November 18, 2003

Racism strikes close to home

A string of hate crimes around the Evanston area reached a head last Monday when a three-foot swastika was found on Northwestern's Norris University Center, accompanied by the words "Die Jews." This highlighted concerns about racism on college campuses.

In response, student leaders and minority groups at Northwestern asked the minority student population to wear all black last Tuesday and remain silent to show their anger and disapproval. The next day, all students, regardless of race, were asked to wear black in a show of solidarity, as part of an attempt by Northwestern to heal the wounds opened by the criminal acts.

The protest received mixed reactions, according to the Daily Northwestern, which quoted a demonstration organizer who said the Evanston campus was "more solemn" than usual.

Over the last few months, similar, but less noticeable, incidents have occurred at the University of Chicago.

Chicago Friends of Israel (CFI) put up signs last Thursday morning for their "Why I am a Zionist" faculty panel discussion. Later that afternoon, members of the group found similar signs posted around Pick Hall formatted exactly like the originals but instead reading "Why am I a Zionist?"

Other incidents on campus have led CFI to consider the message sent by the satiric flyers seriously. Earlier this quarter, a CFI poster hanging in a Pierce Hall elevator was found with a swastika carved into it. Another flyer advertising a Hillel event was found similarly slashed later during third week.

According to members of CFI, similar incidents occurred last spring. Joelle Shabat, a second-year in the College and acting vice president of CFI, said she feels very uncomfortable about what's been happening on campus.

"Articulating a position on a political issue in terms of erecting a sign that makes fun of a particular group is a pretty sad way to have academic discourse," Shabat said. "It's in very poor taste."

The Dean of Students in the College, Susan Art, is planning to meet with CFI at the beginning of next quarter to discuss an appropriate response to the incidents and whether the administration needs to address the issue further.

In an e-mail interview, Art referred to a statement from the College Programming Office's Orientation video, Voices of our Community, which addressed the issue of poster-placement on campus: "Taking down a poster is building up a wall; it is saying ‘you can't have this and in fact I am taking it from you.' "

Although she didn't think anti-Semitism was widespread on campus, she understood why the Jewish community was upset when posters were defaced or removed. At the same time, Art said she realizes that a number of people disagree with some of the political leaders in Israel and the political agenda of that country.

"As a community, it is vitally important for us to be able to engage in dialogue around these issues, and to identify the line between religious belief and politics," Art said. "Removing posters that advertise a panel on Zionism interferes precisely with a discussion of this important issue as well as makes a group of people feel marginalized and undermined. It is for this reason we take these incidents very seriously."

CFI plans to hold its "Why I am a Zionist" discussion on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Harper 103. The first 25 people to arrive will receive a new book by Alan Dershowitz.