legitimate. This is not only a pedagogical problem, but an ethical failing of the department to approach its students as complex learners, thinkers, and people. You make the work that we want to do impossible by encroaching on our physical space, by looming over us, by throwing off our criticisms and simultaneously retreating into the comfort of your authority.
By centering interpretive authority outside our grasp, you make classroom conversation contingent on relegating our insights to the periphery of analysis. Our readings are treated as detours from the real work of interpretation, interrupting the flow of analysis with personal rather than academic concerns. You may have us speak, but only when called upon to add the “complication.” Though you might graciously allow us to put forward other readings that contest your own, ours is never the first or most legitimate. Our analyses can only be after, only secondary, only in response to; they cannot set (or reset) the terms of engagement.
At my professor’s house: “I mean it’s funny, right? Acapella rapists, can you imagine?
Them going, ‘Hold her down.’ ”
It is not a failure on our part when we disappear from your classrooms, or fall silent. It is not simply out of cowardice that your students choose not to engage you, to challenge you in or after class; in fact your students are often most political and prescient when they choose not to do so. But we refuse to be forced out of our classrooms by misogyny and racism any longer.
Pedagogy in this department needs to change. Accountability in this department certainly needs to change – and not through bureaucratic or administrative channels, or out of a defensive maneuver to look liberal and innocent, but out of sustained consideration of the classroom environments you create. Exactly how many English majors are women of color? How many thesis students? How many of us are present, but silent, in your classes? Are there enough of us to make you feel diverse? Does it count even when we don’t speak?
“If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be here. … Maybe you shouldn’t be here.
Maybe you shouldn’t have taken this class.”
These incidents, passed off as your unremarkable oddities or endearing quirks are far from benign; if they are on one hand just professorial eccentricities, then they are on the other also a pattern of behaviors that together form a remarkably coherent whole. Ours is a department that has addressed issues of race and gender only under political duress. The pedagogy we have observed and been taught betrays the way that race and gender are often just compulsory intrusions into your classroom. You are not now, nor have you ever been, on the cutting edge; your politics have too often been reactionary instead of revolutionary. Our experiences and our readings of those experiences are systemically and systematically forgotten. No one is accountable for our absence or our silence.
Race, gender, sexuality, and other axes of “identity” critique are not marginal modes of analysis. And we, the women and people of color, are not marginal in your department.
You cannot afford to ignore the problems festering in your department, in your classrooms, and in your colleagues’ classrooms. And we cannot afford to have our silence interpreted as consent to the department’s policies and practices. Professors reflect what the department makes possible for them to say or do in the classroom, just as students reflect the direction of discourse for which the professor clears space. Additionally, your responsibilities are not limited to your own classrooms – you are accountable to each other as a department.
We have spent far too long dismissing the ways that our experiences here have over time pushed us out and silenced our discomfort. We will not allow our reactions to the department to be understood as anything other than a protest of its pedagogy and, specifically, its sublimated misogyny and racism.
We cannot afford to co-sign this department’s commitment to a pedagogy that continually dismisses our work and our experiences in a way that creates actively hostile educational environments for us. The only people who have a vested interest in testifying to their experiences are people who are actively silenced by either the mode of discourse or the language being thrown around. We can never accumulate sufficient proof to speak in a system built to deny our testimony audience.
Please don’t misunderstand. We have great admiration and affection for many of you, even when you continue to deny our critiques’ validity, and even when you intimidate or trouble us. Many of you are good educators and challenging mentors. But this letter applies to all of you, even and especially those professors who think of themselves as liberal, radical, or liberational.
You are pushing us out of our classrooms.
Tony Wei Ling
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.
Below find testimony that grounds our demands.
Bushra Ali ‘17
Eman Ali ‘20
Parmalier Arrington ‘15
Eve Avery ‘16
Amina Awad 18’
Sabine Chishty ‘12
Ariel Chu ‘17
Gina Chung ’12
Lauren Drago ‘12
Jacques Guyon ‘17
Harry Hvdson ‘14
Jordan Jace ‘18
Kirsten Lee ’16
Allen Lum ‘12
remy malik ‘16
Brandon Mancilla ‘16
Soraya Membreno ‘12
Alejandra Mejía ‘17
Annie Moriondo ‘14
Jonathan Pekar ‘14
Katherine Preston ‘16
Bee Sachsse ‘18
Soha Sanchorawala ‘19
Suiyi Tang ‘20
Jenny Tang ‘13
Tony Wei Ling ‘16
Dawn Wu ‘18
APPENDIX: OUR TESTIMONIES
Last year, a potential advisor at my graduate institution asked me, “Where did you go to undergrad? Who trained you?” I froze and then turned the conversation in another direction. No one came to mind who did not at one point yell in my face, mock my last name, or make a rape joke in the classroom –– and the names that came up first were the ones I least like to think about. It is difficult to feel intellectually indebted to those who have treated me with such disrespect. And worse: I later did think of two teachers who challenged me only in the academic sense, who were kind and professional to me during my time studying with them. But their names were blotted out in the moment by the memory of the others. When asked who trained me, I saw the one who screamed, the one who mocked, and especially the one who smiled slowly as he inquired which women students in the room had experienced an orgasm.
Discussion was monopolized by students who seemed to share the professor’s point of view, who had taken classes with him before, and who looked like him (white and male).
Multiple white professors in the department have used racial epithets as provocations toward discussion.
I would not be doing the work that I am today without Professor Wang’s training and guidance. She is deeply invested in the wellbeing and success of her students, and a pioneer in the field of poetics. She is a role model of fearless commitment to social justice within and beyond the academy. Williams is incredibly lucky to have her.
I related a story about a lewd comment one of my English professors made to his visiting former student (one year graduated –– “Thank god, now I can tell you that you look so sexy in that dress”) in front of me, and the professor I told this story to immediately recognized and named the man. At first, I was comforted to think that I wouldn’t have to provide evidence for his behavior; afterwards, I felt uneasy about the blithe recognition –– “Oh, I know what colleague that is!” –– without any accompanying shame or desire to protect students from him. That taught me how regular such behavior is, and how open a secret. How little anyone in that department seems to think of it as notable or unacceptable.
Williams College, and the college’s English Department in particular, has a huge racism and sexism problem. I have heard far too many stories similar to the ones above, about female students being on the receiving end of lewd and inappropriate comments from male English professors, as well as of white professors targeting professors of color who dare to stand up to the racism within the department and the college as a whole. I stand with Professor Wang, who is one of the most talented and dedicated professors I have ever had the privilege of studying with during my time at Williams. I am ashamed and disgusted by the college’s continual dismissal of these racist and sexist practices that seem to be endemic to the institution, as well as the administration’s disregard and lack of support for faculty and students of color.
I would add that there is a deep element of classism entwined with the issues my peers have already raised. I personally experienced and witnessed on many occasions my peers being shamed or humiliated for not being familiar with what professors considered to be basic knowledge. All the students I saw subjected to this were first gen students, almost all of whom are POC. There was little empathy or even comprehension that many of us lacked the sort of education that middle class (usually white) peers received and thus we were treated as stupid or lazy in our ignorance, a treatment which serves the greater experience of alienation, otherness, and unworthiness many first gen and POC students face.
I didn’t realize that I was traumatized by my time in the English department until a specific professor came up in conversation, and I realized that I was shaking and couldn’t stop. When I was at Williams, he screened a film with multiple explicit and brutal rape scenes –– required for his class on literary theory –– and went on a rant about spoiled students when I tentatively asked him afterward if he’d consider warning students ahead of time that the movie had so many of those scenes.
I befriended Dorothy Wang when I was a second-year at Williams College. She was teaching an upper level poetry course, and despite not having much of a background in English, she encouraged me to take it and provided the guidance and mentorship to ensure my success. Ever since, she and I have been close and I have witnessed her commitment to mentorship, inclusivity, and student well-being. Her work for Asian-American Studies (AAS) and support for underrepresented minority students has been second-to-none. Furthermore, she has also been supportive of diverse faculty, and she continues working toward these causes regardless of her own time commitments and obligations.
She, along with many other faculty of color, have been subject to far too much institutional violence. Her continued commitment toward improvements at the college (and everything listed above is most certainly such) make the actions of Katie Kent and Williams College at large even more egregious, as there is a clear lack of appreciation for her efforts, let alone well-being. The continued violence imparted by the college toward faculty of color is causing professors to leave the college and head elsewhere.
The continued mistreatment and disrespect of Dorothy Wang is beyond disgraceful. As a graduate student and mentor, I am increasingly unable to recommend students to attend Williams College, knowing that students and faculty of color are subject to such violence and negative experiences. Katie Kent should not be in charge of a department where the departure of Black professors is considered “confidential” and she yells at other faculty. As said before, these events have only been coming to greater light because of the students who witnessed Katie Kent yelling at Dorothy Wang. However, they are neither novel nor isolated incidents. The college must make immediate amends and work on larger structures of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.
Queerness and race examined as “exotic” objects in the classroom.
I shouldn't have had to bite my tongue when professors made racist or misogynistic remarks about my work. I shouldn't have had to negotiate between my professional respect for faculty and my concern for my friends. I shouldn't have had to tell my graduate school colleagues to reconsider applying for Williams teaching fellowships, or warn them about the mistreatment of Kai Green, Kimberly Love, and Dorothy Wang. For me to have had a good experience in the English Department, I had to keep my head down, speak softly, and seek counsel with my friends in private. This is not what an intellectually vibrant, honest, and safe community looks like.
21 August 2019
President Maud S. Mandel
880 Main Street Hopkins Hall 3rd floor, P.O. Box 687 Williamstown, MA 01267 USA
Dear President Mandel,
We write as colleagues and advocates of Professor Dorothy Wang, in response to her encounter with Professor Katie Kent, Chair of the English Department, on April 17. We are deeply troubled by that incident, and by the administration’s response to it, especially given that an increasingly public eye has now turned to the climate of adversity at Williams College for faculty of color (FoC) and the students they mentor, particularly students of color.
As reported in a May 8 article in The Williams Record, Professor Wang asked Professor Kent whether that day’s English Department meeting would address the open letter to English faculty and students, wherein Assistant Professor Kimberly Love announced the reasons she would not be returning this Spring (bit.ly/2EdcLlT). Professor Kent’s agitated response escalated into an accusatory tirade that resorted to language disparaging of a highly respected colleague in the field; this is behavior unbecoming of faculty in an administrative position representing your institution, and serving as the assumed diversity advocate within the department. As one of the students who witnessed the incident told The Record, Professor Kent only lowered her voice when she became aware that two students had witnessed her outburst.
Professor Wang is an award winning and pioneering scholar whose contributions have transformed the fields of English literary studies, poetry studies, ethnic studies, and American Studies, among others. Her book Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford University Press, 2014) has singlehandedly redirected the scholarly conversation, and her ongoing, innovative, and active research agenda has been acclaimed by such prestigious associations as the American Council of Learned Societies and the Poetry Foundation. Those of us who have been visiting scholars at Williams have seen first-hand how devoted Dorothy Wang is as a teacher and member of the College community.
We find it difficult to explain how it is possible that such a respectful and respected colleague has been so badly treated by the Williams community. We wonder whether it has become acceptable for fellow faculty to dismiss Professor Wang and to diminish her vital, influential scholarship and advocacy that works to make visible the social structures and cultural effects of racism and sexism. We take note, insomuch as various campus accounts have caught the national attention this year (bit.ly/2Ee0IVd, bit.ly/2VvmFF4). We worry that Professor Kent’s behavior is not an isolated incident but part of a larger pattern of hostility and defensiveness toward individuals who try to initiate conversations about the difficulty—and in some cases, impossibility—of remaining and thriving as a faculty member of color at Williams College.
Our unease gives way to further questions. As stakeholders committed to equity within institutions of higher learning we have serious concerns about a May 10 electronic communication you sent as President of the College to all Williams faculty. In response to student activism and advocacy around issues of the College’s workplace environment, your message acknowledges that many faculty and staff of color do not “feel supported and able to work, and to live all aspects of their identities without hostility or limitations” at Williams, and you profess a commitment to rectifying this. However, a much greater portion of that same message is devoted to the anxiety that a “hostile environment” might be created by students planning a peaceful action on campus whose aim was to “express overwhelming love, support, and gratitude” for FoC mentors (“Love and Accountability: Occupy Hollander for FoC”). While no one should be subject to a hostile work environment, we are troubled by the suggestion that you seem more immediately concerned with protecting against the risk of potential hostility than redressing the concrete hostile environment that Professor Wang and others are presently experiencing—and have been enduring, sometimes for years.
Recent coverage in The Record reinforces our sense that the College has been unwilling to take meaningful action to redress a campus culture in which FoC and students are unsupported and subject to hostility. As the article “Resurfaced 2009 report sheds light on struggles of minority faculty, staff” from February 13th makes clear (bit.ly/2LNrSbW), events of this year—Professor Kent’s verbal assault on Professor Wang (which two Williams students witnessed and described in a separate statement in The Record), the statements of Professor Love and Professor Kai Green, the comments of other faculty quoted in the related The Record articles, etc.—are only the most recent instances of problems that FoC have been formally reporting to the administration for at least a decade.
We do wonder whether you have reached out personally to Professor Wang to begin a conversation as to how she and others might feel better supported, as per your pledge, and “able to work, and to live all aspects of [one’s] identities without hostility or limitations.” We wonder whether you discussed with Professor Wang your intention to make allusion to “a matter between two colleagues in an all-faculty email.” We wonder whether you provided her with an account of the rationale that led to your position regarding what you describe as an “interaction…in a hallway three weeks ago.” We do wonder, insomuch as to characterize in the neutral language of “interaction” what evidence suggests was rather a verbal assault is not to stand by students, faculty, and staff of color—who feel unsupported at best and denigrated at worst—but to side precisely with “the structures and practices that have allowed inequity to take hold and persist.” We wonder whether such panic was merited in advance of the May 10 student action, as reflected in your letter about the Williams College “code of conduct,” or whether such language served the effect of distracting from the structural causes that have prompted us to write you today.
More generally, and in the spirit of moving forward, we wonder whether and how Williams College will find pathways toward the creation of a campus culture that honors human diversity and the ongoing practice of inclusion and mutual respect, while upholding AAUP guidelines in the reporting of grievances. Toward this end, we urge Williams to take seriously and act upon the findings in the 2009 Faculty and Staff Initiative report, with the active participation and guidance of the FoC who are being affected by the adverse structural and systemic conditions and hostile environment on campus. Is it not incumbent upon Williams, ranked in surveys as the leading liberal arts college in the United States, to do so? Most immediately, such a commitment within the English department would seek to successfully hire, tenure, and retain faculty of color whose work critically engages African American, Native American, Asian American, and Latinx civil rights and ethics as reflected in literary culture and the humanities writ large.
As the new president of Williams College, you have the opportunity to serve as a model of visionary leadership. We look forward to that vision and to specific action items we hope will inspire the greater Williams College community to remedy its current public image with regard to students, faculty, and staff of color.
Chair, Department of African American and African Studies
Professor of English and African American and African Studies
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellow, 2018-2023
Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor
University of Houston, English, Creative Writing, Art History
Clark-Oakley Fellow, Williams College, 2013-2014