Swastika Defaces Duke University Mural Honoring Synagogue Shooting Victims

November 20, 2018

A mural at Duke University — created to honor the victims of last month’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting — was vandalized with a Nazi symbol over the weekend.

“The mural was on a bridge where students often paint images that promote student events or other messages,” WUNC’s Liz Schlemmer reported. “The swastika was painted over a Star of David honoring the 11 people who died in the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue.”

Campus administrators were quick to respond with strong words to the vandalism that took place Sunday night.

In a letter to the school community sent out Monday, Duke University President Vincent Price said he will meet with campus leaders, the local Jewish community and public officials to discuss ways to move forward and “confront the scourge of anti-Semitism through education and activism.”

“That such a craven and cowardly act of vandalism — a desecration of a memorial to individuals who were killed because they were Jewish and practicing their faith — should happen anywhere is extremely distressing. That it should occur in such a visible, public location at Duke should be a matter of grave concern to us all,” he wrote.

In addition, he said that increased security will continue to be provided at the university’s Jewish student center and that cameras will be installed near the vandalized bridge, “which has unfortunately become a focus of attention for those who seek to promote hatred and intimidation.”

The East Campus Bridge has been described by the student newspaper, The Chronicle, as a “free expression bridge.”

The defaced mural had replaced the yellow star in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ emblem with the Star of David.

In September, a mural that read “Latin Heritage Month” in colorful block letters was scribbled over with black graffiti.

The Chronicle reported that by 1 a.m. Monday, the red swastika had been covered by a black trash bag.

However, that was after a photo was taken of the Nazi symbol.

The photo was then circulated and eventually found its way to freshmen student Olivia Levine, who posted it on Facebook.

Levine is Jewish, helped paint the original mural and was “beyond upset to see” it defaced.

In an email she wrote to Duke administration and shared alongside the photo, she outlined a series of anti-Semitic events she had witnessed in her short time on campus.

She said there was a swastika found in a bathroom and one carved into a pumpkin that was placed outside of a dorm.

“In a few weeks, we are hoping to put up a menorah on West Campus,” she wrote. “I do not want to see it vandalized.”

In addition to the campus’s Jewish and Latino communities, the school’s African-American student population has been the target of a hate message this academic year.

Two days before the fall semester began, a sign for Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture at the university was vandalized with what Price called “a heinous racial epithet,” the Chronicle reported.

“This poison of hate is not confined to Duke. It is part of a national, even global, trend that has seen hate crimes in general, and anti-Semitism in particular, increase dramatically in the past year,” Price wrote in his letter Monday. “Duke alone cannot solve this problem, of course. But I commit that Duke will lead.”

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