As readers of my op-eds know, I have been very critical of San Diego State University’s administration.
From the budget follies at the start of President Adela de la Torre’s tenure, to their ignoring a billion dollars in deferred maintenance while throwing money at the Imperial Valley campus and the Mission Valley project, to their mishandling of an invitation to a noted anti-Semite to speak on campus, SDSU’s administration, and President de la Torre, have gotten it wrong, repeatedly.
So when the President gets it right, I feel an obligation to say so, loudly and publicly.
The occasion is not a happy one. At the beginning of March, another swastika was found scribbled on a dormitory wall. This was the third such incident, but this time J. Luke Wood, vice-president of student affairs and campus diversity, was on it from the start.
On March 11, about a week or so after the swastikas were discovered, he sent out a tweet condemning anti-Semitism and expressing solidarity with SDSU’s Jewish faculty, staff, and students. But that was only the beginning.
On March 30, President de la Torre, Vice-President Wood, and Christian J. Holt, Associated Students President, distributed a campus-wide email announcing “San Diego State University’s enhanced partnership with two local organizations, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Hillel, that share our goal of creating a more inclusive community for Jewish students, faculty and staff.”
The plan is to go beyond words to action: “Beginning in the fall 2021, these two organizations will work closely with SDSU to offer critical interventions to address anti-Semitism and support Jewish inclusion on our campus and beyond.” Both the ADL and Hillel will offer programs designed to support Jewish students and combat campus anti-Semitism.
These programs come not a moment too soon. The sad and frightening fact is that anti-Semitism is thriving in the United States. The ADL reported that anti-Semitic incidents hit an all-time high in 2019, with California ranking third in the list. The COVID 19 pandemic has been blamed on the Jews, and the Jan. 6 insurrection was rife with anti-Semitic rhetoric and clothing.
Since January the ADL has recorded 35 antisemitism incidents in San Diego, but the total number is likely higher, as hate crimes are the most under-reported of all crimes. So when swastikas are found scribbled on SDSU’s walls, they are not isolated incidents, but part of a very dangerous national trend that directly impacts SDSU’s faculty, staff, and students.
But while these symbols target Jews, we cannot consider the rise of anti-Semitism separate and apart from the equally sad, equally frightening rise in anti-Asian violence, which in turn cannot be separated from anti-Black and anti-Hispanic racism. Hate, unfortunately, is intersectional, and we must always remember that the people who daub swastikas and write anti-Semitic slogans on SDSU’s walls are likely the same people attacking other minority groups.
Nonetheless, I’m thrilled and grateful that anti-Semitism is finally getting the attention of SDSU’s top administrators.
Peter C. Herman is professor of English literature at San Diego State University. He has published on Shakespeare, Milton and the literature of terrorism, and has published essays in Salon, Inside Higher Ed, as well as Times of San Diego. His most recent book is “Unspeakable: Literature and Terrorism from the Gunpowder Plot to 9/11” (Routledge, 2020).