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Antisemitic Graffiti Greets Jewish Students as School Starts at U. of Wisconsin Madison

Update October 7, 20022: Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin refuses to discipline those involved in the incident; more here.

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University of Wisconsin Madison administrators are calling for “civility and kindness” after antisemitic messages were written on campus sidewalks as students began the fall semester Wednesday.

According to a statement posted to the University’s website Thursday, the anonymous chalk messages targeted Jewish student groups, labeling them as “racist,” “genocidal,” and “having blood on their hands.”

Vice Chancellor Lori Reesor and Deputy Vice Chancellor LaVar Charleston, the university’s chief diversity officer, said while such statements aren’t against the law or campus policy, they do “violate our norms and actively work against the culture of belonging for which we are striving.”

“To those Jewish students and others affected, we are sorry for the impact this had on your first day of class at UW,” the statement read. “We truly strive to create a campus where every student feels they belong, and this kind of messaging harms that goal and aspiration.”

The administrators said the messages represent free speech, which the university supports even if it “can be difficult and uncomfortable at times.”

“Just because something isn’t prohibited doesn’t make it a good idea,” they wrote. “We hope you hear our calls for civility and kindness while at the same time, embracing vigorous, honest debate.”

The watchdog group StopAntisemitism tweeted the administration’s call for debate as a response to hate speech was “sickening” and blasted DEI Chief LaVar Charleston and Vice Chancellor Lori Reesor .

Greg Steinberger, president of the UW Hillel Foundation, an independent organization supporting the roughly 4,000 Jewish students on campus, said the messages in seven locations were “a frightening and painful way to start the year.”

“They were targeted for their interests and they were singled out by an intentional and hateful act designed to cause harm,” Steinberger said.

Steinberger said he hopes the administration will investigate the targeting of Jewish students and organizations and consult with the community “to understand how this was hurtful and harmful.”

University administrators spoke out in March after three antisemitic incidents on campus, including a swastika etched on a dorm bathroom stall, slurs yelled at a student and someone who said they were harassed for “looking Jewish.”