On April 15, the College’s Director of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) and Title IX Officer Julian Williams announced that he will be leaving Vassar next year to become the Vice President for Compliance, Diversity and Ethics at George Mason University.
Before his time at Vassar, Williams worked as a civil trial attorney on cases relating to discrimination and harassment, specifically with regards to the Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal labor law requiring large employers to provide unpaid leave for employees facing serious health conditions. After translating his legal background as a practicing attorney into a collegiate context as the director of Monmouth University’s Office of Equity and Diversity, Williams was hired by Vassar in 2012 to promote and oversee diversity and inclusion activities on campus.
Upon taking his position in Metcalf House, Williams saw great potential in his responsibilities to strengthen Vassar’s commitments to diversity and against discrimination. “Diversity is all-encompassing,” Williams remarked at the time. “It includes everyone. We have to make sure we’re not alienating anyone…I just want to be a resource for our students and everyone here at the College” (The Miscellany News, “VS hires new EOAA director,” 02.25.12).
To many community members, Williams has stood out among his fellow colleagues for his ongoing efforts in that regard. “Julian is very smart, prepares well for hearings and cases under his supervision, is extremely precise and articulate about the legal and policy areas that are, to many, very complicated and mysterious,” commented Vice President for Finance and Administration Bob Walton. “He and I work together on a number of legal matters and Julian’s training as a lawyer, in addition to his open and warm personal style and rapport has made him extremely effective, the most effective person in his role of the 8 I have worked with in different institutions.”
Vice President for Student Life Hannah Matsunaga ’16 noted, in an emailed statement, “My experiences working with Julian both as a Title IX Coordinator and as a person have all been positive. He was a great resource when constructing the Vassar Sexual Misconduct Survey. He also gave me a lot of grad school and career guidance because I’m applying to law school next year. It will be hard to find someone as qualified as him.” Dean of the College Christopher Roellke echoed, in an emailed statement, “Working so closely with Julian Williams over the last couple of years has been truly wonderful. He [has handled] difficult and often controversial issues addressed with objectivity, fairness and with the best interest of our community in mind.”
Others on campus, however, maintain that Williams and other adjudicators have failed to properly address sexual and racial violence on campus, and that the College has been actively disobliging in many instances. “Vassar College has a problem of victimizing its students, and then not helping them heal from the trauma it inflicted. Anti-blackness and negligence of sexual violence is evident at every level of this institution, from administrators to faculty to staff to students, and when black and brown bodies on this campus are racially-profiled, dehumanized, made to feel unwelcome and inferior, the institution turns around and expects them to report and educate the racists. There is no allowance for healing,” said Anveshi Guha ’15 (The Miscellany News, “Hundreds surround, occupy Main to demand administrative changes,” 12.06.14).
As the College moves forward to combat such concerns, Williams explained, the Administration may use his resignation as an opportunity to more realistically entertain new ideas for structural changes surrounding diversity and Title IX-related issues on campus. “The institution is engaging in conversations around taking a strong look at how it supports students, faculty members and employees around diversity, equity and inclusion with the possibility of adding a chief diversity officer position or looking at ways to bolster the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence,” he remarked. “I think the vacancy that my position will create might give the institution some flexibility to think more strategically about what that restructuring might look like.”
Williams also spoke to his personal hopes for how the College will approach his resignation. “I’d like to see the College take a look at thinking about splitting the Title IX-related responsibilities from the Equal Opportunity [and] Affirmative Action-related responsibilities because they are two very, very important roles,” he went on to say. “They can be time-consuming, where one can sort of eat the other depending on what’s going on. They each require a lot of attention.”
Although the coming vacancy hints at new solutions to administrative problems regarding campus safety and diversity, many remain skeptical that these administrative changes will spark positive change. Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Committee member Elena Riecke ’16 remarked, “We would need a lot more than just a different person in [Williams’] job to fix the parts of Title IX that are impacting campus climate right now. We’d need a new look at the entire way we look at and into Title IX violations.”
“I’m pretty distrustful of the administration right now,” she continued. “At the end of the day, the person’s going to be a lawyer and the experience that I have with this school is basically just Vassar trying to avoid getting sued…It’s a really awful system based on a really flawed code of conduct.”
Williams’ last day will be on June 5, by which point the College will have appointed an interim director for EOAA and Title IX-related issues, as legally required. How the College will handle diversity and inclusion activities on campus beyond that remains to be seen.