Hate Crime Rocks Columbia’s Campus

Harvard groups reach out to Columbia peers after vandals draw swastikas on suite walls

Two Columbia University students were arrested December 2 in the school’s Ruggles Hall for allegedly committing a hate crime in which they drew graffiti of swastikas, racial epithets, and homophobic symbols on the walls of a suite.

Sophomore Stephen Searles told police that he and junior Matthew Brown used red and purple markers to deface the walls of a Ruggles suite, according to reports in the Columbia Spectator and in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Searles attended high school in Bozeman, Mont.

“We were drunk and we wrote anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls in our friend’s dorm suite,” Searles said, according to court documents cited by the two newspapers.

Junior Daphne Rubin-Vega, who shares the suite with Brown’s girlfriend, said in a phone interview with The Crimson that she felt particularly targeted because a pink triangle, an anti-gay symbol with historical ties to Nazism, was drawn on her door.

Rubin-Vega and her suitemate, senior Cassie C. Herr, both said they thought Searles did not take the vandalism seriously. “I am pretty sure he thought he was playing a joke,” said Rubin-Vega.

The New York Police Department arrested Brown and Searles on December 2. and were charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime, a Class E felony, and face a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

The most recent reported bias incident at Harvard occurred three weeks ago. Huma Farid ’06, who is Muslim and wears a head scarf, or hijab, was crossing the street by Lamont Library when a group of women called her a “filthy Jew-hater.”

Last spring, Galo Garcia III ’05 was punched as he was leaving a dance sponsored by the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA). The assailant also yelled racial epithets at Garcia.

According to Columbia junior Jennifer Oki, the president of the Black Students Organization, there have been other cases of racially-motivated vandalism at Columbia. “This is not an isolated incident, but rather it is part of a larger trend,” Oki said.

A spokeswoman for Columbia, Elizabeth Golden, said in a statement that the administration was fully cooperating with the ongoing police investigation of the Ruggles incident and that Brown and Searles may also face repercussions from the school’s internal disciplinary system.

“Acts of anti-Semitism, bigotry, and other forms of hate violate University policy and have no place at Columbia,” according to the statement. “Such acts run counter to our principles and values as an institution, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”

Rubin-Vega and Herr said they would support further disciplinary action for the suspected vandals, especially for Brown.

“He needs to leave,” Herr said. “He is around too many people who are too different from him and cannot handle it.”

Students from all faiths and ethnicities at Columbia have joined in a protest and candlelight vigil, according to Oki, Herr, and Rubin-Vega.

Representatives from Harvard’s Black Students Association (BSA) and the BGLTSA also responded to the Columbia incident has also touched them.

BSA President Nneka C. Eze ’07 said she e-mailed her Columbia counterpart, Oki,  last Friday morning, and the two have been “in close contact” since.

Eze also said she has tried to reach out to other student groups on Harvard’s campus to gather support for Columbia students.

BGLTSA co-chair Michael A. Feldstein ’07, who is also a Crimson editor, said the group was “extremely disheartened when we heard about the hate crime at Columbia.”

“These recent hate crimes both at Columbia and here at Harvard are important reminders that we have a lot of work ahead if we truly want to make our communities safe for everyone,” Feldstein said.