Students call for stronger administrative response to anti-Semitic and racist propaganda

On Feb. 19, members of the Vassar community discovered anti-Semitic and racist propoganda posted around campus in the form of stickers. Cal Quinn-Ward ’22 found stickers outside the terrace apartments that showed a cartoon depiction of Hitler and took them down. Other students found stickers printed with the phrase “It’s okay to be white.” Director of Safety and Security Arlene Sabo sent an email to the Vassar community that condemned the stickers, asked for any information from students and referenced on-campus resources for students to discuss the incidents. House Advisors sent emails asking House Team members to remove any stickers they saw. Several days later, on Feb. 23, a second email from Sabo with the subject line “Bias Incident Investigation” explained that a second set of stickers “produced and signed by a known white supremacist organization” had been found along Raymond and Collegeview Avenues. 

Although Sabo did not name the white supremacist group in her email, VSA President Carlos Espina ’21 shared that the stickers were bought from patriotfront.us. Patriot Front is classified as an extremist white supremacist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group maintains chapters around the country, but it is unclear if they have a chapter in Poughkeepsie or the stickers were purchased from their website by an individual. Although these incidents are most likely linked, no individuals have been charged or have claimed responsibility. While Safety and Security has removed the stickers, members of the Vassar community remain frustrated that expressions of white supremacy continue to occur on campus.

Last year, when similar anti-Semitic and racist propoganda appeared on campus, Safety and Security worked with the Poughkeepsie Police Department to locate the responsible individual, who was from outside the Vassar community. Espina explained that similar stickers had been found in Poughkeepsie, from which he reasoned that the stickers on campus were not put up by students. Safety and Security has not confirmed or denied student or faculty involvement. 

For many students, especially those who are students of color and/or Jewish, the presence of white supremacist and anti-Semitic propoganda is unnerving. 

“For me personally, it did not come as a shock that something like this would happen, but it did come at a time where I allowed it to knock me off balance a little bit,” commented Co-Chair of Political Education of the Vassar Black Students’ Union (BSU) Chelsea Quayenortey ’22. “Between Econ midterms, papers, work, organizing actions for the protesters at Syracuse [University], organizing fundraisers to send money to Nikki Addimando’s kids and planning the Black Solidarity Dinner, it’s like really?” She added, “We honestly get no rest on this campus and it’s sad to have to take on all this emotional distress, which no one talks about.”

Chair of the Vassar Jews of Color Caucus Leora Shlasko ’22 shared her reaction to the discovery: “I hear the ways this has impacted my friends and my peers, and I think that for myself, I feel safe, but that feeling of safety and protection doesn’t exist for a lot of people on this campus, and I think that is because voicing that feeling of unease is really difficult.” 

Some students expressed dissatisfaction that the administration and Safety and Security were not taking the situation as seriously as they could be. BSU Co-Chair of Political Education Hayley Craig ’22 said, “I was really disappointed that President Bradley didn’t think this was an important enough issue to, at the very least, send an email condemning the stickers and their message. There should definitely have been a community meeting for students to voice concerns or share how they are feeling to Safety and Security and the Administration … I have not had a single professor mention the stickers to me and that’s probably because the administration didn’t really give us a lot of information and tried to make the incident seem unimportant so that we would just forget.” 

Quayenortey concurred: “I think I’ve slightly given up on this administration prioritizing students of color’s safety simply because of the countless times they’ve shown us it doesn’t matter to them … This school’s administration is very reactive, as in they don’t care about injustice until it actually hurts someone physically, and even then their reactions are pretty shakey.”

Espina defended the administration and Safety and Security, acknowledging that this is a difficult situation and steps have been taken to ensure the safety of the Vassar community. “Given that the people doing this are from the outside and our campus is pretty open, it’s hard for the administration to do anything to stop future incidents without increasing security, which I am not sure a majority of students would like,” Espina said. “That said, I definitely think this is a conversation that should be had with the campus community.” 

Craig also stressed the importance of community building and self care. She explained, “I think we need to make sure we are taking care of each other. Some Vassar students and organizations have responded to this incident of hate speech by trying to create spaces where we can just talk openly about how we are feeling.”Many students remarked upon the importance of the administration simply lending an ear  to those impacted by these incidents. “The important thing is that we listen to each other. If someone says there has been pain or that there has been fear, we have to acknowledge those feelings and validate them,” said Shlasko. “We should be open to having a plethora of ways that this can be solved or addressed.” Craig echoed her sentiment, saying, “Showing care for POC and Jewish students can literally start as simple as asking us if we are okay and listening to what we have to say.”

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