Swastikas on Campus

By Marcelo Rodríguez (Follow us on LinkedIn)

On April 11th, 2023, an anti-abortion group decided to display swastikas, pictures of the Holocaust as well as the Rwandan and Cambodian genocides at a prominent location on the main campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona to get across whatever message they wanted to convey. Students, staff, faculty and organizations on campus protested their antisemitic and hateful display and the fallout is still ongoing. As the former Chair and an active member of the AALL’s Jewish Law Librarian Caucus and other Jewish groups, I know this is not an isolated case in academic institutions everywhere. Unfortunately, we have become numb to this insanity and how categorically unacceptable it is. We know better and we constantly fail to act.

We talk about structural racism, historical antisemitism, ingrained and widespread hate for the “other” in grand terms because when the monster shows one of his multiple faces, it becomes a train out of control and another excuse for not taking responsibility. When we all know that reality is everything but. This post is a call for you the reader to call out antisemitism whenever you see it in your circles. That’s where you can make a meaningful and impactful change and a difference in the people around you. That’s the power you have. That’s something you can do and I can assure you that it goes a long way. You should practice it every day as much as you can. They’re counting on all of us doing otherwise.

If you can’t call out antisemitism for what it is, ask yourself why. This ain’t new. We have been dealing with this for a very long time and the resources are everywhere, easy at reach. Check your biases and own internalized prejudices, if you can’t call hate out as you see it. It’s incumbent and imperative upon all of us to call it out way BEFORE the swastikas show up. How easy is it for your Jewish colleagues to ask for time off during their holidays? Have there been any instances of “casual” antisemitic jokes? Do you think that there are too many Jews in the law or in the place you work? All of these details matter and they are the beginning of an important and impactful conversation about seeing each other as humans. If we can’t connect, respect and see each other at that level, then we fail at keeping the haters at bay.

If you work with a Jewish colleague or students or law clerks, check up on them in a respectful way. Given the increase of antisemitism in this country, they’re not OK regardless of what they tell you. This is not an invitation to be invasive and abrasive. It’s a call for you to work on trust and creating environments of safety, trust and understanding, especially if you’re a manager, supervisor or director. As the leader of a group, it is your responsibility to listen attentively and provide that space for your colleagues to feel safe and heard. Sometimes it’s the only thing you can do and I can 100% guarantee that it will impact that other person in a tremendous way for the better. Working on how to nurture and see people in a humane way is the only way to build trust and a cohesive way. I’d argue that this is way more important than whatever bureaucratic evaluation checklist you have been doing so far. 

If you’re Jewish yourself and reading this post, please know that you’re not alone. Reach out, if you feel comfortable and want to talk. A wise friend of mine once told me, Judaism is lived through in a communal way in the good, bad times and everything in between, and in times of hate it’s imperative to reach out to your groups, the people that really have your back and see you. So, please find your people and allies and take solace in them. 

Actually, another good friend of mine recently converted to Judaism and she felt the need to call me and shared that personal experience with me. She wanted me to know how talking to me had been so important in her journey. She wanted to connect and unfortunately, I’m not sure I was at the level of connection that she wanted. Little did she know how much I needed to hear from her at that moment, given everything that was going on at my workplace. So, dear friend, if you’re reading this post, please know that your words made my day and filled me with so much needed joy and love.


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.