Penn State Condemns Photo of Student With Swastika Drawings
June 5, 2020
According to “Onward State”, viral picture of a Penn State University student (blonde woman on the left) with a swastika drawn on her back has garnered heavy criticism.
While the University condemned the posting, they neglected to commit to specific disciplinary actions being taken given that Penn State is a public institution. As of June 4th, more than 27,000 people have signed a petition calling for some sort of disciplinary action for the woman in question by the University.
Some, including the petitioners, have hinted at a desire for the student to face expulsion. The petition states, “Allowing her to remain a student of Penn State is a disservice to all Jewish people, living or dead. It sends the message that anti-Semitic actions and ideals are accepted by the University…” Given the rules that govern a public university, like Penn State, expulsion or any serious disciplinary action remains highly unlikely. A lengthy statement by Penn State President Eric Barron condemned the incident, along with other racist acts in the Penn State community.
Barron seemed to throw cold water on the idea of University-sanctioned punishment. In his statement, he notes, “Honor codes provide expectations, we can work to educate and condemn, but most speech is outside of our rights to sanction.” The last portion of that line is perhaps the most significant, with Barron pointing towards freedom of speech rights that protect the pictured student in this case.
A prominent student organization that the perpetrator was previously involved with echoed the President’s condemnation, but also concluded that they had little power to respond. Katie Solomon, the Executive Director of THON, wrote in a social media post that “We are incredibly disappointed to see an image of a former volunteer affiliated with an anti-Semitic mark. We have not, nor will we ever, condone this behavior in any set or setting,” The statement goes on to mention that student-run organizations lacks the ability to level disciplinary action, but that the woman in question is no longer involved with THON.
Like anti-Semitic incidents on other college campuses, this case at Penn State has renewed the debate over protecting free speech and punishing anti-Semitism. As of June 4th, the pictured student had yet to publish any statement.