Furman University students returned from fall break to discover swastikas and “sexually explicit” comments and drawings in one dormitory. University officials said the graffiti was discovered Tuesday on whiteboards that hang on dorm room doors at Blackwell Hall, a co-ed dorm for freshman students.
“It was crude, offensive language,” Clinton Colmenares, a spokesperson for the school, said. Colmenares said the messages have since been erased.
In an email sent out to the campus community, Chief Diversity Officer Michael Jennings said the graffiti was done sometime between Oct. 11 and Oct. 15, when the university was on fall break.
“Swastikas are symbols of anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry and hate,” Jennings said in the email. “They are antithetical to our shared values of trust and mutual respect for all people, and their use will not be tolerated.”
Jennings also said vandalism motivated by bias against “race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity” violates state and federal laws.
“We also must condemn the sexually degrading and sexist messages and drawings that were included in the vandalism,” Jennings said in the email. Colmenares said campus police are still investigating the incident and they have not yet identified who was responsible.
Melinda Menzer, a Jewish professor of English at Furman, said she was not surprised by the graffiti. “We are in a time where, nationally and internationally, white supremacists and their rhetoric have become more visible and more violent,” Menzer said. “We’ve seen Nazis and neo-Nazis marching on our streets, and they feel empowered in a way they have not felt empowered in decades.” Menzer is a member of Temple of Israel in Greenville. Her grandfather immigrated to the United States from Lithuania in 1925 — he was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust.
Menzer said for her and others on campus, the graffiti is not something that can be brushed off as a joke. “It is easy to say, ‘They’re just trying to scare people,’ or, ‘This is a joke,'” Menzer said. “It’s not that they are trying to scare people — it’s that they are scaring people. They are creating a negative environment, and that is why we all must speak out.”
Menzer said she does not feel that Furman is unique or more dangerous than other campuses because of the incident, but that the graffiti is a reflection of the rise in white supremacy worldwide.
“It is more important than ever before for a group of people to speak up and to name hate when they see it and to denounce it,” Menzer said. “All of us who have a voice need to send a clear message — this is hate, and we denounce it,” Menzer said.
Paul Thomas, a professor of education at the school, said in an email to his students that the graffiti was “neither funny nor inconsequential.”
“Where you live these four years and where you learn, I think, are sacred spaces – and while no one can promise these spaces will be perfect, we must all work diligently to insure they are safe and inclusive,” Thomas said in the statement.