New Details Emerge as Campus Vandal’s Case Drags On


Frank Petronio, a 63-year-old photographer from Spencerport, N.Y., appeared briefly at the Cumberland County Courthouse earlier this month after being charged in May with ethnic intimidation, harassment and disorderly conduct stemming from a series of incidents between Nov. 2021 and Jan. 2022 in which Petronio allegedly placed racist and anti-Semitic stickers on the Asbell Center for Jewish Life and Weiss Center for the Arts at Dickinson.  

According to President John E. Jones III, the college “cooperated fully” with the investigation. In an earlier statement regarding the incidents, Jones wrote to the student body, “we do not tolerate hate and we do not tolerate discriminatory acts. Every member of the Dickinson community must work to create a culture that is respectful and inclusive.” 

Dickinson staff first discovered stickers with offensive messages on signs outside of the Asbell Center for Jewish Life and the Weiss Center for the Arts on Nov. 23, 2021. Stickers including an image of Adolf Hitler targeted the Asbell Center, while others with the message “it’s OK to be white” were placed on a poster advertising the Trout Gallery exhibit “Horace Pippin: Racism and War,” which displayed paintings and photographs by Black artists. According to Rabbi Marley Weiner, similar messages were found on campus again later that week. 

Months later, on Jan. 25, Jones again alerted the student body that anti-Semitic stickers were found on the Asbell Center and off-campus. After this incident, the college released security footage showing a man, later found to be Petronio, placing the stickers on the Asbell Center around 5:30 p.m. that day. In March, the Carlisle Police Department, in collaboration with Dickinson Public Safety, identified the suspect as Petronio and filed charges against him. 

Delivering the news to the Dickinson community via email, Jones wrote, “We at Dickinson are one community. While animus has become commonplace in our society, we cannot allow this special place to be torn apart by the same toxic forces dividing our country. There is no place for hate on our campus and I am pleased that charges have been filed.” 

Yvette B. Davis, Director of the Popel Shaw Center for Race and Ethnicity, said of the vandalism, “It was hurtful for students of color; it was harmful for persons of various faith traditions; it was specifically hurtful for students from the Jewish community.”  

She lamented, however, that the blatant anti-Black discrimination shown by some of the messages was not widely addressed or even known. Davis, who had been offered her current position as Popel Shaw Center director but not yet started at Dickinson when the first incidents occurred, said that she was quickly contacted by people outside of the college about the anti-Semitic nature of the crime, “but there was absolutely nothing about the Pippin exhibit.” 

When talking to focus groups of students of color on campus, Davis said that some of them knew about the anti-Black messages that were a part of the vandalism, but that “All felt wounded that there was not as much clear communication” about that aspect of the crime. 

Davis said, “Any act of hate, particularly a highly public one like this, where there is a threat against safety, when we don’t address it, nobody’s safe.” 

Weiner told The Dickinsonian that she saw last year’s incidents as part of “a nationwide trend of anti-Semitic behaviors.” But she cautioned, “You can’t take this kind of incident as isolated. That’s a mistake.” Weiner pointed to the messages that attacked the Horace Pippin exhibit, saying, “It’s important to understand the ways anti-Semitism and anti-Blackness interact.”

Petronio’s next court appearance, where he will plead guilty or not guilty, has been moved to Jan. 3, 2023. Petronio’s lawyers appear likely to ask the court to allow him to avoid trial by attending peer counseling through a program for first-time offenders, but Jones said the college “did not agree with the attempt to get Petronio into that program” due to “the gravity of the event and its impact on campus.” 

Davis also opposed Petronio’s entry into such a program. She said, “You’re not going to be able to rehabilitate this man’s self-hatred and hatred for other human beings.” 

Weiner did not comment on the sentencing itself, but she said, “What is the goal for people who’ve committed harmful acts? The goal is that they don’t do it again…that they internalize their contrition.” She said she would like to see Petronio “acknowledge the truth of the behavior.” 

Both prior to his arrest and since, red flags have been raised about Petronio’s offensive social media behavior. In recent tweets he expressed dismay that Black actors were cast as British characters in a Netflix film, commented on an AI-generated image of Snoop Dogg, “Is this the Hebr3w [sic] Snoop? Make the nose bigger,” and mockingly responded to a tweet from the official account of the Auschwitz Memorial commemorating a man who died at the infamous death camp.

Comments like these have led to Petronio being banned from at least one online photography forum, and he has had several accounts removed from Twitter and other social media platforms, according to a source who chose to remain anonymous. 

He has also photographed racist gatherings. His public website,, contains a collection of photos from a 2017 alt-right rally in Washington, D.C. His earlier work also includes at least one photo shoot of a client posing with the confederate flag.  

When asked what the college can do moving forward, Davis said, “Educate, create spaces for healing, spaces for empowerment.” Students, faculty, staff, and community members must ask, “Where do we find the opportunities to be co-creators, collaborators, co-conspirators, to make each other safe?” she said. 

The Dickinsonian reached out to Petronio’s lawyer and the Carlisle Police Department for further comment but did not hear back before print time.