On November 20th, only a day before students left for Thanksgiving break, swastikas appeared on Cornell’s campus. Vice President Lombardi stated in his email to the University that “This is not the first such incident of a swastika that has been reported through campus mechanisms over the last 10 days.” In fact, there have been three swastikas on campus- one near Dickson, one on a whiteboard in CKB and one etched in snow by Appel. These incidents came just three weeks after the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
While no one is quite sure who drew the hateful symbols around North Campus, the University announced its disgust at the anti-Semitic acts and emphasized support for the Jewish community at Cornell. Is this enough to make Jewish students, and students of other targeted groups, feel safe on their own college campus? Not even close.
Following the shooting in Pittsburgh, Cornell was quick to provide outreach and support to students, renouncing the hateful crime and vowing to stand against anti-Semitism. Over the past two weeks following the appearance of the swastikas, Cornell has done the same again. While providing solace to students is a necessary and important effort, what is being done to prevent such hate crimes from happening again?
To start off, in my experience I’ve come to realize that many people are in fact unaware of the historical significance behind the swastika, or even if they are aware, don’t realize the fear it continues to instill in Jews everywhere, over seventy years after the end of the Holocaust. Last year in my FWS, I remember my teacher commenting on the alarming statistic reported by the Washington Post– 66% of millenials do not know of Auschwitz, the largest death camp during the Holocaust.
It is problems like this lack of knowledge that contribute to anti-Semitism still persisting on our campus. Yes, there are likely individuals on campus that hate Jews for no apparent reason other than their religion. There are also people on campus who just simply do not understand the horrible story behind the swastika or its offensiveness to the Jewish people. Maybe the individual(s) who drew the swastikas were anti-Semitic. Or maybe they thought they weren’t being disrespectful and were just being funny. We probably won’t ever know the answer.
This thought is by no means a measure of justifying what happened the other week. Not understanding the sickening history of Nazism and swastikas is not an excuse. Being ignorant is not an excuse. I think it is important to make a point of educating people on the offensive and hateful nature of such symbols because it’s clear that there are far too many people out there that are simply unaware.
During my senior year of high school, I noticed an alarming print hung in the gallery along the art hallway. It was placed amidst a wall of other prints and could’ve easily gone unnoticed by other students and teachers, but to me, it looked awfully similar to a swastika repeated across the page. I brought it to the attention of the Art Department and it was taken down immediately. While the student who made the print did not mean to inflict anti-Semitism, she did so nonetheless. And while I took action to take down the sign, I wish I had done more to make students more attuned and sensitive to recognizing the weight of their actions, even if unintentional. Everyone should be able to recognize a swastika and realize how incredibly hateful and wrong it is to draw one.