By Zachary T. Sampson, Boston.com
November 30, 2012
A menorah in a Northeastern University quad was vandalized and fliers bearing anti-Semitic and other offensive references were distributed in some Harvard College residences Friday in incidents that school administrators quickly condemned.
Two Northeastern students confessed Friday afternoon to damaging the decorative menorah, a candelabrum used for Jewish worship during the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah.
Harvard officials are investigating the fliers, which advertised a fake social club. A picture on The Harvard Crimson website shows that the fliers included the lines “Jews need not apply” and “Seriously, no [expletive] Jews. Coloreds OK.”
Administrators at both schools decried the incidents as acts of intolerance.
“Northeastern’s deep and abiding commitment to diversity in all its forms, including religious diversity, is unwavering,” Joseph E. Aoun, the university’s president, said in a statement about the damage to the menorah, which occurred at about 1 a.m. “This disturbing incident should be an opportunity to strengthen, rather than weaken, our dedication to this deeply important value.”
Evelynn M. Hammonds, dean of Harvard College, denounced the fliers, in a statement saying that the school supports free speech but does not approve of such offensive words. The papers were reportedly slipped under doors in several houses for upperclassmen near the Charles River.
“As dean of the college and as an educator, I find these fliers offensive,” she said. “They are not a reflection of the values of our community. Even if intended as satirical in nature, they are hurtful and offensive to many students, faculty, and staff and do not demonstrate the level of thoughtfulness and respect we expect at Harvard when engaging difficult issues within our community.”
The broken menorah at Northeastern was discovered in Krentzman Quadrangle Friday morning, said university spokesman Michael Armini. He said workers repaired it and returned it to the quad by 11 a.m.
Campus police used surveillance video to identify the two students behind the vandalism.
Armini declined to release details about the damage to the menorah or how university administrators determined whether the act was one of religious intolerance. “Based on what we have, that’s our conclusion,” he said. A Christmas tree in the same quad was not damaged, Armini said.
The Anti-Defamation League and Combined Jewish Philanthropies commended Northeastern for taking quick action after the vandalism.
“An act of this nature is hurtful not only to Jewish people, but also to all those who value a shared community of respect,” the leaders of both groups said in a joint statement.
A campus police officer patrolled the grounds surrounding the menorah Friday, and security will be increased in the area. Student leaders in the Jewish community at Northeastern said it is not the first time symbols of their faith were desecrated at the university.
Mollye Lipton, an executive board member of Northeastern Hillel, said she believes there is increasing anti-Semitic sentiment at Northeastern, and one of her friends was recently wearing a Star of David necklace on campus when someone directed a derogatory remark at her.
Lipton wants the students behind the latest vandalism to learn from their mistake.
“I just hope they can be educated on how the Jewish students feel about the situation and how we are hurt by it,” Lipton said.
Arthur Maserjian, president of Northeastern Hillel, said a menorah was vandalized on campus last year, too. In an e-mail to Hillel members, he advised students to use the experience to “rededicate us all to building a more tolerant and open campus that celebrates diversity and accepts people of varying traditions.”
The fliers at Harvard advertised a group called The Pigeon as a new final club. Such organizations are exclusive social clubs that are not recognized by the college.
Students on the Harvard campus Friday night said they believe the fliers were intended as satire and reflected growing opposition within the Harvard community to final clubs. But some said that the fliers, which also made a reference to the date-rape drug Rohypnol, had gone too far.
“I don’t think that jokes should trigger on any type of pain, so if you’re a person that’s part Jewish or a person of color or a woman who has been in any dangerous situations, you shouldn’t have to read this,” said Dakota Rot, 20, who received a flier and identified herself as part Jewish.
Peter N. Hadar, an executive board member of Harvard Hillel, said the fliers were offensive not only to Jewish students, but also to ethnic minorities, and women.
“I understand that it was an attempt at satire,” Hadar said. “I think it failed.”