E-mails fly in wake of swastika

The now familiar refrain — Yale College Dean Peter Salovey condemning an act of hate speech on campus — hit students’ and masters’ inboxes at exactly 4:00 Monday afternoon. By then, many of those same inboxes had already received the images, forwarded dozens of times throughout the weekend: a swastika and the symbol of the Nazi terror squad, the SS, shaped from snow on two Old Campus trees.

“Even on a campus committed to freedom of expression, acts such as these are offensive and corrode the spirit of community so cherished at Yale,” Salovey wrote. “I implore all members of our community to consider the impact of words and actions on others and to treat each other with dignity and respect.”

Salovey’s e-mail went on to denounce the “deplorable acts” and urge further discussion with administrators, particularly Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, who created a committee last semester to develop a protocol for dealing with cases of hate speech. Members of the campus’ Jewish community have spoken out in protest of the incident, but without the identities of the perpetrators, their response has been limited to e-mails to members of the Yale community.

Neither Benjamen Chaidell ’11 nor Bill Toth ’11 — two of six AEPi brothers who came across the symbols at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday — have any idea who formed them.

Neither does the University.

“We do not know who is responsible for some of these offensive acts,” Salovey wrote.

As a result, as far as concrete plans are concerned, none have surfaced — from either administrators or students.

Still, the symbols stung for those who witnessed them first-hand. Toth said he was struck by how “perfectly done” the symbols were formed from the snow. It was, he said, as though “someone had spent 10 minutes out there putting it up.”

“It scared me to know that even in such a safe place as Old Campus, anti-Semitism still existed and was very strong,” Toth said.

Yale Police Department officials did not respond to requests for comment Monday. As of Saturday morning, the YPD said they had no leads on who was behind the symbols.

But even though the administration cannot take formal action just yet, students are pausing to reflect on the implications of the incident.

The Yale Hillel Board sent an e-mail to members of the Hillel community Monday evening, condemning the acts and emphasizing that while the board does not think the acts are representative of a larger anti-Semitic sentiment on campus, hate speech has touched many campus groups in recent months. Jonathan Goldman ’09, a member of Yale Friends of Israel and the largely-Jewish Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, e-mailed several hundred students Sunday, alerting them to the incident’s occurrence and providing photographs of the trees in an attachment.

Before the start of weekday Jewish services Monday evening, AEPi Spiritual Life chair Noah Lawrence ’09 gathered a group of two dozen students in the Joseph E. Slifka Center and asked for a moment of silence.

“It is a moment of silence for the six million brothers and sisters who were slaughtered by the Nazi regime in the Holocaust,” Lawrence explained, adding that the weight of the symbols made their use, even if in a joking fashion, “incomprehensible.”

“The swastika is not the stuff of jokes. Neither is the SS symbol. And neither is the n-word, or fag, or calling Yale women sluts,” he said.

Lawrence is a staff columnist for the News.

Last fall, racist graffiti was discovered spray-painted on walls outside Pierson College and the University Theatre. In January, the Zeta Psi fraternity came under fire for a photograph depicting students affiliated with the fraternity holding a “We Love Yale Sluts” sign in front of the Yale Women’s Center.

Gentry offered up another explanation — that the symbols were not meant in jest, but the deliberate actions of an individual adapting poorly to the diversity of the University community.

“What we’re seeing on campus is hateful, and it’s because these people aren’t able to handle the rich diversity that we have on campus,” he said. “And so they strike out against the people they don’t like.”

Lawrence said the Jewish student community has met the symbol with a model of “love meeting hate” he says is mandated by what he sees as the Torah’s message of love and belonging, not hate.

Masters from several colleges — including Silliman, Pierson, Branford and Saybrook — sent their students separate college-wide e-mails regarding the incident. Saybrook Master Mary Miller was especially forceful in her take on the affair, calling all students to speak up when they witness acts of hate speech in process.

“Not only did someone make this symbol of hatred within the heart of our collective space, but others must have witnessed it as well. No one said anything or did anything until yet more students saw the marking,” Miller wrote. “Saybrook women and men, we call on you not to remain silent. Silence is not the solution. Speak out and speak up.”

In a college-wide e-mail to the Branford community, featuring the subject “What makes Yale — and all of us — beautiful, Dean Daniel Tauss plugged free speech as a proper response.

“Free speech is one of the most fundamental rights our nation has been built on, and I would never want to see it diminished in any way,” he wrote. “A primary purpose of free speech is to protect those people brave enough to stand by their convictions and opinions. It seems as though the worst actions are not done by people with that kind of courage, but by those who seek sensationalism without any fear of response or need to justify their ideas.”

In his message, Salovey called on students to report potential hate-speech to the YPD.


  • Samuel

    "Lawrence said the Jewish student community has met the symbol with a model of “love meeting hate” he says is mandated by what he sees as the Torah’s message of love and belonging, not hate."

    Ridiculous. The Torah does not mandate turning the other cheek. Thats that part of the Bible we Jews DON'T read, and in the context of dealing with those who hate us is a completely foreign concept to actual Judaism.

    Like most American Jews, Lawrence and the Yale Jewish community are clearly unaware that Leftism is not a workable stand-in for Judaism.

    A better translation of Lawrence's statement is "We were attacked, but as White Liberals we are so crippled by guilt as to be completely incapable of standing up for ourselves as a group, and are uncomfortable judging villainous folk anyway because their actions re the fault of society, meaning we are as guilty as they!"

    C'mon Jews, get angry. Stand up. Take action like you do on behalf of other minorities. We have every right that they do to respond to bigotry.

  • Hieronymus

    #1: THAT'S the SPIRIT!

  • Anonymous

    I wonder what "Samuel" means by "take action" and "respond to bigotry". Has anyone suggested that the Jewish community is "as guilty as" the perpetrators of the snow graffiti?
    Lawrence certainly is not suggesting that we "turn the other cheek" -- he is rather saying that we should reaffirm our commitment to community and mutual respect in the face of an act that seeks to divide us.

  • ralph

    silly me; i didn't realize e-mails could "fly."

  • Sarah Boyette '07

    Noah is clearly talking about chesed, Samuel, a concept that is very obviously central to the whole Torah--Torah SheBichtav and Torah SheBe'al Peh. Don't be unnecessarily narrow in your conception of Judaism, and at least don't put that overly narrow conception on other Jews. The umbrella's big.

    I don't think Noah's not angry or upset about this, and I don't know where you're getting the impression that he's not taking action. But what action, exactly, do you think should be taken here, when the perpetrators of some highly offensive graffiti remain unknown?

  • Noah Lawrence

    I think I can speak for Noah Lawrence because, well, I *am* Noah Lawrence. (Anyone who loves the Marshall McLuhan scene in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" may appreciate my stepping in here … )

    Right now I do not have time to craft a response and to engage in dialogue -- but I would very much like to. So, if you would like and would be interested in checking back later in the week, then you will have something to read when you do …

  • Anonymous

    can we just let this issue die already? I mean, it's a "snow" swastika for god sakes--it even sounds stupid saying it. It was probably just a bunch of idiot, drunken freshmen who did it on a dare, or who just really wanted to piss people off for the hell of it. Nothing more. If it had been graffiti on Slifka, that would have been one thing, but this just reeks of drunken stupidity.
    Before anybody starts accusing me of anti-Semitism, I'm Jewish, and think that the Jewish population here is far from marginalized or negatively stereotyped (having been here for four years, I should know what I'm talking about).
    Some drunken freshmen are secretly laughing their ass of because their exploits made it on the front page of the YDN and articles like these and op-eds like those written by Schwartz and Mois only further aggravate the issue, rather than letting it die like it should have sunday morning when the snow melted.

  • Right On Samuel

    Thats how Hitler was able to rise to power.

    Sooooo afraid since Jews were blamed for Jesus ( the Jew)death that the Jews are paralyzed by fear.

    If the Jews in Israel had that lack of backbone there would be no Israel.

    Its ok to stand up for yourselves
    COME ON!!!!!!!!

  • TY

    Come on #7 commentator

    This is one case where Al Shaprton and jesse Jackson HAVE IT RIGHT.

    Zero tolerance allowed when it comes to racism towards blacks.

  • Marvin Cohen

    In any large group of people there are going to be a diversity of viewpoints. Racism is one viewpoint. Marxism is a viewpoint. Anti-Semitism is a viewpoint. Radical Islamism is a viewpoint. And there is a whole boatload of other viewpoints. Now even when there a small minority that holds an extreme viewpoint, it may be motivated enough to act on that viewpoint. It may do things secretly when the majority disapproves of it, but those things may be very serious.
    What happened with Nazi symbols at Yale is really not serious, but lets not forget real Nazis (as well as haters of other races and ideologies) are in New Haven.

  • Anonymous

    can we also note that the swastika had a square orientation and not the nazi 45 degree orientation?

    the swastika is an important symbol in multiple religions such as buddhism and hindu. it's too easy to suddenly decry this traditional symbol as hate crime when it can very easily mean something else.

  • Noah Lawrence

    I promised a further response online, so here it is. First, though, for those who wanted a fuller explanation of what exactly I meant by "overcoming hate with love," I wrote a column about it in last Friday's News. Here is the link:


    Samuel/#1, my column may explain why, though I appreciate your ideas, you did not assess my perspective correctly when you wrote:

    "Like most American Jews, Lawrence and the Yale Jewish community are clearly unaware that Leftism is not a workable stand-in for Judaism."

    The idea of "overcoming hate with love" is not an import from Leftism. On the contrary, liberalism inherited it (and crafted a secular, rationalist, civic version of it) from Christianity -- which in turn had inherited it from its birthplace: Judaism.

    It comes from Torah, from the idea of loving the stranger because we were once strangers in Egypt (Exodus 23:9 and Deuteronomy 10:19). The idea is that when you have suffered, you have a choice to make: 1) You can let that suffering turn you caustic, and inflict it on others, such that even if you are not the one suffering anymore, the world remains one in which people suffer as you did -- an understandable reaction to pain, but not solving anything, not making the world better, and not the best that the human spirit can do; or alternatively, 2) you can ensure not only that you will never suffer that pain again, but that *no one* will ever suffer it again -- taking the fact that you know how it feels as a calling to make this world better. This is Deuteronomy 10:19. This is "tikkun olam": repairing the world. This is how each day we can do a small, small piece of God's work.

    Jews should not consider this radically generous spirit of love to be a "stand-in for Judaism." It is the heart of Judaism.

    Of course, there is more to Judaism than love alone: there is also culture, and peoplehood, and ritual, and the Hebrew language, and the Land of Israel, which are all crucial. But all of that, as Rabbi Hillel said, is "commentary" on the central spirit: love. The idea of loving the stranger because you were once a stranger is, alongside monotheism, one of Judaism's great contributions to world culture.