Michali Cohen

Three Consecutive Years of Swastikas: The Ongoing Crisis at American University

(Image courtesy of author)

My life feels like a movie, and that movie is “Groundhog Day.” The recurring theme? A swastika in the freshman dorms at American University.

On Thursday, October 19, an email blast from the President of AU informed members of the AU community that a swastika and a “Nazi slogan” had been discovered in the first-year dorms. My first reaction was confusion. Was this an old email resurfacing from my senior year of college when a swastika and SS bolts were found between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar? Or maybe it was just a repeat of last year’s incident. I checked the date and quickly realized this was a new occurrence. Yes, you read that correctly. This marks the third consecutive year that a swastika has tainted the freshman dorms at American University– a prestigious institution situated in the heart of the United States, dedicated to molding future changemakers.

This swastika appeared as the Israel-Hamas war rages on, which has led to normalized antisemitism on campus throughout the country. At Cornell University, a professor called the massacre of Israelis “exhilarating” and “energizing,” and 34 student organizations at Harvard University issued a statement blaming Israel for the brutal attack Hamas launched. The situation in the Diaspora has become so dire that the FBI has warned of “heightened” antisemitic attacks and threats in the United States. To say the least, Jewish students are scared and angry.

This should set off alarm bells within the AU administration, but regrettably, nothing seems to have changed. The email we received mirrored those of the past two years – a swastika discovered, solidarity with the Jewish community, a promise of an investigation, and guidance on reporting hate crimes. What’s absent from these emails is a concrete plan of action to combat the growing antisemitism on campus. As a student, I met with various AU officials, from the Kay Spiritual Life Center to the President’s Office and the Office of Equity and Title IX, urging them to take immediate action when the first swastika appeared. Every time, I was met with the same response: “Don’t overreact. This is an isolated incident. AU isn’t plagued by antisemitism. You’re making a fuss over nothing.” Now, three years later, I pose this question: Do you still hold the same view? One incident can be dismissed as a coincidence, but three create an undeniable pattern.

Antisemitism is becoming the new norm on college campuses across the United States, as numerous studies by leading Jewish organizations confirm. In a recent survey, Jewish on Campus reported that 57% of Jewish college students experienced an antisemitic incident. What’s even more alarming is that 15% of non-Jewish students found the historical reality or death toll of the Holocaust either not very believable, not believable at all, or were unsure. Yet, American University seems to harbor the delusion that it is immune to this disease. Let me be crystal clear: no campus in this country is exempt from the oldest form of hatred. Jewish students at American University are rightfully furious – swastikas and superficial emails should not be part of their university experience. AU can change the narrative for future Jewish students, but the choice lies with them. Will they acknowledge the undeniable pattern of antisemitism and take meaningful steps to foster a more inclusive and tolerant campus? Or will they, yet again, sweep this incident under the rug, only for the pattern to resurface next year.

About the Author
Michal Cohen has worked in the Jewish non-profit space for the last three years, starting as a college student at American University. She is a first-generation Israeli-American passionate about campus antisemitism and bridging the gap between Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora.
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