Vanderbilt community reacts to Sylvan Park neighborhood being vandalized with swastikas, hate speech

Police presence to increase in Sylvan Park, two miles from Vanderbilt’s campus, after homes were vandalized on March 19.


Miguel Beristain

Police cars in front of Centennial Park, as photographed on Oct. 25, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

Brina Ratangee, Deputy News Editor

Nashville’s Sylvan Park neighborhood, located two miles away from Vanderbilt’s campus, was vandalized with antisemitic and racist symbols and messages in the early morning hours of March 19. The Metro Nashville Police Department released video footage taken at 1:28 a.m. CDT on a Ring camera that shows two individuals spray painting swastikas and hate messages on five homes along Sylvan Park’s Westlawn Drive and Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho Avenues.

According to the Nashville Scene, one of the phrases spray-painted on homes was “white power.” In addition to the vandalism, the individuals were also seen taking down American flags displayed on or in front of some of the homes.

Sophomore Zander Schwartz, a member of the ‘Dores for Israel Leadership Board, said the stripping of the homes’ American flags was what stood out to him the most about the incident.

“Not only am I deeply saddened by the antisemitic graffiti only two miles from campus, [but] it specifically tells me that I don’t belong in a country that I have called home since birth,” Schwartz said in a message to The Hustler. “That doesn’t feel right.”

Sophomore Sarah Fischer highlighted the growing frequency of antisemitic attacks in recent years — which increased by 34% in the U.S. from 2020 to 2021 — and called this most recent incident “too close for comfort.” Antisemitic and racist messages were written on a whiteboard in Central Library in December 2021, and pamphlets featuring an image of Adolf Hitler were left around campus in December 2022. 

“Why is it that I should feel afraid to walk into synagogue and check where the nearest exit is and have to have my Tallis bag checked at the door? The attacks have become so violent that I no longer feel safe wearing my Jewish star necklace everyday,” Fischer said.

Jewish Studies professor Allison Schachter echoed Fischer’s concern and encouraged students to attend an upcoming round table discussion — “Confronting Hate: Antisemitism and Racism” — hosted by the Jewish Studies and African American and Diaspora Studies departments on March 28 at 7 p.m. CDT in Central Library.

“Antisemitism and racism are on the rise in our communities emboldened by public figures and media outlets who are normalizing hateful discourse,” Schachter said. “White nationalists have seized upon the language and symbols of Nazism to spread racist ideologies against a broad range of immigrant, Jewish, Black, LGBTQ, and other minority communities. It is frightening to see this happen in our very own neighborhoods in Nashville.”

In response to the vandalism, Chief of Police John Drake has increased patrol presence in the neighborhood and around Jewish institutions in Nashville. Community members also gathered together on the afternoon of March 19 to paint over the hate symbols and speech and create posters with inclusive messages.

“Nashville stands united against the hate and bigotry these disgusting acts represent,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper said in a March 19 tweet. “Grateful to Chief Drake and his team for their ongoing work to track down those responsible and hold them accountable. We will not tolerate antisemitism or discrimination of any kind in our city.”

MNPD did not immediately respond to The Hustler’s request for comment on whether its patrol presence would increase in the area surrounding Vanderbilt or if they are coordinating a response with the Vanderbilt University Police Department.

Fischer said she also views the incident as a call to action.

“As someone who is a proud Jew, part of me feels scared, but when stuff like this happens, I feel empowered to speak out. I won’t let this Jewish hatred stop me from being me,” Fischer said. “If these events can teach you anything, it is that there will always be hate, but we have to band together to fight for justice.