On Sunday, April 8, the Vassar Student/Labor Dialogue (SLD) posted a video of recently-terminated Safety and Security officer Kemar Williams on their official Facebook page.
The video features Williams’ thoughts concerning his firing in late February and the possible racial motivation behind it, as well as his opinions on race within Vassar College as an institution.
The controversy surrounding Williams began when his dismissal from Safety and Security was taken up as an issue by the SLD’s Student Organizing Team (SOT), who labeled the situation an incident of clear racial bias. The SLD asserted that Williams, who had allegedly faced individual and institutional discrimination during the time of his employment, had been unjustly targeted for his willingness to speak out against his experiences with racism in the workplace.
A protest was organized by the SOT at a Student Affairs Committee dinner on February 26, an event which was attended by members of the Board of Trustees, administrators, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) Executive Board and other community members.
At the event, while students held signs saying “Reinstate Kemar” and “Kemar spoke, now listen,” one of the students attending the dinner, Bailey Miller ’17, spoke on behalf of the organizers, calling on the College’s leadership to address the issue fairly.
The Board of Trustees, however, responded directly to the student organizers in a letter published on The Miscellany News website that reaffirmed its confidence in the integrity of the Administration’s decision to terminate Williams’ employment at the College.
The video serves as Williams’ response to the Administation’s unwillingness to heed students’ demands for his reinstatement. In the description of the video, the SLD wrote, “The college justified Kemar’s termination with embellished and racialized language to avoid confronting the continued racism within the security department and senior administration. The college must be held accountable for its continuing negligence and silencing of those addressing abuse on this campus. The administration has an obligation to rectify this injustice. Kemar has shared his story, and it is one that must be heard.”
In the video, Williams criticizes the method and reasoning behind the College’s treatment of him as an employee and its decision to fire him. He remarked, “To people I work, to some people I’ve never met, to some people I hear about, it’s 100 percent that there is racism at Vassar College.”
The SLD, however, refused to comment further on the subject.
Despite the rallying point that the subject of his reinstatement has been to many members of the community, Williams now maintains that he no longer wishes to work at Vassar.
“I wanted to get reinstated before, but then I came to the conclusion: Why put myself in the same predicament that I just came out of? It doesn’t seem intelligent, it doesn’t seem smart and it doesn’t seem like the best thing for me to do, to come back here and work for a college [where] I know a big factor [is] based on the color of my skin,” Williams explains. “It’s hard to explain, but I would really say…I would never come back here to work.”
Williams goes on to argue that his situation was by no means an isolated incident for Vassar, and that the only way to prevent future problems like his must come through substantial structural change to the College. “It will happen again, and it will keep happening again,” Williams argues. “The only thing that’s going to change that is changing the faculty, changing the Administration, getting people with common knowledge, common sense…”
He continued, “[T]hat’s the only way that there’s never going to be any more racial profiling, no racial slurs, no racial comment[s], no discrimination based on what color you are.”
The SLD video featuring Williams’ remarks has already received almost 3,500 views, and has been shared by a number of student organizations who have echoed his concerns about institutional prejudices within the College, including the Vassar Transparency Coalition, The Vassar Activist and the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition.
The controversy surrounding Williams’ employment status at the College comes at the same time as when many admitted students make visits to campus and, in the case of Regular Decision applicants, the time in which hundreds of students must decide if they will enroll at Vassar or not. Reportedly, some campus tours with have even been stopped by students wishing to make Williams’ situation known to prospective students.
Although Williams’ disparaging comments about Vassar and the backlash they have sparked among many members of the community would suggest a potential threat to Vassar’s reputation as a socially conscious and progressive institution, the Office of Admission has given no sign of alarm in response.
Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Art Rodriguez commented in an emailed statement, “We haven’t heard concerns from prospective students and their parents about the issues Mr. Williams raises in the video. Although the Vassar [SLD] has been stopping tours and sharing information with them, we have found that families have not responded to the information.”
He continued, “Additionally, the concerns Mr. Williams raises are a personnel matter, and I trust that my colleagues in Safety and Security and Human Resources have handled this matter appropriately.”
Although exactly where Williams plans to move on to remains unclear, the SLD and many students have wished him well in his future endeavors. Williams maintains that he hopes that students will continue to press for racial and social equity in their time at Vassar as well as after they graduate.
“Don’t make these people do this to you. Don’t be another statistic…” Williams remarked. “Stand up for what you believe in. I feel like that’s one of the biggest things that [students] are supposed to do, to just stand up and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do and we’re strongly going to do this. As students, we believe that there should be a stand and a stop to racial profiling [and] racial discrimination.”