A top university has launched an investigation into the discovery of a swastika carving and a “rights for whites” sign on campus, amid concerns about rising anti-Semitism and far right influence across UK institutions.
The incidents at the University of Exeter follow reports last term that students had been pictured wearing clothes with handwritten anti-Semitic and racist slogans.
One T-shirt had the words “the Holocaust was a good time” scrawled across it, while another said: “Don’t talk to me if you’re not white.”
According to the university’s student news website Exeposé, the swastika had been carved into a door at the Birks Grange halls of residence, while the “Rights for Whites” sign decorated with a union flag was found on the door of a student room in Llewellyn Mews.
University officials said they believed the incidents may have been part of a “deeply offensive joke”.
A spokesperson said the graffiti and carving have been removed and an investigation has been launched into the matter.
In a statement, the university said: “The investigation into the students’ actions is being carried out under the university’s disciplinary procedures.
“The investigation is ongoing and no conclusions have yet been drawn, but it appears, from initial inquiries, that this may have been an ill-judged, deeply offensive joke on the students’ part, parodying a sketch in a TV comedy show.
“The university believes any form of racist or discriminatory behaviour is unacceptable and the actions of those involved are in contrast to the vast majority of students, who help to build our tolerant and inclusive university community.”
The incident is the latest in a series of reported racist incidents at universities across the UK, and follows claims from higher education adjudicator, Ruth Deech, that Jewish students are avoiding certain universities due to concerns about anti-Semitism.
The Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University said he was “profoundly concerned” to discover Holocaust denial leaflets had been distributed around university buildings this term, and that a swastika had been drawn on a map in the city centre.
In December, the Government’s Holocaust envoy, Sir Eric Pickles, commented that British universities had shown “grave cowardice” in terms of dealing with anti-Semitism on campus, and that he was “looking into” new legislation to protect Jewish students.
“The classic definition of dealing with racism and anti-Semitism is those who stand by and do nothing,” he added.
His comments followed a warning from universities minister Jo Johnson that academic institutions must “act swiftly” to investigate claims of anti-Semitism and other hate crimes on campus.
Mr Johnson said universities had a “clear responsibility” under the 2010 Equality Act “to ensure they protect their staff and students and act swiftly to investigate and address hate crime, including anti-Semitic related incidents reported to them.”
Commenting on the incidents at Exeter University, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) expressed concern, but said it would not go so far as to accuse individual universities of developing a reputation for anti-Semitism.
“Universities ought to be safe and welcoming for all students, but this vandalism undermines that principle and indicates instead that some students do not welcome their minority peers, the union said.
“Incidents like the one in Exeter undoubtedly make Jewish students uncomfortable and some may feel unwelcome on campus, and even one single incident is one too many.
“But even as we support the students affected by these incidents and help them to challenge and work to eradicate anti-Semitism, we must remember that every day on almost every campus, and almost every day at the remaining handful of campuses, Jewish students are safe and fully and freely expressing their Judaism.”
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