Alumni implore Trinity College to cut ties with radical prof
- Alumni frustration is mounting as Trinity College prepares for the return of Johnny Eric Williams, the professor who was placed on paid leave after posting comments endorsing violence against whites on social media.
- Despite having ostensibly left campus for his own safety, Williams returned in September for a speech in which he declared that “whiteness needs to die” and encouraged student to join the Campus Anti-Fascist Network.
- One alum is spearheading a campaign to demand Williams' termination, circulating a petition among fellow alumni after administrators brushed off his complaints that the professor's behavior is harming Trinity's reputation.
Suspended Trinity College Professor Johnny Eric Williams returned to campus recently for a speech in which he claimed that “whiteness needs to die.”
Now, some Trinity College alumni are concerned that the school plans to reinstate the professor, who was placed on leave after posting social media comments about “self identified ‘white’s’.”
“It is past time for the racially oppressed to do what people who believe themselves to be ‘white’ will not do, put end to the vectors of their destructive mythology of whiteness and their white supremacy system. #LetThemFuckingDie,” Williams wrote in a June 18 Facebook post.
Two days earlier on the same page, he had shared an article titled “Let Them F***ing Die” in which the anonymous author suggests that “bigots,” such as the victims of the congressional baseball practice shooting, should be left for dead.
A few minutes after the first post, Williams elaborated that he is “fed the f**k up with self-identified ‘white’s’ daily violence directed at immigrants, Muslims, and sexual and racially oppressed people," saying, “the time is now to confront these inhuman a**holes and end this now.”
As Campus Reform previously reported, Williams’ statements cost the college 16 students, “roughly $200,000” in donations, and led lawmakers to call for his firing. Trinity has decided not to fire Williams, however, arguing that his statements are protected by academic freedom.
Rather, it placed him on paid leave in response to threats that he received following disclosure of his Facebook posts, and Inside Higher Ed reports that the suspension will last through the fall semester.
Williams did briefly return to campus in September, however, to deliver a speech in which he extensively addressed the controversy. The school has confirmed that Williams visited campus this semester to participate in events, claiming that the practice “is customary for faculty on leave.”
During his presentation, Williams elaborated on some of his radical views, lashing out at his detractors and even claiming to be a founding member of the Campus Anti-fascist Network (CAN), a network backed by the entire Sociology Department at Trinity College.
CAN, which was created in August by two professors as a “big tent” for “anyone committed to fighting fascism,” claims in its mission statement that “the election of Donald Trump has emboldened fascist and white nationalist groups across the country,” and that these groups “have used ‘free speech’ as a facade for attacking faculty and anyone who stands in solidarity against the threat that these organizations and individuals pose.”
A notable portion of his speech was devoted to discussing how “capitalism and race...work together,” leading him to declare that “if you take on white supremacy, you have to take on capitalism, neoliberalism” because “there ain’t no other way.”
Despite saying he “never intended to invite or incite violence,” Williams echoed his defense of the original controversy by claiming “whiteness needs to die,” though he insisted that “whiteness” has nothing to do with ethnicity.
“It’s an ideology. I ain’t talking about white people,” he said. “Hell, they don’t exist. But Campus Reform say y’all do.”
Williams further claimed that “race is not a physical fact, but a product of systemic racism,” which he refers to as “white supremacy,” proclaiming that he tells his students that “just by the matter of fact that you think [you’re] white means you participate in white supremacy.”
When those students ask if he's calling them racists because they're white, Williams said he responds by telling them “You’re damn right I am” and asking why they would “get upset with that.”
He then noted that “there are some black white supremacists, too,” as well as “Latino white supremacists,” and that in both cases, “they hate themselves.”
Williams later turned his attention to popular Fox News Channel host and former Trinity student Tucker Carlson, whom Williams mocked as an "idiot" and "moron."
“That damn Tucker Carlson, man. Why did we give him a damn degree?” Williams asked. “He had the nerve to ask me to come on his damn show. I was like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’”
Other Trinity alumni have now begun to take notice of the school’s tacit support for Williams, which includes plans to reinstate him in the upcoming spring semester.
John Leisenring, a 1981 Trinity College graduate, told Campus Reform that he is unhappy with the way the school is handling the situation, and wants to hold administrators responsible for refusing to fire Williams.
In a letter to Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney on September 30, Leisenring expressed his “profound disappointment” with the college, saying that Williams’ remarks run contrary to the values he embraced as a student.
“One of the hallmarks of my experience entering political discussion was the respect we all had for our professors, administrators, and fellow students. Whether you were conservative, liberal, a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent, your views may not be agreed with, but were always given a measure of respect and dignity when they were expressed,” Leisenring wrote. “It is with genuine sadness that I feel compelled to correspond with you to express my concern that this political tolerance and intellectual respect are no longer values that Trinity College accepts or instills in its professors.”
In response, Berger-Sweeney assured Leisenring that “the college did not support or condone the tone and language used in a post on a private social media account,” but dismissed his concerns about the propriety of Williams’ conduct.
“I would caution against making broad assumptions about our faculty based on the actions of any one individual or about our campus and whether there is a lack of tolerance for differing views,” she wrote. “We are a campus where the opportunity to express opinions and beliefs is celebrated and acted on in our classrooms and on the quad.”
Leisenring is not alone, however. Another alum, William Matthews, told Campus Reform that while “emotionally” he believes Williams “should have been fired,” he could not determine “by what standard” or “whose.”
Campus Reform obtained a copy of a letter that Matthews and fellow alumnus Andrew Isaac sent to Berger-Sweeney in August asking “what has happened” to their alma mater.
“Do you or anyone on the Board of Trustees see the breathtaking double standard highlighted by the Williams embarrassment—‘academic freedom’ for a professor’s racist words but none for students because of Trinity’s draconic and illiberal speech code?” they wrote.
“This whole situation is an albatross around Trinity College’s neck," Leisenring remarked to Campus Reform, saying, "it’s a public relations nightmare" that has already cost the school significant amounts of money in lost alumni donations.
Leisenring has since created a petition calling on Trinity to terminate Williams’ employment, which boasted more than 200 signatures as of press time. If the school does not comply, the signatories are threatening to withhold donations from the school, starting a hashtag to encourage others to do the same until Williams is removed.
To generate support for the effort, he compiled an extensive report on the situation, which he has been distributing to fellow alumni along with a summary of the most shocking statements made by Williams during his speech in September.
Leisenring is also planning to submit a formal grievance to the State of Connecticut Office of Higher Education or the New England Association of Schools and Colleges arguing that Williams’ continued employment at the college is negatively impacting the value of a Trinity degree.
Leisenring told Campus Reform that two other alumni have already agreed to sign on to the effort, and that he hopes to get two or three more.
“Trinity College's official reaction, in my view, to these horrific remarks has been almost as shocking as the comments themselves,” Leisenring said.
“A line appears to have been crossed from free speech to active advocacy of mass violence, [and] Trinity's response has been completely unacceptable,” he added. “Instead of immediately terminating this professor after this outrageous endorsement of what we see as egregious behavior, the college has sought the refuge of legal counsel, hidden behind academic conduct and regulatory review, and finally has determined to keep this professor employed.”
Campus Reform reached out to multiple individuals affiliated with Trinity, including the Sociology Department, Media Relations, and Alumni Relations. All comments that were provided have been included in this story.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @KylePerisic
This story has been updated with language from the grievance filed by Leisenring and other alumni.