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Emerson College responds to graffiti

Posted by  October 4, 2013 02:30 PM

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A reading list covered the spot where the swastika originally was found.

By John King, Globe Correspondent 

Emerson students, faculty and administrators struggled to make sense of more hateful graffiti on campus after officials discovered two swastikas drawn on the pillars of the campus library.

“There is no room for such hurtful and odious forms of expression on our campus,” Dean of Students Ronald Ludman said in an email sent to the student body after the graffiti was discovered September 29. “Such behavior runs counter to our core values and who we are as a community.”

Resident assistant Gabriel Gibbs also reacted with disgust.

“I think it’s outrageous when graffiti happens any time,” he said.

But some students seemed to react with less passion about the incident, which followed others last academic year.

“In truth, it almost doesn’t phase me at first glance because it seems unfortunately kind of common, and I really don’t like to get worked up about such little things,” said Talia Heller, a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi, which is a nationally recognized Jewish sorority. 

In February, two racially charged phrases were found written on the elevator doors of the Little Building residence hall at 80 Boylston St. Much like this incident, the graffiti was removed and Emerson College police officials started an investigation. Students were encouraged to come forward with any information regarding the incident. The offenders were not identified. 

Najah Muhammad, a past resident assistant of the Little Building residence hall, says the graffiti incidents used to be more widespread. 

“It was as if it was just a joke and people just constantly were writing hurtful, hateful things in public places,” said Muhammad, who is currently a resident assistant in the Piano Row residence hall.  “There were about four incidents, I believe, in elevators, but it was a constant on doors and whiteboards and bulletin boards.”

Muhammad said that most of the graffiti was silly and not harmful to the community, but there were some instances, namely the racial and religious scrawling on the elevators, which crossed the line.

 “The more it was spoken about, the more it popped up,” Muhammad said.

But Sylvia Spears, the college’s vice-president for diversity and inclusion, said simply ignoring hate graffiti is not an option for administrators.

“We are compelled to say something because silence says it’s OK,” Spears said. “We’re in conversations about what’s best to do and how we can reinforce what’s right. If I could speak with the culprits, I might ask them to consider deeply how their act affects other people, to really just think of someone from their shoes.”

Spears said instances of hateful graffiti are far from the norm on campus.

I believe this is an outlier instance,” Spears said. “Emerson is more inclusive than any other college I’ve had the privilege to work with. Unfortunately, no campuses are immune to people expressing themselves and using graffiti.”

Ludman echoed Spears remarks. “It is important for us to remember that such behavior is not emblematic or representative of who we are as a community,” he said.
Emerson officials said no special forums are planned to discuss the graffiti, a change from last year when the incidents prompted a more formal response.

For students like Talia Heller, keeping the response low key makes sense. 

“Some ignorant kid drew a swastika on a chalkboard and it was erased,” she said. “If it were a wall it would have been painted over. Ultimately I can’t let a chalk drawing get me that worked up because what’s that to living my life as a proud Jew? Not that it’s a contest, but I win. I win against anti-Semites every day because I wake up and live my life and have the nerve to do it as a Jew, and that’s not going to change.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College

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