Racist displays at American University targets Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority members

- American University officials are investigating after acts of hatred toward African American students were found on campus Monday. The school confirms that bananas hanging by string in the shape of nooses were found in at least three locations on campus.

The bananas were marked with the letters "AKA" which represent Alpha Kappa Alpha, a sorority whose members are predominantly African American. This comes the same day that the university's first black female student government  president, Taylor Dumpson, took office. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

"I have seen students cry, I have seen students use profanity, I have seen students yell," said Ryan Shepard, a member of the Black Student Alliance. "I have seen students just need to take a step back and get off campus to get their mind straight as they head into finals and have to deal with this on top of it."

This is not the first time there has been a racial incident involving bananas reported at American University. Last September, a banana 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.

"Having this happen in September and happen again in May as our first black woman student president is taking office is deeply frustrating and it makes me feel disrespected as a student," Shepard said.

The Black Student Alliance gathered with other minority groups on campus Monday night to talk about how to move forward.

Interim Vice President of Campus Life Fanta Aw said in a statement that photos of the bananas began circulating Monday morning on social media.

"These racist, hateful messages have no place in our community," Aw said. "The safety of our students is paramount."

A university spokesperson told FOX 5 that the bananas were found in three different locations on campus -- at a shuttle bus stop at Letts-Anderson Halls, in front of Mary Graydon Center and near the East Quad Building.

The university's Department of Public Safety is investigating, and surveillance video from around campus is being reviewed.

American University President Neil Kerwin issued a statement on the racist incident:

The crude and racially insensitive act of bigotry reported this morning is under investigation by AU Campus Police with assistance from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and other AU offices and senior officials.

We strongly condemn what happened; will do all that we can to find those responsible; and ask that anyone who may know of those involved to please step forward and contact Public Safety at 202-885-2527 or the AUPD Tips Site.

We will alert the university community of the investigation’s findings and next steps and will respond as swiftly and strongly as possible.

Racially charged acts of bigotry are done to instill fear and inflict pain in our community—especially at stressful times, such as at the end of the term.

I regret this happened, apologize to everyone offended, and state emphatically that this incident does not reflect what American University truly is. 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.

There will be a campus community meeting on Tuesday, May 2 to discuss the incident at 12 noon in Kay Chapel. Members of the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI) will be in attendance. PCDI will also host one-on-one drop in conversations at 6 p.m. at a table in McDowell Hall—as part of the PCDI Listens series.

Know that American University remains committed to principles of diversity, inclusion, common courtesy, and human dignity, and acts of bigotry only strengthen our resolve. Anyone who does not feel similarly does not belong here. 

Student Government President Taylor Dumpson also issued a statement, which was posted on social media.

"It is disheartening and immensely frustrating that we are still dealing with this issue after recent conversations, dialogues and town halls surrounding race relations on campus," Dumpson said. "But this is exactly why we need to do more than just have conversations but move in a direction toward more tangible solutions to prevent incidents like these from occurring in the future."

"I think the students on campus are feeling extremely frustrated and disgusted by what has happened," said Shepard. "This is not the first time this has happened ... and I think it's become an issue because it's not an issue of safety -- it's an issue of respect, it's an issue of belonging at a university where you pay to go to school. If students are going to pay to go to school here, they want to feel protected, they want to feel safe and they want to feel respected."

Monday was the last day of classes for the spring semester, and Tuesday is a study day for students as they prepare for finals. A spokesperson said the university is working to minimize the disruption to students during finals.

RELATED: Racially charged incidents at American University investigated after banana thrown at black student

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