Swastikas at Stanford

Swastikas, personal slurs and epithets were painted on a fraternity house at Stanford University last weekend in what university officials are calling a hate crime.

The graffiti was discovered on the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house on the night of April 25 by fraternity members, the Stanford Daily reported on its website the next day. Vandalism also occurred at student residences Casa Italiana and BOB house.

“I am deeply troubled by the act of vandalism, including symbols of hate, that has marred our campus,” Stanford President John Hennessy said in a statement to the student newspaper. “The university will not tolerate hate crimes and this incident will be fully investigated, both by campus police and by the university under our Acts of Intolerance Protocol. This level of incivility has no place at Stanford.”

Swastika on the door at Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Stanford photo/courtesy miriam pollock

The incident came three weeks after accusations by student government candidate Molly Horwitz that she was singled out for her Jewishness during an endorsement interview.

The local office of the Anti-Defamation League denounced the vandalism as a “vile expression of hatred,” and 26 organizations, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Israeli-American Council, sent a joint letter to Hennessy expressing concern for the “safety and well-being of Jewish students at Stanford University” and urging the university to educate students about anti-Semitism.

“Tensions for Jewish students are heightened due to recent allegations of anti-Semitism on the Stanford campus,” Seth Brysk, the S.F.-based director of the ADL’s Central Pacific region, said in a statement. “We commend Stanford President John Hennessey for his strong statement condemning the act of hate and urge him to take additional steps to confront this and other recent expressions of bigotry.”

The Stanford Review newspaper quoted the student who found the swastikas as saying, “We have no reason to believe this was targeted toward any particular Jewish student in SAE.” He was referred to as the president of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter but not named.

However, senior Liana Kadisha, the former president of the Stanford Israel Association, told the Stanford Daily that there has been a rise in hostility toward Jewish groups since Stanford’s undergraduate senate passed a controversial divestment resolution in February. She said that many student groups have refused to co-sponsor events with her group.

In a statement issued by Hillel at Stanford, Rabbi Serena Eisenberg, executive director, and Susan Wolfe, president, wrote: “The display of this loaded symbol of the Holocaust casts a shadow over our university community. … Hate crimes have no place on a college campus or anywhere.”

Chabad at Stanford executive director Rabbi Dov Greenberg  also condemned the vandalism. “The only best response to anti-Semitism is to fight it but never internalize the hate,” he said in a statement. “Wear your Jewish identity proudly.”

On April 28, two nights after the vandalism became known, the campus Jewish Students Association held a community gathering called “Stanford Stands Against Anti-Semitism.” Students gathered at Hillel to talk about being Jewish at Stanford, and then approximately 200 attended a rally in White Memorial Plaza on campus.

“Everyone here tonight is showing that hate and prejudice do not belong on this campus,” sophomore Julia Daniel, co-president of Stanford J Street U, said, according to the Stanford Daily. “I hope we can follow this gathering with communication, education and with action to make this school a better place for all of its students.”

Other speakers included representatives of the Jewish Student Association at Stanford, the Muslim Student Association and two recently elected Stanford leaders, student senate president John-Lancaster Finley and vice president Brandon Hill.

After the vigil, Eisenberg sent out an email citing her “tremendous pride” in organizers and speakers who expressed “hope for rebuilding a stronger Stanford community, with increased understanding and empathy, after several past months of divisiveness.”