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Penn State Harrisburg reports swastika at Nittany Place; Middletown police investigating

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 12/4/18

Middletown police are investigating the discovery of a swastika in a stairwell at Nittany Place, the apartment complex in the 600 block of Spring Street that is leased to students of Penn State …

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Penn State Harrisburg reports swastika at Nittany Place; Middletown police investigating

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Middletown police are investigating the discovery of a swastika in a stairwell at Nittany Place, the apartment complex in the 600 block of Spring Street that is leased to students of Penn State Harrisburg.

The swastika was reported to Penn State officials by a Facebook post Saturday afternoon, campus spokeswoman Yvonne Harhigh told the Press & Journal.

Harhigh could not say if the swastika was discovered by a student in the building. The  message was sent by someone who is not in Penn State’s student directory, indicating it could have been sent by someone visiting the complex, Harhigh said.

Penn State police referred the incident to Middletown police, as Nittany Place is not on campus but in the borough.

The swastika was described as written in pencil. In terms of size, it could be covered by a hand.

Matt Tunnell, co-owner of Lift Development LLC, which owns and operates Nittany Place, said in a statement to the Press & Journal that “expressions of hate have no place at our property.”

He said this is the only incident of its kind that has occurred at Nittany Place, and that the swastika was removed immediately by property management.

“If the perpetrator is identified, we will take all available action to evict them or otherwise keep them off our property,” Tunnell said. “We have tenants from across the country and globe with a diverse racial and religious background. Despite this unfortunate and isolated incident, we have every reason to believe that the property will continue to be a welcoming and safe apartment complex.”

Nittany Place has 567 beds in 12 apartment buildings.

Penn State Harrisburg Chancellor John Mason addressed the incident in a message posted on the campus website Monday.

“This act of anti-Semitism is abhorrent, and counter to everything for which Penn State stands,” Mason said. “We must protect against hate and prejudice of any kind, and strive to provide a community that is welcoming to students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds and walks of life.”

The campus Office of Student Affairs is reaching out to students who live in Nittany Place to offer support, Mason said.

Mason’s post refers to resources the campus is making available. Counseling and Psychological Services can be reached at 717-948-6025.

The discovery follows the vandalizing and theft of a menorah in the past week on the main Penn State campus at University Park.

Penn State President Eric Barron addressed that incident in a message he shared online Sunday. Mason in his message regarding the Middletown incident referred to his support for Barron’s comments “about the importance of freedom of expression and religious beliefs.”

Barron’s message is embedded in Mason’s post about the incident at Nittany Place.

Harhigh told the Press & Journal that the swastika appears to be an isolated incident; the campus itself has not experienced a rise in anti-Semitic incidents.

Harhigh said that numerous activities take place every semester on campus to educate about “tolerance, inclusivity and free expression of religious beliefs.”

She noted The Defamation Experience that was presented on campus Oct. 11, the Holocaust and Jewish Studies Center Series, the Diwali and Holi Celebrations Worldfest, and opportunities for dialogue such as the Lunch with an Imam and Rabbi program.

Many of the activities are coordinated by the campus Diversity and Educational Equity Committee, whose mission is “to create and engage in activities cultivating a safe and supportive campus community that values diversity and fosters good citizenship.”

Many other offices and groups on campus also sponsor such activities, Harhigh said.

Penn State Harrisburg also provides campus space for students to practice religious beliefs, such as the Spiritual Center in the Student Enrichment Center, she said.

Penn State has provided numerous ways for how members of the campus can report acts of intolerance. Campus police work in partnership with police in Middletown and in Lower Swatara to investigate acts of criminal behavior, Harhigh said.

Mason said acts of intimidation should be reported to campus police at 717-948-6232; the Penn State Hotline at 800-560-1637; or online at hotline.psu.edu. Acts of bias should be reported at equity.psu.edu/reportbias.