The Graffiti Wars
Syracuse University in upstate New York is often called a “JAP school” by students. In recent years, it has become a prime location for JAP-baiting. And this spring the phenomenon became so bad that the university finally had to take official notice.
Syracuse has many attractive female students. Many walk around campus, singly or in groups, stylishly attired in one or another version of the current uniform. Their clothes carry such labels as C.P. Shades, USED, Benetton, Ton Sur Ton, Guess. Oversized hip-length tops are paired with form-clinging leggings. Socks in bright hues, Reebok sneakers, dangling costume earrings and several necklaces complete “the look” of these well-groomed women with their shoulder-length salon-layered hair, long, tapered, manicured fingernails, and expertly applied makeup. But whether they are Jewish, gentile, Black or white is not the determinant for the JAP epithet applied to them by male students and, not infrequently, by other female students, including their friends.
“As they walk across campus, one can hear mutterings of ‘JAP, JAP, JAP‘ or ‘Jew bitch’ following them,” notes Professor Gary Spencer who teaches courses in ethnic minorities and intergroup relations at Syracuse University’s Department of Sociology.
In Syracuse University’s Dome, where more than 30,000 fans may attend any single basketball game, JAP-baiting took on ominous overtones, according to Dr. Spencer. For more than two years, female fans— students and non-students alike— have found themselves the objects of the Dome Chant.
Begun by the university’s Sour Citrus Society, rated as the number one university pep band in the country, the chant would occur during lulls in the game. A trendily clad female walks in front of the student section of the stands. Band members rise, jab a finger at her, and chant, “JAP, JAP.” And “soon, four thousand kids follow,” says Dr. Spencer.
“I’ve talked to co-eds—Jewish and non-Jewish—who were afraid to leave their seats during a game for fear of being ‘JAPped’…. For some it’s humiliating; others think it’s fun and do it to their friends.”
Dr. Spencer is credited by S.U. officials and students and by Syracuse Jewish community professional and lay leaders with bringing the JAPbaiting phenomenon to their attention. Halting JAP-baiting on college campuses across the country “has become a mission for me,” he says.
Out of deep personal concern and scholarly interest. Dr. Spencer embarked on a social science project this past spring to explore the prevalence and significance of JAP-baiting on the S.U. campus where the total student population numbers 16,000, some twenty-five percent of whom are Jewish.
He set out to spend a day checking the library carrels. The experience was distressing for him. “I planned to spend the morning and the afternoon,” he recalls. “I stayed only twenty minutes because I was physically nauseated. When I left, I was literally shaken.” He was to return several times.
His preliminary analysis of the graffiti yielded five categories: (1) ethnic slur; (2) sexual harassment; (3) anti-Semitic; (4) racist; (5) annihilationist.
Ethnic slurs are aimed primarily at the Greek-letter fraternities and sororities, the nouveau riche, JAPs and the university. In this category. Dr. Spencer includes such graffiti as: “JAPs are so good looking, but such bitches”; “SU is not worth the time or money unless you’re some rich JAP looking to get laid and trying to find a husband”; “Solution to the JAP Question: when they go for their nose jobs, have the doctor tie their tubes as well.”
Among the graffiti that Dr. Spencer defines as sexual harassment are: “JAPs Suck But They Don’t Swallow”; “I tolerate JAPs for sex”; “All JAPs are sluts”; “No JAPs? Without them there would be no easy sex!”
“Kikes”; “I HATE JEWS”; “SDT—Rich, Stuckup Jewish Nobodys” are examples of anti-Semitic graffiti found in the library carrels.
The implied violence in the phrases scratched onto the library desks escalates dramatically in the final two groupings. Racist remarks such as “I hate all White people—JAPs and WASPs the most” are a prelude to the annihilationist graffiti: “KILL JEWS”; “Give Hitler another chance”; ‘This is a warning to American JEWS. We will kill you all!”; “Lebanese resistance. Crush all Israelis and burn them alive.”
Dr. Spencer began his JAP-baiting study as an objective researcher. However, following his examination of the anti-Jewish graffiti, he says, “I couldn’t be neutral anymore. I’m now engaged in social action research, which allows me to take a stand. I’m more involved in seeing where this goes.”
Dr. Spencer designed a pilot study on the subject of JAP-baiting, which included formal and informal interviews with students. They were asked to name the “predominantly Jewish fraternities, sororities, dormitories, off-campus housing units and hangouts,” then asked to rank the living quarters in order of “JAPiness.” Dr. Spencer notes, “No one asked what JAPiness is. The students all gave essentially the same ranking.”
Almost immediately, a clear pattern of who [JAPs] are and where they live emerged. Yet students insisted that JAPiness is not “an appearance,” but, rather, “an attitude.” This attitude is characterized as “showy, obnoxious, materialistic.” JAPs are reputed to have easy access to “Daddy’s credit cards.” Long Island was almost universally cited as a breeding ground for JAPs.
“I didn’t talk to one female dressed in the ‘JAP style’ who admitted she was a JAP,” Dr. Spencer declares. ‘They insist it [JAPiness] is an attitude.”
Dr. Spencer presented his findings at an open forum on JAP-baiting on the S.U. Campus: Ethnic Slur or Harmless Fun?” April 8. The event’s sponsors—the university B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, its Jewish Studies Program and the sociology department— expected 50 people to attend; 500 showed up.
A few days prior to the forum. Dr. Spencer sent an information packet, including a listing of the graffiti he had catalogued, to faculty and administration officials, asking for their support. ‘The response that I got from the administration has been absolute, total silence,” he says.
Nevertheless, university officials were concerned, although they may have failed to express their interest publicly, according to Dr. Gershon Vincow, the university’s vice chancellor for academic affairs. Upon receiving Dr. Spencer’s information packet, Dr. Vincow, who characterized the situation as “a serious problem,” requested an immediate investigation be undertaken by the associate vice chancellor of academic affairs, Dr. Michael Flusche.
Although university officials maintained outward silence while examining the complexities of the JAP baiting problem, several faculty members did contact Dr. Spencer before the forum. Many expressed outrage at the graffiti and claimed they were unaware that it existed. “But then they would launch into their own little [JAP] anecdotes. They told me, ‘I don’t care what you say, Gary, there are a lot of JAPs here and I don’t like it.'”
Many female students do not understand, either, why JAP-baiting is generating such interest and concern “JAP doesn’t really mean Jewish,” one S.U. senior says. Every student queried vehemently denied that any ethnic slur was implied in the use of the term.
Dr. Kermit Schooler, dean and professor in the School of Social Work, admits he “was unaware of the graffiti which was the provocation for the [forum] discussion that Gary Spencer undertook. When the issue gets raised in discussion, one will frequently be told that very often it’s the Jewish kids themselves who use the phrase or laugh at the joke.”
Expressing distress over this, Schooler—who chairs a university committee to study student behavior which has JAP-baiting on its agenda—says they should be educated about why it is demeaning.
Dr. Spencer believes that “it is absolutely necessary that a group outside the university formally make its voice known that it’s outraged. I think the appropriate organization to do that is the Syracuse Jewish Federation.”
Federation leaders have met with key university administrators to “elicit and understand exactly what their position is.” said Barry Silverberg, its executive vice president.
“We look at the issue as not one of JAP-baiting, but one of prejudice and anti-Semitism,” he says. “It’s anti-Jewish. It goes beyond the implicitly anti-feminist issues.”
Silverberg said the Federation expects the university will take all appropriate action in this situation.
The university has begun to do so. Its Office of Student Affairs requested the band to cease leading anti-JAP chants and, says one highly-placed university official, “the band members have not repeated the action.” Also, according to Dr. Vincow, at a meeting with Dr. Flusche, university chancellor Dr. Melvin Eggers, and the allocations committee for funds on renovation, money was earmarked to remove the graffiti. Asked about the amount. Dr. Vincow responded, “A large amount, or whatever it takes to do the job.”
The process will begin during the summer.
Judith Rubenstein, a free-lance writer based in Syracuse NY, is the editor of the Syracuse Jewish Observer. Her articles have appeared in Jewish newspapers throughout the country
“Jewish Mother Fired”
Eve Lynn Fertig was fired at age 52 from her job as administrative assistant to the Hillel Foundation director at the State University of New York at Buffalo for being a “Jewish mother.”
Hillel Director Rabbi Shabsai Wolfe (who has since left the Buffalo area) said in court in response to Fertig’s age discrimination suit that he had used the term “Jewish mother” to describe someone who is “overbearing, talks a lot, smothers people, overassisttng.”
Fertig had sued B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, the Hillel Foundation at University of Buffalo Building Corporation, and the United Jewish Federation of Buffalo for age discrimination following her dismissal in August 1977. She lost before U.S. District Court Judge John T. Elfivn on April 11, 1987.
Fertig claimed that Wolfe had stated that her “Jewish mother image” was detrimental to the Hillel House, that it was a “turn-off, ” that he did not want an “old lady helping the students when he had a young lady to help them. ” Other witnesses at the trial had testified that Wolfe had stated that he did not need a “Jewish mother image.”
Although Fertig, now 62, lost the case, this is only her first battle. Another hearing was scheduled to be held July 1 before the New York State Human Rights Commission to review additional aspects of this case.