March 20, 2014
To members of the Vanderbilt community:
Last week, members of our campus community were shocked to confront a phrase associated with Nazi concentration camps spelled out in duct tape on the pedestrian bridge along the 21st Avenue South side of Medical Research Building III. I write to express my deep regret for the fear, anxiety and anguish this act brought to so many on our campus, especially members of the Vanderbilt Jewish community. As soon as this sign was reported, the incident was treated as a serious crime, and it was investigated as such by the Vanderbilt University Police Department, with witnesses questioned and evidence examined for fingerprints. The initial investigation determined the sign was put up by an undergraduate student as part of a class public art project. You can read Vanderbilt Hillel’s response to the act here.
Regardless of motivation, we must be clear that our university deplores any language that intimidates, causes pain or degrades any person. What I have found especially troubling about this incident is that there are many in our community for whom the significance of the phrase and its racist and hate-filled connotations are unknown or unclear. This is especially disappointing on a campus that has long hosted and taken pride in our annual Holocaust Lecture Series, designed to keep alive the lessons and memories of the unspeakable atrocities perpetrated against Jews and others by Nazi Germany so that they might never be repeated. The enduring phrase “Never Again” is one that each of us should take to heart.
We must re-double our efforts to educate and sensitize members of the Vanderbilt community, especially our students, to the profound pain and harm that result from the kind of thoughtless acts and language exhibited by last week’s incident.
Thank you for your understanding.
Provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs