A stream of homophobia has hit Williams College, in Williamstown on the quiet northwest corner of Massachusetts.

On November 28, a “junior advisor” in a dorm notified security that his common room was vandalized, and paint and condiments were smeared all over the floors. Phalluses and sexist slurs including the word "fag" were drawn all over the walls. No one has been held responsible, but the college’s Queer Student Union has been working with the Dean and the college co-council presidents to address the situation.

"Campus security cannot figure out if this was a targeted attack," said student activist Tracey Vichers, "but it was waved off as an act by a drunken group of kids. No one has been held responsible."

This incident has been the focus of a week-long series of forums and luncheons discussing homophobia and sexism. A building on campus called The Hardy House recently became the new Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, where students lead their peers in conversations about LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) life.

"There have been unexpected people coming to meetings and forums," said Chelsea Luptre, a student in the Hardy House. "They have been able to understand more about why homophobic slurs are hurtful."

The college says it’s working on the matter.

"I’ve been addressing these issues head on," said Justin Adkins, the college’s queer life coordinator, "I’ve been holding staff LGBT diversity training, department by department.”

But Williams College has had issues with homophobia before. It saw a rise in homophobic incidents in the 90s, students said. Then in these past few years there was an increase, Luptre said. And she experienced this first hand.

"Freshman year, this student living across from me would yell things like homo or dyke at me all the time,” Luptre said. “It really made me scared."

When a student is accused of this kind of conduct, the consequences can get serious. The school’s administrators can suspend the student or even expel them. But Vichers said most disciplinary actions never make it that far.

"Most things like that don’t even get reported," said Vichers, "In fact, most incidents don’t make it on a record."

Vichers said that sexist and homophobic incidents spike during the last few weeks before finals. This pattern occurs every year, and little is done to stop it, the student leader said. Some students think its because of the school’s “junior advisors” — similar to Resident Assistants, except they don’t answer to or work for the school. “JA’s” are elected by the students to supervise their dorms. They are given light responsibility training, but they have never been mandated to take diversity training for sexual orientations until this year. Even then, the optional lesson offered is only 45 minutes long, the students said.

Despite the recent issues, students said that they have enjoyed their time at Williams.

"It’s a very positive and accepting community," said openly gay student, Michael Semensi. “Williams draws people from all over the world, and depending on where they are from, some students might never have met a queer person before."

The Queer Student Union is trying to show that Williams College is an LGTBQ-friendly school. Now they are communicating with other schools such as Amherst College and Wellesley College to draft new measures to combat homophobia.

"With this," said Semensi, "we can expand these measures to even more schools, and create a movement to openly discuss these issues.”

About The Author

Alexandra Smolen is a Blast correspondent while also a graduate from Emerson College. She majored in Broadcast Journalism.

4 Responses

  1. anon04

    As a gay alumnus of Williams, I find the reporting in this story faulty. The campus is not nearly as homophobic as this story portrays it to be, and describing it as such is a great disservice.

    • Andrew de Geofroy

      Hi anon04,

      Given your connection to the places and people involved in the story, I can understand your concern, but with the exception of the headline, I think this was a very fairly reported story. In fact, much of the article is devoted to pointing out that Williams is a progressive institution that works to improve. Nowhere in the article did it say that the campus was homophobic, and instead pointed out that it was an action by a few misguided individuals. There’s even a quote by an openly gay current student describing the “very positive and accepting community.”

      That said, thank you for taking the time to comment and give us your point of view; we always strive to be better, and appreciate your reading and commenting.

      Andrew de Geofroy is the Blast Ombudsman

      • Eph

        As also a gay Williams alum, I would say that that we did have a very supportive administration, and the students were like any typical smart college students — some jackasses but largely a progressive bunch. I did feel as if it was tough to be “different” at Williams, which of course includes being gay. Very stifling; hard to find yourself. I did have one nasty homophobia-related incident (“Security” was called), but I agree that it’s not an overwhelming problem there relative to other places.

        Very well-reported, well-written story, though.

      • Andrew de Geofroy

        Thanks for the other point of view, Eph, and glad you had a good experience there (and here!). Your comment about it being like any typical student body (“some jackasses but largely a progressive bunch”) is, in my experience, pretty representative of a lot of colleges, especially in New England. Things are moving forward, and I think a lot of people have the misconception that no one ever faces discrimination in these places because they’re viewed as these elite, liberal institutions. People forget how easy it is to ignore injustice.

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