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Saturday, July 30, 2016

MU officials investigate anti-Semitic writing in residence hall

Two consecutive instances of anti-semitic vandalism were discovered in Mark Twain’s stairwell over the weekend.

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Photo of an announcement posted in the Mark Twain Residence Hall in Columbia, Mo.

Jared Kaufman/Photographer

This report has been updated to include a statement from MU.

An investigation is underway after the staff at Mark Twain residence hall discovered anti-Semitic graffiti in the building April 9.

Images of a swastika, a triangle with an eye on top and the word “heil” were smeared on a wall in the building’s northwest stairwell with what appeared to be charcoal, said Capt. Scott Richardson, a spokesman for MU Police.

Residential Life Director Frankie Minor said community advisors discovered the images at approximately 1 p.m. April 9 and notified MUPD and submitted a bias report, per the department’s standard protocol. The staff cleaned the writing from the wall, but found more anti-semitic messages in the same area at approximately 6:40 p.m. the next day, Minor said.

Mark Twain Hall Coordinator Adam Callahan and the building’s CA’s are not speaking to the media at this time to focus on the well-being of the residents, Minor said. He said ResLife will cooperate with MUPD to provide them with as much information as possible.

MUPD will review video footage of the surrounding areas and interview potential suspects, Richardson said. He said if the suspect is caught, prosecutors may charge them with an “enhanced charge,” due to the crime’s discriminatory nature.

Minor said sanctions from the MU Office of Student Conduct have not yet been defined, as officials cannot prejudge the situation before the investigation is complete. However, he said the sanctions will be serious given the threatening nature of the incident.

MU spokesman Christian Basi said any student who is investigated by Student Conduct can receive sanctions ranging from a verbal warning to expulsion from the university. He provided the following statement on behalf of the university:

"We do not condone this type of behavior," Basi said in an email. "Individuals found responsible for this act will be disciplined according to university policy and could face criminal charges."

Minor said a statement was posted on every floor of the building after the first incident.

“The use of discriminatory language is inconsistent with the University Value of Respect and creates an environment that is unwelcoming to our students, faculty and staff,” the statement read.

Minor said this incident is offensive to ResLife's institutional values.

“If you look at our mission statement, it’s providing a safe and inclusive community for everybody,” Minor said. “We’re working very hard to make sure that everybody feels safe and included in their community.”

Floor meetings were held April 12 to discuss the incidents. The purpose of these meetings was not only to inform residents of the vandalism, but to also encourage those involved to turn themselves in, Minor said. Callahan, MUPD officers, student staff members and members of Hillel attended the meetings to express their concerns and offered resources to residents.

Another notification was posted Monday to inform students of the additional vandalism.

Minor said he hopes the meetings and statements will help the perpetrator realize the impact of their actions, and come forward on their own. He said few secrets are kept in residence halls and he is optimistic someone will come forward soon with information.

“I would hate to think that we have somebody who understands the meaning and impact of some of the words they’ve chosen to use or symbols, and chose to do that anyway,” he said. “I’d like to think that maybe they just did that out of ignorance or misunderstanding.”

Director of the MU Hillel Jeanne Snodgrass, however, said the person’s intent does not matter in such a situation.

“People do stupid things sometimes, but that’s also not an excuse for not being responsible for the things that you do,” she said. “The reality is that certain symbols, certain terminology have very real effects on the people that see them, whether or not that’s the intent.”

Junior Chantelle Moghadam, co-founder and president of the Students Supporting Israel at the University of Missouri, said university administrators should work toward creating a more inclusive environment for minority members of campus.

“It doesn’t make people feel safe to go to school here, and that isn’t something that we should have to worry about,” Moghadam said. “You shouldn’t have to watch your back when you’re walking to class and you shouldn’t have to think about whether you’re going to be safe while you’re at school.”

Junior Thalia Sass, president of the Jewish Student Organization, said she understands from experience what it’s like to be concerned for her safety.

“It becomes harder to show my Jewish identity,” she said. “I’m so proud to be a Jewish student on this campus. I’m so proud to flaunt my Jewish identity but when incidents like this happen, it’s scary. This person doesn’t know me but they hate me just because of the single aspect that I’m Jewish.”

ResLife encourages individuals with information to contact MUPD at 573-882-7201 or Callahan at 573-882-0642. Students can also report information anonymously through Silent Witness.

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