Swastikas found on campus


Last week, the University of San Diego community received an email alerting them about swastikas that were found in the Camino first floor bathroom and the Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice.

The email, sent by Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Donald Godwin, promoted unity in the USD community and condemned the behavior.  

“We do not condone this behavior,” the email said. “It does not align with our mission and values, and it is a threat to the dignity of all. The swastika is a symbol of intolerance. An act against one of us in our community is an act against all of us.”

In a separate interview with The USD Vista, Godwin expanded on the situation.

Kelly Kennedy/The USD Vista

“As of Friday, February 24, I am aware of five similar acts of intolerance across the mesa,” Godwin said. “The first was discovered on February 14 in KIPJ; the second was discovered in a first floor bathroom of Camino Hall; additional swastikas were discovered throughout the following week in Mother Rosalie Hill, Copley Library, and the Student Life Pavilion. All incidents occurred in male bathrooms.”

Rabbi Michael Cherry is a professor at USD and an active member of the local Jewish community. Cherry shared his experiences with anti-Semitic acts on campus.

“Last semester, shortly after the [2016] election, someone moved their bowels in front of my office door,” Cherry said. “Such a primitive, cowardly act would be outrageous at any university. At the University of San Diego, such behavior is blasphemous.”

The incident, which happened two days after the presidential election, was not made public. Cherry said that he alerted the appropriate authorities but determined to monitor the situation and not tell the USD community.

Cherry said that after learning about this most recent act of intolerance, some of the students in his Holocaust class expressed feelings of embarrassment, anger, and disbelief.

“None expressed fear,” Cherry said. “I am afraid too many of us are dangerously naïve or dangerously indifferent.”

Junior Jared Sclar is Jewish and is in Cherry’s Jewish Faith and Practice class. Sclar said that he is not scared by these acts of intolerance and said that swastikas are cowardly acts.

“We forget that we’re not totally insulated from hateful extremism as we think we are [in Southern California],” Sclar said.

Junior Amy Maltz is a jewish woman at USD.

“[The act of intolerance] makes me angry at the fact that it affects older members of the community especially those who are my grandmother’s age and parent’s age,” Maltz said.

“I have not even told my parents that this has happened on our campus because I know it would really upset them, and the impact that would have on them,” Maltz said. “I definitely will not be telling my grandma because she has members of her family that have been through the holocaust and have such a strong association with that symbol.”

Maltz said that she was more upset by the bomb threats that have occurred at JCCs around the country. Maltz said that she has friends who attend these JCCs.

“That is terrifying because it is one thing to see it on a college campus when you can chalk it up to be young and dumb college students who don’t understand the impact of the symbol,” Maltz saud. “When you hear that it is a collection of things nationwide and it’s the first time coming up for the first time in years or at least not in my lifetime.”

Maltz said that she does not think these threats and acts of intolerance are isolated incidents.

“[This is] a serious mark of something that is emerging in this country,” Maltz said. “I have never felt targeted or terrified as a member of my faith, but this is the first time I have ever felt something like that.”

Growing up in modern times, Maltz said that she did not expect these anti-semitic acts to occur.

“I feel like I am a very privileged person,” Maltz said. “I thought we were out of the times where this kind of targeting toward Jewish people was a thing of the past. To see it bubble up alongside all of the other types of persecutions happening in this country is pretty nuts. It has just been something I have heard in history books or stories that my parents and grandparents have told me. It is weird to have my story added to that narrative I guess.”

Brooklyn Dippo/The USD Vista

Resident Assistant (RA) Katie Bradshaw is a senior at USD. Bradshaw is also in Cherry’s Jewish Faith and Practice class. Bradshaw expressed her concern about the incidents during Cherry’s class and said that she has experienced smaller acts of intolerance as an RA.

“In general, my floor and my residence hall have been open and accepting of the messages of solidarity and equality we try to promote as a department,” Bradshaw said. “I obviously can’t speak about specific incidents, but there have definitely been negative responses to these things, including destruction of posters and negative comments made about the posters.”

Despite the negativity that comes with these acts, Bradshaw said she sees an opportunity to have discussions about inclusivity and diversity.

“But I also believe that, as we engage in critical conversations and dialogue as a campus community, there is opportunity to teach love and discuss these bias-motivated incidents in a productive way,” Bradshaw said.

Freshman Johanna Lara said that she was alarmed by the news of the swastikas.

“It was pretty alarming to hear, especially when considering we are, on average, a very open-minded and tolerant community,” Lara said.

Lara said that the knowledge of these acts of intolerance have made her uneasy.

“I wouldn’t say I feel unsafe,” Lara said. “But I do feel uneasy knowing someone that shares this campus with me is so hateful. That is very upsetting.”

Vice President of Mission and Ministry Monsignor Daniel Dillabough also commented on the severity of the swastika incident.

“Any act of intolerance on our campus is unacceptable,” Dillabough said. “Because of the historical context and hurt to the Jewish community, it is especially worrisome. As a faith-based, Catholic university, we are intentionally vigilant about ensuring religious freedom and celebrating the richness of all faith traditions.”

Dillabough said that, when these acts of intolerance are found, the university must pursue every avenue to eliminate this type of hurtful behavior.

“I have not experienced any increased activity or attitudes that are anti-Semitic on campus, with the exception of these cases,” Dillabough said. “Whatever the political environment or culture, the entire community on campus should support our campus security efforts and be attentive to any anti-Semitic or any other insensitive behaviors or remarks to individuals or groups.”

Associate Provost for Inclusion and Diversity and Associate Professor of Communication Studies Esteban del Río, PhD, spoke about the incident. He said that, in the five years that he has been the Associate Provost, the Center for Inclusion and Diversity has not been involved with a situation like this.

“Offensive graffiti in bathrooms is not usual and represent acts typical of cowards,” del Río said. “Even though they are likely scrawled by one person—a student, staff, or visitor to campus—it reminds us people come to our campus with hate in their hearts, despite how we welcome people into our community [with] our mission, identity, community, and history. In this way, it is disappointing of our campus.”

Cherry cited statistics from a Pew Research Center poll that stated that 32 percent of Americans say being Christian is very important to be considered a true American.

“What a betrayal of the dream of our Founding Fathers,” Cherry said “Can non-Christians depend on that 32 percent to protect their rights? We’ve all heard about the bomb threats to roughly sixty Jewish Community Centers around the country, including our own in La Jolla, forcing them to evacuate the buildings and preschools.”

The local impact that Cherry mentioned refers to the La Jolla Jewish Community Center (JCC) which has received multiple bomb threats. On Monday afternoon, the JCC received a bomb threat via phone call. By 6:30 p.m. San Diego Police cleared the building and determined that the bomb threat was a hoax. This threat affected not only adults but children that attend the preschool and different programs.

In addition to the local impacts, Cherry mentioned that Vice President Mike Pence went to St. Louis last week to stand with and support the Jewish community where 170 tombstones were overturned and vandalized. Additionally, Cherry highlighted that there was more Jewish cemetery vandalism in Philadelphia and arson of a Muslim mosque in Tampa, Fla.

These national acts of intolerance have trickled down to the much smaller community at USD. In regard to the national political impact on USD, Godwin said that he believed it has influenced the community.

“While I don’t have any direct evidence to support the assertion that the political climate is a factor, I do think it has to influence our community, as we are part of the national community,” Godwin said.

Cherry commented on the impact of these intolerant acts.

“More than anything else, these ugly, discriminatory acts against Jews and Muslims have energized so many people who had previously not been active politically,” Cherry said. “The protests, petitions, and letters of millions of Americans of all persuasions are signals that we are scared, but we will not be intimidated.”

According to USD’s definitions of acts of intolerance and hate crimes, this graffiti aligns with the definition for acts of intolerance.

“The conduct underlying some acts of intolerance may violate university policy, even if the conduct does not rise to the level of a hate crime,” the USD policy states. “Some acts of intolerance may involve protected speech, but still are inconsistent with the university’s community values, and in those circumstances the university may elect to respond through education and/or through other corrective or responsive action.”

Godwin explained that the graffiti and additional acts of intolerance are not entirely uncommon to occur on campus, but this pattern that has occurred is out of the ordinary.

According to Godwin, Student Affairs addressed the act of intolerance by sending the campus-wide email. The USD administration also encouraged the community to report further information and incidents.

Additionally, Student Affairs hosts events to educate the USD community through programs that promote diversity and inclusivity.

Terrence Shaw is the community director for Camino and Founders. Shaw was alerted about the incident on Tuesday, two days before the USD community received the email from Godwin. After emailing his residents about the incident and asking for information, Shaw said that he discussed the incident with his RAs during their staff meeting.

Shaw said that he has heard residents say they cannot believe that a person would do this on campus.

“Students seemed very concerned and frustrated by what has occurred on our campus this past week,” Shaw said.

These acts of intolerance shed a light on an unattractive side of the USD community, showing that there is room for improvement in inclusivity and acceptance among all members.
Elisabeth Smith | News Editor