At Rutgers, Wisconsin and Vassar, anti-Semitic incidents prompt different responses

Julie Wiener

(JTA) — A Jewish student is accusing Rutgers University of mishandling a mid-January incident in which one of her roommates taped a swastika to the ceiling of their shared living room.

Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is responding to a similar swastika incident by hosting a campus-wide forum on anti-Semitism.

And in a third campus anti-Semitism case, the Anti-Defamation League has praised Vassar College President Catherine Bond for inviting alumni and parents to discuss “current issues and tensions” on the upstate New York campus related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but says the college must take “concrete steps” to “address incidents of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias on campus and ensure that Jewish students are not isolated and marginalized.”

Anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment at Vassar, a private liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, was the focus of a Feb. 17 Wall Street Journal article called “Majoring in Anti-Semitism at Vassar.”

Sara Rosen, a senior at Rutgers, is faulting the New Jersey state university administration for responding to a swastika by moving her to a different dorm rather than forcing the perpetrator, who refused to take down the swastika, to relocate.

After Rosen’s roommates told campus police the symbol was intended to represent a Buddhist symbol associated with peace and not the infamous Nazi icon, the officer advised them to take down the swastika but said, “I cannot force them to do so and infringe upon their freedom of speech,” according to

Rosen said the Rutgers dean of students, Mark Schuster, implied “she was exaggerating” when she complained, according to, which unsuccessfully attempted to interview Schuster. Schuster instead referred the publication to a statement from Rutgers spokesman Jeff Tolvin saying that after an “extensive investigation,” the Prosecutor’s Office at the university “determined there was not probable cause to charge the suspect with a bias crime.”

According to Rosen, neither roommate is Buddhist and “This is all done as an act of intimidation towards me.”

The New Jersey Jewish Standard reported that Rosen posted on Facebook that “the culprits should have been totally ousted from University housing.”

The Facebook post quoted Rosen’s father saying, “Rutgers needs to shout loud and shout often that it will not tolerate these thinly disguised messages/symbols of hate and intimidation. Period.”

In a similar incident on Jan. 26, Nazi swastikas and pictures of Adolf Hitler were posted on a Jewish student’s dorm room at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Jewish student, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, described the incident as an “insensitive joke/prank gone wrong” and said the perpetrator was “not cognizant” of how offensive such an action was.

In response, the university is holding a Town Hall on Anti-Semitism this week. Greg Steinberger, executive director of the University of Wisconsin Hillel, told the newspaper the college is responding appropriately.

In a news release about the situation at Vassar, the ADL said that since 2015, it has received “a number of firsthand complaints and concerns,” among them some “Jewish students expressing discomfort about openly identifying their faith on campus.”

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