This past Saturday night, a large, black swastika was painted on The Rock on the corner of Hill Street and Washtenaw Avenue, along with a series of offensive images and words targeted toward other minority groups. What we saw on Sunday morning was vulgarity. What we felt was disappointment, surprise and confusion. Who did this or what motivated them is beyond us. But, as the Hillel executive board, it seemed natural for us to immediately respond. Spray paint and paintbrushes in hand, we chose to not just mask the hate we saw, but convey a message that was more emblematic of what our campus stands for — a message that deserved to be conveyed to all those that were exposed to The Rock: “Expect Respect.”
Immediately, we received support from university students, organizations and administration. Both the president of the LSA Student Government and the president of Central Student Government reached out to us. Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones showed her encouragement and many others demonstrated their commitment to expecting respect on campus. We were pleased, comforted and inspired that campus leaders came together so quickly after this action — an action that impacted more than just our community.
The Rock is a source of pride for the University. It’s a symbol that unites us, a landmark we guard when Michigan State comes to town, a canvas layered with the different beliefs, identities and backgrounds that comprise the student body. It’s a symbol that depicts how we live together, how we cooperate together and how we express ourselves during the four years we spend on campus. To denigrate The Rock with a swastika isn’t simply an act against minority groups associated with the symbol — it’s an act against our campus and the beliefs that lie at the core of this institution.
Can we attribute the immediacy of our response to the swastika’s relevance to us? Sure. But what we felt was a drive to protect not just ourselves, but also other non-Jewish students, our campus and Ann Arbor from this message. We weren’t solely acting as Jewish student leaders of Hillel; we were acting as students and individuals desiring to live in a community where we can, quite frankly, expect respect. This is the campus culture we are trying to build and enhance — one where students can feel comfortable to express themselves and build an identity that won’t be threatened by a shameful act of misconduct.
As we discussed the events together, an essential question emerged: Would we have acted as immediately had the painted symbol not been a swastika? In our daily lives, would we say anything if we walked by other offensive images that didn’t directly target us? If we don’t speak up, who will?
It’s concerning that acts like this still happen today. But when they do, it’s more important than ever that we take a stance against them. When we painted The Rock with the words “Expect Respect,” we made a commitment to honor that phrase, that mentality and to promote it throughout campus. Together, let’s begin thinking and talking about how we choose to speak up, how we choose to contribute to a community where people respect each other and how we choose to expect respect.
Dalia Adler is a Business junior. Isaac Katz is a Business sophomore. Jonathan Markowitz is an LSA junior. JoHanna Rothseid is an LSA junior.