Dana Tesoriero, Cabrini Hall third floor Resident Assistant, was taking the elevator up to her floor on Oct. 2 when the elevator doors opened and she noticed immediately that one of her hallway decorations had been tampered with.
The hall sign, which originally said ‘NO JUDGMENT ZONE’, had been rearranged to instead spell out ‘NOU JEW NT ZON’, which Tesoriero interpreted as ‘No Jew Zone’.
“My heart just kind of sank. I was really disappointed and shocked because people had messed with my sign and my other decorations before, which is common for an RA; for some reason (students) get joy out of destruction.” Tesoriero, a senior double major in elementary and special education and Spanish, said. “I was really disappointed and immediately reported it and took the necessary action to handle something like that.”
Department of Public Safety reported to the floor and notified the South Orange Police Department (SOPD) because when Public Safety determines that “there may be a bias or hate crime involved” SOPD becomes the primary agency, said Gary Christie, assistant director of Public Safety.
Categories of bias are a victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin or disability.
Christie said crimes committed against individuals in these “protected classes” of people that
are motivated on the actor’s bias would be considered hate crimes.
“It’s not just about me not judging people, but it’s about how I don’t want anyone on the floor to judge each other and how I want people on my floor, whether they live on the floor or not, to feel welcome and accepted,” Tesoriero said. “(People) don’t realize that anti-Semitism is a real problem and it’s really not cool to spread that message, and if someone were to come onto the floor and they were Jewish and they were to see that, how would they feel? Not welcome.”
SOPD Police Chief James Chelel said that even though the incident is determined to not be a hate crime by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the police are still working on the case.
“The case is not closed… This is not the first time someone has rearranged those letters, but it is the first time someone has done it in this way,” Chief Chelel said. “The change of the sign has not had a long history of biases. There’s nobody that we found up there (on that floor) that’s Jewish, but we still take this seriously and we’ll try to find out who is responsible.”
For the case to be considered a hate crime, the sign would have to directly offend someone, said Chief Chelel.
Public Safety suspects it is a student who changed the sign. SOPD said this is not the first time the letters of a sign have been changed.
Tesoriero replaced her “NO JUDGMENT ZONE” sign with another sign that reminds students of the consequences if they tamper with it.
Christie said Seton Hall has had few incidents that have been categorized as hate crimes or acts of discrimination over the past few years.
Last year two acts of religiously biased vandalism were reported in the new parking deck, involving anti-Semitic symbols. Christie also says there has been “an incident or two” concerning racial bias in the past few years.
Although acts of discrimination do occur on campus, Christie said that because there are so few cases classified this way he cannot determine whether biased incidents occur more towards a certain demographic.
Seton Hall enforces all federal anti-discrimination laws, including Titles VI and VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These laws prohibit discrimination against students and members of the university community based on classes of race, color, religion, or national origin.
Discrimination is “an intentional or unintentional act that adversely affects the terms and conditions of employment or educational opportunities on the basis of membership in one or more protected classes,” according to the University website.
“It’s frustrating, all the time I take to put into the floor to make it look nice for not just me, but the residents as well,” Tesoriero said. “I don’t really care (about tampering with signs) until it affects other people and (the tampered sign) was directed at an entire group of people and that was unacceptable and not how I want my floor to be viewed.”
Ashley Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.