This past Friday, for the fifth time since October, swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti have been found on our campus. It should go without saying that such expressions of hatred have no place at Nassau Community College, where we work hard every day to provide a safe environment for all members of the campus community. Unfortunately, however, as the discovery of this graffiti makes plain, it does need to be said. Not because we doubt the commitment of anyone on this campus to the part of our mission statement that reads, “[It is the goal of Nassau Community College to] create a multicultural environment which fosters the synthesis of knowledge, aesthetic appreciation, and commitment to ethical and social values,” but rather because we now have an obligation to affirm this goal in response to the actions of people who clearly do not share it. We also want our Jewish colleagues across campus, and our Jewish students as well, to know that we stand in solidarity with them against the threatening and hateful message delivered by these displays of the symbol of Nazi Germany.
We were gratified to learn, from this recording of Friday’s Nassau County Police Department press conference, that the appearance of the graffiti does not represent an increase in bias incidents in Nassau County. In fact, NCPD spokesperson Lieutenant Richard LeBrun cited statistics showing that bias incidents are down in the county relative to last year. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the fact that whoever drew these swastikas did so in the context of what appears to be a national, post-election increase in bias incidents against not only Jews, but also Muslims, African Americans and people of color in general, women, LGBTQ people, and immigrants. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking reports of such incidents (here and here), and, since the election, The Chronicle of Higher Education has been monitoring those that have occurred on-campus.
On Friday, in an email to our campus community, President Keen assured us that the college will take “all steps necessary to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and that Nassau Community College remains a safe haven for all students, faculty, staff, and visitors.” We are, as we are sure you were, glad to have that message. Still, it is important to remember that, unlike the graffiti with which those perpetrators defaced our campus—an E felony that carries a prison term of one to four years—not all bias incidents are actually crimes. The recent distribution of Ku Klux Klan literature in Patchogue, Montauk, and on the Long Island Railroad, for example, disturbing as it is, is protected by the First Amendment—as it should be. As far as we know, no such recruitment, or other similar attempt to spread white supremacist, neo-Nazi values has been attempted on campus. Nonetheless, the hateful message of those swastikas reminds us how important it is to make respect for difference and diversity a proactive, affirmative part of the work we do here. We invite you to join us in renewing our commitment that value.