July 17, 2019 | 92° F

Rutgers contributes to New Jersey's high rate of anti-semitism this year

Photo by Rutgers.edu |

In early November, police responded to a swastika found outside of Stonier Hall on the College Avenue campus. It was spray painted in black and encompassed inside a red circle with a diagonal line drawn through the center.

In its latest audit, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 208 New Jersey-based anti-semitic incidents in 2017 — eight of which occurred across various Rutgers campuses. The total marks a 32-percent increase from last year’s reported 157 total incidents.

In the state-by-state breakdown, released as part of its audit, ADL separated anti-semitic incidents into three categories, harassment, vandalism and assault. It shows reported incidents from 2015 to 2017.

New Jersey had the third highest amount of reported incidents out of all 50 states, according to the breakdown. New York with 380 total incidents and California with 268 were the only states with more occurrences. 

Over the last three years, New Jersey has also been trending upward in almost each listed category.

For harassment, there were 57 incidents in 2015, 73 in 2016 and 95 in 2017. For vandalism, there were 79 incidents in 2015, 81 incidents in 2016 and 110 in 2017. Lastly, for assault, there was one incident in 2015, three in 2016 and three in 2017, all according to the state-by-state breakdown.

Another document released in the audit, the Selected List of 2017 Anti-Semitic Incidents, organized the incidents by month, state, city of incident, incident type, incident location and audit text — a description of the incident.

Eight of the entries occurred across various Rutgers campuses, according to the list.

The incidents ranged from a “swastika drawing discovered in bathroom stall,” a vandalism incident at Rutgers—Newark in December, to a “Jewish student harassed over Shabbat while walking on campus,” a harassment incident at Rutgers—New Brunswick in September, according to the list.

The list also notes a "swastika spray-painted on a campus building,” a vandalism incident at Rutgers—New Brunswick in October.

In early November, The Daily Targum reported that police had responded to reports of a large swastika spray painted on the exterior wall of Stonier Hall. 

“The drawing faced out toward one of the most highly trafficked areas on College Avenue and featured a black swastika enclosed by the international probation sign — a red circle with a diagonal line through it,” according to the Targum.

Following this, Allison Yaffee, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, sent a series of timestamped photos, taken on the same day behind the Rutgers Student Center, that depicted at least 10 more graffiti drawings — all with anti-fascist symbols and phrases, according to the Targum. 

The graffiti was removed. At the time, University spokesperson Neal Buccino told the Targum that “such symbols are antithetical to the values of the University, where we strive to create an atmosphere free from bias and to treat people of all backgrounds with dignity and respect.”

Another incident at Rutgers happened in October, when 3,200 students signed a petition for the removal of Michael Chikindas, a professor in the Department of Food Sciences, following anti-semitic posts he made on his personal Facebook page, according to the Targum.

The Targum reported that in December, University President Robert L. Barchi and Chancellor Debasish Dutta announced in a letter sent to faculty that students would not have to fulfill any necessary course requirements taught by Chikindas. 

“This has been a sad and deeply troubling situation for our students and our staff and for our faculty, who stand for much nobler values than those expressed by this particular professor,” according to the letter. “While the University is and should always be a place that challenges students to grapple with complex and even controversial ideas, this situation has threatened the trust between professors and students that is a prerequisite to learning.”

The letter also outlined other actions taken by the University, including the removal of Chikindas from his leadership position as director of the Center for Digestive Health at the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health, no Rutgers employee being required to work in an administrative unit that he heads and his requirement to participate in a cultural sensitivity training program, according to the Targum.

In February, Chikindas submitted a letter to the Targum apologizing to the Rutgers community. 

“I sincerely, without reservation, apologize to my colleagues and the entire Rutgers community for the offensive items I shared on my personal Facebook account,” he said in the letter. “My conduct was irresponsible, insensitive and inexcusable. I genuinely feel remorse for what I did.” 

In an interview with the Targum on Tuesday, Feb. 20, Barchi discussed anti-semitism on campus and how the University balances calling out hate speech and protecting First Amendment rights.

He said that Rutgers is obligated to, as a state university under the government, act within the rules of the First Amendment. At the same time, he said that it is important for the University to be proactive in calling out speech that goes against the values of the University and its students.

Barchi also said that a “major symposium” will be happening on March 27. It will address hate speech and bias under the First Amendment, among other topics. The event will bring people from around the country to Rutgers and will be streamed live across all University campuses, he said.

“The issues that came up with anti-semitic activity at Rutgers this year, that’s exactly what we did,” he said. “(We) said, first amendment, academic freedom, yes. But we don’t believe in that. We think this is heinous, detestable, has no place in this campus. And that’s the kind of speech that we have to do to combat it.”

Ryan Stiesi

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