By Deborah Haartz
In March of 2017, a backwards swastika drawn in chalk was discovered on the wall of a Haverford College dormitory. The incident occurred months after a number of swastikas were found spray-painted onto the bathroom walls of Swarthmore’s McCabe Library.
Vice President of Bryn Mawr Hillel Julianna Nechin, ’18, recalls the incidents with a feeling of profound disappointment. She believes that the swastikas were intended to make others feel uncomfortable. However, she also believes that they were displayed without a (thorough) understanding of the symbol and why it is so hurtful.
After the swastikas appeared on Swarthmore’s campus, Nechin remembers speaking to several people who wondered why the symbol continues to affect people so strongly today.
“If people don’t have experience with that—if they haven’t met a Holocaust survivor or don’t have family who died in the Holocaust, then it is really hard to connect with it. It’s harder to know why something that’s just history is so hurtful,” Nechin explained.
In order for students on campus to make those connections, Nechin believes that we need more open dialogue. “It’s surprising to me how few opportunities there actually are,” she said. “SGA definitely does a good job offering those spaces, but there are problems with creating dialogue day-to-day.”
Nechin remembers feeling particularly frustrated last year after the college hired Steven Salaita to speak on campus.
In 2014, The University of Illinois famously withdrew a conditional offer of employment to Salatia after his controversial tweets about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Outraged members of the faculty and staff had contended that Salaita’s tweets were examples of anti-Semitic hate speech and urged the university to withdraw the offer.
Some members of Bryn Mawr’s Hillel decided to contact the department endorsing Salaita’s visit. “We wanted to know why, out of all the relevant scholars, they had chosen him,” Nechin said. “Why bring someone who would send those sorts of messages?”
The department never responded to their message.
Nechin believes that Bryn Mawr has the right to bring controversial guests to campus, but also the responsibility to discuss with students why the choice was made.
“It’s was frustrating,” Nechin admitted. “College is a supposed to be a place of education. In theory, this sort of dialogue should be Bryn Mawr’s goal. But nobody would make room for a conversation.”
Moving forward, Nechin hopes that we continue to take the time to sit down, listen and learn from each other: “It doesn’t have to take a swastika to open the door for discussion.”