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February 24, 2016 8:40 am

U Mass Amherst Rally Over Swastikas on Campus ‘Not Sufficient,’ Say Participants Concerned About ‘Ongoing Antisemitism’

avatar by Andrew Pessin

Swastika at UMass Amherst. Photo: Jeremy Tibbetts

Swastika at UMass Amherst. Photo: Jeremy Tibbetts

After a campus rally last Friday to protest the recent appearance of swastikas at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, there remained disappointment over the school’s overall response to the problem, a student told The Algeimeiner.

Jeremy Tibbetts, a junior majoring in public health, said university administrators spoke well at the event, attended by about 80 people, but claimed there was no serious plan in place to deal with what he sees as an on-going pattern that may be connected to growing anti-Zionism on campus. He said that though the solidarity rally “was a start, it wasn’t enough,” pointing to anti-Zionist activity on campus, including the upcoming Israeli Apartheid week, and arguing that overall climate for Jews is becoming uncomfortable.

“Once I invited someone to a program meant to reframe conversations about Israel,” he said, “and the person responded that she would punch me in the throat after I shared my opinion.”

Tibbetts’ concerns began last December, as he reported in a Feb. 2 article in The Daily Collegian. On the campus “snapchat” space, an online resource where students post images and videos of campus life, he discovered photos of students playing a drinking game in teams of Nazis vs.  Jews, in which the Nazis’ cups bore swastikas. He also found a video of a student reaching over to pick up a coin while commenting that he was acting like a Jew.

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Tibbetts posted screenshots of these online, and University Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy soon responded to him by email. “[The] Bias Response Team was able to identify the students involved [in the drinking game] and the matter was promptly addressed through our Code of Student Conduct. This incident reflects how seriously we regard these issues and our intention to confront them head-on,” Subbaswamy wrote.

“Fair enough,” noted Tibbetts. But, disappointed that the university had made no public response, he wrote his article outlining why such behaviors merited a forceful one.

“After the article was published, students started reaching out to me, maybe 15 or so people,” Tibbetts told The Algemeiner, “sharing their antisemitic experiences on campus, name-calling, slurs. Some no longer wear Jewish symbols because they are so uncomfortable being identifiable as Jewish. A student who’d gone on the Birthright trip [to Israel] the previous summer told me that almost every student who went, something like 80 students, had reported antisemitic experiences on campus.”

The very day Tibbetts published the article, he said, another swastika appeared on campus, carved so deeply in a bathroom door that the university had to replace the entire door. In the wake of the incident, Subbaswamy sent an email to the campus, according to The Daily Collegian, saying, “This sort of cowardly act of hatred and intimidation is unacceptable and inconsistent with our campus values of tolerance and inclusion.”

Since then, Tibbetts stressed, two additional swastikas have appeared on campus. This is why, he said, it is clear to him that the problem is “deep-rooted and growing, and requires more than a rally attended by a tiny percentage of the large student population at UMass Amherst.”

The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Rutgers University have also been the scenes of swastika-posting in recent weeks. The former held a campus-wide Town Hall Tuesday night to address the problem of campus antisemitism.

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