For the second time this school year, black students at American University in Washington, D.C. were the target of a hateful and racist act on campus.
On Monday, photos of bananas hanging by nooses were circulating online, featuring the words “AKA” ― the predominantly African-American sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha ― and “Harambe,” an apparent reference to the gorilla that Cincinnati zoo officials killed last year. The bananas were found at a shuttle bus stop, a dining hall and near an undergraduate residence hall.
The “despicable” act came just weeks after an election in which Taylor Dumpson, a junior law and society major, became the first black female president of American University’s student government, the university confirmed.
“I regret this happened, apologize to everyone offended, and state emphatically that this incident does not reflect what American University truly is,” university President Neil Kerwin said in a press release. “While this incident targeted AU’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority ... 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.”
Students and advocates said they were horrified, but not surprised. Similar incidents occurred in September; a rotten banana was reportedly thrown at a black student, and another said a rotting banana was left on the doorstep of their dorm.
At the time, the American University Black Student Alliance condemned the school’s lack of response to a culture of bigoted behavior on campus. In 2015, racist epithets were written on the dormitory doors of black students.
On Monday, Dumpson urged the university to work harder for its students.
“This is not what I imagined my first letter to you all would be,” she wrote on the student government website. “In my first message to the student body, I would have wanted to talk about accountability, transparency, accessibility, and inclusivity. Now more than ever, we need to make sure that members of our community feel welcomed and above all, safe on this campus.
University officials planned to hold a host of meetings on Tuesday with campus leaders and individuals. No suspects were named in any of their reports, but students were urged to call campus police with any tips.