MADISON (WKOW)-- UW-Madison officials responded to several difficult questions during an antisemitism town hall meeting Tuesday night. The event was organized as a response to recent criticism after a hateful incident occurred on campus nearly a month ago.
Back in late January, two UW-Madison students woke up to find pictures of swastikas and Hitler's face on their dorm room door. Both students are Jewish and were hurt by these negative images.
University officials feel they responded correctly when they notified the entire residence hall within 24 hours and also notified various Jewish organizations in the community.
"Our common protocol really has been if it's happened in a residence hall, that residence hall knows. If it has happened in the college of nursing, those people are notified. So, there's been no means to try to hide things from people. It's really of a who really needs to know," Chair of UW-Madison's Hate and Bias Incident Team Joshua Johnson explains during Tuesday night's meeting.
The town hall meeting was held inside the Gordon Dining and Event Center on campus. University employees set up 200 chairs for the event, but had to bring in extras when the room was filled with nearly 300 people.
University officials started the meeting by showing a timeline of their response. They say the original incident on January 26th didn't draw a lot of attention from the student body until a picture of these antisemitic images showed up on Facebook nearly three weeks later.
Officials say within days of the incident they held an information session for anyone who was concerned or was hurt by this incident. Officials say no one showed up for the meeting.
They felt there were no further concerns from the community and decided to move forward with disciplinary actions against the students.
They were surprised when three weeks after the incident the university started receiving criticism from students after the picture surfaced on social media. The image spread quickly online and within hours university officials started receiving complaints from students and members of the Jewish community.
"We understand there's a lot of hurt and pain in this incident," UW-Madison Dean of Students Lori Berquam says during Tuesday's meeting.
Berquam and others say Tuesday night's meeting was held as a way to officially respond to these concerns. They also wanted to answer any questions community members might have.
Some students were frustrated that a mass email wasn't sent out to the entire university immediately after the incident. One community member felt students who are Jewish should have been told about this hateful incident. Several others demanded to know what disciplinary actions were taken against these students, but university officials say privacy laws prevent them from releasing that information.
One of the two students who was affected by this incident says he's comfortable with the university's response to this incident. Jonathan Walters says seeing the images posted on his door definitely hurt him and caused a lot of frustration and anxiety, but he has since spoken to the students who posted them and he feels they have learned from this incident.
"We shouldn't be trying to bedevil them and make examples out of them. We should use this as a learning moment. This is kind of a way for the university to kind of reflect and move forward from this whole thing," Walters says.
The meeting carried on for nearly two hours until university officials decided the few remaining questions could be addressed one-on-one. Many of them stayed behind after the meeting to answer questions. Johnson feels it was a productive meeting, one that everyone can learn from.
"These reports are normal on college campuses, sadly, and often times people on campuses don't really think about this on a daily basis," Johnson says. "I am glad people are thinking about this and talking about it."