November 3, 2006
By CAROLYN SALAZAR, STAFF WRITER
MAHWAH – Student leaders at Ramapo College have scheduled an anti-hate rally for next week in response to recent incidents at the college.
During the past week, anti-Semitic and anti-gay messages have been scrawled on a student’s vehicle and three dormitory rooms. Mahwah police are investigating.
“I deplore this shameful and intolerable act and assure the community that we are trying to identify the perpetrator,” college President Peter Philip Mercer wrote in an e-mail message to the university.
College spokeswoman Bonnie Franklin said the messages have distressed students and faculty. It was unclear whether the same person was responsible for both incidents, she said.
“We will not allow this type of activity to continue,” Franklin said, adding that administrators were examining videotapes and interviewing students.
The first incident occurred about 11 p.m. Friday, when someone outlined the words “I hate Jews” on a window of a car in the school parking lot, according to the president’s e-mail and police reports.
The owner of the vehicle isn’t Jewish, and the message didn’t appear to target her, said township police Capt. Stephen Jaffe.
The second incident occurred between 2 and 6 a.m. Sunday, when someone scribbled messages on the marker boards of three dormitory rooms, including “I am gay” and a derogatory word for homosexuals.
After those incidents were reported, another student notified school security that she remembered seeing a crudely carved swastika on the side of a building a few weeks before, the reports said.
Jaffe said police are investigating whether the perpetrators could face harassment charges or worse. According to the attorney general’s guidelines, for the offenses to rise to the level of a hate crime, the offender must target a specific group.
Students say no matter how the perpetrators are punished or why they did it, the hateful messages must stop.
“These weren’t major crimes that occurred, but people are angry and people are really upset,” said Stephen Cucchiara, president of the college’s Student Government Association. “We are such a diverse community, and students are in disbelief that something like this would happen here.”
Sarah Costello, who works at the Women’s Center, said she and her classmates are organizing the rally so the student body will know that the messages don’t reflect the feelings of the majority.
“We want the people who were targeted to know that they are not alone,” Costello said. “This is something that has been hurtful to a lot of different people – especially because it has come out of nowhere. The messages have made a lot of people feel very uncomfortable.”