Rutgers student seeks stronger response to swastika incident

Rutgers student seeks stronger response to swastika incident

ADL calls for speedy and thorough investigation

Sara Rosen returned to her student apartment at Rutgers University to find this swastika, put up by her roommates, on her ceiling. Photo  courtesy of Sara Rosen 
Sara Rosen returned to her student apartment at Rutgers University to find this swastika, put up by her roommates, on her ceiling. Photo  courtesy of Sara Rosen 

A Rutgers University student from Edison, who came home to find a large blue swastika marked in tape on the ceiling of her campus apartment, said she is disappointed with the university’s response to the incident and continues to press for changes in university policy.

Sara Rosen, whose roommates later admitted to creating the symbol, is upset the students remain unsanctioned by the university’s Office of Student Conduct for the January incident on the Livingston campus in New Brunswick.

Rosen moved out of the housing unit, saying she feared for own safety.

On Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League urged Rutgers University to make a “strong public statement condemning this incident,” saying it must be “investigated expeditiously and the findings communicated to the campus community.”

Rosen told NJJN she feels buoyed by the support she has been receiving from Rutgers alumni, and from students of all races and religions at other colleges across the country who said they also have been victimized by religious or ethnic bullying on campus and have congratulated her for speaking out.

At some of these universities, she said, such incidents have been met with “swift and firm sanctions.”

“Rutgers is trying to brush this under the table,” she said.

The roommates claimed to police that the swastika was “a Buddhist peace symbol” oriented in a different direction than a Nazi swastika. On Facebook, a man who identified himself as a friend of one of the roommates said his friend is a Buddhist who “has never once shown any hostility of any sort towards anybody, even when faced with situations that would have driven any other person (myself included) to anger.” He said the friend “figured it would be a nice way to express his religion while also having some fun with the tape.”

In a statement to NJJN, the university said it “takes reports of potential bias crimes extremely seriously.” Following an “extensive” police investigation, which included several interviews with the complainant, witnesses, and the suspects, “the matter was handled by The Office of Student Conduct and adjudicated,” the statement read.

“As is the case with any potential bias crime, the facts of the case were forwarded to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, which determined there was not probable cause to charge the suspect with a bias crime,” it read. “Residence Life offers alternative housing in cases where students have immediate safety concerns. However, the student may decline that offer and keep their residence. “

The ADL’s NJ region director Josh Cohen said the statement did not go far enough in “condemning anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of bigotry.”

“Schools must provide safe environments that facilitate learning and understanding among diverse groups of student bodies,” he told NJJN.

Rosen, a 21-year-old senior psychology major with a minor in Spanish, had reached out to Rutgers Hillel and took to Facebook to publicize her account of the incident. Supporters, she said, included numerous Buddhists who were offended by the roommates’ claims. Cohen said the ADL learned of the incident online and reached out to Rosen.

“I can’t even explain how terrified I was,” Rosen said of discovering the swastika, outlined in blue tape on the ceiling of the apartment’s common room. “My initial thought was that someone had broken into the apartment.” She said she immediately dialed 911 to summon campus police.

Rosen said police “chastised” her for using 911 to call for help, but when the officer walked into the room and saw the Nazi symbol “she gasped in shock.”

Rosen said she moved in with these roommates because they had similar majors. Because she was studying for her dental school exams, she thought they would understand her needs for time and sleep. Instead, she claims, they often had run-ins.

Cohen said the ADL has been in contact with Rutgers, offering to help conduct peer education programs to deal with incidents of racially or religiously motivated vandalism.

“We are interested in discussing any way we can work with Rutgers University following this type of incident to help bring about an atmosphere of inclusive cultural respect  on campus,” said Cohen, who praised Rosen for her stand.

“If you look at Sara Rosen's Facebook wall you see a lot of peoples said, ‘It happened to me and thank you for speaking up,’” said Cohen. “Most students wouldn’t have spoken out.”

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