Graffiti of a swastika found on the Southeast Portland campus of Reed College last week is the latest turn in ongoing turmoil which has gripped the school since not long after the Israel-Hamas war began in early October.
According to the college’s student newspaper, Quest, this is the second incident of antisemitic graffiti found on campus in recent weeks. In late October, Quest reported that antisemitic graffiti was discovered in a library bathroom, which contained “both a Nazi swastika and the numbers 1488, a combination of two popular white supremacist numeric symbols.”
“Reed College unequivocally condemns these acts of antisemitism and vandalism,” Sheena McFarland, spokesperson for Reed College, said in a statement. “Such symbols have no place on our campus as they undermine our core values and create an atmosphere of fear within our college community. We have removed the graffiti and informed our campus community that we will not tolerate such hateful acts. Campus safety is a top priority, and Reed College continues to work tirelessly to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and community members.”
As a devastating war plays out in Israel and Gaza, many Oregon college campuses and campuses around the country have become a flashpoint for protests over the war and backlash to those protests.
The antisemitic graffiti is not the only incident that has touched Reed. Earlier this month Quest covered a student protest on campus and the backlash to that coverage has shaken reporters and editors.
That response has included obscene graffiti outside the newspaper’s office and a deluge of angry letters and comments.
Quest’s story was about the protest on campus, led by the Reed Students for Justice in Palestine, and the following action in downtown Portland which led to arrests at the World Trade Center. Several of those arrested were Reed students.
Quest took several steps another newspaper might not – they blurred faces in pictures of the protesters and declined to name the students arrested.
But, for detractors, many of whom seem to be Reed students, it was not enough.
In the story, which had a triple byline of Declan Bradley, Adrian Keller Feld and Sam King, the reporters noted that the action, which was part of a coordinated nationwide effort, took place on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a night of violence in 1938 by Nazis against Jews in Germany and German territories that led to the first mass incarceration of Jews and the introduction of anti-Jewish legislation and is considered a major turning point in the trajectory that led to the Holocaust.
The students also reported on the group’s chants, including “globalize the intifada.” They defined “intifada” as “either of two popular uprisings of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip aimed at ending Israel’s occupation of those territories and creating an independent Palestinian state.”
Critics call the group antisemitic for demanding an end to Israeli occupation in Palestine – some say it is a pro-Hamas group – while supporters say it is antisemitic to equate Israel with all Jewish people.
Quest left the comments section open on the post for several days and it was flooded with comments.
“This is a terrible article dude like how are you going to say that uprising against genocide is antisemitic,” wrote one commenter.
“This article is so biased and inflammatory that it is actually insane,” wrote another. “Have some journalistic integrity and the ability to see past your narrow and flawed worldview that prioritizes the comfort of a genocidal bureaucratic ethnostate that is younger than some of the people it aims to destroy and whose land it occupies.”
“Declan, Adrian, and Sam, respectfully, this … sounds like someone with a Prager university education wrote it,” another reads.
After the Quest story hit Reddit, the paper turned comments off.
“Our moderators are students,” said Bradley, who is an editor at Quest as well as a reporter and a sophomore. “They can’t moderate a comment forum with Reddit.”
In the week since the story ran, the vitriol has continued, including with obscene graffiti outside the newspaper office.
“There’s also been strong negative reaction against the editors,” Bradley said.
Some of the comments have gotten personal, though none have turned toward violence, newspaper staff said.
Still, Bradley noted that a student paper is much like a small-town paper. The reporters know the people they are covering. And in this case, they eat in the same dining halls, sleep in the same dorms and attend the same classes.
This means journalists on campus feel different, and more acute, pressures than journalists working in other markets.
“I think that my team and I were underprepared for the realities of covering an unfolding protest,” Bradley said later about the incident. “Before covering such a protest again, I think we should all undergo training on how to handle a tense situation and how to best make use of our tools as reporters (video, audio, professional cameras, etc) in the field.”
Quest isn’t the first college paper to feel this kind of blowback. In 2019, Northwestern University’s student newspaper apologized for “mistakes” the staff made while covering protests.
The mistakes they made were photographing protesters and contacting them after the event. Professional journalists derided the paper, saying photographing protesters and contacting sources is part of the job. But student activists were concerned they might be punished if their identities were revealed.
And earlier this month, the editor of the student paper at Middle Tennessee State University resigned after intense feedback to a profile he wrote of a fellow student who had friends in Tel Aviv. Commenters on that article noted that he mentioned the number of people dead in Israel but not Gaza.