University’s response to antisemitism receives widespread criticism
Two weeks after an antisemitic sign was posted outside of Kirkbride Hall, students and faculty continue to demonstrate increasing dissatisfaction with the university and its ability to respond to such incidents.
“We were concerned about the silence from the university president,” Rebecca Davis, an associate professor in the Department of History, said. “When these kinds of things happen on our campus we need to acknowledge them, confront them and reassert unequivocally that such hate has no place in our community.”
On Oct. 13, Davis sent an email to President Dennis Assanis criticizing the university’s handling of the situation. The email was endorsed by 16 additional professors.
The poster, which was first discovered on Oct. 10, illustrated two hands reaching for the United States: one marked with a hammer and sickle, a Communist symbol conceived from the Russian Revolution, and the other with the Star of David. On the map, it wrote “Defend Your Nation.”
The poster included the URL, bloodandsoil.org, referencing a phrase popularized during the rise of Nazism in Germany. The very same phrase was chanted at the white nationalist rally hosted in Charlottesville, Va. back in August.
“We hope you will take similarly thoughtful and clear action in response to this incident,” the email stated.
In his response to the email, Assanis stated he believes the university acted in a thoughtful and balanced nature, not wanting to give hate speech a larger platform.
“Due to the isolated nature of this incident, we directed our outreach to students who were most directly affected … We will continue to watch for other incidents and will consider a broader response if it is warranted,” Assanis said.
Davis, however, like many of her colleagues, was firm in her belief that the university’s response to this episode was inadequate.
“In [President Assanis’ response] he had said that the email from Hillel had reached those students that were ‘most directly affected’ and I feel that is crucial that we not define antisemitism as a problem for Jews,” Davis said. “The idea that Jews need to go take care of themselves, the idea that somehow this problem isn’t a problem for us a human beings, that there’s not a sort of collective responsibility we have for eachother, is one we need to argue against.”
Quickly following the discovery of the poster, it was removed and the University of Delaware Police Department (UDPD) launched an investigation. They searched campus for similar posters, but returned with nothing. According to the university’s Director of External Relations, Andrea Boyle Tippett, UDPD concluded that no other posters were distributed across campus — the one found was the only one.
The university’s chapter of Hillel, a Jewish organization that engages with college students at more than 550 universities across the world, sent an email to its members. An email from José-Luis Riera, the interim vice president for student life, soon followed.
However, the email sent by the university’s chapter of Hillel and Riera were only sent to students on Hillel’s email list. Roughly 1,500 to 2,000 students on the university campus identify as Jewish, constituting approximately 12 percent of the university’s undergraduate population. However, many Jewish undergraduate and graduate students, as well as Jewish faculty members, are not on the Hillel email list. They, along with the remaining 88 percent of students who do not identify as Jewish, were left in the dark.
“I’ve attended Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services [which are run by Hillel] … I’ve given them my email,” Eric Steinman, a Ph.D. student, said. “This wasn’t the best way to contact all Jews on campus. I wasn’t contacted.”
Many students and faculty felt that the university mishandled the situation by failing to contact the entirety of the on-campus Jewish population. Likewise, the university failed the Jewish community by not contacting the entirety of the campus community.
“The time has passed if they [the university] wanted to say anything,” Hannah Greenberg, a Hillel Student Life leader, said. “I think many students will echo my sentiment of the university failing us.”
The email outlined past steps taken by the former president in response to on-campus hate speech. Two years ago, when what was believed to be a noose was found on campus, the previous university president acted quickly to initiate dialogues, bringing the campus together in solidarity against any demonstration of hate or racism.
Those who received emails from Hillel and Riera also expressed disappointment with the university’s response, calling the emails “impersonal,” “bland,” “vanilla,” “weak” and “lacking empathy.”
“They’re not going to get the sort of diversity they want if they don’t defend their students,” Darcie Grunblatt, a sophomore at the university, said. “If students don’t think they’re safe at this school, they won’t attend this school.”