Spending much of the past year in Israel taught Harris Lenowitz to fear bombings and explosions rather than walls bearing anti-Semitic slogans.
So when the professor this week discovered chalk-drawn swastikas in his biblical Hebrew classroom at the University of Utah, it took a while for the impact to sink in."It crept up on me very slowly that this was something I needed to pay attention to," said Lenowitz, who has taught for 25 years in the U. languages and literature department and Middle East Center.
"But imagine a Holocaust survivor coming into a public building and seeing a swastika," said Lenowitz, who is Jewish. "It is a fist in his face."
Lenowitz was to join members of the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and U. students gathering today for an anti-hate rally.
Swastikas, used by German Nazis during World War II, appeared on classroom walls at the Sill Home Living Center, a U. police report states.
The building, near the Olpin Union, houses offices on upper floors and classrooms in the basement.
On Monday, police were alerted to the swastikas, which Lenowitz says were about two to three feet in diameter and drawn on a beige wall with white chalk.
Lenowitz also told police someone drew another swastika on the wall about two weeks ago. Yet another turned up Wednesday. Police had made no arrests Thursday.
The symbols, often used by white supremacy groups, were so faint they didn't show up on police photographs, the report states. But Lenowitz said their message was clear.
"It is an attack against each one of us in the Hebrew program, other students and teachers on campus, the city and the state," Lenowitz said. "We are no longer living in a quiet, sheltered valley."
"There's no room on campus for the kind of person that would cause hurt and destruction to another person," said Stayner Landward, dean of students.
ACLU Director Carol Gnade points out that while the swastika is offensive, the ACLU opposes banning any speech protected by the First Amendment. "Rather, we would look to the university to vigorously respond promptly to these incidents of bigotry and discrimination," she said.
But Lenowitz said campus police are just beginning to take the incident seriously. He said detective Denice Bradfield, unable to see the swastikas on crime scene photos, wanted to meet him at the Sill building to show them to her. But by that time, janitors had scrubbed the walls, he said.
Bradfield said her department is making every effort to find the vandals. "(The incident is) something we want to focus on, and make sure the University community feels safe."
Police are urging anyone with information to report it.
Those who drew the symbols could faces misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief, Bradfield said. Should they be U. students, they could face suspension, according to Landward.
"I think there's a general outrage that an individual would stoop to such behavior," Landward said. "I met with the (Hebrew) students (Wednesday) and there certainly was fear, discouragement, hurt and pain."
The Jewish Students' Association took out an ad in The Daily Utah Chronicle student newspaper Thursday to announce Friday's rally.
"The recent appearances of swastikas in Hebrew classrooms on campus is a painful sign that hatred and ignorance continue to plague us even as we attempt to embrace diversity," the ad states.
"For all of us, (the swastika) is an ugly reminder of what can happen when intolerance and indifference are allowed to go unchecked."