ASU students, staff grateful for official support after pro-Nazi graffiti discovered on downtown campus

In her rush to get to work early Wednesday morning, Emily Fox-Million, a sophomore at Arizona State University (ASU), didn’t notice the swastika spray painted in red on a sign in front of ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s downtown Phoenix campus.

“I walked right by it and if I had only looked up, I would have seen it,” Fox-Million told Jewish News.

It wasn’t until after she sat down at her desk that her co-workers told her about the vandalism and showed her pictures of the swastika and other pro-Nazi graffiti painted on and around the journalism school where she works as a student success coach.

“It’s devastating to see hate like this, especially at my college. Knowing I have to go to class with this graffiti out there is hurtful and really scary,” she said.

Happily, she felt the support of campus officials right away. Hillel at ASU’s staff reached out to her first.


Emily Fox-Million

“They do an incredible job to make sure we know we’re cared for when anything arises,” she said.

Debbie Yunker Kail, Hillel at ASU’s executive director, is concerned whenever this kind of vandalism occurs on campus.

“Our job is to remind the students that we’re here for them because these things hit people differently,” she told Jewish News.

Fox-Million also appreciated how quickly the leadership of the journalism school reacted. She spoke to Assistant Dean Melanie Alverez about ways to better support Jewish students on the downtown campus. Meanwhile, her senior associate dean, Rebecca Blatt, sent a reassuring email to Cronkite students about the graffiti and “the distress this may cause” and reminded them that ASU counseling services were available if needed.

“My dean took the time out of her day to ask how I’m doing,” Fox-Million said.

As a Jewish student, she felt cared for but as a journalism student, she felt curious. She and her fellow journalism students dug into the details right away, even contributing to the reporting about what she termed “the most important story” in The State Press, ASU’s independent, student-operated newspaper.

In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, Sept. 27, ASU Police Department officers on patrol discovered the graffiti, Adam Wolfe, the police information, media relations and strategic communications officer for ASU PD, told Jewish News.


The swastika covered an ad for “Relentless Courage,” an exhibit of photographs taken during the war in Ukraine. Beneath the swastika “1488” was painted, a number that serves as a symbolic shorthand for white supremacists, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The “14” signifies “14 Words,” or “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” while “88” stands for “Heil Hitler.” (H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and thus 88 = HH = Heil Hitler.)

On the journalism school’s window was another promotion for the exhibit, covered in the same red paint that spelled out the name “Dmytro Kozatsky” and the words “Canadian war hero inside.”

Kozatsky, whose photographs are among those on display in the exhibit, was a member of Ukraine’s Azov regiment, a far-right all-volunteer infantry military unit whose members have been accused of promoting neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideology.

“There were so many messages tied into one and it felt so confusing and random, so hard to find one consistent line,” Fox-Million said, adding that all the student journalists were speculating about what the reference to the “Canadian war hero” meant and whether the fact that the episode happened the same day as a scheduled speech on campus by Charlie Kirk, a controversial right-wing activist who promotes Christian nationalism, had anything to do with the vandalism.

Fox-Million suspected it was more likely tied to the Jewish High Holidays but admitted that none of them knew the answer.

“At the end of the day, the only intention was to spread fear and hate,” she said. “It’s alarming to see a swastika as a Jewish student and the neo-Nazi messaging attacks all minority groups at ASU.”

Wolfe said there was no evidence to suggest the Kirk speaking event was connected. The suspect, Denis Zyalik, was arrested Wednesday afternoon and charged with ARS 13-1604A2 Aggravated Criminal Damage, a Class 5 Felony. So far, he has offered no motive or explained the meaning behind the graffiti, said Wolfe.

However, “anytime there’s a swastika involved it raises the question of antisemitism. While this seemed more targeted toward Ukraine, you can’t rule antisemitism out. Intentional or not, I would say the antisemitic angle is pretty clear,” he said, adding that he has Jewish heritage.

Efren Trejo Pantaleon, an ASU junior and Fox-Million’s colleague, saw the graffiti at approximately 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, when he was walking back to his room with friends.

His first thought was of how ASU stressed the importance of inclusion and how those messages were anything but welcoming.

“I felt upset on behalf of my Jewish co-workers, who had just celebrated a holiday — it’s so disrespectful,” he said.

He was relieved to see the graffiti removed a few hours later.

“We see those who perpetrate such actions under the cover of darkness for what they are: weak and hateful fear-mongers and cowards,” said ASU President Michael Crow in a statement released Wednesday.

Madeline Salvatierra, president of Jewish Law Student Association (JLSA) at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, was “really impressed by how ASU handled things,” she told Jewish News. Before the official statement was released, the head of the law school called her to let her know what was happening.

In a message Salvatierra sent to JLSA members, she expressed her gratitude to the dean “for how seriously ASU Law is taking this matter. I also spoke with the ASU PD officer who filed the initial report. He answered many of my questions and assured me that we do not need to be worried or afraid.”

She remembered pro-Hitler and antisemitic flyers that hit the campus twice when she was an undergraduate student at ASU and she wanted to assure her students that she understands how they feel and they have her support as well as the administration’s.

“I know ASU has our backs,” she told Jewish News.

ADL Arizona was alerted to the incident by ASU officials and released its own statement condemning the vandalism and reminding people that “whenever Holocaust symbolism and imagery is used to send a message, it denigrates the memory of the millions of people murdered by the Nazi regime and disregards the longstanding impact on the Jewish community.”

Hillel at ASU released a statement Wednesday about the incident on Instagram and Facebook. The message ended with a reminder that Sukkot is coming up fast and it’s a time to “come out of our buildings and visibly display our Jewish pride and presence.”

That’s a message that resonates with Fox-Million. If anything, an incident like this serves as a call for the community to come together, she said. It wasn’t until coming to ASU that she became more in touch with her Jewish identity.

“It’s important that people know that Jewish students are proud to be here. We’re lucky to have the Jewish institutions we have and the leadership that’s ready to support students when the time comes,” she said. JN

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