Since the Pittsburgh shooting, hate on my campus at the University of Tennessee is rising

Jaime Marquis explains how her university's administrators have failed to respond to Jewish students' concerns

November 15, 2018 17:13

A climate has emerged at the University of Tennessee over the past fortnight that is unsafe for the Jewish community.

It began shortly after Wednesday, October 31, when Hillel — the Jewish campus organisation — hosted a vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting at “the Rock”, a landmark and gathering point on our campus. We painted the rock with the Star of David inside the local football team’s logo and the tagline “Stronger than hate”.

The message remained there for two days until Friday, when the rock was defaced with a swastika and a new message: “Stronger through hate.”

Calls were made to the campus police department, but students were simply told: “It’s just some kids painting Nazi stuff on the rock, there’s nothing we can do about that.”

Fortunately, the message of hate was quickly covered up by some students.

But in contrast with one group of students’ swift action, it took six days for the university leadership to hold a meeting with Jewish community leaders. Administrators told them that the act was an expression of free speech on a public forum and, therefore, little could be done about it.

Only the next day — a full week after the daubing — did they release a statement that said the university “does not condone these actions”. It added it was “discussing ways the university can support them [Jewish students] in this moment and in the future.”

Unfortunately, “the future” turned out to be the next day, because the rock was again defaced last Saturday.

This time it included the phrases “Kill Jews” and “AWD was here”, the latter a reference to the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group.

Again, the campus police dismissed it as free speech and it was left to another small group of alarmed students to cover it up.

I know that further meetings have been held over this latest incident — but I have had no words of comfort or assurance. It is hard to comprehend exactly how an administration can fail the Jewish community twice within such a short span of days.

Don’t get me wrong: I know just as well as any other Jewish American that antisemitism is on the rise. I also know that it’s not just my university struggling to address it. This does not, however, excuse the lack of action.

I am appalled. The administration must condemn the use of the Rock as a platform to spread hate speech and incite fear among Jewish students.

Their failure to do so not only contributes to the spread of hate-filled rhetoric but causes already victimised students to feel even more isolated and defenseless.

I will not rest until I, along with all other members of the Jewish community, feel safe at the University of Tennessee.


Jaime Marquis is a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 15, 2018 17:13

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