ADL comes to campus to discuss hate symbols

Levenson discusses the evolution of hate symbols. Amanda Martin / THE GATEPOST

In response to the recent swastika drawing found in West Hall, FSU hosted an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) presentation titled “Recognizing Hate: Why Symbols Matter,” on Tuesday, April 24 in North Hall.

The event was the first of a two-part program on community values, according to Millie González, interim chief officer of diversity, inclusion & community engagement.

Daniel Levenson, associate regional director of ADL New England, gave the presentation to an audience of five, which consisted of administrators and a faculty member.

No students attended.

ADL was founded in 1913, “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people,” said Levenson.

He added the league works to combat hate through education and training for students starting at the pre-K level through the university system. The organization also provides those services to community groups, corporations, religious organizations, civic associations and law enforcement agencies.

Levenson said symbols have different meanings and contexts depending on where and when they are seen.

He added not every Celtic cross is a white supremacist symbol. “In fact most of them are not.”

In Massachusetts, for something to be considered a hate crime there has to be a crime that is committed, such as vandalism or assault. Then, law enforcement has to prove there is an underlying bias that is involved, Levenson said.

He added regardless of whether something is determined to be a hate crime, the impact it has on a community is real.

“You can have symbols that look very similar and one isn’t necessarily derivative of the other or they’re not connected. You can also have a situation in which different groups or organizations decide to appropriate these symbols and use them for their own purposes,” Levenson said.

The swastika is an example of the misappropriation that happens to symbols, he said. Up until World War II, the symbol represented good luck among many cultures. Adolf Hitler adopted the swastika and turned it into a symbol of hate. Since then, it has become the most recognizable symbol of hate in the world, he said.

According to Levenson, when a hate symbol is displayed or used to vandalize something, “We have to take a step back and ask ourselves the question, ‘What’s the message? What are they trying to convey in these different situations?’ Because every situation is not exactly the same.”

Levenson discussed other hate symbols and actions that are common today, such as cross-burnings by the KKK, the number 14, which is shorthand for, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” and the number 88, which is the numerical code for “Heil Hitler.”

“People who are looking for different group to hate or have some kind of hate they want to express will often look for a convenient target or a group they deem less then,” according to Levenson.

He added there are a lot of hateful actions and situations going on “and it is upsetting and offensive, but we should be optimistic, because there are so many communities not willing to put up with this stuff.”

Levenson said, “When people ask for an example of a school that is willing to deal with issues that come up on campus in a transparent way, I point them to the work that Millie and the president, and the faculty and staff and students are doing here. … No place is perfect, but I have to say this is the example I give people.”