The security services at Ramapo College in Mahwah are reviewing videotapes to see what they can learn about two instances of hate graffiti, according to Bonnie Franklin, the college’s vice president for communications and public affairs.
The words "I hate Jews" were found scrawled on a car window in one of the school’s parking lots at 11 p.m. on Friday, Oct. ‘7. Between ‘ and 6 a.m. the following Sunday, "I am gay" messages were left on marker boards of three dorm rooms.
Ramapo president Peter Mercer e-mailed students on Oct. 30 after the first incident: "I deplore this shameful and intolerable act and assure the community that we are trying to identify the perpetrator. Anyone who is found to have committed an offence of this sort will be severely punished." After the second incident, he wrote that "this sort of conduct will not be tolerated ."
In response to the graffiti, Sarah Costello, a sophomore who works in the campus’ women’s center, helped organize an anti-hate rally Tuesday that brought out almost 100 students and faculty. Speakers included members of Hillel, the black student union, and Greek life.
The rally drew mixed reactions from the Jewish community, but Costello felt "it opened people’s eyes to things that had been happening and how they could help."
People "wanted to channel their anger into positive things," she said. "People [were] feeling like they could go out and do something like they had a voice."
Rabbi Ely Allen, director of Hillel at UJA of Northern New Jersey, which runs the branch at Ramapo, said that the anti-Semitic graffiti were most likely the actions of a drunk and not something more malicious. While he supports the idea behind the rally, he does not think the trigger was as serious as it is has been made out to be to warrant the reaction.
"The Jewish community has to be very cautious about raising red flags," he told The Jewish Standard on Monday. He cautioned against the dangers of making a larger situation out of a minor incident. "When you cry wolf too often the results are negative," he said. "We try to foster a positive Jewish identity. Unfortunately, these things do not."
The New Jersey office of the Anti-Defamation League wrote to Ramapo’s president on Wednesday, congratulating him for his "swift reaction to a series of bias incidents."
In the letter, Alana Cooper, associate director of the New Jersey office, wrote: "Unfortunately, those who are versed in hate and violence present a real threat. In our modern world we must all work together in order to create the types of communities we wish to pass on to our children."
Cooper also spoke at Tuesday’s rally and urged continued vigilance on the part of the students to make sure "the community they live in is the type of community they want to live in."
In a phone interview Wednesday, she agreed with Allen that the incidents seemed to be isolated and praised the student body for being proactive. "This isn’t something they’re going to allow to take root on the campus," she said. "Their standing up and saying ‘no’ to this incident is a positive aspect to what we’re going to see in our community."
The quick response by the students, she said, "enforces this is a school that’s not willing to tolerate this sort of thing."
The aim of hate is to divide the community, Costello said. "The incidents weren’t of great magnitude but we wanted to nip it in the bud and show that we won’t let things like this happen in the future."