Updated March 21, 2016 at 12:01 a.m.
Sam Rubinstein ’17 and Lainie Rowland ’17, a Herald opinions editor, entered their hallway in Marcy House close to 1 a.m. Friday to find anti-Semitic and homophobic messages scrawled on the walls. Upon seeing the graffiti, Rowland contacted the leaders of Beta Rho Pi, a Jewish fraternity housed in Marcy, and Rubinstein contacted Department of Public Safety officials and staff members of Brown/RISD Hillel.
The vandalism in Marcy read “Gay will die” and “Holocaust 2.0” in black marker.
As residents waited for the arrival of officials, members of BRP and Zeta Delta Xi, a co-ed fraternity also housed in Marcy and home to many LGBTQ students, gathered in the hallways and scrubbed the graffiti off the walls.
“One message was directly across from my dorm room, apparently reacting to the Hebrew writing and Mezuzah on my door,” wrote Rubinstein, a member of Zete, the moniker commonly used to refer to Zeta Delta Xi, in an email to The Herald.
The vandalism follows Janet Mock’s cancellation on Wednesday of a campus talk scheduled for today after the circulation of a student-authored petition asking the activist to dissociate her lecture from Hillel. The petition gained 160 signatures.
There is no evidence at this point that the incidence of vandalism in Marcy is related to the cancellation of Mock’s lecture. But a number of students have voiced concerns that the petition calling for Mock to dissociate her lecture from Hillel was anti-Semitic.
“This was a more blatant example (of anti-Semitism) after a more subtle one,” said Jack Bernier ’19, who was at a gathering Thursday among several members of BRP in Marcy. “It reflects poorly on a lot of students here. No one here should be saying stuff like that.”
Marshall Einhorn, executive director of Hillel, went to Marcy to support students early Friday morning while Michelle Dardashti, associate University chaplain, offered support by phone.
Staff members from several University departments, including the Office of Campus Life and Facilities Management, worked with residents of Marcy “to collect information, remove the graffiti and offer support to the students in the residence hall,” wrote Mary Grace Almandrez, interim assistant vice president for campus life and student services and associate dean of the College, and MaryLou McMillan, interim assistant vice president for campus life and student services, in a community-wide email sent Friday morning. The email referred to the event as a “bias incident.”
BRP and Zete released a statement Saturday night saying “We are devastated and outraged that this anti-Semitic and homophobic hate crime — and to be clear, this is a hate crime — occurred in our home.”
President Christina Paxson P’19 also wrote to all community members Friday afternoon to condemn the “hateful instances of homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti vandalism.”
“Public Safety will work with other departments to aggressively investigate, identify the person(s) who committed this hateful act and hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Paxson wrote. “Acts of bias such as this, which attempt to demean and threaten people based on religion, sexual orientation, race or other characteristics, harm not only their most immediate victims but are antithetical to the most deeply held values of this University.”
A student at the gathering at Marcy received a call that DPS officers were on their way to the dormitory, Bernier said. About 15 minutes later another call was received. Members of BRP asked everyone to leave the building, saying DPS was searching the entire house because of an incident in Zete, Bernier said.
“The scariest aspect was that there was someone in my living space to project these ideas,” said Rowland, an independent living in Marcy, adding that that the homophobic and anti-Semitic sentiments “are something that you know exists out there, but to see it so tangibly in the space that you live … is shocking.”
“We at Hillel are appalled by the hateful messages on the walls of Marcy House attacking the LGBTQ and Jewish communities,” Einhorn said. “Action and language like that have no place on a college campus or anywhere else.”
The incident was “deeply offensive and violates the most treasured values of this University,” Almandrez and McMillan wrote in the campus-wide email.
Rowland expressed her appreciation that University administrators “reaffirmed that this is obviously a very serious incident and are using all of their resources.”
DPS has commenced a full investigation and “will make every effort to identify the perpetrator(s),” wrote Brian Clark, director of news and editorial development, in an email to The Herald. Detectives from the department will interview Marcy residents and other students, he wrote, adding that “alleged perpetrator(s) could face University sanctions and/or criminal charges.”
The acts of vandalism “are symptoms of larger issues, and they will not stop until all instances of hate speech are denounced with the same force and the systems of oppression that support and enable them are dismantled,” BRP’s and Zete’s joint statement read.
An email from the Hillel Student Executive Board, sent to members of the Hillel community and obtained by The Herald, condemned the anti-Semitic and homophobic messages and offered a supportive space to cope with the incident in Hillel Friday afternoon.
The email from the Office of Campus Life also informed students of two other community gatherings providing in-person support earlier in the day Friday.
“I was surprised by the homophobia because, especially on this campus, you wouldn’t expect that as much,” said Sam Greenberg ’19, who attended the gathering in Marcy Thursday. “But there have been incidences of anti-Semitism just recently.”
“It’s a close community, and I feel safe in my dorm, but not so much after this,” said an independent resident of Marcy who wished to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to her safety. “It makes me question what kind of people pass through (the building),” she added.
Rowland was pleased to be surrounded by groups that rallied and condemned the hurtful messages.
“I don’t think the cowardly hate that motivated these events is nearly as strong as the sense of community and strength of the communities they were directed at.”
— With additional reporting from Alex Skidmore