It was a typical Monday night in late September when I noticed a crude drawing of a penis on the dry erase board outside my dorm door at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. At first I laughed at the simplicity of the drawing and how immature it seemed. But as I began erasing the image, I noticed there were two swastikas, clear as day, within the drawing. I looked back and forth from the hot pink mezuzah on my door to the drawing on the board, and then it hit me — this was a targeted attack. It was like getting punched in the stomach, and then the tears came. This was not happening, I thought. Not at my school. Not at this place that has made me feel so safe and confident as a Jew. And yet, there it was.
Brandeis, a non-sectarian university with Jewish roots, has a 44 percent Jewish undergraduate population. This was the main reason I chose the school, along with its outstanding academics, intense concern for social justice causes and overall welcoming student body. As a freshman, I have seen this firsthand, and all of the hype rings true.
But I was living in a bubble.
To be targeted in my own dorm room, my campus home, was unsettling. I wasn’t alone, though. Less than an hour later on that same September night, it turned out, a second swastika attack occurred — this one on the only other door on my dorm floor with a mezuzah.
Add the two acts of vandalism on my floor to the mounting number of attacks on college campuses around the country in the last year. The numbers aren’t pretty. According to a recent Anti-Defamation League report, there has been a large jump in anti-Semitic incidents, especially in white supremacist activities on campus. There were 118 anti-Semitic incidents reported in the first nine months of 2017, compared to 74 in the same period of 2016, an increase of 59 percent. When alt-right leader Richard Spencer appeared at the University of Florida in Gainesville in late October, some Jewish students felt it wasn’t safe to be out on campus, The Jewish Week reported; they stayed behind closed doors in their dorms.
On my dorm floor, less than an hour after I discovered and reported the swastikas, Brandeis officials were outside my room. As I was still absorbing the blow, a dorm supervisor, a police officer and a rabbi were all present, along with many other students, both Jewish and not. However, in an email sent later to the entire student body about the incident, Brandeis officials did not highlight the fact that these were targeted attacks — we clearly had mezuzahs on our doors. (I reached out to the other Jewish student on my floor but she didn’t want to comment on the attack.)
The email to Brandeis students read, in part: “Around 7:30 pm and then again at 8:20 pm on Monday, small swastikas were found drawn on message boards outside two rooms within the same residence hall. Public safety officers responded to calls from the community adviser, and the offensive drawings were removed.” It was signed by Edward Callahan, director of public safety, and Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment.
Asked later about the omission, on Dec. 8 Callahan emailed me the following statement: “Student safety is our highest priority. When an incident occurs on our campus, a variety of considerations must be weighed about how to share information with the community. These include protecting the privacy of any victims as well as the current state of any investigation. To characterize students’ doors would have been a potential breach of student privacy, and might have inadvertently led to making students more vulnerable and less safe. A swastika placed anywhere is an offense to the Jewish community specifically and to those who object to bigotry and anti-Semitism generally — it is ‘targeted’ by its very nature.”
While the incident was still fresh, the rabbi gathered all the students on the floor in front of my room, and we spoke about how we felt about hatred against the Jewish community, and beyond. This discussion brought me back to why I chose Brandeis: the strong Jewish community and Jewish support. The school is a welcoming, even wholesome, community of students and faculty, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe from anti-Semitism. I learned that the hard way.
No security cameras caught the attacks, and a check by the university of those who entered the residence hall without the proper swipe card came up empty. The perpetrator (or perpetrators) likely live in the dorm. They are still at large.
Logan Katz is a freshman at Brandeis University. She is a 2017 Write On For Israel graduate.
This piece is part of “The View From Campus” column written by students on campus. To learn more about the column click here, and if you would like to contribute to it, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.