While Cornell responded to the three swastika signs were found on North Campus in November by strengthening security at Jewish events and holding support meetings, the Jewish students who found the signs expressed concern that the campus response was nevertheless lacking.
Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life, denounced the acts and promised to hold a “support gathering” in a public statement published hours after The Sun’s report was published.
The “support gathering” held on Thursday was attended by 13 individuals, roughly half of whom were administrators rather than students. One student participant told The Sun she was not aware of the incidents nor the support meeting until she accidentally walked into the Robert Purcell Community Center auditorium.
The perceived lack of a larger campus reaction to the anti-Semitic incidents has frustrated some Jewish students. Amongst them is Avi Simon ’22, who found the third swastika sign etched into the snow near Mews Hall.
“Obviously there is a level of concern on the interpersonal level, but generally, I found it still challenging to galvanize people around this issue and kind of convince them that this is something that is worth objecting to [and] worth taking seriously,” Simon said in a Monday interview with The Sun.
Rabbi Ari. D. Weiss, executive director of Cornell Hillel, said that the University considers the safety of Jewish students “very seriously,” adding that CUPD now has an increased presence in “recognizably Jewish events” such as services and Friday dinner at 104 West — a Kosher dining hall. Furthermore, the campus police are training student leaders and Hillel staff on “emergency procedures,” and creating a “site-specific plan” for the Hillel office.
In addition to strengthening security, the Hillel director is also planning a series of campus outreach efforts, such as a “robust programmatic response” starting next semester to improve awareness about Jewish culture and the swastika signs.
“We believe that Hillel has a role in educating the campus community about the history of anti-semitism and how antisemitism manifests today in 21st-century America,” Weiss said, elaborating on the topics Hillel expects to cover in its planned programming.
While Simon said he appreciated the response to the incidents by Hillel and the University, he also expressed disappointment at the relative indifference of the larger campus community.
“I feel like the people I have contacted within the institution has been more responsive and more supportive than the student body per se,” he said in a Monday interview.
Sasha Milton ’22 — the freshmen who found the first swastika sign in Clara Dickson Hall — echoed Simon’s sentiment, saying that he often felt “angry” at the campus response because he felt many people in his dorm treated it as “hot gossip” and viewed the hall meetings as a “waste of time.”
In addition to explaining the Residential Hall system’s response to the anti-Semitic incidents, Robert King, director of residential and new student programs, clarified the details surrounding the three incidents to The Sun.
Sasha Chanko ’19, Hillel president, previously told The Sun that he learned about the appearance of swastika signs in Court-Kay-Bauer Hall before the anti-semitic symbol in Clara Dickson Hall. However, King confirmed to The Sun that, in reality, someone drew the Nazi symbol in Dickson Hall on Nov. 5 before another swastika appeared in CKB on Nov. 10.
The swastika in Dickson Hall appeared on a whiteboard on a student’s door and was spotted by Milton, the occupant a the room near the sign. Milton’s friend immediately erased the sketch, and Milton reported the incident to his R.A., who organized a floor meeting where students broke into groups for an activity to discuss their various “identities that you hold important to you,” according to the freshman.
Five days after an unknown vandal drew the swastika in Dickson Hall, residential staff in CKB on Nov. 10 found another swastika “smeared on the wall with the juice of an apple” in a commons area, King confirmed to The Sun. King said the R.A. took pictures of the vandalized space and had the area cleaned. Nine days later, Simon found the swastika etched into the snow.
The Sun previously reported that R.A.s in Dickson Hall held floor meetings, but not in CKB. When The Sun inquired about the response of the affected dorms to the swastika signs, King told The Sun that Dickson hall held two floor meetings — one of which was mandatory. However, King did not mention that CKB held similar floor meetings in the same email response.
In the wake of the three incidents, Simon cautiously speculated that campus anti-semitism could be remedied if the University takes a more active role in educating students through programs like the mandatory intergroup dialogue program for incoming first-year students.
“Addressing [anti-Semitism] through like the colleges, the faculty, through what people are learning in their academic trajectories, maybe that will make an impact or at least people would hear it,” Simon said.
Meanwhile, Weiss, felt that anti-Semitism can be combated on campus through patient education and cultural outreach: he said Hillel is hosting on Wednesday a Menorah lighting on North Campus to spread “the light of Judaism … to combat the darkness of anti-Semitism.”
“[Our programmatic response] includes having Hanukkah related candle lighting events on North and making sure we are bringing the light into the place where the darkness came from,” said Chanko, the Hillel president, “We go to the place this issue started and make sure that we are a resource, no matter where you are.”