BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Police at Western Washington University are investigating anti-Semitic graffiti found in the student union.
The union's "free speech board" is typically covered with sentiments that range from sweet to silly, but last week things turned ugly.
A drawing of a Jewish stereotype and a white supremacist symbol appeared, and were called out on social media by a Jewish student group.
The group called the images "repugnant" on Instagram, noting "It is important for individuals not to stay silent when anti-Semitic rhetoric is spread."
"We have to call out negative rhetoric, but we have to be careful when calling out that rhetoric to not make ourselves into victims," said Rabbi Avremi Yarmush, who works with Jewish students on campus.
Antisemitism has been an issue at Western since at least 2016, when 11 incidents were reported, including the appearance of swastikas on campus.
In 2018, books in the Jewish section of the library were defaced and a swastika was drawn outside a Jewish faculty member's office.
Rabbi Yarmush says the university did implement a course to educate students about Jewish faith and culture, but he believes more needs to be done.
In 2017, Western also formed a taskforce to study antisemitism on campus.
The 32-page report recommended transparent reporting protocols for anti-Semitic incidents, additional education and training for students and staff, and deeper engagement with community.
"There's no question that it is somewhat concerning to see there is negativity festering," he said. "That means we're not doing a good enough job to bring it to light and clean it up."
A 2021 study by the Antidefamation League found more than 2,700 anti-Semitic incidents across America.
That number was up from 2,026 in 2020 -- a 34% increase and the most since the ADL started tracking the numbers in 1979.
Despite all that, Rabbi Yarmush believes all of us can fight the darkness of hate by being living examples of light.
"I tell students to be a proud Jew," he says. "I do believe that will lead us in a positive direction toward a world that has more goodness, more kindness, more love."
The University issued a statement calling the incident "unacceptable," saying the administration stands "firmly with its Jewish community members and others who are affected."