During the swearing-in of members of the Massachusetts Governor’s Task Force on Hate Crimes, it first struck Deborah “D.J.” Williams ’20: I’m a part of something huge.
“I heard people saying, ‘I’m the district attorney of this place,’ ‘I’m a lawyer at this organization,’ ‘I’m the head of law enforcement in this city,’” she says. “Here I am, an Amherst sophomore, in the same room with these important people. It was a little intimidating. But I knew from day one that we would be able to effect good and needed change.”
Williams was appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker to be a part of the 17-person task force he revived in 2017 in response to a rise in anti-Semitic incidents across New England. The group is charged with advising Baker on issues related to the prevalence, deterrence and prevention of hate crimes, and on ways to support victims. They work to improve the reporting, investigation and prosecution of such acts and help to analyze and publicize hate crime reports. The team is also developing best practices for school districts looking to make hate crime education a part of the curriculum.
At its inception, the task force divided into subgroups focused on education and law enforcement; Williams chose to be part of the education group. Her responsibility is to represent the perspective of, and to advocate for, youth in the state.