This story by Cassandra Hemenway first appeared in The Montpelier Bridge on June 6.
On June 2 — a day before prom and two days into Pride month — someone painted a swastika with feces on the walls of Montpelier High School’s gender-neutral bathroom. The following Monday, those who hadn’t heard about it yet were informed, and the whole school spent the morning at an assembly, processing what to many felt like a hate crime.
The incident happened on a Friday afternoon. Prom was the next day. Not everyone saw the swastika, or the email sent to students about it. Their minds were on prom.
The next school day, Monday, June 5, students showed up to the “TA” (teacher advisory, a daily morning check-in); there they found an email with more information.
“It said someone made a swastika with feces in the gender-neutral bathroom,” said a student who asked to remain anonymous for this article. “At first everyone thought it was a dumb kid just being stupid. But this is a genuine act of hate. One of my teachers said it being in a gender-neutral bathroom wasn’t a coincidence.”
The day started with an assembly to talk about the incident, the student said. “A lot of teachers were really clear — it’s OK to be upset. … As a queer person of color, it didn’t feel awesome; it made me feel sad that it happened, but I don’t feel genuinely threatened, but I know there are people who are upset and feel not safe.”
Student Izabelle Shrout is among those both upset and not feeling safe.
“I am a queer person with disabilities and I am affected,” Shrout told The Bridge. “I said to my community [at Monday’s assembly] that we can be better than this and that we are better than this and we need to be there for one another. I spoke to my classmates, shaking with anger and anxiety. I was met with a multitude of reactions; agreement, fear, hurt, tears, but also people laughing and snickering at me.”
Shrout said they believed the timing of the swastika was no accident. “The gender neutral bathroom is a safe space for queer students. It was done the day before prom, the week before graduation, and on the second day of Pride. It was intentionally done with the idea of causing the most harm in the most joy(ous) of times. With the image being drawn in feces, it adds another layer of hate and negativity. Having that kind of message in our school threatens safety and goes against everything we stand for as a community. That message is meant to make people feel as if they don’t belong and spread fascist ideas into our most vulnerable and beautiful communities.”
And it’s not just the school community affected by the presence of a swastika. Rabbi Shana Margolin, of Montpelier, pointed to the fact that antisemitic incidents have been on the rise in the United States.
“In 2022, there were 36% more antisemitic incidents than there were the year before. It’s very worrying to Jews,” she said. In fact, the Anti Defamation League said 2022 showed the highest number of recorded antisemitic incidents since it began tracking them in 1979.
“It’s very scary. Certainly, Jews of my generation — probably the grandparents of the kids in high school — are really worried about this because it reminds us of what Hitler called the final solution,” Margolin said, adding “Hitler’s plan was to eradicate the Jews, I mean murder them. And he succeeded in murdering a third of them (by the end of World War II).”
Montpelier High School principal Jason Gingold wrote Monday in an email to the school community, “we are working through the interviews of who could have been in the bathroom based on video footage. And we continue to work on who could have done this hateful act.”
“We are working with Building Fearless Futures to improve our students and staff’s cultural understanding, there is a District-wide equity audit, and we will continue to address any incident,” Gingold wrote. “The work does not stop today, tomorrow, and June 15th, the last day of school … We will work together to build up our community and continue having conversations to stop the hate.”
Shrout agreed that the school needs to do more beyond the assembly. “As a school, we hold a vigil and then talk about it but then silence. I think we need more training, more education, just more.”
Debora Steinerman, president and co-founder of the Vermont Holocaust Memorial, agrees. “These incidents demonstrate the need for education about what those symbols represent and the harm they cause,” she said in an email to The Bridge.
“We are saddened and appalled by the recent event of hate at Montpelier High School,” Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools Superintendent Libby Bonesteel said. “MHS strives to be a place of connection and one where everyone belongs and is cared for. The administrative team and teachers are working with students to reestablish this bond and work through their emotions together. Administrators are working in collaboration with the Montpelier Police Department in the investigation.”
Anyone with information was asked to contact Gingold or the Montpelier police. Gingold could not be reached for comment.