Images on murals were defaced with swastikas and other hateful symbols at Ohio University in Athens in late June and early July 2020.

The Anti-Defamation League and the director of Ohio University’s Hillel are decrying graffiti on the so-called graffiti wall at Ohio University in Athens in which images of victims of police brutality were defaced with swastikas and hateful language.

“This is the fourth time in six weeks that the Ohio University “free speech zone” has been defaced with racist, anti-Semitic graffiti,” James Pasch, ADL regional director and Sara Scheinbach, ADL senior associate regional director, both in Cleveland; and Sarah Livingston, executive director of Hillel at Ohio University stated in a joint news release July 2.

“We are appalled and saddened that this continues to happen. It would be despicable on its own to have swastikas and an SS symbol spray painted in the area, but the fact that these hateful symbols were drawn over images of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery is sickening. This is a time for us to unite in a fight for justice and equality and we will not let hate and division stop us.”

Apparently on the back of the mural, the words “Welcome to Athens Now Leave” were written in red.

Images of Floyd and Arbery had clearly drawn swastikas painted in red across their foreheads. An SS symbol was painted on the forehead of Taylor.

The swastikas and hateful messages were discovered June 30 or July 1, Livingston told the CJN July 2. She said the dean of students notified her July 1, a day she intended to be on vacation.

She used black spray paint to cover the images and emailed the police chief of the Ohio University Police Department, with whom she said she will meet next week.

Later on July 1, a new swastika was found on one of the portraits.

“We know all too well that hate speech doesn’t stop with speech, it can grow and deepen and turn into real world violence,” the three wrote in the joint statement. “We stand unified in our condemnation of this hateful graffiti, and in our work to fight hatred and bigotry. We are actively working to connect with University administration and community leaders to prevent an escalation of racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric on campus and in our community. Ohio University is better than this; Ohio is better than this.”

Livingston began working at OU March 1, 2019, and was unaware of hateful incidents prior to May 2020.

She said the number of incidents has had a chilling effect on both Jewish and black students and faculty.

“It’s really uncomfortable,” she said.” I’m feeling very sad that there are people in this world ... that think this is OK whether they mean it because they really hate people or if they’re just being funny.”

While there are no classes on campus, there are students living off-campus in Athens, Livingston said. She said she will meet with the administration next week.

”I need to find a solution so it feel a little bit less provocative and a little bit less hateful,” she said.

Matt Freedman, a board member at Ohio University’s Hillel, said he is concerned.

“The university’s passive approach to this ongoing display of racism is doing nothing to solve the problem,” said Freedman of New Albany, who belongs to both Temple Israel in Columbus and Temple Beth Shalom in New Albany. “I joined the board to do what I could to create a safe and welcoming environment for Jewish students in Athens.”

He said OU’s president, M. Duane Nellis, has attended Shabbat services occasionally.

“But just recently these episodes, which the university has taken no action on, are very discouraging,” he said, adding that the university failed to inform Hillel of some of the incidents. “There’s still more that we can do collaboratively with Hillel and Ohio University to protect people’s First Amendment right but also make students in the Jewish community and Athens feel safe and feel the university has their best interest in mind.”

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