In Arlington, 14 students have been identified by school and local authorities as responsible for breaking into and vandalizing their high school.
The damage included a spray-painted swastika and anti-gay slurs.
The hateful graffiti was cleaned up so quickly that many students didn't realize what had happened until the school called an assembly later that day. Junior Emily Benoit thought that was the right response.
“I liked how the administration held an assembly and was like, 'This is not what we’re about,'” she said.
After the assembly, students were given chalk to write more welcoming messages on the entrance of the school. Benoit joined them in leaving rainbows, hearts, and peace signs on the brick facade.
“Just so people feel accepted when they walk through the doors of Arlington High School,” Benoit explained. She wants other students to “know that they’re loved, and there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Benoit wasn’t sure if the students who vandalized the campus actually believed the things they wrote.
“I think they wanted to make an impression,” she said. “They just wanted as much attention as they could get.”
But to Robert Tresten, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Boston, the intention isn’t what’s important.
“One of the unique things about bias incidents is they don't just target individuals, they target groups of people,” he said. He thinks the students who spray-painted the hateful messages “may not realize how broad the impact is.”
Tresten also doesn’t see this as an isolated incident.
“It's part of an increase we've been tracking for almost two years now,” he says. “In 2017 we saw an 86 percent increase in anti-Semitic and hate-related incidents in Massachusetts schools. And this incident is a sign that that trend is continuing into 2018.”
In a statement, the school said, “These actions represent a terrible breach of the peace and harmony we seek to instill as a welcoming, tolerant, and safe community."
Student Lila Panico agrees with the school’s self-characterization.
“It’s such a bad representation of who the entire school and who the entire student body is ... because most of the people would never do something like that.”
The students responsible are being disciplined by the school, and a police investigation continues.
Tresten of the Anti-Defamation League says this moment is an opportunity for education — both for the students responsible, and the community at large.