Trinity College Professor Who Posted Controversial Article on Leave

A Trinity College professor who shared a controversial article on his personal social media pages, sparking a series of threats to the Hartford campus, has been placed on administrative leave. 

"As a follow-up to my note from last week, I write to inform you that Professor Johnny Williams has been placed on leave, effectively immediately. We’ve determined that a leave is in the best interest of both Professor Williams and the college. The review by the Dean of the Faculty of the events concerning Professor Williams will continue," President and Trinity College professor Joanne Berger-Sweeney wrote on Monday.

Last week, Johnny Williams, sociology professor who has been with Trinity College since 1996, shared a June 16 article from Medium.com on his personal Facebook and Twitter pages, according to  Berger-Sweeney on June 21.

"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," Berger-Sweeney said last week.

The sociology professor's post resulted in a public rebuke across the country and prompted Trinity College to close the campus on June 21, when threats started coming in.

On Thursday, Williams apologized for the threats made to campus, himself and his family. 

“In yesterday's frenzy-amid the escalating threats to my family and me and the incessant harassment that so many associated with Trinity College were receiving-there is one important thing I didn't say: I am sorry. I regret that the hashtag that I quoted from the title of an article was misinterpreted and misperceived as inciting violence and calling for the death of 'white' people. I never intended to invite or incite violence. My only aim was to bring awareness to white supremacy and to inspire others to address these kinds of injustices. I regret the fear and anxiety that the resulting media tumult brought to the college, and I am grateful for the outpouring of support I have received from so many at Trinity and beyond,” Williams wrote in a statement to the college community. 

Berger-Sweeney noted that Williams, who teaches about race and racism, did not write the article, however, he did share it on his personal social media accounts using the hashtag connected "directly to the inflammatory conclusion in the article."

"In my opinion, (Williams') use of the hashtag was reprehensible and, at the very least, in poor judgment," Berger-Sweeney said.

The school continues to review the incident with the school's dean of faculty on whether college procedures or policies were broken, according to Trinity College's statement.

Williams earlier provided a statement to NBC Connecticut that said he has received, via email and telephone, a number of threatening messages. The professor said he was not calling for the death of any group of people but he wanted to spark a debate on the very subject he teaches.

"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 ------- Die.' This was an admittedly provocative move to get readers to pay attention to my reasoned, reasonable, and yes angry argument," Williams wrote.

"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," he said.

On Monday, Berger-Sweeney noted on the complicated relationships people have with social media.

"I want to take care to note that the principles that underlie this particular set of events go far beyond the actions of any one person. These involve principles that concern how we think about academic freedom and freedom of speech, as well as the responsibilities that come with those fundamental values. It’s true, too, that as scholars and citizens, and as individuals and as a community of higher learning, our roles in and relationship to social media and the public sphere are complicated. We must be able to engage in conversations about these difficult and complex issues, and Trinity College and other places like it are precisely where such conversations should occur. I, for one, welcome them," Bergery-Sweeney said. 

State Representative Themis Klarides, an alumni of Trinity College, is calling for the professor to be removed, saying in part, that the professors' "opinions are simply outrageous and racist in and of themselves. We would urge you to consider this request as in the best interests of not only 'members of the greater Trinity College community,' but of society at large."

Contact Us