We learned yesterday that a swastika was placed on a sign outside the dorm room of a student living in Main. We also have seen the memo sent by the Office of Residential Life to students in Main. As far as we know, that memo is the only response made by Vassar to this incident. Other schools where anti-Semitic graffiti has been found – usually close in time to a vote on BDS – have publicly denounced similar acts. It is disturbing, although hardly surprising, that Vassar has not followed suit.
We understand that under certain circumstances, placing antii-Semitic graffiti on the door of another person’s dorm room may subject the perpetrator to charges of making graffiti, a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. In effect, Vassar is trying to minimize what is potentially criminal behavior with an incredibly lame memo sent only to the residents of Main.
The letter is deficient in the following respects:
- As far as we know, it was addressed to and sent only to residents of Main. Placing a swastika on the door of a dorm room is something that affects the entire school, not just students who happen to live in Main;
- Nowhere does the letter acknowledge that placing a universally-recognized symbol of hatred towards the Jewish people is a quintessential act of anti-Semitism.
- The letter advises that if any students are concerned, they can contact the Rabbi of the Office of Residential Life. The only conclusion that can be drawn from the use of this phrasing is that overt displays of anti-Semitism may affect only individual students and not every single student attending Vassar.
- The suggestion that a victim of a hate crime confront the perpetrator and remind them of our community values is ludicrous. If a perpetrator is sexually assaulting a student, should the victim caution the attacker to stop and remind him or her of Vassar’s community values?
The opening lines of the letter state that the presence of this kind of message creates the impression that Vassar is a community where this type of behavior is tolerated. But Vassar’s response to the swastika graffiti does precisely that. It suggests, all too accurately, that Vassar will in fact tolerate biased acts as long as they are committed against Jewish and/or pro-Israel students.
It is Vassar’s moral and legal obligation to create a safe environment for all students. Vassar can not escape this duty by placing the burden on the victim of a heinous act.
Melissa Green, Class of 1978
Megan Tallmer, Class of 1973