College bans suspect in anti-Semitic poster campaign

[TW: This article discusses an anti-Semitic bias incident and mentions sexual assault.]

On Sunday, Oct. 7, Safety and Security identified and removed numerous posters containing anti-Semitic imagery and text from several buildings on campus. The posters—which claim their source as “your local Stormer book club,” a reference to the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer—blame Jews for sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was sworn in the day before the posters were found. The Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) was alerted the same day.

Included on the flyers are drawings of Kavanaugh and of opponents of his nomination, including Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), with Stars of David drawn on their foreheads. The posters also label figures such as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who brought the initial allegations against Kavanaugh, with the words “GOOD GOY.” The written message makes the intentions behind the posters clear: “Every time some anti-white, anti-American, anti-freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it’s Jews behind it” (BIRT, Bias Incident Reports, “October 7, 2018”).

The same posters appeared on three other college campuses across the country—the Universities of California at Berkeley and Davis, as well as Marist College in Poughkeepsie (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Fliers on 4 college campuses blame Jews for Kavanaugh assault allegations,” 10.09.2018).

Numerous messages went out in response to this incident. On Oct. 7, President of the College Elizabeth Bradley wrote to Vassar community members to inform them of the incident and to affirm the College’s stance against such speech. Bradley stated, “I condemn everything about these posters…This is not who Vassar is, and we will not fall prey to the hateful messages of these posters. Vassar is a community that embraces diversity and inclusion of all kinds.”

The next day, both Rachlin Director for Jewish Student Life Elizabeth Aeschlimann and Professor of Religion and Director of Jewish Studies Marc Michael Epstein (on behalf of the Jewish Studies Steering Committee) wrote to the Vassar community to condemn the posters and to stand in solidarity with individuals affected by their messages.

Aeschlimann called the images and messages “abhorrent” and encouraged community care. Epstein stated in his email, “We, the members of the Jewish Studies Steering Committee, condemn in categorical and clear-cut terms the vile and scurrilous anti-Semitic posters that littered the campus today. They were offensive to Jews as well as to victims of sexual assault, and repugnant to all who oppose prejudice in all forms … As faculty, we will not be silent in the face of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and white nationalism…[you] are not alone and you don’t need to be afraid.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 9, Bradley updated the campus via email on the investigation of the incident, announcing that Safety and Security, the BIRT team and the Poughkeepsie Police Department apprehended the male individual who they believe is responsible for hanging the posters. The suspect is not connected to Vassar, and the police are neither treating the case as a hate crime nor pursuing criminal charges. An investigation is ongoing to confirm that the suspect is the same one who admitted to posting flyers at Marist College and Dutchess Community College. These two institutions, along with Vassar, have banned the individual from their campuses (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Dutchess local who posted anti-Semitic flyers at colleges banned,” 10.09.2018).

As Bradley expressed in her follow-up email, “I am proud of how we came together as a community … We at Vassar stand with our Jewish students, students of color, survivors of sexual assault, and all members of our community whom this group would seek to target.”

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