An unknown individual wrote the N-word with a non-erasable marker on a whiteboard in Great Hall on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, sometime between 10:00 p.m. of that night and 10:00 a.m. of the following morning.
“There was a whiteboard in Tower Court that had been used to advertise the Tupelos concert that was happening on Friday [Dec. 8, 2023]. The whiteboard stayed in Great Hall all day Saturday, and it was noted that there was nothing written on Saturday as late as after CE hours ended, so sometime between 10 that evening and the next morning someone wrote the N-word on the board,” Tower Hall Community Director Don Leach said.
Early Sunday morning a student alerted Alex Cahn ’24, Tower’s house president, of what was written on the whiteboard. Cahn subsequently reported the incident to Leach and took the board away at around 10:00-11:00 a.m.
“I was setting up for the Tower yard sale with a couple of other people that [Sunday] morning … The whiteboard that the N-word was written on was by one of the booths in Great Hall facing the Tower West Entrance, so none of us setting up for the yard sale could see it … then Alex came in and announced ‘I’m gonna have to clean off this whiteboard’ and took it,” Tower East ASC Eliza White ’26 said.
Once Leach was notified of what occurred, he reported it to his supervisor, met with the student who first alerted the Office of Residential Life, and contacted the Title IX office. Campus Police was also notified.
The case is still under investigation, as it is difficult to discover who wrote the N-word and why. Notably, there is no evidence as to whether the individual who wrote it was a Wellesley student or someone who visited campus over the weekend.
“We don’t really have any sense who did this, why they did it, out of what mindset or with what intention. It’s sort of a mystery. We don’t even know that it was a Wellesley resident who did it,” Leach said. “The Title IX office did not respond … They would have responded to an affected party. The person who discovered it was not a targeted party, so I don’t think there was much to investigate, or you wouldn’t know who to investigate. With whom would you investigate when there wasn’t a person who was directly impacted in a way that they were singled out that others weren’t?”
Regardless, students and staff recognize the harm that such incidents can evoke, especially for Black students on campus.
“I was wondering [about] the context of who wrote it. It makes me think that the population of Black students on campus is already kind of small … [and] this kind of event, given whatever the context was, can be potentially very isolating to Black students on campus,” Grace Rigsby ’26 said. “It’s scary because you don’t know who around campus has those potentially negative feelings about Black students.”
Several Black students also acknowledge that racist acts occur frequently outside of Wellesley and are not altogether surprising.
“I come from a very conservative state where worse did happen, so this seems like a minor incident to me … I think what a lot of students at Wellesley kind of missed though is that we are in a bubble of people who are very supportive and will not tolerate anything like this, but once we leave this bubble and go out into the real world, there are people who are going to say things that make you want to rip out your hair … Just holding your head up high and having pride within who you are as a person is the best thing you can do for yourself,” Rama Ceesay ’27 said.
In an email sent to the Wellesley College Community on Dec. 11, 2023, President Paula Johnson condemned any sort of hateful expression on campus.
“Let me be as direct and emphatic as I can: There is no place for expressions of hate on our campus. As I have said repeatedly in different contexts, we are committed to creating an inclusive campus environment where all students feel safe and welcomed. We will not allow incidents of hate to slow our work of building and sustaining a community that treats everyone with dignity and respect,” Johnson said.
Many people continue to call for more action on behalf of the administration in actively protecting marginalized students.
“I think admin should not be afraid to say we are in solidarity with our Black students … Like going forward, say there is an incident involving a Black student. Would the administration [have] the outrage that is needed? Or would it kind of just subside and people forget about it because it’s uncomfortable to talk about?” Rigsby said.
For now, Black student groups on campus offer spaces of solidarity.
“I’ve spoken to other Black students on campus about how they might be feeling isolated in certain academic settings or just on campus and so I think that’s why it’s so important to have places like Harambee House and Ethos and organizations that can allow for Black students to feel in solidarity with one another especially if admin isn’t always in that position for them,” Rigsby said.
Ultimately, members of the student body hope that this incident does not dismantle the trust that exists within the Wellesley community.
“I think it is important to realize that people who do this are such a small fraction in Massachusetts or just the Wellesley area in general, and I think it’d be really unfortunate if people use this as an excuse to start targeting other races and spread hate towards them,” Ceesay said.
There is hope that continued conversations, whether at the individual or dorm-level, will provide progress in better understanding the people around us.
“First and foremost, it’s important to talk to Black students and people of color within the dorm community and understand how they feel about it. I think we can’t really make a plan to move forward until we understand what members of our community most impacted by this event feel about it and how they feel it would be best to move forward. I think without that we could do more harm by just moving on without addressing it. It’s important to make a connection with these impacted members of our community first,” White said.
Campus Police invites students to share any information regarding what happened on Dec. 9, 2023, with the Police Department.
“With the rest of the College, the Public Safety & Police Department treats these cases very seriously. We strongly condemn such hateful expression. The case remains under investigation by the Public Safety & Police Department, and anyone with any information is asked to notify Officer Brendan Cairney at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 781-283-2121,” Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Kenneth M. Walsh said.