The annual Tamara Williams Memorial Lecture, a series of lectures started to celebrate Williams’ life and to remind everyone of the ongoing fight to end violence, started with a description of the circumstances under which she died.
After her death in 1997, friends and family of Williams, then an LSA senior, said they had had no idea of the violence associated with Williams’s relationship with boyfriend Kevin Nelson.
The two had been in a long on-again, off-again relationship, accompanied by spouts of violence and abuse, which, according to police reports, started in November 1995. Though friends knew Williams occasionally fought with Nelson, they had no idea how serious the situation was.
On Sept. 23, 1997, the secret violence led to a tragedy that shocked campus. That morning, Nelson stabbed Williams to death, then was fatally shot by Department of Public Safety officers after he refused to drop his weapon.
“I was never aware of the violence in their relationship. You know how kids are, they always try to keep anything bad away from you,” Jeanette Hart, Williams’ grandmother, told the Daily after the stabbing. “This is the first time I even heard about the domestic violence charge.”
The murder was the most serious crime to happen on campus in at least the last 10 years, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said yesterday.
Last night, standing in front of a room full of students, Tamara’s mother, Yvonne Williams, made a heartfelt plea to her audience: Don’t make the same mistake.
“To all the students, the ladies, the men, I just want to say, just be careful, take care of yourselves … if you have a problem, tell somebody. Tell your mother. Tell your father. Tell somebody,” she said, adding that life since her daughter’s death has continued to be a struggle.
“Just keep on keeping on and don’t let anyone stop you. Please don’t let anyone stop you,” she said before returning to her seat in the East Hall auditorium, where she put her left hand in front of her eyes to hide her tears.
Minutes later, a line of a dozen people formed to her left — a line of students, faculty and strangers, all waiting to offer her embraces and their condolences, more than six years after the fact.
During the event, clips of news broadcasts on the day of Tamara’s death were played. The broadcasts featured witnesses of the attack, friends of Tamara who described her as “a senior on her way out,” and Nelson’s sister, who tried to gain sympathy for her brother’s death.
The clips were played in an attempt to show students the proximity of the tragedy, University Housing spokesman Alan Levy said.
“Some of what you will see is disturbing. All of what you will see is disturbing,” he told the audience, adding that it was important “to see that this particular horror occurred not in some other community, but in our own. … It was intensely personal.”
The lecture, given by human and women’s rights activist Loretta Ross and titled “Freedom from Violence is a Human Right,” followed the broadcasts.
“I started off life being very pissed off about the things that happened to me,” Ross said, describing an incident that happened when she was 11 years old, when she was kidnapped, taken to a nearby woods, raped and then returned to her home.
Ross, who founded the Center for Human Rights Education in Atlanta, said she did not tell anyone of the rape until years after the fact, when she was in her late 20s and helping to direct a rape crisis center in the early 1970s.
She spoke of the advances in the movement to end violence against women as well as the changes in the treatment of rape victims and the prosecution of rapists.
“There used to be a time when men would brag about the violence they did to women. Now they try to hide it … because they know what they did is wrong,” Ross said.