Asst. News Editor
This article is also available in print: Quaker Campus, Volume 19 – Issue 6, dated Nov. 17, 2021, on the Whittier College campus.
On Thursday, Nov. 11, an email was sent out to the entire Whittier College community pertaining to an act of antisemitism that was discovered a week prior, on Thursday, Nov. 4, in the ASWC office. The Bias Response Team, Campus Safety, and Whittier Police Department have been investigating the incident. The perpetrator remains unknown.
The email sent out to the Whittier College community by Vice President of Marketing and Communications Ana Lilia Barraza on Nov. 11, stated that “the Associated Students of Whittier College (ASWC) Senate reported an [ . . . ] act of antisemitism to the Whittier College Bias Report Team.” This act of antisemitism was a swastika carved into one of the desks in the office space. The Senate office is reported to only be accessible to those that have clearance to be in there, limited to members of ASWC and perhaps members of the Whittier College staff.
As stated before, the Bias Response Team, Campus Safety, and Whittier Police have been involved with this investigation; Whittier Police has concluded their side of the investigation. However, the Nov. 11 email clarified that “the College investigation is ongoing,” and that “follow-up communication will be provided once this investigation has concluded.”
In a follow-up email by Dean of Students Deanna Merino-Contino, she stated that, as the “. . . Bias Response Team continues its investigation we wanted to share with you an update. Based on the preliminary findings in the investigation, Whittier PD has determined that at this time, there is no immediate threat to the safety of the Whittier College Campus Community.” The Response Team and the College alike will be continuing their investigation, stating that they are “work[ing] closely with ASWC leadership to complete the final stages.”
The Bias Incident Reporting page characterizes a bias incident as an “action taken that one could reasonably and prudently conclude is motivated, in whole or in part, by the alleged offender’s bias against an actual or perceived aspect of diversity.” Acts of antisemitism have been on the rise in the past five years. NPR reported that “nearly one out of every four Jews in the U.S. has been the subject of antisemitism over the past year.” Alongside this, NPR reported that “seventeen percent of respondents in the committee’s survey said they had been the subject of an antisemitic remark in person, while 12 percent said they were the victim of an antisemitic remark online. Three percent of Jews who responded to the poll said they were the target of an antisemitic physical attack.”
More and more Jewish people have been subject to acts of antisemitism in the past couple of years, and the Jewish community recognizes this fear — and the disconnect with the general community. This differs when talking with the general public. One statistic reports that “only 48 percent of the general public said they had heard “a lot” or “some’’ about Jews being attacked during that period, compared to 71 percent of American Jews who said the same.” The general public does not see the rise of antisemitic hate crimes over the past couple of years. But, even if others do not see it, Jewish people feel the effects of hate and malice that these attacks bring.
These ideas of fear have not been expressed only in the general Jewish community, but here at Whittier College as well. A fourth-year student in the Jewish Student Union, who would like to remain anonymous, expressed her feelings about the incident: “I was honestly very shocked and disappointed when I read about the incident. This is not the first time something antisemetic has happened on campus this year, as there were incidents during the activities fair where students made some remarks about the Jewish Student Union table/club sign-up area, which was reported to the OEI, and discussions were held with administration.” She spoke about her experience right now being a Jewish person at the College, stating that she has “become more cautious/fearful in sharing with people that I am Jewish because, honestly, I do feel threatened by what happened, regardless of the statement in the bias report that there is no immediate threat to campus. In my previous years at Whittier, nothing like this ever happened, to my knowledge, so having multiple antisemetic incidents just within [this] Fall semester is extremely concerning and disheartening.”
She ended her statement talking about how the College can move forward to help the Jewish community on campus. She “. . . appreciate[s] that the college included Jewish resources in the bias report, and I know they have been in contact with JSU leadership to discuss what happened; however, because of the most recent attack, the Club is most likely going to need to change meeting locations and make our events more closed to club members [. . . ] in order to ensure everyone’s safety and allow everyone to feel comfortable.” She ended her statement with: “At this moment in time, I’m not sure what the college can do to make Jewish students feel more comfortable/safe on campus, but I think informing the student body about why antisemitism in any form is threatening to Jewish people would be a good place to start.”
Resources have been made available to students on the Whittier campus and are open to those who have been affected by the situation. There was a community space to debrief the situation on Nov. 15 at 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. provided by the Office of Equity and Inclusion, held at the Ortiz Lounge. Students can also attend the virtual program, Fighting Antisemitism and Hate in Los Angeles, by emailing Interim Associate Dean of Students Christine Hernandez. There is ongoing student training to increase racial justice, as well as equity training for students, student leaders, and student employees on campus. Community services include programs such as Hillel@Home, designed to help college students connect with “unrivaled content, community and Jewish Life on a Global scale.” Jewish Family Service L.A. provides services varying from Mental Health Services to Food and Hunger programs consisting of food pantries open to community members. Their mission consists of providing “life-improving services that help the people of Los Angeles live with dignity and exercise self determination.” Resources provided through the Division of Student Life include the C.A.R.E. (Community, Affirmation, Resilience and Empowerment) Program and the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI). The C.A.R.E. Program provides “prevention, assessment, and intervention for and with students as they navigate the challenges that stand in their way of academic and personal success.” The OEI provides different spaces for students of all backgrounds to be able to have a place on campus where they are understood. The OEI is located on lower campus underneath The Spot and next to the Office of Student Engagement.
The recent antisemitic attack at Whittier College has greatly hurt the Jewish Community on campus. It is the job of all of us to provide support to Jewish voices not just when incidents like this occur, but all of the time. The College stated that the “. . . Whittier College ethos promotes the building of a strong community of scholars and a commitment to racial justice, equity, and inclusion. The College will not tolerate any act of bias or bigotry on our campus. We will work with our students, faculty, and staff to address any acts of intolerance and will strive to provide education and training to create a more inclusive community.”
Similarly, ASWC stated: “We want to explicitly share that the antisemitic engraving does NOT represent the core values Senate holds and we are appalled by this incident occurred in our own space. We want to let the student body know that ASWC Senate stands in solidarity with individuals who have been affected by this act of hate.”
The provision of resources to learn about issues that the Jewish community faces, plus the uplifting of Jewish voices in all accounts of daily life, is just one step in a larger framework of deconstructing one’s own bias. If you have any questions regarding the antisemitic attack that occurred, you can contact the Dean of Students, Deanna Merino-Contino, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus