Swastika drawn on Black History Month poster

MIT Police did not categorize the incident as a hate crime, Black Students’ Union plan to file a crime report

8940 lob7 swastika
The Bias Response Team was alerted to a drawing of a swastika on a Black History Month poster in Lobby 7 on Tuesday. In an email, the team condemned the drawing and wrote, "Racism, hate, divisiveness, and bullying have no place at MIT."
Gabby Ballard

A two-foot-long swastika with the message “Buddhist Swastik History is Knowledge” written underneath it was found Tuesday morning on a poster that was part of “BlackHack,” a Black History Month display in Lobby 7.

The display contains photographs of the founding of the Black Students’ Union, busing in Boston schools, and MIT students’ protests for MIT’s divestment from companies with ties to the South African economy when South Africa was enforcing apartheid. The display also includes a large poster with a fist and additional posters with markers for passersby to write on. It was organized by the Black Students’ Union and the Black Graduate Student Association.

Gabby Ballard ’19, a member of the BSU Political Action Committee, found the swastika; within 13 minutes, the BSU removed the poster with the swastika and replaced it with new poster paper, said Kelvin Green II ’21, co-chair of the BSU, in an interview with The Tech.

According to Green, the paper with the swastika also had messages that read, “Still, once the Buddhists saw it was being used for hate, they stopped using it. This is disrespectful,” and “This is wrong, the German one is turned.”

Violence Prevention and Response and the Bias Response Team were alerted of the incident.

The MIT Police determined the incident “does not meet the criteria for a hate crime” and is still investigating the act, according to a statement emailed to The Tech. The BSU is planning to file a crime report, Green said.

“Consistent with the cyclical nature of racial and racist progress, it came only 23 hours later: not in the form of an assassination or a riot — that is, not in the form of physical violence — but in the form of hate expressed through six lines [of the swastika] that represent global systemic violence, racism, and anti-Semitism,” Green and Mimi Wahid ’21, attorney general of the BSU, wrote in an opinion article for The Tech.

“Though this act of hatred disturbs us, it neither destroys us nor diminishes our power. We remain grounded in the strength of our community,” the article continued.

The following day, Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson and Interim Institute Community and Equity Officer Alyce Johnson sent a letter to the MIT community detailing the incident.

“While the symbol has positive origins in the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain faith traditions, in a modern Western context, other versions of this symbol have been used to convey a message of hate, racism, and anti-Semitism,” they wrote.

They continued, “But the fact that it was drawn on a Black History Month display designed to encourage community discussion about issues affecting the black community and celebrate black student activism at MIT makes it that much worse.”

They encouraged the MIT community to “passionately reaffirm the core values our community stands for: empathy, compassion, inclusiveness, and respect for all.”

Zoe Anderson contributed reporting.

If you know more about this incident, contact 617-253-1212 or report anonymously here.

A few of the resources available to members of the community, as described by Nelson and Johnson: 

Student Mental Health and Counseling works with students to identify, understand, and solve problems, and to help transform that understanding into positive action. Title IX and Bias Response offers resources and reporting options for bias incidents related to race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or other identities. The Institute Community and Equity Office's mission is to advance a respectful and caring community that embraces diversity and empowers everyone to learn and do their best at MIT. 

Update 2/7/19: The article was updated to reflect that Alyce Johnson, in addition to Suzy Nelson, sent a letter to the MIT community detailing the incident.