It was another night of rounds for Noah Goldman.
The Byrum resident assistant had returned from a routine campus inspection around 10 p.m. on Saturday, October 13. When he swung his door open, he was met with an unfamiliar note: a Nazi swastika crudely drawn on a small sheet of paper. Underneath it were two words, “Jew RA.”
Goldman, a senior and an active follower of Judaism, went through a flurry of emotions. He felt targeted, angry and a little unsafe because somebody not only came after him directly, but did so in his own room. “I spent some time just thinking like, you know, there’s a million different reasons why someone would do this,” he said.
Goldman contacted the other resident assistants on duty and reached out to Director of Housing Kayla George and Dean of Students John Downey. On Monday, October 15, campus police was made aware of the incident.
Campus police, led by Chief of Police Laura Finney and Assistant Vice President for Public Safety and Police Ray Thrower, opened an immediate investigation into the incident. Under North Carolina state law, the lack of assault or a form of property damage prevents the occurrence from being regarded as a hate crime. Any actions and repercussions will be left solely up to Queens.
Goldman was not the only one who received the note. A swastika was also drawn into the carpeted floor on the third story of Barnhardt residence hall through the usage of water, as well as left on the whiteboards on the doors of several students. Several students and faculty members saw this as an attack aimed at the larger Jewish community on campus. “[The symbol] means that there are messages of intimidation and hate against a community, a segment of our community, and so we need to be aware of it and we need to be vigilant and we need to be responsive,” said Rabbi Judy Schindler.
Queens was responsive. President Pamela Davies emailed all students on October 16, speaking on behalf of the university and denouncing the incident. “It would be impossible to overstate our disappointment and concern about these incidents as they are in extreme conflict with our institutional values,” she said.
Several chalk inscriptions appeared on the sidewalk within the Trexler courtyard in the week following the incident, all expressing support for unity and fellowship. “You are enough,” read one phrase scribbled in a dusty yellow hue. “Love wins,” said another, written on a pillar right outside of the entrance to the cafeteria so all the students walking in could see it.
On Friday, October 26, a coexist rally took place inside of Trexler during common hour. Several speakers, including President Davies, Dean Downey, and Goldman himself discussed the need for unity, and the power of Queens to come together in support of those who were targeted.
Goldman was planning on bringing a political science professor to campus to talk about anti-Semitism at Queens on November 15. “Very appropriate, and this was planned before this incident occurred, and that will be open to not just Queens but to the public as well, if anyone is interested in attending,” he said.
Students signed a banner expressing support for inclusion and unity at Queens, and to show those affected by this act of hate they are not standing alone. The expression board in the Trexler courtyard was also painted over with various religious symbols and the phrase, ‘coexist.’
Darryl White Sr., assistant dean for Diversity Inclusion and Community Engagement, was proud of the campus-wide responses to the act of anti-Semitism. “I think it’s been a very positive response, I think we acted quickly from the time we heard of the incident and also we’re acting as a unit, instead of people just doing one-offs,” said White. “I think it’s more powerful that way.”
The identity of the aggressor, or aggressors, remains unknown. Goldman and campus police were unaware of who it may have been, and several Barnhardt residents reported seeing and hearing nothing as well. Goldman mused the possibility of there being more than one perpetrator due to the locations being in two separate residence halls but ultimately dismissed it. “It’s not a normal occurrence at Queens, so it is safe to say that it [was] more than likely one person,” he said.
The motivation of whoever left the symbols, be it a deliberate act of hate or an ill-conceived joke, is unclear, but Queens is not alone in suffering from occurrences like it. “If you look nationally, it happens everywhere,” said Thrower. Most notably, on Saturday, October 27, 11 people were killed after a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Hate will never die out, and that is shown time and time again through events happening all around the world, even at Queens. “I think it is jarring for the community to think that there are those who hold a belief of supremacy of some people over other people,” said Schindler.
Goldman felt the event was isolated. “All my time here at Queens nothing remotely like this has happened,” he said. “Not as much as a light joke.” Finney said otherwise, mentioning how other students have come forward before about similar occurrences.
“You look at the diversity on this campus and you look at how you have incidents happen across different college campuses, and so you know with our diversity we are pretty fortunate, and even though people are still going to be who they are, we are not going to let it stop us being who we are,” said White.
Schindler was proud of the immediate response to the event, citing the dangers of letting incidents like these get buried. “If the community’s response to hate symbols is silence, the image gets the last word. So, I think the response is so important,” she said.
“What makes Queens different from other universities is the swift response to saying that this is not acceptable,” said Goldman.
Queens always urges students to report incidents to their R.A.s, Dean Downey, or Chief Finney. They also have a website where incidents on campus can be reported anonymously, http://www.queens.edu/report-bias-or-hate-crime.
A student was attacked through an act of hatred, but what he took away from it was how a community rallied around him in expressions of love and unity. “At the end of the day, we are all brothers and sisters,” said Thrower.
Reported on by Mona Dougani, David Griffith, Izzy Harvey and Naomi Tellez-Duran.