Editor’s note: The Western Front uses “antisemitic” instead of “anti-Semitic” in accordance to the findings of Western’s Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Antisemitism. The task force was made up of students, faculty, staff and administrators, and the report can be found here.
Two antisemitic incidents were reported on Western’s campus this week. National organizations tracking these incidents have found a dramatic rise on college campuses in the past few years.
Last year saw the second highest number of antisemitic incidents in the United States recorded by the Anti-Defamation League since they started tracking incidents in 1979. The Anti-Defamation League’s report found that incidents on college campuses nearly doubled in 2017 for the second year in a row and that the largest increase last year was in vandalism.
A swastika was drawn on a poster outside a faculty door on south campus Thursday, March 15. The faculty member asked not to be identified.
In June 2016, then-president of Hillel of WWU (a Jewish club on campus), Perry Blankinship, told the Front that many students do not understand the swastika’s significance as a legitimate threat, even though it goes back to a time when there was genocide against Jewish people.
While the symbol of the swastika existed before Hitler, the connotations were forever changed and it now represents Nazi racial ideology that resulted in the Holocaust, which killed up to 6 million Jewish people, according to the United States Holocaust Museum.
University Police Chief Darin Rasmussen said they were notified of the incident by the Equal Opportunity Office and an officer has been assigned to investigate. He said the university police has been working closely with the EOO on hate crimes and discrimination cases on campus.
This is not the only antisemitic incident that has happened on campus this week. On Friday, March 16, the university released a statement about antisemitic language that was written in books in the Jewish Studies section on the third floor of Wilson Library.
Rasmussen said the university did not initially notify Western students when they discovered the books on Monday, March 12 because they believed they would be able to find the person who did it.
However, they are now asking that anyone with information contact them or the EOO as they continue to investigate.
“I am frustrated studying on a campus where antisemitism is an acceptable norm and we pass off drawing swastikas as a joke.”
Sophie Rittenberg, member of Hillel of WWU
Western Libraries will replace, restore and even expand content in this section in response, Dean of Libraries Mark Greenberg said in the statement.
“This type of deplorable behavior has a long and dark history and requires our active resistance,” Greenberg said in the statement.
Provost Brent Carbajal sent an email to campus the afternoon of Friday, March 16.
“There is no place for antisemitism on our campus, and I send this message to express unequivocal support for our Jewish communities at Western,” he said in the email, calling the incidents cowardly acts.
In the email, Carbajal said the books would be replaced and new books would be added to the Jewish Studies section on April 10 to show defiance to the acts of hatred.
President Sabah Randhawa also said in the statement that antisemitism and other acts of racism, bias and hate have no place at Western.
The Anti-Defamation League included two antisemitic incidents at Western in 2017 in its report. The incidents, which occurred between February and March of 2017, reported a swastika drawn somewhere on campus.
In winter quarter 2016, there were three incidents of confirmed antisemitism, the Front reported. Two of these consisted of students finding swastikas drawn on the doors of their dorm rooms. In the other case, a headless doll was found in Ridgeway Beta with a note that said “Death to all Jews.” The student who was found to be responsible said they considered it a prank they were playing on a friend. The student was placed on disciplinary probation.
Sophie Rittenberg, a member of Hillel of WWU, said she is frustrated with the antisemitism seen on campus.
“Antisemitism seems to be the only form of hate speech that is just brushed under the rug at Western,” Rittenberg said. “I am frustrated studying on a campus where antisemitism is an acceptable norm and we pass off drawing swastikas as a joke. These random acts of anti-Semitism aren’t new and I am hoping people begin to understand the severity of their actions.”
Faculty members like the chair of the geology department, Bernard Housen, are trying to spread information about these incidents to people on campus. Housen forwarded an email from the professor who found a swastika outside her office to geology students on Thursday, March 16.
“We want to make folks aware that this is going on,” Housen said. “We can’t help if we don’t know what is going on. We want to listen and find a solution. If somebody is being targeted by this type of harrassment, I would encourage them to reach out for assistance.”
Paul Cocke, director of communications and marketing for Western, said the university is trying to be vigilant against these incidents in a time of rising antisemitism across the nation.
“The university condemns all instances of antisemitism on campus,” Cocke said.
Western’s Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Antisemitism was created in spring 2016 in response to antisemitic acts on campus. The task force released a report in May 2017 calling for transparent reporting and response protocols, and more education and training on discrimination and antisemitism, the Front reported.
The university is asking anyone with information on bias-motivated vandalism or other acts to contact University Police at 360-650-3555 or the EOO at 360-650-3307. The University Police also has an anonymous reporting line at 360-650-SAFE, the university’s statement said. In addition, the Counseling Center can be reached at 360-650-3164.