BOSTON – A mezuzah was torn from the back entrance of the Northeastern University Hillel over the weekend of Oct. 16-17, and a swastika was discovered drawn on the mirror of a dorm bathroom at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley earlier this month.
In addition, Emerson College’s interim President William P. Gilligan emailed the college’s community informing them that on Oct. 14 the administration was alerted “that a poster advertising a program sponsored by Hillel, our Jewish life organization on campus,” had been defaced with antisemitic graffiti.” The poster was located in a residence hall elevator lobby at 2 Boylston Place.
These incidents come as a recent survey by Alums for Campus Fairness reported that Jewish students are experiencing a rise in antisemitism on college campuses.
On Oct. 20, Northeastern President Joseph Aoun said the university police are investigating and “do not believe the suspect is affiliated with the university.”
“No matter its origin,” Aoun said, “this despicable act has left members of our Jewish community justifiably upset, saddened, and even fearful. They are experiencing firsthand an instance of senseless hate, coming at a time when the ancient scourge of antisemitism is on the rise across the U.S. and around the world.”
In an email to the Journal, Northeastern Hillel Director Gilad Skolnick said “Jewish students at NU are safe and Jewish life is thriving here. We are saddened by the recent destruction of our mezuzah from our building. While we are concerned by the nationwide and worldwide surge of antisemitism, we are moving forward with proactive educational programming and providing mezuzahs to every student who needs one.”
A gathering was held Oct. 20 to restore the mezuzah to the back doorway in an event led by Jewish student leader Elie Codron, who had posted on Facebook about the incident. Codron’s post said Jewish students arriving at Hillel for the daily morning service had “discovered the mezuzah had been ripped from the building’s entrance.”
“Northeastern and universities around the country must take serious steps to fight this Jew-hatred,” Codron posted.
According to a survey conducted in the spring before the conflict between Israel and Hamas, 50 percent of Jewish fraternity members and 69 percent of Jewish sorority members surveyed “experienced or were familiar with acts of antisemitism over the past 120 days on campus or in virtual campus settings.” The survey was commissioned by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and conducted by the Cohen Research Group.
A new joint online survey conducted in the summer by Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League, who have teamed up to fight antisemitism on college campuses, shows a third of 756 self-identified Jewish college students on 220 campuses experienced some form of antisemitism within the past year, according to an Oct. 26 story by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Conducted in the summer after the conflict between Hamas and Israel in May, a majority of Jewish students said they feel safe and supported on campus, but a minority have experienced antisemitism or hidden their Jewish identity out of fear of experiencing it, the data show. Six percent of students said they had felt unwelcome at a campus organization while 15 percent told the survey they “felt the need to hide” their Jewish identity.
Gilligan, Emerson’s interim president, said it is it unknown who defaced the poster in the lobby, which he said “mockingly invoked the Holocaust in relation to Jewish individuals or organizations.”
Gilligan called it “reprehensible and harmful, and will not be tolerated within our community.”
Emerson’s staff was in contact with Hillel’s leadership and offered support and solidarity to the organization and members of the Jewish community.
Gilligan said that since access to the residence hall is limited to the college community, it was likely someone has knowledge of who is responsible, and he asked those who know anything to contact the Office of Community Standards and Student Conduct or the Emerson Police Department.
At Mount Holyoke, the cochair of the Jewish Student Union, junior Emma Mair, 20, of Middleton, helped guide the response to the discovery of a Nazi swastika drawn on a mirror in a dorm bathroom on Oct. 6.
The swastika was discovered in 1837 Hall around 6:30 p.m. that day, according to a statement from the college president.
Mair, a psychology and religion major, said the incident was reported to her by the student that found it not long after it happened. A number of Jewish students live in the residence hall, but Mair does not. She had to sit with the news for a minute before alerting the administration and fellow Jewish students.
“This act of hate will not deter us from being a strong and loving community,” the Jewish Student Union posted on Facebook. “History has shown that the Jewish people are a force to be reckoned with.”
“I was in complete disbelief that something so overtly antisemitic could happen on our campus,” Mair said.
In addition to reporting the incident to the administration, the Jewish Student Union also contacted the Anti-Defamation League, Mair said.
“Disturbing reports of swastikas at Mount Holyoke College require a thorough investigation,” tweeted ADL New England on Oct. 14 with a link to an article in the student newspaper, the Mount Holyoke News. “We encourage the administration to continue to work with student groups ensuring safety and security for all members of the campus community.”
The Jewish Student Union immediately organized a Healing Shabbat service on Oct. 8 and a Kabbalat Shabbat service on Oct. 15, inviting those who wanted to be allies to Jewish students at the college.
Mair said she was moved that about 150 people attended the service, and that she believes non-Jewish students outnumbered Jewish students.
Mount Holyoke President Sonya Stephens said in a statement the college’s Public Safety and Service Department was alerted, immediately removed the hate symbol, and started an investigation.
“While this ancient symbol is present in many cultures with a range of spiritual meanings,” Stephens said, “it is also commonly associated with the murderous legacy of the Nazi regime, and has become a symbol of antisemitism, hate, and white supremacy.
“We join you in both anger and grief and condemn in the strongest terms this provocation and all symbols of hate, which have no place on our campus.”
Mair said the swastika she saw in a photo was drawn in black on a mirror, and it was the first time she had seen something like this in public. Mair said she feels safe as a Jewish student on campus, although she knows others who don’t. She believes that antisemitism is “alive and well” at Mount Holyoke.
She has found a lack of understanding by non-Jewish students when it comes to the kosher dining station. Despite numerous signs, people still put plates, containers, utensils, and their hands on the counter, she said. When she confronts them about it, she said they tell her, “Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?”