Swastika is found painted on top of students' mural memorializing Pittsburgh shooting

Courtesy of Olivia Levine
Courtesy of Olivia Levine

It was 2 a.m. Monday morning and first-year Olivia Levine was still awake, hours after she had learned about the swastika from her friends. 

When her friend told her about it earlier Sunday night and showed her the photo of the red emblem on the East Campus Bridge, Levine started crying. Then she posted the photo into a group message for Duke's Jewish students, then she emailed administrators.  

A mural had been painted as a point of unity and hope was now covered by a swastika.

“I was just torn apart. I started crying," Levine said. "I didn’t know how to react to it, because I was so angry about it.”

Word began to spread about the bright red swastika Sunday night, and Levine posted on her Facebook about it, calling on the administration to respond to it.

For the first-year, the swastika was not an unfamiliar sight on campus. Since she arrived at Duke in August, a student found the emblem etched into a bathroom stall door in the Languages Building and a pumpkin carved with a swastika was reported on East Campus during Halloween.

This one was bigger than a pumpkin, however, and the bright red lines crossed through the mural that students painted last month in memory of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The shooting left 11 dead. 

The swastika was directly on top of the gold Star of David the students had painted, next to the names of the 11 who died. The phrase "We must build this world from love" was included in English and Hebrew on the mural. 

Levine was one of the students who helped paint the mural.

“It really represented a lot of hope for the community," she said.

Now, she wants maintenance to paint over the swastika as soon as possible. The first-year said that she called to report the incident to Duke University Police Department, and was told that it was going to be painted over Monday. By 1 a.m. Monday morning, the swastika was covered by a trash bag taped on top of it. 

By 1 a.m. Monday morning, the swastika had been covered up by a trash bag.
By 1 a.m. Monday morning, the swastika had been covered up by a trash bag.

"Seeing the swastika drawn over something I painted with my peers at Duke upsets me beyond words," Levine wrote in a Facebook post. "I was speechless when I saw this photo. It feels like there is no safe space from anti-Semitism."

Levine said that she wants to see a response from the administration about the incident, but noted that anti-Semitic acts are not a problem that is limited to Duke. She said that she has no idea who painted the emblem.

“It’s not just a Duke problem, it’s happening all over the country," the first-year said. 

The swastika is the second incident to come up at the East Campus bridge this school year. Earlier this semester, the Latinx community responded to a Latinx Heritage Month mural being found painted over less than 24 hours after it went up, and the next day a local graffiti artist approached the students and said that it had been an accident. 

 Levine said that Sunday's swastika crossed the line for the free expression space.

“It’s a free speech bridge, but that doesn’t mean that people have the right to put a swastika up there," she said.

Bre Bradham

Bre is a senior political science major from South Carolina, and she is the current video editor, special projects editor and recruitment chair for The Chronicle. She is also an associate photography editor and an investigations editor. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief and local and national news department head. 

Twitter: @brebradham

Email: breanna.bradham@duke.edu


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