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College Faces Threats After Professor's Social Media Posts

The professor said he was not calling for the death of any group of people but he wanted to spark a debate on the very subject he teaches

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    NEWSLETTERS

    (Published Thursday, June 22, 2017)

    Trinity College in Hartford will reopen today, the day after it was closed because of threats to campus that appear to have stemmed from an article posted on a professor's personal social media pages, according to a statement put out by the college.

    A sociology professor, Johnny Williams, who has been with Trinity College since 1996, shared a June 16 article from Medium.com on his personal Facebook and Twitter pages, Trinity's president and professor of neuroscience, Joanne Berger-Sweeney, said in a statement. 

    The writer goes by the name "Son of Baldwin," Berger-Sweeney said, and the piece "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.' The piece culminated with a call to show indifference to the lives of bigots. That call was reprehensible, and any such suggestion is abhorrent and wholly contrary to Trinity’s values," Berger-Sweeney said.

    Berger-Sweeney noted that Williams, who teaches about race and racism, did not write the article; however, he did share it on his personal social media accounts using the hashtag connected "directly to the inflammatory conclusion in the article."

    "In my opinion, (Williams') use of the hashtag was reprehensible and, at the very least, in poor judgment," Berger-Sweeney said. 

    The school is reviewing the incident with the school's dean of faculty on whether college procedures or policies were broken, according to Trinity College's statement.

    Williams provided a statement to NBC Connecticut that said he has received, via email and telephone, a number of threatening messages. The professor said he was not calling for the death of any group of people but he wanted to spark a debate on the very subject he teaches.

    "It is evident to anyone who carefully reads my posts on Facebook and Twitter that I did not call for the death of all self-identified ‘whites.’ I merely attached the hashtag to my post derived from a blog article written by Son of Baldwin entitled 'Let Them All ------- Die.' This was an admittedly provocative move to get readers to pay attention to my reasoned, reasonable, and yes angry argument," Williams wrote.

    "I posted my comments on social media to draw the attention of the readers to the current dire state of white supremacy in the nation," he said. 

    The school spoke to Williams before releasing the statement on Wednesday afternoon. 

    "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," the college's president said.

    The sociology professor's post resulted in a public rebuke across the country.

    Earlier on Wednesday, an initial alert from the school said all campus buildings could only be accessed by identification card. About 30 minutes later, the college sent out a notice that the school would be closed until further notice. 

    The campus is expected to reopen normal operations today. 

    "Given the threats to campus and upon consultation with the President's Cabinet, the decision has been made to close the College until further notice. All employees and guests are to leave campus for the day and stay tuned for updates," a statement posted on the school website Wednesday said.

    Police said Trinity officials reached out to the Hartford police detective bureau and authorities are vetting non-specific, non-credible threats from across the country related to potential comments by a staff member.

    They added that Hartford police are assisting the college in investigating and there will be an ongoing enhanced security presence on campus.

    The school was closed amid the first summer session, which is underway until July 13, and the post on the school site said the dean of students and residential life worked with students who are residing on campus.

    Soon after the message was posted, the college's website went down.

    State Representative Themis Klarides, an alumni of Trinity College, is calling for the professor to be removed, saying in part, that the professors' "opinions are simply outrageous and racist in and of themselves. We would urge you to consider this request as in the best interests of not only 'members of the greater Trinity College community,' but of society at large."

    Professor Johnny Williams' full statement can be found below: 

    "For the entirety of my adult life I have worked to inform my students, colleagues, and the public about the dire and destructive character of oppression and worked to push all of us towards making the world a more just, equitable and humane place.

    "The recent displays of hate and explicit death threats I have received via email and telephone in response to my recent posts are par for the course in the work that I do but this attack is at a level of vitriol and hatred in excess of what I have ever experienced.

    "This response seems to be a concerted campaign to attack not just what *they think* I said in my post but to attack my integrity, scholarship, teaching, department, and college. The publicity it is receiving also seems to be an organized warning to all others who want to speak out. This seems to be a national drive of intimidation of professors which all colleges and universities should be concerned about.

    "It is evident to anyone who carefully reads my posts on Facebook and Twitter that I did not call for the death of all self-identified ‘whites.’ I merely attached the hashtag to my post derived from a blog article written by Son of Baldwin entitled “Let Them All ------- Die.” This was an admittedly provocative move to get readers to pay attention to my reasoned, reasonable, and yes angry argument.

    "I posted my comments on social media to draw the attention of the readers to the current dire state of white supremacy in the nation.

    "We can debate whether social media has expanded, contracted, or perverted the public sphere. We all know that its anonymity and lack of face to face accountability makes meanness and ad hominem attacks easy to do.

    "I did not and do not use it in that way. My detractors have."