Custodian reported swastika painted on Kent State sidewalk

‘All we can do is try to help people’ — Larry Thouvenin


Susan Kirkman Zake

The outline of a swastika is visible on a concrete section of a stairway between Engleman Hall, in the background at left, and Verder Hall on the front portion of Kent State’s main campus. 5-19-2022

Emma Andrus, Managing Editor

Larry Thouvenin was cleaning in Kent State’s Oscar Ritchie Hall when he went outside with a load of trash.

The part-time custodian, on the job for four months, stumbled across a swastika graffitied on a concrete stairway that runs up a hillside between Engleman Hall and a Verder Hall parking lot, just to the east of Oscar Ritchie.

“I was throwing away the trash at the dumpster at the parking lot over there,” Thouvenin said. “I was walking down the steps, and I see the graffiti on the steps.”

Thouvenin works a full-time job during the day and works at Kent State part-time, in the afternoons. Being new to the university and unsure of the process for reporting such incidents, he contacted his boss, who told him to call campus police.

“It’s unfortunate when that stuff happens,” Thouvenin said. “All we can do is try to help people.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the graffiti had been power washed from the sidewalk. Despite its removal, a faint outline still remains.

“I know it’s not the thoughts of the campus,” he said. “I can only guess what happened, and why, and who did it.”

Kent State Police are investigating the incident.

An email sent to the university community Wednesday stated, “We are not sure exactly when it was painted, but in the aftermath of the massacre in Buffalo, New York, its appearance serves as a reminder of the threat of extremism and the need for all of us to denounce the growing wave of racism, intolerance and violence in our nation.”

In an emailed statement, Adam Hirsh, executive director of Hillel at Kent State, said its members are “deeply shocked and concerned to learn of a hateful and antisemitic act of vandalism” and “condemned this and all acts of antisemitism on campus and in our communities.”

Hirsh explained the swastika is an “antisemitic symbol that represents the Nazi regime that murdered over 6 million Jews and millions of others,” and that is has been “embraced by other hate groups in an attempt to intimidate and traumatize the Jewish community,” he said.

“With the rising wave of extremism in our communities,” he said, “we cannot ignore this act of antisemitism and denounce hate of all forms in the strongest possible terms.”

The email encouraged Jewish students, parents and friends to reach out to Hillel staff if they have questions or need a “listening ear.”

The organization is working with Kent State, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Hillel International, the Anti-Defamation League in Cleveland and Kent State Police to “combat and stand up for our Jewish community and friends.”

The swastika follows the April distribution of antisemitic flyers placed on the lawns of several homes in Kent and Garrettsville, according to reporting in The Portager. The flyers falsely claimed both that members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet are Jewish and that six “Jewish corporations” own 96 percent of the media.

Kent Police Lt. Michael Lewis told The Portager a similar flyer was also distributed along Miller Avenue in Kent on April 20. Lewis said he does not know if there have been any incidents since then.

Kennedy Gotham contributed reporting to this story. Check KentWired for updates to this reporting and follow us @KentWired on social media.