Eleven years have passed since the murder of then-undergraduate student Tamara Sonya Williams, but a lecture in her memory helps her presence remain on campus.
Last night in Rackham’s Ampitheatre, the eighth annual Tamara Williams Memorial Lecture commemorated the LSA senior’s death by bringing attention to domestic violence against women.
Williams, who was planning to apply to law school or pursue a graduate degree in social work, was repeatedly stabbed by her boyfriend, Kevin Nelson, on Sept. 23, 1997. She was only 20 years old when she died and left a two-year-old daughter behind.
Melaku Mekonnen, the Director of Northwood Community Apartments where Williams had last resided, introduced the lecture to an audience of about 75 by reading a statement written by William’s father.
“Tamara may not be here, but she’s always in my heart,” the letter read. “I look forward to when Kiara (Tamara’s daughter) enters the University of Michigan Class of 2017.”
After showing a 10-year-old news clip detailing events around Williams’ murder, School of Social Work Prof. Daniel Saunders, who is the co-director of Interdisciplinary Research Program on Violence Against the Lifespan, discussed how his program hopes to end domestic violence.
“We look for ways to prevent tomorrow’s tragedies,” Saunders said.
University of Illinois at Chicago Prof. Beth Richie, who works in the Gender and Women’s Studies and Criminal Justice departments, delivered the keynote address. It focused on the thesis of her forthcoming novel, Male Violence and the Build-up of a Prison Nation, which asserts that factors like race, gender and classism all intersect to contribute to the inequality that leads to domestic violence in today’s society.
Richie emphasized that even when people outwardly appear to be stable, their race, gender, and socio-economic status can make them more susceptible to domestic violence. She said women should never protect their abusers by remaining silent, as Williams did and so many others have.
Richie cited the story of a young, pregnant African American teenager who delivered her baby herself, and then abandoned the child in a trashcan. Reporters later found the baby. Because the girl was an exemplary student and college-bound, those close to her said they didn’t know she was struggling.
“No one asked her about her circumstances,” Richie said. “This young woman had been repeatedly raped by her uncle for the past two years. There were no records of her victimization.”
LSA senior Megan Zeller, a member of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center who attended the lecture, said she thought the lecture served the campus community well.
“To have a lecture for Tamara Williams, commemorating her horrific tragedy, is really important to the campus community,” she said. “I just think that Dr. Richie’s talk today keeps that girl’s memory alive, which I think is very important for a community where these things aren’t talked about. And that’s why I came.”