A Professor’s Facebook Post, A Campus Lockdown, and Calls To Let White People Die: Higher Education In 2017?

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2017/06/21/a-professors-facebook-post-a-campus-lockdown-and-calls-to-let-white-people-die-higher-education-in-2017/

The president of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, broke her silence late Wednesday afternoon about a sociology professor’s anti-white social media posts, issuing a letter to the campus community hours after she shut the school down after school officials received threats.

President Joanne Berger-Sweeney in her letter acknowledged Professor Johnny Eric Williams’s social media posts, made Friday night and first reported by CampusReform.com, in which he posted a link to an opinion article concerning last week’s attempted massacre of several GOP lawmakers in Virginia and called for “the racially oppressed” to “put end to the vectors of their destructive mythology of whiteness and their white supremacy system.” Williams emphasized his point with a hashtag — #LetThemF—ingDie. That also happens to be the title of the Medium.com piece he shared, but did not author.

 

Berger-Sweeney issued her statement just before 5 p.m. Wednesday. Almost four hours earlier, at 1:04 p.m., Trinity officials announced a campus-wide shutdown “given the threats made to campus and upon consultation with the President’s Cabinet.”

CampusReform.org broke the news regarding Williams’s posts at 11:55 a.m. on Tuesday. 

Berger-Sweeney in her letter noted that Williams’s social media activity “has resulted in a loud and public rebuke and landed Trinity College in a national spotlight, both in the media and across various social media platforms.”

Soon after news of Williams’s online musings circulated in the media, a duo of Connecticut Republican lawmakers, both Trinity College alums, called for Williams to be fired. State Senator George Logan (R-Ansonia), who is black, issued a statement along with House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R-Seymour), that also condemned the school’s initial response, describing it as “well short of the mark of what should reasonably be expected.”

Klarides and Logan described Williams’s posts as “reprehensible” and added that his comments go “beyond any imaginable level of social discourse.”

Klarides and Logan issued their letter prior to Berger-Sweeney’s statement. The lawmakers’ letter appeared to be inspired in part by a cryptic statement Trinity initially made on the matter, posted Tuesday night via Facebook, that appeared to be more directed at criticisms aimed at the school than it was at Williams’s actions. At the time school officials declined to address Williams’s posts, but the school’s initial statement was posted after the CampusReform.org report ran online:

“Simply reiterating the school’s right on Facebook to remove comments that it deems ‘inappropriate, profane, defamatory, or disrespectful to users of the page and/or members of the greater Trinity College community,’ is not acceptable,” Klarides and Logan wrote.

Trinity’s initial Facebook post triggered a wave of reactions, with most expressing their disgust over the school’s initial decision not to address fiery posts made by its own professors, such as Williams.

It remains unclear why Berger-Sweeney, who is also black, waited until late Wednesday afternoon to issue a formal statement identifying Williams. 

While she criticized Williams, Berger-Sweeney’s statement stopped short of promising any punishment of Williams, who has taught at the school since 1996.

“The Dean of the Faculty will review this matter and advise me on whether college procedures or policies were broken,” Berger-Sweeney wrote. “I told Professor Williams that in my opinion his use of the hashtag was reprehensible and, at the very least, in poor judgment.

“No matter its intent, it goes against our fundamental values as an institution, and I believe its effect is to close minds rather than open them.”

Berger-Sweeney also confirmed that the campus-wide shutdown that ensued shortly after 1 p.m. was in direct response to threats made against both Williams and the college. Berger-Sweeney did not elaborate on the nature of the threats.

Berger-Sweeney in her statement also attempted to clarify that it was not Williams who wrote the Medium.com piece.

“It is important to clarify a few details,” Berger-Sweeney wrote. “On June 16, a writer who goes by the name ‘Son of Baldwin’ — and who is not Johnny Williams — wrote a piece for Medium.com that cited another writer’s perspective on the shooting that occurred at the Congressional baseball practice in Virginia last week.

“The Medium piece went on to explore broader issues concerning race and the relationship between ‘victims of bigotry’ and ‘bigots’.”

Berger-Sweeney did not indicate whether Williams apologized.

The ‘Son of Baldwin’ author focused on the efforts of a black lesbian Capitol Hill Police officer who along with other officers battled the attacker and in the process likely saved the lives of Louisiana Republican U.S. Representative Steve Scalise and others who were pinned down on the ballfields. The author questioned whether saving their lives was a good idea.

“We think being the kind of thing that would sacrifice our lives for the very people who would reflexively slit our throats to create a fountain from which to drink our blood is noble,” ‘Son of Baldwin’ writes at one point. “What the f— is wrong with us?”

‘Son of Baldwin’ goes on to address “most white/cisgender/heterosexuals who practice bigotry (or do not believe they practice bigotry even when the do),” calling for minorities and others to “do nothing” when they see such people “drowning,” trapped in “a burning building,” “teetering on the edge of a cliff,” and other potentially fatal situations.

“Let. Them. F—ing. Die.” writes ‘Son of Baldwin. “And smile a bit when you do.”

‘Son of Baldwin’ later took to social media to reflect on the Trinity matter:

 

Williams appears to have locked his Twitter account. A look at his Facebook account, which is partially private, shows he has previously posted photos of historical figures such as Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary who helped Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro organize a dictatorship:

A little more than two years ago, Williams spoke at a socialist action forum held in Hartford called  “Reform or Revolution:  Building a World Movement for Socialist Change Today and Tomorrow,” highlighted by a piece he wrote for a website called The Black Agenda Report, titled Global Interlocking Oppressions from #Ferguson2Palestine. At one point in his piece, Williams concluded that “we black folks are slowly starting to open our minds and eyes to the reality that Obama’s presidency is merely an ill-clad continuation of our oppression.”

Williams also opined that “because oppressions interlock and intersect, the Black Lives Matter movement understands the importance of working with similarly oppressed people to rout global white supremacy.”

A blog post from 2008 also linked back to a since-archived story in the school’s student newspaper, The Trinity Tripod, in which Williams was quoted as saying he feels “uncomfortable all the time on this g—amned campus,” in which he later described several previous instances of alleged racism. The story itself focused on a rally against racism held in the wake of an anonymous racist note posted online.

It was later discovered that the note was posted by a black student.

“When I began writing the post, I imagined an argument whose effect would serve as a litmus test of the campus climate,” the student later admitted in an apologetic email.

Meanwhile, reaction on Wednesday from Trinity students and alums has actually been mixed, with many taking to social media to defend Williams:

Williams on Wednesday told the Hartford Courant his Facebook post was created in response to a police-involved shooting that occurred in Seattle and claimed that the CampusReform.org report “twisted his words.”

He added that he’s considering filing a defamation suit against the website. CampusReform.org reportedly reached out to Williams but never heard back from the professor.

“This is about free speech as well as academic freedom,” Williams said. “I’m calling for the death of a system, white supremacy, not the death of white people.”

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