Friday, October 15, 2021

Students, staff address recent antisemitic incidents on campus

September 22, 2021
<p>Beaumont Tower photographed on May 15, 2019.</p>

Beaumont Tower photographed on May 15, 2019.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel at Michigan State University released a statement responding to recent antisemitic incidents on and around campus. 

According to the statement, three antisemitic incidents took place the weekend of Sept. 10. 

The statement said one incident occurred when “an individual joined a Biology class group chat using a Nazi swastika as a profile picture claiming that they study biology to prove that ‘Jews are scum.’ The other students in the chat denounced those statements and removed the perpetrator from the chat."

One student reported the incident to the professor and multiple campus groups, including the Serling Institute.

The University is currently investigating whether or not the perpetrator is a member of the MSU community, according to the statement. The Serling Institute added the perpetrator’s actions harm the campus community, regardless of affiliation. 

A second incident happened in another group chat where an individual with the same screen name made antisemitic comments in the group chat of a local apartment complex, responding to another resident’s message with, "Shut the hell up Jew boy."

After the perpetrator was asked to leave the chat by other participants, they said, “This is why you don’t trust Jews.”

The third incident mentioned in the statement involved the Rock on Farm Lane, which was painted in memory of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks with an American flag and the caption "Never Forget," and the number of victims that died that day.

During the weekend, the word "Israel" was spray-painted over the American flag, and the word "Never" was painted over.

According to the statement, the graffiti evokes the antisemitic conspiracy theory that Israel was responsible for 9/11, and it is a modern iteration of the centuries-old trope Jews control world events. 

Students re-painted the rock after it was defaced.

In the statement, the Serling Institute said it's “heartened by the way students involved in the incidents stood up against perpetrators and reported the incidents to the university.”

Serling Institute Director Yael Aronoff said she learned of the three incidents the morning of Sept. 13. 

“We were already concerned about Anti-Semitism on campus,” Aronoff said. “About five years ago, we heard about rising Anti-Semitism on campuses and students started telling us more about their experiences, and that’s why, for the past five years, we’ve organized a forum for students to share their experiences on campus about antisemitism.”

Aronoff said the Serling Institute has annual forums with the MSU Lester and Jewell Morris Hillel Jewish Student Center and Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE. 

“Each year on average we have about 25 students who share their experiences,” Aronoff said. “Often the OIE Office says that every single one of those things should’ve been reported to OIE, most students, of course, don’t report.”

The three recent incidents at MSU are the tip of the iceberg that is part of a broader national problem, according to Aronoff. 

James Madison College Student Senator senior Jack Wheatley tweeted screenshots of the statement from the Serling Institute on Sept. 16. 

“The most important thing to do, first, is to make sure that the students at MSU are feeling safe and they have their voices heard,” Wheatley said. “If there are more complaints and allegations, those need to be not only investigated, but also taken to action.”

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Wheatley said it is important MSU takes swift action to figure out who the perpetrator was, and if there is any other reason for concern.

“The words that [they] had spoken have deep-rooted historical meaning that should not be taken lightly in any sense,” Wheatley said. “They are words that obviously have roots in genocide and violence and not something that should be taken as a joke or taken lightly.”

Wheatley added the University needs to spend more time and energy in making sure the concerns of students are addressed and their safety is ensured. 

“Obviously, in this situation, I’m talking about Jewish American students,” Wheatley said. “But any of our marginalized students that we have, communities of color, need to be put at the forefront of when we’re talking about protections for students, students mental health, their physical safety, their ability to learn on campus and make sure that they have a safe environment to not feel like they need to be in fear of being targeted for anything.”

James Madison College third-year Ellie Baden shared her reaction to the incidents. Baden is a student intern for the Serling Institute.

“I was really sad to hear about them,” Baden said. “I can’t say I was necessarily surprised.” 

Baden found out about the defacing of the rock from an article her mom sent her. 

“[My mom] said, ‘did you see this?’ and I honestly didn’t know if it even happened or not, because no one was talking about it,” Baden said. “I was a little surprised. I was like ‘oh I would’ve heard about this,’ and I didn’t hear about it until about two days after it happened.”

After hearing offhand antisemitic remarks in class, Baden came up with the idea to create a guidebook for the University to educate students, staff and faculty on antisemitism.

“I realized that it stemmed from ignorance, not from hatred,” Baden said. “Even though I was offended by it, that wasn’t the person’s intent and … I realized that we don’t really talk that much about antisemitism on campus and MSU, but after talking to some of my friends about that experience, I found out that this actually happens a lot, where people will say things either intentionally or unintentionally that have negative effects on students, and in particular Jewish students.”

Baden asked Aronoff for permission to create the guide and spent the spring semester working on a rough draft. Over the summer, a committee, including Baden, students and faculty met weekly to adapt and rewrite that version, to put together a larger resource for students and faculty. 

According to Aronoff, the Serling Institute hopes to release the guide to the MSU community in about a month.

Editor's note: This article was edited at 1:33 p.m. on Sept 24 to correct the graffiti on the Rock on Farm Lane.

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