Hollins University students took to the sidewalks Monday to chalk messages of love for their campus and peers after someone painted a swastika on a campus landmark Sunday.
At the urging of campus administration, about 50 students, faculty and staff rallied in the heart of the Hollins campus Monday at an event to show love, not hate for members of the university community by chalking positive messages on the sidewalks lining Front Quad.
“Let us fight back with love, knowing that love wins,” said University Chaplain Jenny Call.
Call and members of the administration planned the “Love, Not Hate” rally Sunday after a swastika was spotted spray-painted onto The Rock, a beloved campus tradition near the university entrance where students spray-paint messages and announcements. Once the hate symbol was reported Sunday morning, the image was quickly painted over, according to Hollins security. Later in the day, students repainted the large shale rock with the message “Take Back The Rock” surrounded by colorful hand prints.
The university does not know who defaced The Rock, but campus security turned the matter over to Roanoke County police. Many students at the rally Monday speculated the perpetrator was not a member of the Hollins community, though no information has been released.
It is unclear if the defacement was illegal. State law says it is illegal for someone to place a swastika on a building used for religious worship or any school or community center owned by a religious body with the intent of intimidating people.
Hollins senior Mikaela Murphy said chalking messages of peace, love and happiness was a small way of recognizing the pain the Hollins community felt after the defilement.
“It’s a matter of recognizing the students at Hollins who were the direct target of such acts of racism,” she said. “Given the fact that the Hollins community is so small, these are instances no one can ignore because they so greatly impact the environment in which we are meant to learn and live.”
On Sunday, Hollins President Nancy Gray issued a statement to the university community to express her “profound anger and sorrow” at the offensive symbol. Gray is traveling and did not see the swastika firsthand.
“This was a threatening act that has no place at Hollins,” Gray said in the statement. “Make no mistake: We will not tolerate this or any other malicious behavior that damages our core commitments of civil discourse, social justice, and respect for others.”
Dean of Students Patty O’Toole and Vice President for Academic Affairs Trish Hammer spoke on behalf of the administration at the rally.
“As we move forward, standing together, let’s make it clear we stand in love, and not hate. ... Grab a piece of chalk and spread the love,” O’Toole said.
Students filled the sidewalks with hearts, peace signs and positive messages. One person wrote a quote from philosopher Cornell West, whose work centers on race, gender and class in America. It said: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Hollins senior Mandy Moore drew a giraffe and a frog with bright pink chalk.
“We are a community that cares about each other,” she said while she worked. “There’s a lot of love here and a lot of silly animals.”
While the offensive image was found on Easter Sunday, members of the Jewish faith celebrated a holiday just days before. On Wednesday and Thursday, Jews celebrated Purim — a raucous holiday with costumes and sweet treats that marks a Jewish victory over villain Haman who plotted to kill off members of their faith. The story that chronicles a young Jewish woman’s attempt to save her people is recorded in The Book of Esther in the Old Testament.
Call, the Hollins chaplain, said the university has a small Jewish population that is banding together in response to the incident.