Updated 3:15 pm Wednesday
Incidents of swastikas drawn on the walls of the boys’ bathrooms at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School have prompted school officials to come up with ways to have meaningful dialogue that addresses hateful and racist ideas and images.
In an email sent to parents, Principal Sara Dingledy wrote that swastika graffiti was discovered by custodial staff during routine checks of the school’s bathrooms.
Dhakir Warren, the school’s administrator of student affairs, told The Times the images were faint and drawn in pencil.
“We believe this is an opportunity to further educate students to issues concerning bigotry and bias; and how we need to be aware and considerate of how our actions are interpreted by the diverse members of the MVRHS community,” Warren said.
Once the graffiti was reported, the school investigated immediately, but said it was challenging to determine who had done it and when, due to the range of possible times and the number of students who use the bathrooms.
“We do not believe this instance of graffiti is representative of the views of our student body, nor is it condoned by the school community at large. Nevertheless, this situation is very concerning to us all,” Dingledy wrote. “We believe this to be an opportunity for faculty members to engage in open and heartfelt conversations about this topic to better inform our community about the history and impact of this symbol specifically.”
Dingledy said school staff discussed the graffiti at its most recent meeting, and felt the best way to address it was for staff to facilitate small group conversations during “Mentor Monday” on March 18. “Mentor Monday” is when each staff member talks with a small number of students for 40 minutes.
The school’s history teachers will also take time during their classes to address the swastika graffiti in their classes.
Rabbi Caryn Broitman of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center praised school officials for the “quick action.” “A swastika is a symbol of hate that carries with it a threat of violence. It was the symbol Hitler used for the Nazis, and associated with the genocide against the Jewish people that resulted in the murder of [two-thirds] of Jews at the time. One cannot overestimate the pain that Jews experience when seeing such a symbol of hate. The swastika has also been a symbol of neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups who have either condoned or committed acts of mass murders and violent crimes against Jews and other minority groups, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and the LGBTQ community,” Broitman wrote in an email. “Each time a swastika is used, whether or not the person drawing it understands its meaning, communities are called to come together to oppose hate and clearly articulate the values of unity and respect that must underlie everything we do. We appreciate the quick action and thoughtful educational response of the MVRHS, and feel so grateful live in this special Island community.”
Updated to add comments from Rabbi Broitman. — Ed.