News

Harvard Law School Makes Online Zero-L Course Free for All U.S. Law Schools Due to Coronavirus

News

For Kennedy School Fellows, Epstein-Linked Donors Present a Moral Dilemma

News

Tenants Grapple with High Rents and Local Turnover at Asana-Owned Properties

News

In April, Theft Surged as Cambridge Residents Stayed at Home

News

The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Williams Men Get Bizarre Letters

By Charles G. Kels

Williams College men found a mysterious letter in their mailboxes Wednesday, a letter similar to one sent to male Harvard students in 1995 by a writer claiming to be attracted to men but disgusted by homosexuals.

The writer, who claimed in both the Harvard and Williams letters to have graduated from college last year, wrote: "While I like men, I dislike all the gays I have met. Most strike me as feminine in speech, mannerisms and looks."

Although the wording of the Harvard and Williams letters were slightly different, the similarity was striking.

According to the author of the Williams letter, in his experience "even the ones who are relatively 'straight-acting' tend to strike me as neuter." The Harvard letter read, "Even gays who consider themselves 'straight-acting' seem to me at best neuter."

Williams College students and administrators are reacting more calmly than Harvard's did two years ago.

Williams students say that the letter was sent to almost all students on campus with masculine first names. One student said that a female undergraduate with a masculine first name received the letter as well, as did Harvard women with masculine names in 1995.

When the letter was sent to Harvard students in May 1995, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III expressed serious concern.

"I thought at the time the letter violated privacy laws," Epps said yesterday. "The nature of the letter was of concern to me. I don't want people with obsessions talking to students and targeting young men. The letter suggested to me the work of a person with an obsession. Such people in my understanding may become violent."

Epps said he was concerned that the author had obtained access to the names and mailbox addresses of many male students, even some whose personal information was withheld by Harvard telephone services for special security reasons.

Epps said he thought the author was a resident in the Cambridge area. He said the author may have raided the Harvard computer system to find the names.

According to Epps, Harvard attempted to uncover the identity of the author but turned up nothing. He declined to disclose the nature of the investigation.

But Williams Registrar and Associate Dean of Students Charles R. Toomajian Jr. is taking a calmer approach.

"I viewed it as yet another piece of junk mail," Toomajian said. "We don't release student directories willy-nilly, but it's not a security issue at all because we do in fact publish a mailing list."

Toomajian, who said he was informed about the letter by a concerned student who visited his office, said the author could have obtained access to Williams directory information through the college's Web page or by borrowing a student's directory book.

When asked about the letter's appearance, Toomajian quipped, "It looked a lot like Harry Lewis' stationery," but quickly added he was only ribbing his Harvard counterpart.

"I did not go over this with a magnifying glass," Toomajian said. "It wasn't gay-bashing, but the author was making some disparaging remarks. The letter wasn't harassing--it was carefully crafted."

The envelopes, personally addressed to the students with typed labels, were postmarked from Boston, and the author provided a Cambridge post office box for return mail.

"But don't write back to tell me you disgree with my letter," the author wrote. "I've had enough of that."

Claiming he plans to send the letter to several other top institutions, the author described himself as an expert on Nietzsche who enjoys reading J.D. Salinger and listening to Bach and "some sappy rock songs."

Reaction on the Williams campus was as varied as it was at Harvard two years ago.

"The letter said he wanted a manly man," said Chris M. Nelson, a Williams senior. "The guys he's met have been fruity and sensitive, like women.... We get a lot of shit in the mail, but nothing this weird."

"I wouldn't be surprised if the letter came from within the school," Nelson said. "There are so many gay and lesbian clubs."

One Williams sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous, said there was speculation on campus that the letter was part of a psychology experiment created to measure response among the student body.

Greg W. Albert, another Williams sophomore, said, "I get a lot of junk mail, but this was more unusual than any of the mail I ever got."

Most Williams students interviewed agreed that the letter was a strange experience for the entire student body.

One Harvard senior who received the virtually identical letter in 1995 and spoke on condition of anonymity said yesterday, "I thought it was a disturbing and sad thing--a cry for help.

When the letter was sent to Harvard students in May 1995, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III expressed serious concern.

"I thought at the time the letter violated privacy laws," Epps said yesterday. "The nature of the letter was of concern to me. I don't want people with obsessions talking to students and targeting young men. The letter suggested to me the work of a person with an obsession. Such people in my understanding may become violent."

Epps said he was concerned that the author had obtained access to the names and mailbox addresses of many male students, even some whose personal information was withheld by Harvard telephone services for special security reasons.

Epps said he thought the author was a resident in the Cambridge area. He said the author may have raided the Harvard computer system to find the names.

According to Epps, Harvard attempted to uncover the identity of the author but turned up nothing. He declined to disclose the nature of the investigation.

But Williams Registrar and Associate Dean of Students Charles R. Toomajian Jr. is taking a calmer approach.

"I viewed it as yet another piece of junk mail," Toomajian said. "We don't release student directories willy-nilly, but it's not a security issue at all because we do in fact publish a mailing list."

Toomajian, who said he was informed about the letter by a concerned student who visited his office, said the author could have obtained access to Williams directory information through the college's Web page or by borrowing a student's directory book.

When asked about the letter's appearance, Toomajian quipped, "It looked a lot like Harry Lewis' stationery," but quickly added he was only ribbing his Harvard counterpart.

"I did not go over this with a magnifying glass," Toomajian said. "It wasn't gay-bashing, but the author was making some disparaging remarks. The letter wasn't harassing--it was carefully crafted."

The envelopes, personally addressed to the students with typed labels, were postmarked from Boston, and the author provided a Cambridge post office box for return mail.

"But don't write back to tell me you disgree with my letter," the author wrote. "I've had enough of that."

Claiming he plans to send the letter to several other top institutions, the author described himself as an expert on Nietzsche who enjoys reading J.D. Salinger and listening to Bach and "some sappy rock songs."

Reaction on the Williams campus was as varied as it was at Harvard two years ago.

"The letter said he wanted a manly man," said Chris M. Nelson, a Williams senior. "The guys he's met have been fruity and sensitive, like women.... We get a lot of shit in the mail, but nothing this weird."

"I wouldn't be surprised if the letter came from within the school," Nelson said. "There are so many gay and lesbian clubs."

One Williams sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous, said there was speculation on campus that the letter was part of a psychology experiment created to measure response among the student body.

Greg W. Albert, another Williams sophomore, said, "I get a lot of junk mail, but this was more unusual than any of the mail I ever got."

Most Williams students interviewed agreed that the letter was a strange experience for the entire student body.

One Harvard senior who received the virtually identical letter in 1995 and spoke on condition of anonymity said yesterday, "I thought it was a disturbing and sad thing--a cry for help.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags