Written by Evan Myers, News Editor
Monday, October 24 at approximately 4:30 pm, a resident assistant (RA) working in South Housing reported that there was a swastika drawn on a resident’s door. Later that evening, around 10:30 pm, another RA in Blackwell reported that swastikas had also been drawn on their hall as well as “sexually degrading and sexist messages and drawings,” according to the University. Once alerted of the incident, Furman’s administration immediately took steps to ensure the safety of its students and offer support to those affected.
First, Furman University Police (FUPO) arrived on the scene, made sure that students were safe, and launched an investigation into the incident. As of Sunday, October 20, the investigation is still ongoing and Chief Milby was not able to provide many details concerning the incident. However, he did confirm that the incident was “isolated” and has been classified as a “bias/hate crime.” He also indicated that FUPO is committed to conducting a “thorough investigation and are prepared to invest the time and resources necessary to solve this case.” Currently, the department—with assistance from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division—is “examining data from surveillance cameras, the card access system, and conducting numerous interviews,” said Milby, who encouraged “anyone with any information about this to call FUPO at 864-294-2111 or share information anonymously using the LiveSafe app.”
Shortly after the incident was reported, Michael Jennings, Furman’s Chief Diversity Officer, contacted the RA and offered his support. Two days later on October 16 at 5:10 pm, Jennings and University Chaplain Vaughn CroweTipton sent out an email to the campus community. The email emphasized that swastikas are symbols of “anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry, and hate” and that their use will “not be tolerated.” It also condemned the sexually explicit comments, calling them “serious offenses” that violate state and federal laws.
Additionally, Jennings and CroweTipton indicated that symbols such as swastikas are especially hurtful to “our Jewish students and colleagues.” In response to the incident, Lydia Morris, co-president of Furman’s Jewish Student Association (JSA), said that members of JSA “are deeply saddened by the fact that swastikas, a symbol of racism and anti-Semitism, were found on our campus. This cowardly act runs against the culture of inclusion and ethical integrity that Furman prides itself on, and cannot be tolerated.” Morris also mentioned that JSA is available to “help Furman’s leadership team and other campus organizations to educate students about anti-Semitism.” In an interview, Jennings seemed to agree that Furman could do more to address religious discrimination, saying “we talk a lot about race here, and that’s a good thing, but we could talk about religion more.”
Jennings also indicated that, although this degree of discrimination and hate is extraordinary, underpresented students at Furman do deal with discrimination on a regular basis. Austin Green, one of Furman University student diversity fellows, echoed Jennings comments, saying that “minority students confront bias and can struggle to find their identity in Furman’s community.” Moreover, while underlining the seriousness and gravity of the incident, Jennings suggested that these sort of issues are not limited to Furman and reflect disturbing trends in “broader society.” Expressing his personal discomfort with today’s political rhetoric, Jennings said that our “leaders are certainly role models.”
In contrast, however, Jennings—who has worked at a number of different institutions—said that Furman’s leadership, especially President Davis and Provost Peterson, are committed to making progress on issues of Diversity and Inclusion. He highlighted the “Seeking Abraham” project, Furman’s increasingly diverse student body, and an increase in the number of female faculty as signs of this progress. In the aftermath of this most recent incident, and with the mission of making Furman a more “welcoming, inclusive and respectful environment for everyone,” Jennings is confident that Furman has “come a long way” but aware that the University still has “a long way to go.”