When Donald Trump was cheered in Portland in August for suggesting that Somali refugees are a threat to the rest of the community, it was easy to believe that he and the vicious and groundless views he espouses would be political history after Nov. 8.

That was then. Now we have a president-elect whose anti-immigrant rhetoric obviously represents the beliefs of all too many people. One of them is at the University of Southern Maine, where ugly anti-Muslim graffiti is under investigation as a possible hate crime – an incident that should serve as a lesson in pushing back against the idea that there’s a mandate to hate.

Written on a desk and a wall in USM’s student government offices in Portland, the graffiti consisted of the words “Deus Vult.” The Latin phrase for “God Wills It,” a rallying cry for Christian warriors during the medieval Crusades, has been adopted by far-right political activists as an insult to Muslims — and a threatening reference to killing followers of Islam.

Two student senators reportedly were in the office when a student they know — a man who’s not part of USM student government — drew the words.The graffiti became a focus of a text message-based debate involving the senators: They wanted to clean it up and not report it. Widely distributed on social media, the messages were dismissive of the incident and included other anti-Muslim references, such as a pig symbol (pork is forbidden in Islam) and sarcastic allusions to Shariah law.

Meanwhile, other student body officials had discovered the writing, taken pictures of it and filed a report with campus police. In addition to the hate-crime inquiry, campus officials are also looking into whether the person who wrote the graffiti broke the student conduct code.

The response to the vandalism is an example of both best- and worst-case scenarios. Higher education is intended to expand one’s understanding of the world, not to encourage the unquestioning acceptance of the twisted version of history peddled by the internet-based far right and summed up in the USM graffiti.

It’s disturbing that anybody would even consider covering up such an offensive act, particularly two student leaders (who have since stepped down. But there’s no shortage of people who either target minorities or are willing to stand by and do nothing when others are targeted — making it even more important to stand up and be counted in favor of a welcoming environment for everyone, both at USM and in the greater community.


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