Holding Antisemites Accountable.

Close this search box.

Swastika Drawn Next to Jewish Star on California Polytechnic State College “Free Speech” Wall

It took less than three days for someone to draw a swastika on the free speech wall on Dexter Lawn. The wall — which the Cal Poly College Republicans install on campus every year — has historically been a platform for hate speech at Cal Poly

Mustang News became aware of the swastika on the wall Wednesday afternoon. The swastika was surrounded by two smiley faces and was drawn next to a Star of David.

Economics junior Joe Schneider passed by the wall the entire week and decided to take a closer look at its messages Wednesday afternoon. That’s when he noticed the swastika.

“I’m very grossed out,” said Schneider, who is Jewish. “It definitely ruined my day.”

He took a picture of the hate symbol and took a step away from the wall to share what had happened with members of Hillel of San Luis Obispo, a Jewish student-run organization in San Luis Obispo. A few minutes later, he returned to the wall and found that the swastika was scribbled over with black sharpie. 

Regardless of it being covered up, Hillel’s President Jianna Gladfelter said the damage is already done. The wall creates the perfect opportunity for someone to write hate speech anonymously and the Cal Poly College Republicans should moderate the wall for hateful and bigoted speech, she said.

“The symbol represents the thought that people wanted to kill the Jews,” Gladfelter said. “They were clearly trying to send a message to our community that we shouldn’t — we can’t feel safe on this campus.”

The wall contains other choice messages. “F*ck Nazis” got crossed out and replaced with “Love Everyone” written right above it. 

The Cal Poly College Republicans club brought back the free speech wall to campus on Monday. The club received approval from Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) to use public space at Dexter Lawn for the free speech wall from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

On Wednesday, the club posted on Instagram that it condemns Nazi ideology and symbology, but maintained that the free speech wall has had overwhelmingly positive feedback. 

The day prior, the club posted on Instagram a picture of two people in front of the free speech wall giving a thumbs up. Both people have their faces covered, one by an image of Tucker Carlson and the other by an image of Theodore Roosevelt.

Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier told Mustang News that Cal Poly denounces racist speech and actions, which he said are inconsistent with values at Cal Poly. Lazier added that while the university wishes it could forbid hateful language on campus, federal law forbids that. 

“As a state institution and public campus, Cal Poly is required to support free speech, even if we find reprehensible the actions of individuals who choose to post disgusting, racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other intentionally hurtful and offensive expression,” Lazier wrote to Mustang News via email. 

Cal Poly Hillel released a statement on Instagram Wednesday, noting that the swastika is hate speech. 

“You are not responsible to solve hatred, but you are also not free to ignore it when it is written on your wall,” Cal Poly Hillel’s statement read.

The organization encouraged anyone with information on who drew the swastika to either get in touch with Hillel, university administrators or ASI. 

On Friday, Vice President Keith Humphrey sent a campus wide email addressing the free speech wall, how the university is not able to intervene and his hope that students continue to speak out against hate speech.

“I also know that hate speech on your university campus can create feelings of fear,” Humphrey wrote. “In a world that far too often sees ideas of hate turn into acts of violence, those feelings are real.”

Starting in the 2017-2018 academic year, the club stopped putting the wall up in November during the commemorative dates of the fall of the Berlin Wall and instead began placing it on campus during the spring quarter. 

The Cal Poly College Republicans club secretary Sean Senn told Mustang News the free speech wall is important because there is a growing culture that discourages conservative viewpoints from being shared publicly.

The first amendment protects people from the government infringing on their free speech rights. Senn was not able to name an instance of Cal Poly infringing on anyone’s free speech rights, including conservative students’ rights, and added that his concern comes from whether it could happen in the future. 

Senn agreed the free speech wall has a history of platforming bigoted and hateful speech, which puts it at odds with whether students from marginalized backgrounds feel welcome on campus. To Senn, the free speech wall is the more important of the two.  “The principle of giving a platform to any and all beliefs, even if they are bigoted, is more important than the stress caused by those bigoted, hateful comments,” Senn told Mustang News. 

Senn confirmed that the Cal Poly College Republicans club puts up the wall every school year out of its own volition and he said that if anyone is offended by what’s on it, they can choose to simply not look at it. 

“If you’re concerned about being distressed or being harmed by the wall, you’re free to ignore the wall,” Senn said. 

It’s not that simple, said Gladfelter, Hillel’s president. A swastika represents trauma for Jewish people and plenty others who suffered under the Nazi regime. 

“That trauma carries through generations,” Gladfelter said. “So to be reminded of that, especially next to a symbol that represents our community is just so scary because it definitely feels like a threat.”