WASHINGTON - One day after bananas with string tied around them in the shape of nooses targeting a sorority were found around the campus of American University, hundreds of students turned out for a rally after university officials tried to ease concerns at a town hall-style meeting.
However, the meeting appears to have angered some students further as they sought answers and action following the incident. Students said the meeting recapped what people already knew and did not go far enough to address what the university would do.
The bananas were marked with the letters "AKA" targeting the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, whose members are predominantly African American. The displays occurred on the same day the university's first black female student government president, also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, took office.
Many students in attendance said the administration has spent too much time at closed-door meetings and issuing statements rather than speaking out forcefully and publicly against what they see as a hate crime.
"We already knew what the problem was, but we just really wanted to hear specific actions in regards to what this administration was going do to address the actual problem at hand and what was going to happen after the investigation,” said student Leana Faulk. “I think just wanting that kind of information would have given us piece of mind, which we just didn't receive.”
The town hall meeting was for students only as American University President Neil Kerwin spoke at the meeting. But several hundred students left the meeting early unsatisfied with what they heard. They then marched over to the registrar office to demand withdrawal forms, threatening to leave the university if changes are not made. It is unclear if any students have actually withdrawn.
Some administrators went into the crowd to try and assure students they are being heard. The media was then ordered by campus police to leave campus property.
But the students said they are not going to be silenced and want changes on campus, starting with a more racially-diverse faculty and student body at American University.
"In my opinion, they really just did more of the same – kind of just talking around the issue instead of actually addressing what they want to do going forward,” said Danielle Germain.
The Department of Public Safety is leading the investigation into the racial incident. University police released surveillance video of a person of interest in this case.
A similar incident involving a banana happened at American University last September when it was thrown at a black student who was among a group from the Black Student Alliance preparing for a demonstration. There was also a report of a banana being placed near another black female student's door.
President Neil Kerwin said they are aware of the emotions on campus and are allowing the police department to conduct its investigation.
Phillip Morse, executive director of the university’s police department, is meeting with the FBI’s Washington Field Office as part of this investigation.