After an offensive anti-Semitic incident occurred on campus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Nicole Parsons, a junior at UMass, responded with an anti-Nazi sign which she placed on her dorm window. University faculty decided to take control of the situation at this point and asked the student to take down the sign, claiming it did not have a place within the inclusive and respectful environment the university sought to seek out.
The anti-Semitic incident took place in December of last year when a swastika was crudely drawn over a “Happy Hanukkah” sign on a dorm door. The sign that Parson stuck to her window said, “F*** Nazis You Are Not Welcome Here.”
Parsons soon received an email from the resident director at UMass Amherst encouraging Parsons to take down the sign in the name of inclusivity.
In an interview with The Boston Globe, Parsons said, “I thought maybe if I hang the sign up, maybe the person who drew the swastika will see it and see someone condemning their actions, even if the administration doesn’t do it.”
The outreach from the university’s administration comes as surprising mainly due to its lack of immediate involvement regarding such incidents. Numerous hate crimes, similar to this case have been documented and ever on the rise since the beginning of the school semester. The same day the swastika was drawn on the dorm door, there was another one scribbled on the wall of the men’s bathroom. Homophobic and transphobic messages have been drawn on other dorm doors in November. Racist drawings, anti-Semitic slurs, and Islamophobic notes have all been reported multiple times on separate instances since the beginning of the school year. The university has taken note of this and has recorded reported crimes on their website along with links to their response protocol and their initiative page to eradicate the growing trend of hate crimes.
However, there has been no administrative statement or action regarding the swastika or other Nazi-related incident before this. Parsons said, “This email tells me the university cares more about the feelings of Nazis than the safety of their students.” It seems like the university is concerned over whether or not the environment they uphold is inclusive and respectful towards Nazis. In order for the public to think otherwise, there needs to be proof.
After the backlash UMass Amherst faced, the university released a statement on their Facebook page where they clarified their disapproval of hate groups and apologized for the “poorly worded email” that was sent to Parsons. The statement continued, “However, we are sensitive to the use of profanity, which some could find inappropriate. The university respects the students’ right to display the sign and it may remain up.”
The last part of the statement might not sit well with some, as it implies the use of language used on the anti-Nazi sign was worse, or at least on par, with the other more profane hate messages that have been scribbled on the walls of the university. The statement also distracts from the bigger picture by providing excuses and reasons as to why their initial email was excusable while still finding a way to berate Parsons for putting up the sign. The addition of the last segment subtracted from the sincerity of the apology, regardless of the university’s true values. A university can go on as much as they want about their values but none of it matters if the students aren’t able to see and experience it for themselves.
Nicole Parsons said it herself — she took it upon herself to show a resistance to the hateful, re-occurring behavior at the university. Typically, this would only ever be needed if the university didn’t already provide adequate support or take real actions to tackle the issue.
Freedom of speech has always and will continue to be brought up in light of these type of scenarios. Sometimes it can feel like certain groups of people are granted that freedom and others are not. Whatever a university’s stance on that is, it should be fair, and they should prioritize the safety of its students. Safety concerns for Parsons and her roommate eventually led to the removal of the sign. Parsons’ sign was nowhere near as harmful as the other hate crimes that occurred. If the university were truly committed to creating an inclusive and respectful environment, which is only really possible if people truly feel safe, then there should have been reassurances that other hate crimes are being addressed in a similar manner.
UMass Amherst and every other university need to evaluate whether or not they have been doing enough to reassure the targeted communities of their safety and work on redirecting their efforts to deal with the people spreading hate symbols across campus in order to truly achieve their goal of a respectful and inclusive environment.
-Abeeda Hussain – Kasim