Early in the morning of Sunday, Oct. 5, multiple swastikas were spray painted onto the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity house, a Jewish fraternity. In no uncertain terms, a hate crime was committed on Emory’s campus against members of the Emory community. This event left us saddened, outraged and deeply disturbed. The University administration’s timely and appropriate response and the broader Emory community’s overwhelming expressions of support for the people affected were extremely encouraging and worthy of high praise.
We both hope and expect that the administration and community will respond equivalently to hate crimes against any group committed on Emory’s campus or against any members of the Emory community in the future.
The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit work suastika, which referred to objects associated with well-being. Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Taoists all use the symbol in their religious practices, as did ancient Celtic and Greek peoples. The swastika originally represented eternity, prosperity and good luck. However, since the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s, the swastika has symbolized, in the Western world at least, hatred, violent oppression and genocide, especially towards Jews, Roma, gay or queer people and the mentally or physically handicapped, the primary targets of Nazi oppression and extermination efforts. The swastika represents actions and an ideology that should abhor any person who believes that every individual, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, class, ability, sexual orientation, gender identification, gender expression or any other aspect of their identity, possesses an innate right to life, liberty and free expression of their identity.
It is because of this symbolism that the act of spray-painting swastikas onto a Jewish fraternity’s house is a hate crime, rather than a mere incident of graffiti. This event is not just a single, isolated act; the swastikas represent so much more than the misguided actions of a single vandal. They represent both the six million Jews, 1.5 million Roma and over 10 million others, including political dissidents, homosexuals, transgender individuals and mentally or physically handicapped people, whom the Nazis exterminated during the Holocaust and the hatred and intolerance for these groups that still exists today. For this reason, the events that occurred at the AEPi house on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 5 deserve to be understood as a hate crime and condemned unequivocally and immediately.
We were heartened to see that Emory’s administration and community responded in exactly this way. Before the day was over, University President James Wagner sent an email to the entire Emory community, denouncing the “abhorrent act” as “a flagrant emblem of anti-Semitism” and “an attack against everything for which Emory stands.” That same day, the Student Government Association (SGA) sent an email calling on members of the Emory community to “wear blue on Monday in support of Emory’s Jewish community and the rights of all people to live freely and safely.” Emory’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies quickly organized a “Teach-In Against Hate,” held on the steps of the Administration building on Wednesday afternoon. The incident has received attention in the national press, from the national AEPi organization and is currently the subject of an FBI Civil Rights investigation. Additionally, countless individual members of the Emory community has shown their support for AEPi, including the many students who wore blue the Monday after the event occurred and numerous individuals and organizations that reached out to AEPi to offer their support. This response was widespread and immediate, and delivered a message of unambiguous condemnation of the act and support for the victims. We believe that this reaction to the hate crime was both timely and appropriate.
However, some members have asked why the administration and community have not responded with comparable magnitude and immediacy to previous hate crimes committed on campus against members of the Emory community, particularly in regards to instances of sexual assault and racism. One theory is that, unlike other victims of hate crimes, the members of AEPi are largely white and male who, despite their history of oppression, are a protected and influential group at Emory. Those espousing this view are not denying that this event was a hate crime and that the response was laudable – they are simply asking why previous hate crimes have not elicited a comparable response.
We hope that Emory responded so well to this incident because the University has learned from past failures to address discrimination, and it is important that Emory responds with equal strength and urgency to any future hate crimes that occur on campus, against any members of the Emory community.
Emory’s administration and community should respond with comparable outrage, support and immediacy to any future acts of intolerance and sexual assault that may occur within our community. Sexual assault is a violent hate crime. A sexual assault is not an isolated act without larger significance or implication. In addition to the pain that it causes to the individual, sexual assault represents a physical vandalization of someone’s body, an individual’s loss of autonomy and creates a culture of fear, shame and sexual objectification. For this reason, sexual assault is a hate crime. The changes made to Orientation this semester – where every first year student participated in very frank discussions about the nature of sexual assault and how to respond to it during Creating Emory – demonstrate that the University is committed to preventing sexual assault against members of the community. However, we both hope and expect that the administration and community will immediately respond with support and outrage every time this violent crime occurs against a member of our community. When the Emory community is alerted of a sexual assault through an email or police report, we should treat it like a hate crime. President Wagner or the Emory administration should send out an email or message condemning the act. Student groups should call on the Emory community to show its support the next day in solidarity. Groups should organize teach-ins on the quad.
This is just one example of how Emory should respond to hate crimes in the future. The University should respond similarly – with support, outrage and immediacy – to any other acts of intolerance or acts that make any community feel unwelcome, be it verbal, physical or symbolic. The Emory community should continue its efforts to become aware of and condemn the daily microaggressions – the small, sometimes unintentional acts of bias, stereotypes or intolerance – against a number of different communities on campus.
The spray-painting of swastikas on the AEPi house was repugnant, and the Emory community should be heavily praised for its response. Let this response serve as the benchmark of appropriateness and timeliness for the University whenever it responds to a hate crime in the future. Let us contribute to ending hate and fear for all communities at Emory.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.