Police are investigating a suspected hate crime that targeted the Ethnic Studies department at the University of California, Riverside.
“Sometime during the last few days – likely during spring break – the Ethnic Studies department and graduate student offices were vandalized. Biographies and photos of at least four women of color graduate students were either stolen or defaced,” the department’s chair, Professor Dylan Rodríguez, wrote in a 30 March Facebook post addressed to students and faculty.
“The graduate office bookcase, as well as a number of graduate student mailboxes, were tampered with and rummaged through. Materials related to Palestine, including an image of the Palestinian flag, were torn down from the wall,” Rodríguez added.
Rodríguez reported that the office of another faculty member was also broken into and vandalized.
“It seems clear that this professor was specifically targeted,” Rodríguez said. “While I cannot be certain that the Ethnic Studies department and graduate offices were targeted by the same parties, the nature of the damage and close proximity of the incidents suggests that there is a connection.”
Rodríguez condemned what he called “despicable acts of symbolic and cultural violence, threat and harassment.”
“Women of color have been specifically targeted by these parties, and the available information makes it abundantly clear that these acts of violence are significantly motivated by anti-Muslim and Islamophobic sentiment and/or ideology,” he added.
A university spokesperson confirmed to The Electronic Intifada that there is “an ongoing police investigation so there is little we can say about details of the incidents.”
“The UC Police Department is investigating these incidents as hate crimes, with indications of possible gender and racial discrimination and religious and political intolerance,” UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox wrote in a message to the campus community.
“These incidents are being vigorously investigated, and we will fully prosecute those responsible,” Wilcox added.
Rahul Saksena of the civil liberties group Palestine Legal told The Electronic Intifada that the vandalism at UC Riverside should be seen in a broader context.
“Across the country, we’ve seen a campaign to suppress Palestine advocacy, in large part by falsely conflating criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism,” Saksena said. “In many ways, the UC has been at the epicenter of this campaign.”
Saksena referred to the ongoing effort by the UC Regents, the University of California’s top governing body, “attempting to falsely conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.”
At the behest of pro-Israel groups, the regents recently adopted a policy stating that “Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”
This was slightly watered down from an earlier version that effectively labeled any expression of anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel’s state ideology – as discriminatory.
“UC Riverside should investigate the recent vandalism and take appropriate and specific steps to ensure a campus environment that is welcoming for women of color, Muslims and Palestinians,” Saksena said.
But he urged administrators to do more: “It is not enough for the university to blame the vandalism on individual students or on a national political atmosphere that is increasingly hostile towards women of color, Muslims and Palestinians.”
“The university must lead by example. It can start by looking inward and reflecting on how its own actions, policies and statements – including recent statements adopted by the regents – contribute to incidents like these,” Saksena added.