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February 17, 2017 3:32 am

U of Southern California Rabbi Inspired by Students Banding Together to Oust Vendor Selling Swastika Shirts on Campus

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The two swastika t-shirts for sale at the University of Southern California. Photo: Rabbi Dov Wagner/Facebook.

The two swastika t-shirts for sale at the University of Southern California. Photo: Rabbi Dov Wagner/Facebook.

A rabbi from the University of Southern California (USC) told The Algemeiner that he was inspired by students banding together to oust a vendor selling Nazi-themed merchandise on campus.

Rabbi Dov Wagner, director of the Chabad Jewish Student Center at USC, said impromptu protests were launched by Jewish and non-Jewish students on Wednesday, after a campus merchant refused to stop selling t-shirts emblazoned with dancing swastikas and charts labeled “Friends of the Swastika.” 

“Students rallied throughout the day until he was asked to leave campus. They made their voices heard and students were extremely supportive and vocal about not allowing this hate symbol on campus,” Wagner said. “The whole issue could have been avoided if the vendor admitted the shirts were offensive and put them away.”

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The shirts were first brought to Wagner’s attention by students who tagged him in social media posts expressing their outrage.

“I immediately reached out to USC administration and they were very quick to act,” Wagner told The Algemeiner. “Officials went out to check out the situation and campus police was present to keep order. Within several hours, the school decided the shirts violated university policy and had the vendor removed.”

Some students tussled with peers who showed up to express their support for the vendor on the grounds of free speech.

Despite USC’s quick action, a number of Jewish students and staff were “really emotionally impacted by the presence of the symbol,” Wagner said. “Many were speaking about their grandparents’ experiences in the Holocaust. Others felt threatened and unsafe by the idea of a swastika and the easy way it was displayed on campus. We are very lucky to have a wonderfully supportive administration that works hard to create a welcoming environment for all. There is a lot of support for Jewish students.” 

Following the incident, USC Hillel issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” by the Nazi imagery on the shirts. “These items are antisemitic and trivialize the Holocaust, an incredibly dark period in history in which more than six million Jews perished. They have no place on our campus.”

Following the backlash, the vendor, Gordon McGinnis, told the campus newspaper Daily Trojan that he was “sorry” and had he “known about the commotion this would cause, [he] would not have promoted it in the first place.”  His purpose in displaying the shirts, he said, was to open up dialogue.

This is not the first time the presence of the Nazi symbol has prompted an uproar on a college campus. As The Algemeiner reported in January, a group of some 200 students at the University of Florida surrounded a man wearing a swastika armband to protest against his flouting of the controversial symbol on school premises.

The man, who had been seen riding his bike around campus days before with his armband prominently displayed, stood for nearly three hours on a campus plaza as students chanted, “No more Nazis! Never again!”

Watch a USC student defend the presence of the swastika shirts on campus in the video below:

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