Swastikas found in bathrooms

Nate Belman and Max Karp

Two swastikas were found in Wilson bathrooms this past month. Principal Kimberly Martin condemned the acts of vandalism, deeming them “unacceptable.”

Both swastikas were found by students and subsequently reported to the administration. One student took a picture of the symbol and sent it to Martin who instructed custodians to clear the graffiti. Wilson reported the incident to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). 

MPD responded immediately that day,” Martin said. “For a few days after, there was an increased police presence at the school.” The school used the Incident Reporting Tool to inform other DC agencies. 

The acts of vandalism come after a rise in anti-Semitic acts in and around the school. Last year, after graduation, a large swastika was found raked into the baseball field at Fort Reno, a park bordering the Wilson campus. The phrase “Fuck Jews” was found written in a Wilson hallway.

The Wilson Jewish Student Union (JSU) expressed its sadness and anger at the situation. “I don’t think it’s solely the JSU’s job to condemn these acts, [but rather] it’s our job to teach students about Judaism,” JSU co-president Zoe Zitner said. “It all relates to the lack of an adequate Holocaust education at schools—students don’t know the history behind the swastikas, what they mean and the amount of hate behind them.” 

Cynthia Miller-Idriss is a Professor of Education and Sociology at American University, where she runs the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab, and a DCPS parent. She noted another reason that students might use anti-Semitic speech and symbols like swastikas. “Youth are exposed to hateful narratives and speech in ways that use satire, irony, humor, or wit… while making it seem like those who react to those memes or jokes are ‘triggered’ or acting like ‘snowflakes,” she said.

The vandalism was a main discussion point in a Diversity Task Force meeting that took place on December 5. At the meeting, Martin discussed the acts of vandalism and others provided ideas for how to approach the situation. Those in attendance included representatives from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Director for the Mayor’s Office for Religious Affairs.

“This is an issue that is happening all over our region, all over this community. And so it’s something that everyone is working on. I say that there’s strength in that, that we can all come together and put together resources to help address these things,” said Michelle Magner, Assistant Education Director for the Anti-Defamation League.

The incidents at Wilson reflect a larger trend in DC and around the country. According to the Anti-Defamation League website, there were 1,879 recorded anti-Semitic acts in 2018. A recent Washington Post Article found that 165 hate crimes have been recorded in DC this year, a number that is on pace to break last year’s all-time high of 204.

Wilson is just one of many local schools that seems to be mirroring this trend. Last month, swastikas were found in a bathroom of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, and on a desk at Silver Creek Middle School. “I knew that there was an increase in events across the city. What I didn’t know was that it’s sort of a theme to vandalize school bathrooms, that [it’s] happened in other high schools,” Martin said. 

The Diversity Task Force meeting sought to address ways in which Wilson could respond and prevent future expressions of hate and antisemitism. Magner suggested a lesson plan that would aim to educate people about anti-Semitic acts and why they happen. “It’s a lesson plan called ‘Swastikas and Other Hate Symbols.’ The purpose of the lesson plan is to fill in those blanks about what exactly [hate symbols are],” Magner said.

Magner concluded the meeting by emphasizing the importance of communication in the wake of hate-filled events. “This is why it is important to have a conversation.”