Racist, antisemitic vandalism discovered inside Kline Biology Tower
Two incidents of hate-based graffiti have been discovered in the building in recent weeks, Police Chief Ronnell Higgins told the Yale community Tuesday night.
Update Oct. 7, This story has been updated to include additional comments from the University and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.
Since Tuesday night’s announcement that the Kline Biology Tower construction site was twice vandalized with antisemitic and racist graffiti, Nathaniel Nickerson, Yale’s chief communications officer, provided further comment on the University’s handling of this incident.
According to Nickerson, the first incident of hate-based graffiti, which occurred on Sept. 20, was not made public immediately after it was discovered because it was assumed to be an isolated incident “not targeting the Yale community.”
“In this case, where the incident occurred within a closed construction site inaccessible to the Yale community, our initial outreach and inquiries focused on the construction company whose employees were working at the worksite,” Nickerson told the News.
After the graffiti was first discovered, however, heightened security measures were installed at the site of the incident. These include security cameras that captured footage of a second incident on Oct. 2, including photos of the suspects wanted for questioning.
“After the second incident, we felt the escalation warranted outreach to the Yale community—and because we were able to capture images of people of interest, it was important for us to share that information in support of the active investigation,” Nickerson wrote in an email to the News.
Graffiti from both incidents was removed as soon as possible, Nickerson explained. Graffiti from the first incident was removed or painted over by the end of the day on Sept. 21. Graffiti from the second incident was documented and photographed by the YPD and removed on Oct. 4, the day it was discovered.
According to Nickerson, the Yale Police Department offers those who encountered the graffiti “the support they need,” and encourages the construction company managing the site to offer the same support to construction workers who are similarly exposed.
Chief of the Yale Police Department Ronnell Higgins and University President Peter Salovey are in the process of “reaching out to local leaders” to discuss these hate-based acts, Nickerson said.
For his part, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker released a Wednesday statement condemning the vandalism.
“Anti-Semitism stands in sharp contrast with the values of our community,” Elicker said. “Haven, meaning a place of safety of refuge, isn’t just in our city’s name — it’s a central part of our city’s DNA. We, as a community, will always welcome individuals of every race, religion, and creed — and reject threats aimed at our friends and neighbors.”
Nickerson said that Yale “does not tolerate hatred,” and added that the University is working to bring the investigation to closure. The investigation seeks to determine the identities of the people of interest as well as whether the two incidents are related, he said.
Read below for the original story:
A group of unidentified individuals committed hate-based vandalism inside Kline Biology Tower twice in the past two weeks, the University alerted the community Tuesday night.
Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins wrote to the Yale community late Tuesday about the discovery of racist and antisemitic grafitti inside the Kline Biology Tower at 219 Prospect St. twice in recent weeks – once on Sept. 20 and again on Oct. 2. The Yale Police Department opened an investigation immediately after hearing about the first incident, Higgins said. But the specific nature of the vandalism was unclear as of Tuesday night, as was the perpetrators’ identities.
University President Peter Salovey released a statement Tuesday night condemning the vandalism.
“I am outraged by these despicable and cowardly acts of hate, and I am deeply saddened that the crew working on the site, members of our police department, and others within our community who have responded to these incidents had to see such vile messages,” Salovey wrote in the statement.
Kline Biology Tower, or KBT, has been closed for construction since an electrical fire broke out in the building in 2019.
Police discovered hateful graffiti and vandalized construction materials inside KBT on September 20, Higgins wrote in his email. The next day, he added, facilities and construction teams “increased security measures” by “installing additional security cameras, and fortifying the perimeter fencing and access gates to the construction site.”
The cameras captured images of five young adults as they broke into the site and spray-painted and vandalized the building’s interior. Higgins released images of the suspects and requested that anyone with information contact the Yale Police Department.
In his statement, Salovey reiterated his request that the Yale police and security departments increase patrolling on campus.
Uri Cohen, executive director of the Joseph R. Slifka Center for Jewish Life wrote in an email to the News that he and other Slifka leaders were not informed of either graffiti incident until hours before the school-wide email.
Slifka leaders released a statement early Wednesday morning denouncing the vandalism and highlighting spaces they will host for students to be among the community in the coming days.
“In this moment of rising violence against Jews and other minorities in America, even symbolic incidents like this one take on larger and darker meanings, particularly for our community’s many Jews of Color, who are affected in multiple, intersecting ways,” read the statement signed by Cohen, Rabbi Jason Rubenstein —whose title is Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale — and Hillel Student Board Co-Presidents Ruthie Davis ’23 and Zevi Siegal ’23 and Kehillah Leaders Destiny Rose Murphy LAW ’22 and Darya Watnick ENV ’22.“Our first instinct and most powerful response is to come together; there is no substitute for the warmth and strength of community during moments of fear like this one.”
Several Jewish students told the News that they are unsurprised about the ant-Semitic messages, but remain frustrated at the University’s lack of response.
“I think the University needs to just stand with their Jewish students,” Kezia Levy ’24 told the News. “[Jewish students] should never feel the need to hide that identity for their safety, because at the forefront, Yale is there to make sure every student feels like they can express themselves in whatever religion or political affiliation.”
Both University Spokesperson Karen Peart and Vice President for Communications Nate Nickerson declined to provide immediate comment for this story.
“I think I wasn’t really surprised,” Viktor Shamis-Kagan ’24 told the News. “There’s been moments of antisemitism that I’ve seen happen to students and it’s just kind of ignored … I hope we make an effort to actually denounce it and offer some antiracist, antisemitic trainings, antiIslamophobic trainings.”
The News reached out to the directors of the four cultural centers for comment but did not receive responses by the time of publication. Kimberly Goff-Crews, secretary and vice president for University life and director of the Belonging at Yale initiatives, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement to the News, Yale College Council directors Jordi Bertrán Ramírez ’24 and Joaquín Lara Midkiff ’23 decried the incident and called for academic flexibility in its wake.
“What to some may merely stand as isolated incidents of vandalism, to the marginalized communities at Yale and beyond, represent generations — hundreds and thousands of years worth — of organized, calculated hate,” Bertrán Ramírez and Lara Midkiff wrote. “The actions of October 2nd shed greater light on an already blatant truth: we have massive strides ahead of us before we can promise a culture of campus safety, care, and respect.”
Bertrán Ramírez and Lara Midkiff urged the administration to academically support students impacted by the incident with eased access to dean’s excuses and flexible absence policies.
Students can contact the Yale Police Department at (203) 432-4400 with any additional information.
This story is breaking and will be updated.
Clarification, Oct. 6 This story has been updated to reflect the AP style guide’s spelling of “antisemitism”.
Correction, Oct. 7 This story said that the University would remove the graffiti as soon as possible. The University had already removed the graffiti. Additionally, Cohen knew about the vandalism prior to Tuesday’s email and Rubenstein’s title is Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale. The article has been updated to reflect these changes.