On April 7, 1990 at 4 a.m. a fist-sized rock was thrown through the Wesleyan President’s window followed by two Molotov Cocktails. Shots were allegedly fired from an AK-47 in the bushes of Van Vleck Observatory towards South College.
On July 6 of that year, in Hartford, Nicholas Haddad ’92 was shot in the back of the head and killed by Kumar Visnawathan, his former friend and the son of Tanjore Viswanathan, an adjunct professor of music at Wesleyan.
Strangely, the two events were connected. The state of Connecticut determined that Haddad was part of the conspiracy to bomb South College.
Unraveling the Haddad story is difficult. There’s The New York Times portrait of a brooding radical who embraced the bullet over the ballot, addressing political matters on his own violent terms. There’s the portrayal from his friends turned killers of a man growing continually more dangerous over time. They had made a deal involving an exchange of $12,000 for 9 lbs of pot and some weapons. The money was lost or spent and they were afraid of Haddad coming after their families. They had to kill him.
Sudhama Ranganathan, a Middletown resident and friend of Haddad and Visnawathan, claimed in a statement that he had made the bombs Kofi Taha ’92 had thrown. After a long trial, the Middlesex Superior Court acquitted Taha. Most of the witnesses who placed him at the scene of the bombing seemed to have something to gain. Meanwhile, Visnawathan was given 33 years in prison for the murder of Haddad.
Most of Wesleyan’s collective memory lasts only four years. People remember that there was a firebombing at Wesleyan, or the shots that were fired and the graffiti that filled the basement of Malcolm X house with threats.
But letting this be the focal point of this era of our history is dangerous. The tension within the Molotov Cocktails that made them explode and do $20,000 worth of damage resolved itself in an instant, but the tension that caused the bombs to be thrown certainly was not. There will always be tension at Wesleyan. In the spring of 1990, it wasn’t just the objections to the trustees’ investments in South African businesses. It wasn’t just minority professors retiring, resigning and leaving because they were no long on track to tenure. It wasn’t just the blatant racism that motivated someone to climb in the basement of Malcolm X house and spray paint “Go Back To Africa.” It wasn’t just Nicholas Haddad. Whether or not he masterminded the bombing makes little difference.
As Kofi Taha said on April 17, 1990, “Going under the assumption that [the bombing] is a political move, then it’s all our faults – it’s the students’ fault, it’s the administration’s fault, the trustees’ fault, everyone’s fault that they would let somebody go so unheard that they would go to these kind of desperate, warped measures to get their point across.”
“I am sure that all of you share with me the sense that Wesleyan has endured a crisis of identity and sprit in the past several months,” wrote former Wesleyan President Chace in a letter to all Wesleyan faculty, students, and staff at the beginning of the summer.
Thanks to Special Collections and Archives for their continued help with this column. If you have a question about Wesleyan history for this column, please mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org