Over the month of September, multiple swastikas were reportedly drawn in Neill Hall. According to campus crime logs, the offensive symbols were reported four separate times – marking bulletin boards on the first, second and fourth floors. Facilities services, in each instance, removed the markings.
According to Director of Security Bill Collumbien, there are currently no clues as to who may be responsible for the hate crime.
“Due to how public the locations are and number of people who travel through the hallways, it is difficult to determine who may be responsible,” Collumbien said. He was also unable to assign a definitive motive for the crime.
The Macalester community first learned about the drawings from a statement released in the Mac Daily on Sept. 28. This statement was crafted by the Office of Student Affairs, the Department of Multicultural Life (DML), Campus Security, and the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL).
The statement denounced the marking as “unacceptable,” and noted that the symbol of the swastika “raises feelings among many communities of being targeted and singled out.”
The discovery of the swastikas – widely recognized as a symbol of anti-semitism and white supremacy – coincides with a nationwide uptick in anti-Semitic crime. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the first quarter of 2017 saw an 86% increase in reports of anti-semitic incidents, as compared to the same period in 2016.
This is not the first time a swastika has been found on campus. Last October, Facilities Services reported finding swastikas carved into library work surfaces.
Interim Dean of Multicultural Life (DML) Sedric McClure voiced concern for what these acts mean for the Macalester community.
“What kind of message does this send out?” asks McClure. “What kind of anxieties do these symbols begin to raise in people who have certain identities – people who are Jewish, people of color?”
According to McClure, the main question is how the college community moves forward. He says the DML is eager to “engage in conversations and programs … to address issues of multiculturalism that are rooted in social justice.”
College Chaplain and Associate Dean Reverend Kelly Stone said it is important to consider that the acts could possibly have come from inside the community.
“We’re this open campus,” Stone said. “Was it a Mac student? Was it a member of our community? We don’t have a way of answering that question.”
Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life Rabbi Emma Kippley-Ogman expanded on those sentiments.
“It’s important not to say ‘this must be outsiders,’” Kippley-Ogman said. “This could be from our community. We don’t know what they were thinking and hoping to convey, but we do know its effect.”
There have been a “variety of reactions” among students, according to Kippley-Ogman. Stone agreed that “impact has been so different student to student.”
The Jewish community was emailed about the incident before the announcement was published in The Mac Daily. Kelly said there were “a range of feelings” from the students she spoke to. While “some students were grateful” for the information, others “would have rather not known at all.”
Regardless of reactions, Kippley-Ogman said she has heard from Jewish students that they want to come together and be visible on campus.
“That yearning comes up when we see symbols of hate. We don’t feel seen, and we feel like someone is asking us to be unwelcome,” Kippley-Ogman said.
This series of events is particularly noteworthy due to its proximity to Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday of repentance.
“It’s never a good time to have something like this happen on campus, but right before one of the most holy days of the year for our Jewish brothers and sisters is really hard. We recognize that,” Stone said.
Moving forward, Stone stated a need to “hold each other accountable as a community.”
“How often do we, in our regular conversations, address microaggressions and statements that might be loaded with a little bit of racism, or sexism, or nationalism?” she asked. “How often do we let those things slide?”
Emily Nadel ’18 has been active in Jewish life on campus throughout her time at Macalester, and currently serves as a leader of Macalester Jewish Organization (MJO). While Nadel appreciated being given advanced notice of the swastika over email, she wished the hate crime had been denounced in stronger terms.
“A swastika is not really graffiti,” she said. “A swastika anywhere is a hate symbol, not low grade vandalism, and it’s got to be treated differently, especially right now in a climate that is hate-filled.”
Nadel called on the broader college community, beyond those communities who feel targeted, to engage in dialogue around the ramifications of this act.
“This isn’t just about swastika,” said Nadel. “It’s about a change in climate here, about what we say publicly when we see things that are not right, and how you face that. I would love to see more professors say something, just say something about it.”
“We talk about civic engagement and being global citizens, and if that‘s at the core of our mission, to live up to that mission, we have to have serious conversations whenever we have hate speech here.”
Nadel cited an event on Sept. 30 – only several days after the announcement of the swastika graffiti – when the Muslim and Jewish communities came together to break their fasts, which marked both Yom Kippur and the Muslim holiday of Ashura.
“What has stood out to me over the past week is the sense of community I experience here,” Nadel said. “There is real vibrancy in the Jewish community here, and it’s not going anywhere because of a swastika.”
by Jen Katz and Isabella Molano