Two swastikas found on UNF bathroom stalls

Published on February 16, 2024 at 4:53 pm

Two antisemitic symbols were found drawn on stalls in a University of North Florida bathroom this week, university police said.

Swastikas were drawn on the stalls beneath “pro-Palestine language,” UNF Police Chief Frank Mackesy told Jacksonville Today. One was found Monday and another Wednesday. 

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Mackesy declined to comment on whether police had suspects, but he said the matter is an active investigation. UNF President Moez Limayem released a campuswide email Friday afternoon announcing the incident and said police are “actively and aggressively” investigating.

The president emphasized that the university would fight acts of antisemitism and “bigotry of any kind, to the fullest extent of the law.”

“I want to remind everyone of our commitment to our values of civility and a culture of care, which we expect from all who learn and work here or visit our campus. We want to ensure that all students, faculty, staff and guests feel safe and welcome at UNF, and I want you to know you have my support and the support of this University behind you,” he wrote.

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UNF hasn’t had an antisemitic vandalism incident like this since 2021, when messages were posted on the doors of Jewish professors. But with the Israel-Hamas war, antisemitism on college campuses has been on the rise. 

Since Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people, there have been 949 antisemitic incidents on college campuses across the world, according to Hillel, a Jewish campus organization. That’s a 700% increase compared to last year, the organization wrote in a report updated this month. 

Though the number of incidents continues to rise, local Jewish leader Rabbi Shmuli Novack said: “It’s not new. It’s a reminder.” 

Novack runs the Chabad of Southside, an organization providing religious, educational and social services in Jacksonville. It also supports students at the University of North Florida with the Chabad at UNF, offering a home away from home. 

Challah bread sits ready to be put into the oven for Friday night's Shabbat dinner at the Chabad of Southside.
Challah bread sits ready to be put into the oven for a Shabbat dinner Friday night, Feb. 16, 2024, at the Chabad of Southside. | Carter Mudgett, Jacksonville Today

“We have an important impact to make sure our students have a place for them to call home,” he said. 

Instead of incidents like these scaring people away, Novack said he’s seeing more students with “a sense of Jewish pride.” Friday night, the Chabad will host its Shabbat dinner and celebrate with food, singing and traditions.

Shabbat is a day of rest that lasts from sundown on Friday evening through nightfall on Saturday night, and the Chabad of Southside hosts one every week. 

Tonight, the Rabbi said, lighting Shabbat candles will bring “a little light that dispels a lot of darkness.”

Anyone with information or a tip are encouraged to contact the UNF Police Department at (904) 620-2800 or report a tip confidentially using the Silent Witness form.

author image Carter is a senior majoring in communication at the University of North Florida. He spent three years at Spinnaker, UNF's award-winning student-run media outlet, which was recognized among the best student newsrooms in the nation during his tenure as editor-in-chief. Carter's reporting has placed for multiple awards, and he generally covers news and education topics. He's also had bylines in the Jacksonville Business Journal.

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