– November 30th, 2012 by Aaron Hodge –
Messages of hate and harrassment challenge college community
As most people who are involved with the college are most likely aware at this point, a series of anti-Semitic graffiti has surfaced in the halls of Burpee fairly recently.
On Sunday, Nov. 4, a father was bringing things into the residence hall when he noticed a strange symbol drawn on the wall. He didn’t think much of it until he got back home, where he began to feel uneasy. Bothered, he called Dave Sauerwein, vice president for student development and dean of students, and reported what he believed to have been a Swastika drawn on the wall, though he wasn’t completely certain. Upon inspection, Campus Safety couldn’t find a trace of the alleged symbol anywhere.
However, a blatant message emerged the next afternoon, the revolting statement “No Jews Allowed,” written on top of a S.N.A.F.U poster sponsored by the CSC Players. It has since been taken down as evidence.
Coincidentally, the appearance of these epithets occurred just four days before the anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as “the Night of Broken Glass,” where a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria were carried out by SA paramilitary and civilians in 1938. At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and a further 30,000 arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps.
The appearance of the hateful statement on top of the theatrical advertisement has garnered attention from the authorities. The show was put on between Nov.1-3, a production consisting of 10 short plays ranging in genre. One play in particular, “It’s the Jews,” written by John Minigan and directed by Alex Banat 13’, left some audience member’s feeling “uncomfortable,” after the show, despite its intended satire. In response, Associate Dean of Students & Director of Citizenship Education Robin Davis, emailed Banat to see if someone could have been quoting the play, or if there could be any connection whatsoever, as she did not attend the performance.
Banat swiftly replied that there was no such connection, and that as a Jewish student attending the school, he was offended at the appearance of the hatred as much as anyone. She thanked him for the response, stating she was simply trying to piece together the “Why?” of such an incident.
Although the investigation is still underway, Director of Campus Safety Pete Berthiaume, says they are “checking all possibilities,” but are just about “wrapping up” the case.
While not involved with the day to day operation, Sauerwein has been looking at the bigger picture and response, holding a meeting with Burpee residents Nov. 8 to discuss concerns about harassment in the building, in the hope of healing as a community.
Around 30 students showed up to the meeting, and as Carly Stevens 14’ describes it, “Everyone was really quiet, either because they didn’t know anything or they just didn’t want to say anything. We were all pretty dumbfounded.”
Since there wasn’t any significant information transpiring, Sauerwein and others went further in-depth about civic atmosphere, and gave the students ideas on how to create a more “peaceful community.” Some students have even created posters labeled “Peace,” “Love,” and “Shalom.”
Despite the productive atmosphere of the gathering, Sauerwein was approached by several women afterwards, one claiming that the insults “Ho” and “Snob” had been written on her white board during the meeting, and another expressing concerns about sexual harassment from a male resident. Culminating in Sauerwein’s email Thursday morning entitled “A Call for Civility,” it is clear that respect issues on campus in general, not just in anti-Semitic form, exist in great numbers.
“College-aged people go through a lot of development individual, especially concerning issues of identity. On top of that, we’ve become more diverse then we’ve ever been, which raises significant identity questions for everyone.”
The radius of these blatant messages’ impact has reached deep into the heart and identity of Colby-Sawyer students and faculty alike. Barely 10 days after President Tom Galligan emailed the campus community to reaffirm the college’s refusal to “tolerate with messages of hate” like the Swastika, another email was sent as damage control after a group of Nepalese students approached him, informing him of the sacred swastika symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Odinism that stands for “good fortune” and “well-being.” While this symbol generally points in a different direction than the Nazi swastika, they are similar enough to attract double-takes from westerners.
For some students, this has been an unusual occurrence.
“It’s been really eye-opening for me,” says Stevens. “I’ve just never been around something like this before.”
While she maintains the belief that it was just kids messing around, with no real malice behind the act, she also realizes this is no excuse.
“Sometimes people do things, and they just don’t think about how it affects everybody else. It’s just immature.”
Whether hijinks or dark intentions, at an expanding intellectual institution such as Colby-Sawyer College, public displays of bigotry have no place in the idyllic image of its vintage brick buildings and mountain horizons. As President Galligan writes, hopefully we can “learn something and move forward” from this incident and always be “thankful for our college community, which continues to grow and become more diverse” and that “offers us ever greater opportunities to learn from, understand and appreciate each other.”
It is a challenge for each and every student to individually embark on, but together, we will be a stronger community for it.