Check for parking bans, delays, and closings here

Trinity faces backlash following professor’s social media rant

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

HARTFORD -- A college campus in Hartford was on alert for what police called a "non-credible" threat after a professor posted controversial comments on social media.

The Hartford Police Department said they assisted the Trinity College Campus Safety Department. They said they investigated multiple non-specific and non-credible threats related to a potential statement allegedly made by a staff member, and there was no active police presence on campus.

A spokesperson for Trinity College said they closed the campus "out of an abundance of caution." The college allowed only card access on campus.

A website called "Campus Reform" posted the Facebook comments in question, coming from a sociology professor at Trinity named Johnny Eric Williams.

In one post on Monday he wrote:

I`m fed the EXPLETIVE up with self identified `white`s` daily violence directed at immigrants, Muslim, and sexual and racially oppressed people. The time is now to confront these inhuman EXPLETIVES and end this now.

In another post about white supremacists, he used the hashtag "Let them ________  die."

Williams, who has been teaching at the college for more than 20 years, also posted a controversial article with the headline "Let them ______ die."

Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney said in a letter released Wednesday that she had spoken with Williams.

"While Professor Williams did not write that article, he did share it on his personal social media accounts this week, and he did so with the use of a hashtag that connected directly to the inflammatory conclusion of that article. Professor Williams, who teaches about race and racism, shared the article on his personal Twitter account using that hashtag; he also shared it on his personal Facebook page. 

The Dean of the Faculty will review this matter and advise me on whether college procedures or policies were broken. 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. "

Here is the full text of the letter to the college community by Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney:

Dear Members of the Trinity Community,

As many of you are aware, a set of social media posts by one of our faculty members 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. I understand the concerns many have expressed, and I’m especially grateful for the inquiries we’ve received from members of our community who’ve asked whether what they’re reading and hearing is accurate. To be clear, both personally and on behalf of the College that I represent, I do not condone hate speech or calls to incite violence.

I’ve spoken with Johnny Williams, who has been a sociology professor at Trinity since 1996. I wanted to hear directly from him about the messages he posted and what has transpired since. It is important to clarify a few details. 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.” 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.

While Professor Williams did not write that article, he did share it on his personal social media accounts this week, and he did so with the use of a hashtag that connected directly to the inflammatory conclusion of that article. Professor Williams, who teaches about race and racism, shared the article on his personal Twitter account using that hashtag; he also shared it on his personal Facebook page.

The Dean of the Faculty will review this matter and advise me on whether college procedures or policies were broken. 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.

I want to underscore that what we seek is to build a diverse college community that is welcoming to all viewpoints and backgrounds and that engages in civil discourse on even the most vexing issues. That requires that we continue to uphold our fundamental belief in academic freedom and support our community members’ constitutional right to free speech. But our aspirations for the community we want to be also demand we take particular care with the words we use and the contexts in which we use them.

This incident has caused distress on our campus and beyond; threats of violence have been directed to Professor Williams and to our campus community, neither of which is an acceptable response.

I denounce hate speech in all its forms, I will explore all options to resolve this matter, and I will be back in touch with our community members with our decisions.

Sincerely,

Joanne Berger-Sweeney President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience

Some are already calling for his immediate termination.

State Representative Themis Klarides, a Trinity alum,  tweeted

Professor Williams released the following statement:

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 Fucking 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.

The Trinity College emergency management team, said the college will resume normal business operations, Thursday morning.

After consultation with the Hartford Police Department, they said it does not appear there is an immediate threat to campus.

There will be an ongoing enhanced security presence on campus and the college said it will continue to work with police in this open and active investigation.

If you see or hear anything suspicious you're asked to call Campus Safety at 860-297-2222.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.