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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Quinnipiac holds community gathering after hate incidents

Following two recent hate incidents on the York Hill Campus, Quinnipiac University officials hosted a community gathering for students, faculty and staff to “provide room for reflection, community and support following the recent acts of hate speech on our campus.”

The small crowd of 30 people sparsely filled the seats in Quinnipiac’s Buckman Theater as Reena Judd, the university’s rabbi, stepped up to the podium. Most of those present were faculty, with approximately 10 students in attendance.

“I’m just really grateful you’re all here,” Judd said as she opened the gathering. “I’m not in as great a mood as I look.”

On Nov. 13, Quinnipiac University officials discovered a swastika carved into a mail locker on the York Hill Campus. Fifteen days later, officials found a second swastika in the same location.

“I reached out to Rabbi Reena and asked how we could best support her and the community as soon as I learned about the second act of hate speech that took place,” wrote Matthew Kurz, assistant vice president for student affairs — who organized the gathering — in a statement to The Chronicle.

Kurz added that the gathering took place “because it was important to create space where those who were able could come together in community to support one another and process this detestable antisemitic act of hate speech in a timely manner.”

It wasn’t a lecture. It wasn’t a presentation. Quite the opposite — the gathering was a conversation, where all attendees were encouraged to share their thoughts without any judgment.

In the dim lights of the theater, some opted to stay quiet and simply listen. Some were more vocal than others, sharing their personal pains and recent experiences.

“My heart is beating so fast,” a student in attendance shared, their voice shaking with repressed tears. “I’m waking up in the morning and seeing Instagram comments saying things like, ‘Season 2 of the Holocaust coming soon,’ and it hurts.”

Judd thanked everyone who spoke up, no matter how much or how little they shared.

“I think it’s so different seeing (a swastika) now,” another student noted. “If it was scribbled on a desk in middle school, you could say that the kid doesn’t know, they might think it’s funny for some reason. But once you get to the level of a college student, you know, you’d expect that our peers are educated enough to not make a decision to do something like that, unless they really have the hate in their heart to do it.”

Remarks like these opened up discussion among those present about the “excuse structure” that most seem to have fallen into.

“We excuse it by saying this person was young and immature, but I don’t think so,” said a member of the faculty. “You know, we get (the students) when they are 18. It’s been 18 years worth of teaching that we now have to find a way to help direct in a particular direction. I’m truly at a loss.”

Following Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II in 1945, many European states prohibited the public display of Nazi symbols — including on the internet — and individuals violating such terms are subject to criminal proceedings.

But in the U.S., it is legal to display Nazi symbols and propaganda because of the country’s laws protecting free speech.

“To be clear, even though one can legally engage in certain behaviors, even offensive or hostile behaviors under America’s protections for freedom of speech, it does not mean that one should,” wrote Quinnipiac President Judy Olian in an university-wide Nov. 27 statement.

“These kids know nothing, and you can’t explain that,” Judd said. “And some of them, even if they are 22 and you put them on a Holocaust trip through Europe, they still wouldn’t get it. It’s a story in a history book, and if it’s too hard, you close the book.”

And yet, a few of those present at the community gathering were not Jewish themselves, but wanted to share their support.

“I wanted to go, to offer some kind of visual support to the community, that this is not something that’s okay and we need to support and protect each other,” said Jaime Ullinger, director of anthropology. “Because clearly someone who would do something like this isn’t putting themselves in the position of another person who would feel hurt by it.”

Campus officials announced the event via a university-wide email sent out a mere three hours before it started. Many of those present credited the low attendance to the last-minute announcement.

“I thought it went great,” Judd said of the gathering. “I had no expectations of people, I was terrified we’d get like five. I truly feel grateful. I feel grateful that my boss wasn’t behind me, he was in front of me on this. I think everybody learned something and that’s all I care about.”

While Judd might’ve felt that way, some students saw the situation differently.

“I, personally, felt very angry after I left the gathering,” a graduate student, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “I was hoping there would be administration there, so seeing only about 30 people, especially only about 10 students out of the 7,000 undergraduates, I just feel like the issue is not being addressed enough.”

The student also added that they felt it “definitely didn’t help that it was such a last-minute meeting.”

“It’s very hard for people, especially youth, to really empathize, and you can’t understand if you can’t empathize,” Judd said. “I understand why they want more, they want more support because they don’t want to be alone, because it’s scary and hard.”

The last-minute announcement, Kurz explained, came because officials only made the decision to hold the gathering on the afternoon before.

“With a community of our size, there is never a perfect approach which ensures every person’s schedule will align given the variety of factors which go into attending a gathering like this,” Kurz wrote.

In the Nov. 27 statement, Olian condemned harassment, group stereotyping and “age-old antisemitic or Islamophobic tropes or symbols that evoke violence.”

Quinnipiac Provost Debra Liebowitz and Chief Experience Officer Tom Ellett subsequently sent out a Nov. 29 email condemning hate speech in response to the finding of the second swastika, despite not issuing anything after the first incident.

And yet, some called for more action.

“I can remember a time here at Quinnipiac when a situation like this would lead to hundreds of students protesting on the quad and not a small gathering of allies like this,” said Scott McLean, director of the University Honors Program and a professor of political science, at the event. “I know times have changed and Quinnipiac has changed, but don’t feel like this is good enough. It’s not.”

As Judd noted, though, “there is no blueprint on how to deal with religious hatred.”

“This is a non-religious university, it’s not set up to deal with religious needs, nor is it set up to deal with religious hatred,” Judd said. “I feel that there’s nothing more that anybody can do except put up a camera, and you can’t put those up because God forbid you should see someone in the gym and then they’ll complain, ‘You had a camera while I was undressing and that’s against the law.’ Well, you know, we didn’t have a camera and you made a swastika and that’s that.”

The gathering might have been held in response to the recent incidents of antisemitic vandalisms, but many present felt that the issue runs so much deeper.

Anat Biletzki, Schweitzer professor of philosophy and women’s and gender studies, shared a message from Ben Lorber, a writer for the magazine Jewish Currents.

“‘We have to take seriously the reality of clear cut cases of antisemitism, while also distinguishing between criticism of Israel and antisemitism, disagreement and bigotry, discomfort and danger,’” Biletzki said, quoting Lorber. “And I think that’s the most important quote I’ve heard during these two months.” 

Underlining the distinction between anti-zionism and antisemitism, Biletzki felt, was important because recent situations have left many Muslim and Palestinian students afraid to speak out.

“They feel alone,” Biletzki said. “They are not anti-Jews, they are anti-Israel — and that is very different. It’s really, really upsetting that we don’t even know they are afraid because they are so afraid to open their mouths.”

There are many different directions a conversation about topics like these could take. As Kurz wrote, “a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not exist” for those affected by incidents like this.

“Hate is something that is educated into us,” one student said. “But it is also something that can be educated out of us.”

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Alexandra Martinakova
Alexandra Martinakova, Editor-in-Chief

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