Students gather to share, process swastika incident

The Dean of Student Affairs office, in conjunction with Hillel, held a community gathering yesterday in response to Sunday’s incident where a student found a swastika on their door. In addition to students and religious leaders on campus, University President Anthony Monaco and Provost and Senior Vice President Nadine Aubry were in attendance.

The event began with comments from Monaco and Aubry. Monaco in particular mentioned the event featuring Deborah Lipstadt, which occurred the day before, as hopeful.

“I want to reiterate how much we deplore such cowardly actions and how we want to support our students and our community,” Monaco said. “I think events like last night and coming together today are a good sign about how much we care about our community and how much we are not going to stand for this type of behavior.”

In her introduction, Aubry mentioned her disappointment with the events on Sunday and the importance of coming together. Closing her statement, Aubry said she and Monaco needed to leave the gathering early in order to attend another meeting. Both stayed for around the first half of the Hillel meeting. 

Danny Fier, the vice president of community programming at Tufts Hillel, took the floor next, stressing the importance of institutions such as Hillel in times when such events occur.

Rabbi Naftali Brawer, the Neubauer executive director of Tufts Hillel and Jewish chaplain, followed and shared a story of antisemitism passed down from his grandfather, who at the time lived in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“They were the only Jewish family on the block, and possibly beyond that block as well,” he said.

Brawer recounted that his grandfather had found antisemitic messages painted on his driveway, which he left for two days before neighbors began to clean it for him. Brawer said he took three messages from the story: that the vandalism was not Brawer’s grandfather’s problem, that it wasn’t the problem of Jewish people more broadly and that it was not the victim’s job to change.

“[These messages] can equally be applied to any form of bigotry or racism,” Brawer said.

University Chaplain ad interim Jennifer Howe Peace came after Brawer, and led three minutes of silence, wherein participants could speak one word describing a feeling or a thought.

Only one person broke the silence the whole time: Rabbi Jordan Braunig, Hillel’s director of initiative for innovative community building, said the word “sorrow.”

In an interview with the Daily after the event, Braunig explained his reasoning behind speaking up.

Each experience of antisemitism brings back like, sadness and grief from past experiences of it, whether those are from my own past or from histories that I know,” he said.

Closing her time to speak, Peace commented on the value of silence.

“Just a reminder, there’s power in our silent presence with one another,” she said.

Students then broke into small groups and shared their thoughts with each other; afterward, students were invited to speak publicly.

Before the event, the Daily agreed not to quote students sharing during the event; however, many of the common themes included increasing disappointment over several events that have occurred over the last few years that were either antisemitic or racist. Many students expressed concern that gatherings such as the one yesterday are not enough to combat apparently rising antisemitism on college campuses and at Tufts.

Nandi Bynoe, the new associate dean of diversity and inclusion, commented on these students’ thoughts in an interview with the Daily after the event.

“I do think that our response was fast, that part of what I’m hoping is to not have just a gathering like this, but additional opportunities for the wider community to engage,” she said. “I’m hoping for it to be proactive, like the students were saying today.”

However, Bynoe added that she still found value in such gatherings.

“I think gatherings, coming together and community is always important because in one instance it shows people who are really hurting that there are others who are really in solidarity with them,” Bynoe said.

Freddie Birnbaum, who used to serve as president of Hillel’s student executive board, agreed.

“I think [gatherings] are not the answer, but I think they’re an essential step,” he said. “These are very emotional experiences and being able to talk through that to see people also dealing with their emotions is important for a lot of people.”

Birnbaum, however, also stressed the importance of action.

“I think the vibe in the room was, ‘we need to do more, we need to take action’ and I feel like this space is where you bring together the people who want to take action.”

Birnbaum said he was growing tired of these events recurring.

“I’ve seen a lot of different types of incidents and it’s just frustrating that they keep happening,” Birnbaum said.

Executive Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) Jill Zellmer told the Daily in an email that a formal complaint was filed for this incident. While the OEO doesn’t deal with disciplinary action, it investigates incidents and reaches out to students to support them.