Schools struggle with addressing hateful graffiti

Anti-semitic graffiti demonstrates a need for dialogue

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Schools struggle with addressing hateful graffiti

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On Thursday Oct. 25, anti-semitic symbols were discovered etched onto a toilet paper roll in an NT bathroom.

“I had just finished teaching one of my afternoon classes when one of my students walked in right as the bell was ringing,” said social studies teacher Spiro Bolos.

“He said ‘you should probably come see this’ so I followed him into the bathroom where he showed me a Jewish Star of David with an X under it and a Swastika symbol with a check mark under it.”

Two days after the graffiti was discovered at NT, a man walked into a Pittsburgh Synagogue, killing 11 people and injuring more.

“I expected them to find out who did it and have some sort of response as a school, since we’ve had different incidents of racist graffiti in the past,” said Bolos.
This graffiti incident comes a year after three separate incidents of racist graffiti also found in NT bathrooms and implores a return to the conversations started last year.

Senior and Student Voices in Equity member Izzy Cox said that she herself isn’t sure what the correct way to handle hateful graffiti is, but felt that not talking about it or waiting too long to act makes it seem like those actions are okay.

“I think conversation is important,” she said. “No one knew about it so how could there possibly be healthy conversation if according to the student body, it never existed? If we’re trying to truly understand hate, we must be able to talk about how it affects our own communities.”

At Oak Park River Forest High School, a string of hateful graffiti messages shook the community earlier this school year.

In October, hundreds of community activists, parents, students and teachers filled the OPRF cafeteria to air grievances and get answers about why it happened and what was being done to stop further incidents.

The administration held assemblies where students walked out in protest. School administrators notified parents by email and student leaders facilitated classroom discussions.

“Here I am, ready to take this on with students, staff and the community,” said OPRF School District Superintendent Dr. Pruitt Adams.

Declan Johnson, Editor in Chief of OPRF’s student newspaper, said that “it definitely appears to be different from how NT has handled their graffiti incidents. Obviously NT and OPRF’s incidents are different, but I actually believe our administration would have handled it the same way NT did except for the fact that once the students found it, they took photos and posted them to social media where it spread like wildfire. After that it was really the students who put pressure on the administration to act on it.”

NT Assistant Superintendent Timothee Hayes said, “on one hand, we don’t want to go on the announcements every time there’s graffiti in the bathroom. We don’t want to incentivize these acts. Who knows, there could always be people who would see that and do the same thing because they know we’ll give attention to it.”

“We also don’t want to cause fear, especially with all of the overwhelming hatred in the news that occurred that weekend with the shootings and pipe bombs,” said Hayes.

“But at the same time, we also believe students have a right to know about things that could affect them at school to a certain extent,” he added.
Cox said, “I didn’t know about it and that upsets me.”

Senior Josh Pickard agreed, “As a Jewish person, I wish I would’ve known. I think it’s weird that I’m only finding out about it now.”
“I don’t understand why the racist graffiti was addressed last year but not when it’s anti-semitic. If they really thought that we should know, why didn’t they say anything?”

Last year, the administration did not address the first racist graffiti until it was printed in this paper.

“There are so many what ifs about the intentions of the person who did it that at the end of the day, whatever those motives were, the student chose to express themselves in a hateful way,” said Pickard.

Hayes emphasized the tricky position the administration was put in.

“How do we really address these situations appropriately? One thing we did was make an announcement on Monday, reflecting on the hateful events that took place over the weekend. It was a way of condemning anti-semitism which is the form that the graffiti took and making sure we were supporting our students and making them feel safe.”

Cox said addressing these instances indirectly isn’t a sufficient way to handle them.

“The shooting and graffiti are separate issues. One was in Pittsburgh, one was here,” she said.

“I think what will make people feel more unsafe is if they know there’s graffiti– since people are going to find out, it’ll spread to the Newspaper– but know that the administration didn’t address it. To me, that feels worse than if I knew it was addressed and knew they were doing something about it.”

Hayes explained that the administration’s long term steps for addressing hateful graffiti is through the new Strategic Planning Program that includes a committee called Climate, Culture, and Equity that was created with last year’s racist graffiti incidents in mind.

“We’re having meetings in January to establish goals and set up plans of action to create more opportunities for conversation at NT about gender, race, religion, equity and more,” he said.

But Cox sees this instance as a missed opportunity for conversation that could initiate reflection.

“I agree that conversation is important. But it almost feels like they’re using a long term plan to procrastinate addressing the issues,” she said.
“I think they truly recognize the issue but they’re resting on the fact that change happens slowly. It definitely does help to an extent but those long term conversations stem from the short term ones. This was an opportunity for that,” she said.

Bolos said, “The administration is this big, mechanical mass, so it’s understandable that things take time. I didn’t expect anything to happen so rapidly– the gears move slowly.”

“But I do expect a response eventually,” he said.

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