BY SHAYNA DEMICK
During the week of Nov. 4, an anonymous post was made on an Instagram account called “Jewish on Campus.” This post was a photo of a classroom chalkboard at the university that read “def con, death con 3 on the Jewish people, Candace Owens, Turning Point USA, Charli D’Amelio.” The photo was taken by an individual who had entered this classroom for a club meeting and found the writing on the board.
When the post was made on social media, students did not know the context of the chalkboard writing and believed it to be an act of antisemitism. Without context, the writing appeared to be communicating a death threat.
The incident was reported to the university staff and police and it was confirmed that the writing on the chalkboard was from a discussion in a journalism class about how the media frames hate speech. According to university President Dennis Assanis, the writing on the board was a quote from a Kanye West tweet.
The university determined that the professor did not write the quote with malicious intent. However, I find it careless that the professor would leave such an offensive quote on the board. In my time at the university, all of my professors have erased the board at the end of their lectures and these boards contained appropriate academic material. I would expect that a professor putting an antisemitic quote on a board would be extremely wary of their doing so and would immediately erase it after it loses relevance to the lecture.
Leaving such disgusting rhetoric on a chalkboard is negligent, careless and offensive – even if unintentional. Assanis minimized the significance of the professor’s mistake in his email to the university by simply calling the action “accidental.”
The email to Hillel members from the university’s Hillel, an international Jewish campus organization, said that the university is reminding all professors to erase content written on boards before leaving their classrooms. I am skeptical that action was actually taken by the university to reprimand this professor or prevent other professors from making the same mistake. If this were true, Assanis would have mentioned this in his email to the university, which he did not do.
In 2021, reported antisemitic incidents increased by 148% from the previous year and attacks on Jewish institutions by 61%. Given the fact that antisemitism is on the rise in America, the journalism professor should have been more careful with their selection and depiction of antisemitic hate speech. Hearing, seeing or reading hate speech can be upsetting even if the hate speech is used for educational purposes. I hope that the lecture was given with a high level of sensitivity and empathy for Jewish students in the classroom.
During this same week, a swastika was drawn in the lounge of a residence hall, which has been removed and is currently under investigation.
Assanis addresses the two incidents in the emails he sent to the university. This email evoked a substantial level of fear in me, which was heightened by Assanis’ statement about synagogues in New Jersey preparing for possible violence. This felt like an important piece of information given at the wrong time.
Instead of telling the university’s Jewish community that everything will be okay, Assanis listed several reasons for us to feel that everything is far from okay.
At the beginning of his email, Assanis said “we must remain vigilant against antisemitic views and the violence that they often inspire.” To an extent, it feels validating that he acknowledged the prevalence of antisemitism. However, Assanis did not state a plan for preventing future antisemitic incidents or combatting antisemitic ideologies at the university.
After two notable antisemitic incidents occur at the university, I want to find comfort in knowing that there is a plan in place to ensure my safety. Just two years ago, the university’s Chabad was burned down. Though nobody was hurt, the wounds that this act left on the university’s Jewish community have yet to heal. Assanis needs to be reminded that the Jewish community has felt unsafe since this incident and will only continue to feel this way if he doesn’t take more concrete efforts to keep us safe.
Assanis is retroactively addressing antisemitism at the university when he should be putting a plan in place to prevent antisemitism and help the Jewish community feel safe. The university online modules that first-year students are required to complete should cover religious inclusion/sensitivity and students should be forbidden to take pictures during lectures where sensitive material is being shown. The information about the incident in Assanis’ email gave me the impression that the pictures of the chalkboard were taken during a lecture. However, I learned from the Hillel email that the photo was actually taken after. Regardless, it is plausible for a student in the lecture to easily photograph the board and distribute the image without context. Finally, the university should not just encourage but require professors to erase the boards after their lectures.
Assanis needs to take antisemitism more seriously and do more to protect and comfort the university’s Jewish community.
Shayna is an opinion columnist at The Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review staff. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.