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Students decry swastika graffiti

STEVE LEWIS / Durango Herald

Keith Winchester, a sophomore environmental geology major at Fort Lewis College, accepts a button from Nancy Stoffer, coordinator of diversity programming at Fort Lewis College. Students are wearing red and “Respect Starts Here” pins to register their disgust with recent graffiti on campus depicting swastikas.

By Chase Olivarius-Mcallister Herald staff writer

Fort Lewis College students wore red Wednesday to protest a recent spate of anti-Semitic graffiti.

The visual politics was rich: Their scarlet attire was a symbolic repudiation of the Brownshirts who, it seems, anonymously walk among them.

In just the last few days, students have reported three separate incidents in which swastikas – the still-potent symbol of the Third Reich and the Holocaust – were scrawled on both college and student property over the course of the last month.

Students first were alerted to the anti-Semitic graffiti by an email sent last Wednesday by Glenna Witt Sexton, vice president for student affairs, who wrote that unknown people had chalked a large swastika and “Nazis 4 evar” on the sidewalk outside Bader A residence hall the previous evening.

FLC has made an effort to expedite its reporting of hate speech since late October, when it took the administration a week to report that a men’s bathroom in Noble Hall had been defaced with the word “fag.”

After Sexton’s email, students reported two other instances of property being defaced by swastikas. The earliest occurred just before Thanksgiving, when a swastika was drawn on a student’s car. As of publication, it was not clear whether the student was Jewish.

The next instance involved a swastika rendered with a marker in the farthest stall of a men’s bathroom in Jones Hall two weeks ago.

FLC spokesman Mitch Davis said though that bathroom gets a lot of foot traffic and is cleaned every day, no one reported the swastika – which was prominently displayed – for about a week, though a janitor said he attempted to report it.

Though some detected a troubling historical rhyme in the complacency of those who used that bathroom and Germans’ acquiescence to the Holocaust, the vast majority of students were outraged by the swastikas.

Wearing a red coat, freshman Matt Teague said he was disgusted that swastikas could blight FLC’s small and tolerant community.

“You have to stand up,” Teague said. “I don’t know anyone here who’s Jewish, but at home I have Jewish friends. This is inciting hatred toward another group of people.”

Wearing a red scarf, sophomore Lindsey Philopois and her friend Kelly Ryan were incredulous that the swastikas could have been conjured in earnest.

“No one would openly say they’re a Nazi without people going, ‘What are you talking about?’” Ryan said.

Indeed, though FLC’s Jewish population by most accounts is minute (the college has thriving Native American and Christian groups but no Jewish group), students and staff members have countered the swastikas emphatically with events, buttons and petitions promoting diversity and tolerance.

About 100 students offended by the swastikas attended the Spaghetti and Solidarity Dinner last Thursday. And for the last three days, Nancy Stoffer, coordinator of student diversity, and Marc Goldfarb, director of orientation and family planning, have been handing out red pins that read “Respect Starts Here” at the Student Union. They also encouraged students to sign the “Resolution of Respect,” which they have done in droves.

While police continue to investigate the vandalism, Davis said that if FLC is marred by a fourth swastika in the coming weeks, the administration will consider offering students a reward for information about its rendering.

Davis said the criminals’ or criminal’s motivation “could be anything from a student expressing his genuine opinion to somebody’s idea of a sick joke.”

He said FLC’s campus hosts no known extremist groups. But four instances of hate speech in as many weeks was unprecedented, he said.

“This recent burst of hate speech is unusual for us,” Davis said. “The last time was in 2007, when our student body president sent homophobic threats to himself.”

Though fraudulent, the anti-gay threats provoked students to rally around tolerance with similar gumption.


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