Latest defacement to campus property spurs investigation
THE SANTA CLARA
October 13, 2016
Two new acts of hate-charged vandalism have fueled an ongoing debate about inclusivity on Santa Clara’s mission campus.
Over the weekend in Casa Italiana Residence Hall, a swastika was drawn in blood in an elevator and derogatory messages aimed at the LGBTQ community were written on a fourth floor hallway bulletin board. These acts came just two weeks after the 43 Students Memorial was defaced.
A Casa community facilitator discovered the vandalism, prompting an investigation to identify the culprits. Campus Safety reviewed the CCTV footage from the elevator subsequently identifying the students suspected to be responsible for the vandalism. The incident occurred between midnight and 2 a.m. in the early morning hours of Sat, Oct. 8.
Jeanne Rosenberger, vice provost for student life and dean of students, could not confirm the identities of the students. She said that the “investigation is ongoing” and that the swastika and vandalism on the posters related to the LGBTQ community have not been “definitively” connected.
Students were notified about the incident in an email from Rosenberger on Oct. 9, and University President Fr. Michael Engh, S.J. issued a response condemning the acts the next day.
“The swastika is a powerful symbol of hate, one that cannot be ignored,” Engh said in his email.
Leaked CCTV footage
As shockwaves reverberated around campus following news of the vandalism, leaked surveillance footage surfaced online on Oct. 11. The video depicts two males inside of a Casa elevator appearing to use their blood to write on a poster inside.
Multiple anonymous sources have confirmed to The Santa Clara that the two students shown in the surveillance footage are first-years and roommates who live on the fourth floor of Casa.
In the video, one of the males is wearing a white long-sleeved shirt with camouflage print on the arms, while the other one is donning a grey Santa Clara crewneck sweatshirt.
The individual in the camouflage shirt was shown extending his arms and gesturing to several cuts on his hands. The other individual appeared to have a wound on his left leg, and reaches down to touch it with his finger.
Both of the men then use the blood collected on their fingers to draw on a poster affixed to the wall of the elevator. The elevator doors open onto the fourth floor, and the individual in the camouflage shirt exits the elevator and walks into the hallway. The second individual continues to paint on the poster with his bloody finger before eventually exiting into the hallway.
On Oct. 11, a group identifying itself as “SCUWatch” emailed a link containing the footage to several Santa Clara students, including staff members at The Santa Clara.
The video, which was originally posted on LiveLeak.com, was swiftly removed from the website and replaced with a message that its deletion was due to a possible violation of the website’s terms of service. The same surveillance footage was also posted on LiveLeak’s YouTube channel. It has been widely shared amongst Santa Clara students—it had almost 200 views the night of Oct. 11.
As the video circulated more aggressively between students, the view count shot up to over 1,600 on Oct. 12.
Rosenberger could not confirm whether or not the leaked CCTV footage shows the vandalism taking place. She said that the leak is of “great concern” to the university, and Information Technology is currently investigating how the video could have gotten released.
Vandalism rattles members of the campus community
In an ironic chain of events, the aforementioned vandalism of the 43 Students Memorial honoring missing Mexican students was kicked and defaced several days shy of the Sept. 26 anniversary of when the students were kidnapped.
Similarly, the vandalism in Casa took place just days before Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish High Holiday, which spanned from Oct. 11 to Oct. 12. Additionally, the LGBTQ slurs were written just days before National Coming Out Day, which was Oct. 11.
Senior Alaina Boyle, director of Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCCAP), said that although it was “jarring” to hear such concrete evidence of discriminatory attitudes
on campus, it was not surprising to learn about the vandalism.
“I have experienced discrimination and words of persecution from people on our campus before,” Boyle said. “I’m not surprised to hear that this is how some people really feel.”
Boyle, who came out as queer on social media during National Coming Out Day, said she was planning to do so before the news of the vandalism surfaced, but was more apprehensive because of the incidents. She added that she thinks the current political climate is fueling hateful speech and discriminatory acts.
“I think there’s this overarching atmosphere of it being okay to put down certain groups and to speak out about how you feel about minority groups,” Boyle said. “I think that’s normalizing the hatred.”
Senior Isaac Nieblas, director of the Multicultural Center (MCC), said that hearing about the swastika was a “very triggering moment” for him because it reminded him of experiencing hate incidents at the hands of Neo-Nazi groups in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona.
“(The swastika) is a hate symbol towards different marginalized groups throughout the world,” Nieblas said.
He also added that he grew up having a neighbor that was a minuteman—meaning he belongs to a vigilante neighborhood watch group that dedicates itself to protecting America’s borders through any means necessary, including violence. As a Mexican-American, Nieblas said he is fearful that his family back home will be the victim of hate crimes, and that after this incident he is also fearful for the campus community.
Senior Kaitlin Finch, co-president of Santa Clara’s Jewish Student Union, said that her organization is focusing on reaching out to its members to address their needs during this time and act as a safe space.
“By the nature of the incident it is not only a hate crime but it is inherently violent because of the blood,” Finch said. “Any time there is a swastika involved in a crime it makes me feel very unsafe.”
A community forum was hosted in Casa on Mon, Oct. 10 to inform community members about the incident and allow them to ask questions about the vandalism.
During the meeting, Lester Deanes, assistant dean for Student Life, said the students identified as the possible perpetrators are currently involved in the code of conduct process, which involves a judicial hearing. However, Deanes said that the results of code of conduct hearings are confidential.
During a question and answer session, one student asked Deanes if the alleged perpetrators will be allowed to continue living in Casa, adding their opinion that “having people in (Casa) with those values is not coherent to a good living environment.”
Deanes said that the administration is keeping these types of concerns in mind, but he did not say with certainty whether or not the students would be allowed to live in Casa at the conclusion of the judicial process.
“They are currently not in the community but they may return in the next few days,” Deanes said at the Oct. 10 meeting.
In the aftermath of the vandalism, Nieblas said that leaders in the MCC, SCAAP and the Associated Student Government have met and spoken about collaborating in response to the incident.
The MCC is currently hosting restorative circles from noon to 1 p.m. in the Shapell Lounge, allowing students, faculty and staff who may be affected by the incidents to express their feelings and concerns.
“This type of behavior cannot be tolerated. It makes us feel unsafe,” Deanes said. “We bring in new students each year whose understanding of inclusivity is different and we have to continue to be vigilant. We need to be talking about these issues, expecting more, expecting better.”
Contact Sophie Mattson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4849.