Massachusetts college investigates ‘act of blatant and deplorable anti-Semitism’


BOSTON (JTA) — Campus police at a Massachusetts college are investigating an incident of harassment against a Jewish student.

The incident took place last week at Hampshire College, a small liberal arts school in Amherst, about 90 miles west of Boston.

The college’s president, Jonathan Lash, condemned the incident, but no further details have been released to the public.

In a memo to the Hampshire community, Lash wrote that the campus police responded to a report of “an act of blatant and deplorable anti-Semitism” that took place in the middle of the night in an area with student housing.”

“The incident is being treated as a criminal matter and is under active investigation,” he wrote. Lash urged anyone with information to immediately contact the campus police.

“These are acts of cowardice intended to intimidate and hurt all of us. But I want to assure you that they will not deter us from our commitment to stand together against hate and bigotry,” he wrote, adding “They do not represent our shared values.”

He noted that there have been other acts of anti-Semitism reported in prior years on the campus, as well as some that have gone unreported, which inhibits the school’s efforts to respond, he wrote.

On Tuesday, the college held a previously scheduled program on hate speech and anti-Semitism prompted by anti-Semitic incidents in recent years.

“The College’s priorities in responding … are to protect the safety of our community, uphold our values, and respect the privacy of the individual reporting the incident,” Lash wrote in a statement emailed to JTA.

The incidents in the past two years at Hampshire are “a problem many campuses nationwide are experiencing. We’ll meet these acts of bigotry head on,” he wrote.

In 2017, anti-Semitic graffiti including a swastika or anti-Semitic language was found in the library and in a couple of dormitories, a college spokesman told JTA. The year before, three incidents of graffiti were reported.

The strong language used by the college president indicates the incident was serious, according to Robert Trestan, regional director of the New England Anti Defamation League.

While it’s important for the college to have the leeway to investigate, it must be followed up with transparency, Trestan stressed.

“It’s important for the community to know exactly what happened,” he told JTA in a phone conversation.

The fact that there are incidents going unreported is a concern, Trestan cautioned. The college needs to ensure that there are measures in place for students to report racist or anti-Semitic incidents.

Massachusetts campuses have been part of the trend of a dramatic rise of anti-Semitic incidents on colleges across the country, Trestan said. College campuses saw a total of 204 incidents in 2017, compared to 108 in 2016, according to a recent ADL report.

About 100 people from Hampshire attended Tuesday’s program, which was titled “Hate at Hampshire: Uniting as a Community Against Hate Speech.” It was part of a weeklong conference on combating racism and promoting diversity and social justice.

The program, open only to the Hampshire community, was held at the college library, that in past years was targeted with anti-Semitic graffiti, according to the Hampshire spokesman.

Panelists addressed the rise of anti-Semitic hate speech in recent years and spoke about the incidents at Hampshire, according to the Hampshire spokesman, who attended the program.

Recommended from JTA