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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Western reshelves books in response to antisemitic vandalism

By Madeline Smith

More than 120 items were added to Western Libraries as part of a reshelving ceremony on April 10, following antisemitic vandalism of seven books in the Jewish studies section of Wilson Library in March.

Some of these added materials are not held in any other libraries in the state, said Sandra Alfers, professor of German at Western, and founding director of the Ray Wolpow Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.  

Western Libraries received donations from within the community to replace the vandalized books and add to the Jewish studies collection, Western’s Dean of Libraries Mark Greenberg said in an email.

Donations came from individuals as close as the Western community and Whatcom County, to individuals as far away as Nevada, he said.

“Library materials that explore race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, class, place and ability are critical elements in any effort to understand and improve the human condition,” Greenberg said. “These materials must be present in an academic library.”

Antisemitic incidents such as the book vandalism have been frequent on Western’s campus. There were 11 antisemitic incidents between spring quarter 2016 and winter quarter 2017, according to a report released in late March 2017 by Western’s Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Antisemitism.

Increased antisemitism on Western’s campus parallel national trends, Greenberg said.  In 2017, antisemitic incidents rose by 60 percent nationwide, according to the Anti-Defamation League website, an organization that works to end the negative stereotyping of Jewish people.

The task force came up with 21 recommendations to respond to the antisemitism on Western’s campus.  All of the recommendations, “acknowledge [the] interconnected nature of racism, bias and hate,” Randhawa said.

The first of these recommendations was to create a working definition for antisemitism, Alfers said. Western is the first university to adopt such a definition for educational purposes, she said.

Speakers at the ceremony included Greenberg, Alfers and Western’s President Sabah Randhawa.

Two attendees of the event, freshmen Tova Breen and Dina Slipock, said they really enjoyed the speakers.  

“I really appreciate what they’re doing,” Breen, a Jewish student, said.

Slipock said she admired the ceremony and revitalization of the Jewish studies collections.

“I think it’s really important because knowledge is power,” Slipock said. “The more you know the more you can be a smart, educated human-being out in the world.”

Alfers left her audience with words of inspiration to rise against acts of hatred, such as the book vandalism.

“Commit yourself to being engaged,” Alfers said. “To actively, thoughtfully and respectfully building bridges, not walls and create much needed change.”



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