A request from a UMass Amherst residence director that a sign explicitly condemning Nazis be taken down from a dorm room window has triggered a wave of criticism toward the school.
Photos of the sign — that read, “F*** NAZIS YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE” — circulated on social media this week alongside a screenshot of an apparent emailed response from one of the university’s residence directors asking that it be removed, citing an effort to create an inclusive and respectful environment.
It’s unclear when the sign was posted and when the email was sent. A tweet posted Wednesday night by someone who says he is a UMass student garnered over 5,000 likes and 1,600-plus retweets by Friday morning as school officials rebuked the initial handling of the incident.
The email, sent by Residence Director Eddie Papazoni to one student who lives in the dorm room where the sign was displayed, said that while the sign is allowed as expression of free speech, Papazoni asked that it be removed because some people on campus feel “it has created mixed emotions in the community on how to proceed, issues of inclusion, and the ability to be active members of their community.”
“While Residence Education cannot force you or your roommate to take the sign down, I am asking that you or your roommate take the sign down so that all students can be a part of an inclusive residential experience, as well as having a respectful environment to be a part of here on our campus,” Papazoni wrote.
The resident hall staff at umass amherst are nazi sympathizers and aims to make an environment which includes them pic.twitter.com/nEBjQUDp9f
— mCherry? (@lamejourneyman) December 20, 2018
The controversy comes at the tail end of a fall semester rife with racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic incidents at the university, although UMass is not alone in the trend.
At large, hate crimes on college campuses across the country have risen in recent years. Almost 280 of those crimes were reported to the FBI by certain campus police departments in 2017 — significantly higher than the total of 194 in 2015, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Earlier this month, 19 different hate incidents were counted since mid-September at UMass Amherst, including the distribution of racist flyers and stickers, a Swastika drawn on a Hanukkah sign, and homophobic graffiti carved into a stall in a men’s bathroom, MassLive reports.
In September, police were called on a veteran black employee of the school as he walked to his office.
“Right now, the climate is just very contentious,” Heather Thein, a doctoral student studying English at UMass and an employee of the university’s writing program, told Boston.com. “We have a lot of students who don’t feel comfortable on campus.”
On social media, people criticized the email response to the dorm room sign as protecting Nazis and their ideology, instead of focusing on profanity as the issue at hand.
Thein said her jaw dropped when she read the email. But, she added that the language is in line with the university’s responses to past incidents, which she thinks have helped protect groups spewing hate and bigotry.
The students most affected by those acts are “not convinced that the university has their interests at heart,” she said.
“They never tell us how they’re working on addressing the incidents,” Thein said when asked what she thinks the school needs to change. “So transparency does need to happen.”
We've been having a growing climate of white supremacy and neo-nazis on campus. Where people have been defacing campus property with words calling for acts of violence against black and trans students. It's absolutely terrifying
— mCherry? (@lamejourneyman) December 20, 2018
Papazoni could not be reached for comment. An email from Boston.com was not returned Friday.
In a statement posted on Facebook, the university said the email was poorly worded, should not have been sent, and does not reflect campus values.
“UMass Amherst emphatically rejects Nazis, and any other hate group, a view expressed in the students’ sign. However, we are sensitive to the use of profanity, which some could find inappropriate,” the statement said. “The university respects the students’ right to display the sign and it may remain up.”
Campus spokesman Ed Blaguszewski declined to discuss the specifics of the incident Friday beyond what was said in the statement.
But he told Boston.com the university is making efforts to share resources with students about how to report incidents of hate and to be more transparent with the public on how those cases are handled.
He pointed to a new section of the university website that outlines those tools and policies.
“We really want to make sure that we are aware of all that we are doing to try to provide details about incidents on campus and building that community with (the) dignity and respect that we think is vital to the success of the university,” Blaguszewski said.
According to the UMass Amherst website, Thursday was the final day of the fall semester. Classes start for the spring session on Jan. 22.
“There’ll be some additional discussion about this as we enter the second semester to make sure people are aware of their resources in more detail,” Blaguszewski said.