The defacement of a bathroom wall with racially charged messages — including the letters “KKK” and a swastika — in a Georgetown University Medical Center building is being investigated as a hate and bias incident by the Georgetown University Police Department.
The vandalism was first reported on the wall of a ground floor bathroom in the Pre-Clinical Science Building on Sept. 21 and announced to the GUMC community in an email from Executive Dean of the School of Medicine Edward B. Healton.
GUPD has no
leads on the incident and has asked for anyone with information to report it on the GUPD website or the universitywide bias reporting system.
According to GUPD Chief Jay Gruber, if apprehended, the suspect could be barred from campus after a warrant is issued. If the suspect is a Georgetown student, they would be subjected to disciplinary action determined by the university. The Center for Multicultural Equity and Access and the Office of Mission and Ministry also respond to bias reports.
Gruber said although the vandalism constituted a hate and bias incident, it did not appear to pose imminent danger to the Georgetown community.
“The students and staff shouldn’t be alarmed at all,” Gruber said. “There was nothing written that was threatening and that charted a course of action. It was unfortunate, but I don’t think people should be alarmed over it.”
Healton condemned the recent vandalism as contradictory to the university’s values of inclusivity and respect.
“This hateful action will not be tolerated,” Healton wrote in the email. “We are a community that is welcoming to all people and that values understanding, dignity, inclusion and respect.”
Georgetown Director for Jewish Life Rabbi Rachel Gartner said the graffiti serves as a reminder that anti-Semitism is still prevalent in this country.
“In the context of all the things that are going on in the contemporary Jewish scene, this is a powerful and important reminder both to Jews and to others as well,” Gartner said in an interview with The Hoya. “If there is any good that can come of it, it will remind people that unfortunately we need to stay vigilant against anti-Semitism and to check ourselves for it too.”
Gartner said the incident compromised the feeling of Georgetown as a safe space for its Jewish members.
“I think it’s rearing its head in a way that I didn’t experience when I was in college,” Gartner said. “We’re starting to see blatant anti-Semitism pop up in some circles that used to feel safe for Jews. I feel this security on one hand as Jew in this country, but this ever-awareness of the contingency of that security.”
Medical student Allix Hillebrand (GRD ’19) said she was taken aback by the graffiti, especially if it was another student in the GUMC community.
“It was very surprising, given that most of the stuff that takes place in that building is specifically for medical students, and there are a lot of graduate student classes in there too, but most of the people have dedicated their lives to helping other people and it’s surprising that someone among us would think that was an appropriate thing to do or that they feel that way about some of their peers,” Hillebrand said. “To that end, I was talking to someone about it, and we’re almost skeptical it was someone who was in our community, but, regardless, it was frustrating, especially for my friends who are of color and who are really shocked that this happened.”
Black Student Alliance member Justus Pugh (MSB ’20) said the vandalism changed his perception of the university as a safe space.
“Being a freshman and coming into an institution like Georgetown, you just wouldn’t expect that. It just shifted my view of what I perceived Georgetown to be before coming here, what I thought Georgetown to be while I’m here,” Pugh said. “It would feel a lot better to know that it wasn’t a fellow Georgetown student that did that, but it doesn’t change the hate behind it.”
In April, graffiti bearing messages including “Support Officer Wilson” — a reference to Darren Wilson, a former Ferguson, Mo. police officer acquitted of the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown — and “Trump ’16 Build the Wall” previously surfaced on six on- and off-campus buildings.
Pugh said, although the incident was not violent, it served as an act of aggression and intimidation to minority students.
“Those symbols were meant for me to see and for me to not feel safe, to not feel comfortable, to not feel good about the space that I’m in,” Pugh said. “That is what it was meant for.”
Gartner added that she wanted people to examine carefully their internal biases in order to make sense of the anti-Semitism in the world.
“I feel Jews, as people like anyone else, should be taken seriously when we ask that people look inside themselves and ask hard questions regarding the possible presence of unexamined anti-Semitism,” Gartner said.