Antisemitism is rooted in ignorance

Wilson Jewish Student Union

As members of Wilson’s Jewish Student Union (JSU), we stand by the Jewish community, as well as other minority groups targeted by last week’s vandalism act. We are outraged, hurt, and distraught by the discovery of numerous swastikas and white supremacist messages in the fourth-floor boy’s bathroom. We can only speak to the experiences of Jewish students at Wilson, but we stand in solidarity with other groups affected.

Antisemitism is prevalent around the world and is deeply ingrained in many societies. We hear about this happening in communities across the country but there is nothing like the shock of seeing swastikas at your own school. 

Swastikas were the symbol of the Nazi party. They embody fascism and the horrors of the Holocaust: the systematic genocide of the Jewish people and other minority groups. The swastika was worn on the armbands of the soldiers who murdered our families. Whether or not those who vandalized our school intended to invoke these repugnant ideas, there is no question that it is deeply offensive. 

As the Jewish Student Union, we feel the need to respond to this act of hate to ensure a safe space for all Jewish students at Wilson, but it shouldn’t be our responsibility to do so. It is the responsibility of the Wilson administration and of DCPS. 

The school’s response is insufficient. Although we appreciate the administration and custodians’ immediate action to remove the hate speech in the bathroom we expected a clear and immediate message from Principal Bargeman alerting students and families of the incident and laying out a specific course of action to prevent it from happening again. It is unacceptable that the news about this event is being spread by students and not by the staff. 

This event follows a similar incident in 2019, to which there were vague responses and no consequences. Wilson must implement legitimate changes in order to prevent this from happening in the future. 

The saddest part of this situation was that we were not surprised. Wilson has a culture of bathroom vandalism that has been increasing throughout this school year. It has become normal to see hate symbols and speech. 

JSU strongly believes that antisemitic incidents like these are in part due to a lack of Holocaust education at Wilson. How could the vandal know the serious meaning behind what they drew when some of the swastikas were drawn backward? In order to solve the root of this issue—deep and ingrained antisemitism—we must turn to education. 

Pre-COVID, Wilson did have a form of Holocaust education. While imperfect, it included a cornerstone project in World History II and field trips to the Holocaust museum. With COVID, curriculums were shortened and the Holocaust wasn’t an exception.

Current juniors and seniors whose 10th-grade world history courses were cut short by the pandemic received close to no education about the Holocaust. This ignorance is dangerous. It enables the resurgence of religious and ethnic prejudice and creates a breeding ground for hate crimes. When students are not properly taught about the Holocaust, they have no way of knowing the extent to which certain symbols or phrases incite hate towards the Jewish population. It is Wilson’s obligation to properly educate students about these events. 

As JSU, we propose the following: educational assemblies, field trips to the Holocaust museum, and reintroduction and expansion of the Holocaust curriculum. There remains an opportunity to reimplement and expand Holocaust education for underclassmen. 

Students should be required to learn about the events leading up to, during, and after the Holocaust, including the Jewish aspect and the other minority groups targeted by the Germans. Watching a movie in class is not sufficient. Classes should prompt deep discussions, allowing students to share their family stories or opinions in an impactful manner. Juniors and seniors who missed out on a complete World History II class must be taught about the Holocaust in other ways. For example, Wilson could bring in speakers from the Holocaust Museum, who are experts at teaching about the subject. Survivors could come and talk to the school through an assembly. Students could be required to complete a project to graduate, ensuring that every Wilson student has learned about it. 

By expanding the student body’s knowledge and understanding of this issue, Wilson can help ensure that incidents like these will not be repeated. Never again.