Public Safety is investigating a racist incident involving bananas that were discovered early this morning, according to a memorandum sent today to the University community from Interim Vice President of Campus Life Fanta Aw.
Aw said in the memorandum that multiple bananas were found hanging from string tied in the shape of nooses in three places on campus. Some of the bananas were marked with the letters “AKA,” the letters for the predominantly African-American sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. The incident also coincided with Taylor Dumpson’s first day in office as Student Government president. She is the first African-American female president of SG.
Bananas were found at the shuttle bus stop at Letts-Anderson Halls, in front of Mary Graydon Center (MGC), and near the East Quad Building, said Camille Lepre, the University’s assistant vice president of communications.
“We will update our community in the days to come,” Lepre said. “We are reviewing video from the area that may help us identify suspects.”
University officials have been meeting with members of the sorority to work with them and support them, Lepre said.
“These racist, hateful messages have no place in our community,” Aw said in the memorandum. “The safety of our students is paramount.”
Quinn Dunlea, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, was walking with her friend Dan Perry, a senior in the School of International Service, shortly before 7 a.m. after a long of night of studying when she saw a banana hanging from a lamp post between MGC and the Battelle-Tomkins building.
After reporting the finding to Public Safety at 6:49 a.m., Dunlea and Perry walked around campus to see if there were any more bananas. They found similarly marked bananas on a lamp post outside of Hurst Hall, and on a tree between the Hurst and EQB buildings.
Dunlea called Public Safety again at 6:55 a.m., and an officer told her that they were responding to two similar incidents. Perry said that all bananas seemed to be taken down by 8 a.m.
“I was horrified. It’s such ugliness and hatred on our campus.” Perry said. “A part of me hoped it would not be what we thought it was... I was blown away by the fact that these people actually go to our school.”
Aw released her memo to the campus community at 12:58 p.m. Dunlea said that she felt disturbed that Aw seemed to respond with a lack of urgency.
“AU maybe didn’t want people to panic and didn’t want to scare people before they had answers, and I think there’s some validity to that, especially given that it’s finals week, and you don’t want to mess with people’s ability to be academically present, but people also have to know what the risks are,” Dunlea said.
Dunlea said the incident should have been relayed to students faster so that they could protect themselves.
“There’s people walking on campus, who we don’t know who they are, who in the middle of the night, to intimidate black students, to intimidate our first female black president, to intimidate a black sorority on campus,” Dunlea said. “I’m very confused as to where the intensity of response is because that sounds like a hate crime to me…It’s not something to email in the afternoon hours later.”
AU Student Government President Taylor Dumpson released a statement on the incident, which occurred on her first day in office. Dumpson, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, said she encourages the University to enforce the identity-motivated bias sanctions of the newly updated Student Code of Conduct.
“As the first black woman AUSG president, I implore all of us to unite in solidarity with those impacted by this situation and we must remember that ‘if there is no struggle, there is no progress,’ ─ Frederick Douglass,” Dumpson wrote in her statement. “We must use this time to reflect on what we value as a community and we must show those in the community that bigotry, hate, and racism cannot and will not be tolerated.”
Photos of the bananas circulated on social media this morning. Aw said in the memorandum that students are encouraged to send in tips to the AUPD website or call the non-emergency Public Safety line at 202-885-2527.
This event is not the first racist incident involving bananas at AU this academic year. Two black female students were attacked with bananas by white students in Anderson Hall in September, prompting a large protest outside the Mary Graydon Center, The Eagle previously reported.
#AUSupportsAKA trending on Facebook
Around 3:00 p.m., #AUSupportsAKA started trending on Facebook. Students shared a status stating their intent to “unite in solidarity” with the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Here are some examples:
Administrators, members of AKA to meet at 4 p.m.
The University has been in touch with AKA’s adviser, Aw said.
She will be meeting with AKA members and their adviser, Robert Hradsky, assistant vice president and dean of students, Kevin Barret, police captain of the Department of Public Safety, Dominic Greene, director of Student Activities, and Kelly Alexander, director of public relations. AKA’s national office will be on the phone.
In her 25 years working at AU, Aw called this incident the “worst she’s ever seen.”
“In the time that I’ve been here, and I’ve been here 25 years, what’s happened this year is the first that I’ve seen of this kind in my 25 years at American,” Aw said. “And again, like I’ve said, such acts are just not only cowardly, but there’s just no place for such acts in a community. These are racist acts. This is just bigotry of the worst kind.”
Students who are concerned about security are encouraged to reach out the Department of Public Safety. The on campus escort service and Blue Light phones are available to students, Aw said.
Jessica Waters, the vice provost for undergraduate education, has sent a notice to the associate deans of the individual academic schools at AU. Students who are facing distress are encouraged to contact their associate dean to request support from faculty, Aw said.
“What we’re saying to students is when you have folks that are this coward, we should not allow them to win,” Aw said.
President Neil Kerwin releases a memorandum condemning the incident
University President Neil Kerwin released a memorandum tonight at 6:44 p.m., which was later revised, condemning the incident and expressing support for students negatively impacted by the event.
He also announced that there will be a campus community meeting tomorrow, May 2, at 12 p.m. in the Kay Chapel with members of the President's Council on Diversity and Inclusion.
"While this incident targeted AU’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, and occurred after the first black woman and AKA member was sworn in as the Student Government president—our entire university community has been adversely affected by this cowardly, despicable act," Kerwin wrote in the memorandum. "Know that American University remains committed to principles of diversity, inclusion, common courtesy, and human dignity, and acts of bigotry only strengthen our resolve."
This story has been updated throughout.