Star of David graffiti prompts campus response and search for perpetrators

Two students reported graffiti of a Star of David on an arch outside of a Grinnell College north campus dorm, Dibble Hall, to campus safety services Saturday morning. In response, President Anne Harris sent an all-school email condemning antisemitic acts and asking for assistance in identifying any perpetrators.

Grinnell student William, who said he would prefer the S&B only use his given name, said he saw the black, marker-drawn symbol at around 10:17 p.m. on Friday. While the symbol has historically been used to show pride in the Jewish faith, it has also been used to forcibly identify Jews, primarily in Nazi Germany. That night, William sent a photo of the vandalism to his friend Samuel, and the following morning they both reported it to campus safety, who removed the graffiti. 

“We condemn the harm that this vandalism and its associated antisemitism have caused, as well as any actions targeting identity. Grinnell will continue to educate against antisemitism and every form of discrimination or harassment,” co-wrote Harris in an email to the student body — Marc Reed, vice president of diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, and Ben Newhouse, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students, also signed the email. 

The vandalism, etched into a pillar near Dibble Hall (pictured) follows a sharp uptick in national antisemitic incidents. (Henry Horn)

The S&B reached out to Harris and campus safety. Campus safety services declined to comment. Ellen de Graffenreid, vice president for communication and marketing, said that Grinnell administration had no comment in addition to the all-school email. 

This vandalism incident follows a sharp uptick in national antisemitic incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In the two weeks following Oct. 7, the ADL said that there had been 312 reported incidents, 190 of which were linked to Israel and Gaza, compared to 64 incidents in the same period last year, 4 of which were Israel-related.

“Having a Star of David graffitied on campus property feels unsettling to many Jews and non-Jews, regardless of intention,” Rabbi Sarah Brammer-Shlay wrote in an email to the S&B.

Samuel said he has particularly been concerned about rising antisemitism and a post on Grinnell’s YikYak, an anonymous social media platform, calling for violence against Jews. This post came three days after the Oct. 7 attack. Harris’ email states that the College is working with law enforcement to find the poster of the YikYak and any information should be reported to campus safety or the Grinnell Police Department. 

“My concern of the Star of David being there is that it’s a place of residence,” Samuel said, adding that Star of David graffiti has occurred in France recently on homes and businesses owned by Jewish people, similar to the vandalism done in Nazi Germany. He said that seeing both the graffiti on campus and the YikYak post was alarming. 

A post made after the Oct. 7 attack and calling for violence against Jews on YikYak, an anonymous social media platform, has also been the cause of concern on campus. (Henry Horn)

“Jews have experienced what it means to be targeted for our identity for much of our history; we also have experienced what it means to be a thriving, vibrant and joyous people with rich traditions to turn to,” said Brammer-Shlay. “My hope is that we continue to lean into the beauty of our tradition and we continue to stand up for ourselves as Jews and stand up for all people who face discrimination, hate, and oppression.”

Samuel said that he has met with Harris, Newhouse and JC Lopez, interim vice president of student affairs, to address his concerns about antisemitism on campus. Samuel added that in his opinion, the administration has fallen short and has not made Jewish students feel publicly supported. “I was extremely disheartened with the institution,” he said.

The YikYak post was not addressed until Saturday’s email. Samuel described the acknowledgment as “a very good step.” 

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