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Throwback Thursday: Swastikas upset students, University improves response time to offensive graffiti

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The swastika found at SAE this weekend was not the first instance of anti-Semitic graffiti at Stanford. The symbol was found multiple times on campus in 1988; in one instance, the University took two weeks to remove the swastika. Students reacted to this delay in the Daily article below, initially published on Nov. 10, 1988. 

By Laura Jacobson, Senior staff writer

Nov. 10, 1988

It took 10 minutes yesterday for a University worker to respond to a report of a year-old swastika in Lambda Nu and paint over it — a marked contrast to the two weeks it took the University to react to a report last month of a swastika on an East Lagunita basement wall that had also gone unchecked for over a year. Yesterday’s prompt action is a result of community pressure on the Housing Facilities Office to respond immediately to complaints of offensive graffiti. In recent weeks students have grown angry and frustrated with Housing Facilities because of its seeming lack of concern about the East Lagunita swastika. In addition, students are dismayed that such a frightening symbol could remain visible for so long in common areas on campus.

“It’s disgraceful that Stanford students can walk by these, and other offensive graffiti, and not take any action,” said junior Jessica Mahlab.

The University delayed two weeks before it painted over the East Lagunita swastika, which Mahlab reported to Housing Facilities on Oct. 6. It was not painted over by the end of the week and, when Mahlab reported again, she was told that Facilities Manager Rich Lang would personally paint over the swastika. When the swastika remained unpainted the following Friday, Oct. 14, an assistant in Lang’s office offered Mahlab a bucket of paint and told her she could paint it over herself, Mahlab said. But the paint was not delivered to Mahlab by the following Wednesday, Oct. 19, and Mahlab told her resident assistant, Kim Coleman. The next day Coleman asked Lang to paint over the swastika by noon.

“I just forgot to paint it — it wasn’t an intentional delay,” Lang told The Daily yesterday. “I had the paint and the brushes available and I told her [Coleman] that if the student wanted to do it right now, she could,” Lang said.

Coleman then called Lynn Glick, Lang’s boss, who asked that the swastika be painted over immediately. It was finally covered two days later. The delay outraged several students, and since then the University has tightened its policy to repond to racially offensive graffiti. Student Housing Manager Suzanne Tamiesie said managers and assistant managers in Housing Facilities have been trained in the appropriate response to offensive graffiti.

Not only must such graffiti be painted over immediately, Tamiesie said, but a photo must be taken. The photo will allow facilities to “share with [the Office of] Residential Education what has occured and to find patterns and evidence of where things happen,” Tamiesie added.

When Mahleb reported the Lambda Nu swastika to Housing Facilities at 3:45 p.m. yesterday, it took only minutes for a Facilities worker to arrive with paintbucket in hand. He photographed and painted over the graffiti by 3:55 p.m. Mahlab said the University’s prompt response to the swastika in Lambda Nu was “very positive and commendable.” The two graffiti incidents have sparked grave concern among Jewish students here, who only last week were shocked to find fliers distributed on campus by an anti-Semitic political action committee.

“The swastika is a painful and a scary symbol,” said senior Susan Buseck, a Jewish student. “The Nazis killed an entire branch of my family. They caused a massive disruption of Jewish people’s lives and their culture.”

The swastika in the Lagunita basement had been there for more than a year, residents said. The Lambda Nu swastika and the words “white power” were scrawled on a third-floor bathroom door there after the annual Big Game Bonfire last November, according to house residents. White supremists calling themselves “Skinheads” and “members of the white master race” allegedly defaced the door, said senior Thorn Hayes, a third-year Lambda Nu resident. Lambda Nu is located near the Lagunita lakebed where the Bonfire celebration is held.

“It wasn’t anyone from the house — it was random,” said another resident, Daniella Evans. “We all knew it [the swastika] was there,” she said.

Evans, a senior, said she told Lamda Nu house manager Michael Furlong about the swastika last year. The University said the swastika was not reported, and Furlong, who has graduated, could not be reached yesterday.

Responding, Director of Housing Keith Guy said, “I find it difficult to believe that if it were officially reported that there was not an immediate response.”

“It concerns me,” Guy added, because the swastika was “relatively old, not new stuff.” Not everyone in the house knew of the swastika because the coed bathroom is on the third floor and serves eight residents, said Lambda Nu RA Matt Schwartz. Schwartz said he was told about the swastika yesterday.

“The University should have removed it at the end of last year,” he said. “People this year attempted to cover it over with pen … but they did not try very hard,” Schwartz said. He added that last spring residents covered the swastika with artificial snow spray, but he thought a cleaning crew washed off the paint at the end of last year.

Daily Photographer: Michael Topolovac; Caption: Project Custodian Jeff Hines applies paint to the swastika in Lamda Nu. The swastika originally appeared Nov. 19, 1987.

Sam Premutico ’18 is a staff writer covering University and local news. A freshman from Brooklyn, New York, Sam has a wide range of academic interests, including biology and philosophy. When not in class or writing for The Daily, Sam enjoys solving crossword puzzles and playing for the Stanford Men’s Squash team. To contact Sam, email him at samprem ‘at’ stanford.edu.