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.