Antisemitic messages found carved into upper school desk


Several Nazi swastikas and the words “Hitler Rocks” were found carved into a desk on the upper school campus, President Rick Commons said in a school-wide email Oct. 12. The carvings were first found in a Seaver Academic Center classroom Oct. 7, and an investigation is underway to find who is responsible, according to a different email from Head of Upper School Beth Slattery.

“These hateful words and symbols should cause all of us to feel pain, fear, and anger,” Commons said in the email. “This is an offense to all of us, not just our Jewish students and community members, for whom we feel special concern as we condemn both this disturbing incident at HW and the awful rise of anti Semitism around the world.”

Commons said in addition to investigating who carved the messages, the school must teach students, faculty, and staff about antisemitism.

“We recognize that if even one member of our community is capable of doing something like this, we must do better in educating our students and our community, “ Commons said.

Sophomores and juniors were informed about the antisemitic discovery during class meetings Oct. 10 and seniors were notified by an email from Head of Upper School Beth Slattery the same day.

This is the second recent incident concerning the discovery of antisemitic symbols on campus, the first being swastikas found drawn on whiteboards in Rugby earlier this school year. Upper School Dean Nia Kilgore discussed the discovery with her Junior Seminar class Oct. 10, but the incident went unreported to other students and parents.

Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Janine Jones said she hopes the school will be able to provide students with safe spaces to process the incident.

“We’re trying to create not only programming that will go forward into the future in terms of curriculum or events, but [also] the healing part, more likely than not in smaller groups,” Jones said. “Perhaps doing that is through class meetings, or through Dean cohort groups, where students can process more thoughtfully.”

Jewish Family Alliance (JFA) Co-Chair Shana Glassman (Gabe ’22, Sammy ’24) said the school has contacted JFA for guidance on future initiatives directed towards eliminating antisemitism.

“The incident at school was upsetting and reminded us that nowhere is there an absence of hatred and ignorance,” Glassman said. “We are proud of how our community has come together to support our students and raise the alarm about growing Jewish hatred in our society. We will continue to work and assist the school, which has reached out to us several times and feel confident and hopeful that [the school] will strengthen the community’s values of mutual respect and equity through education and discussion and create more awareness of antisemitism.”

Jewish Club Student Leader Charlotte Newman ’24 said she felt that the school’s response was rushed and didn’t sufficiently address the issue.

“The response seemed to be a little bit like it was an interruption to the everyday course of events,” Newman said. “The fact that it was just a talking point during junior seminar, and not a deeper conversation was a bit odd. I don’t speak for every Jewish student, but I don’t think there’s an issue of Jewish students feeling unsafe, rather Jewish students can feel unheard or unseen.”

Cole Hall ’24 said he thinks the school should allow students to take on more of a role in DEI to effectively combat issues pertaining to discrimination.

“It’s definitely a deeper issue, and I don’t think that one email or just even a certain set of actions are going to fix it,” Hall said. “I think workshops and having actual, facilitated conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion, are really important because no matter what side you’re on, our core values are all the same. I think we should have a student DEI representative that works with the administration directly, because it’s honestly such like a difficult topic for anyone to handle.”

Commons said the school will be taking the time and initiative for the community to recover and grow from this incident.

“I’ve been gratified by conversations I’ve had with many students who clearly understand just how horrific a reference to Hitler with a swastika,” Commons said. “I haven’t had a conversation with any student, or any colleague at school, where I’ve felt this person doesn’t understand. However, it would appear that at least one person doesn’t. So we’re going to do everything we can do, to heal and grow as a community by spending time on this. And ideally, make it so that 100 percent of our community understands how they must behave and react.”

In response to the incident, Student Leaders for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (SLIDE) will be working with Prefect Council and Jewish Club in an attempt to eliminate incidents of hate speech and racial discrimination. In addition, the school will be hosting Jewish DEI Specialist Ben Freeman to speak to upper school students about antisemitism Oct. 25.