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.