Around 8 p.m. on February 15, a Deerfield faculty member discovered a large swastika and the word “heil” on the sidewalk outside DeNunzio dormitory. The graffiti was written with a stream of water, and was removed shortly after the discovery. The local police, campus security, and administration are currently conducting an investigation on the incident.
In an initial email to inform the Deerfield community about the hate crime, Head of School Margarita Curtis wrote, “To be clear, we utterly denounce the hateful ideology these symbols represent — and this type of hate speech is totally unacceptable. Deerfield stands for the value and dignity of all people.”
Dr. Curtis addressed the school at a sit-down lunch on February 16. She began her remarks by referencing the current rising tide of anti-Semitism in the United States. “When we started the school year in September, it was on the heels of disturbing news coming from Charlottesville, Virginia,” Dr. Curtis stated. “If you remember, we spent a great deal of time processing those events — discussing their relevance to our lives here at Deerfield.”
Dr. Curtis also referenced the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, a brutal event that occurred a mere two days before this incident.
“This is hate speech,” stated Dr. Curtis, “and hate in any form has no place at Deerfield.” She continued: “Racism and xenophobia are repugnant views — they are a special type of learned ignorance, borne from the idea that emotions can eclipse facts.”
Dr. Curtis was clear about the presence of hate and anti-Semitism at Deerfield, affirming: “If you do understand the meaning of these symbols — and yet you still feel they have a place in your life — then I think Deerfield might not be the place for you.”
After the hate crime, a Crisis Response Team (CRT), comprised of Deerfield faculty, security, and administration met twice
On the afternoon of February 16, two meetings were held for the Deerfield community. The first was for the Jewish Student Alliance and Jewish employees, and the second meeting was for any students who wished to speak about the incident or demonstrate allyship. Close to 100 students and faculty met in the Caswell Library for this second meeting to discuss the crime and the presence of hate speech at Deerfield.
Before this meeting, Curtis encouraged students: “Listen first to understand. Accept others’ truth.”
Emma Earls ’20 discussed her reaction to the meeting: “Deerfield’s done a lot of talking about change, but at last week’s meeting I think we all realized how drastic this display of hate was. I don’t think anyone realized that there was this kind of hate on the Deerfield campus, but I think we’ve all realized how crucial it is now to make a change.”
Helen Lipsky ’20 discussed the importance of change on campus, stating, “I think that a lot of students and faculty members on campus don’t really know what to do in response to incidents like these because we’re not supposed to see them on high school campuses.”
However, Lipsky confirmed that she still viewed this change as a possible initiative: “When we do see these incidents, it’s important as a community to understand that anti-Semitism existed before the Holocaust, during the Holocaust, and continues today even after the Holocaust. The coupling of the swastika with the work ‘heil’ is generally a prominent attack on all groups that fell victim to the Nazi regime during World War II and it is a communal job to recognize that. So, the best way for Deerfield to move forward is to continue this recognition.”
Director of Counseling Dr. Joshua Relin spread positivity on the sidewalks around Denunzio on the morning of February 17th by providing sidewalk chalk and encouraging students and faculty families to draw positive messages. This event, colloquially dubbed “Bringing Out the Colors,” brought together a range of Deerfield students and faculty, aiming to engender hope, rather than fear, throughout the Deerfield community.