A black female student at American University reported that a banana was thrown at her through her dorm room door earlier this month, and the school is investigating two white male freshmen in connection with the incident.
Black students say the incident, which happened at about 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 8 in the Anderson dormitory, was one in a series that has sparked racial tensions on the District campus. Another black student on the same floor of the dorm found a rotten banana outside her door the same night; she also found an obscene drawing on the whiteboard attached to her door.
The reports have sparked outrage on campus and prompted a call from the Black Student Alliance, an umbrella organization for black groups on campus, to suspend the students who were involved. A protest is scheduled at the university for Monday.
Neah Gray, the freshman who found a banana outside her door, said Friday that she was offended. “I wouldn’t let people drive me out, but it’s kind of sad that this kind of thing still happens,” said Gray, of Brooklyn.
The university released a statement Friday saying that an investigation is proceeding through the student conduct process and that it condemns discrimination and discriminatory harassment. It did not identify the students.
“We understand that members of our community feel hurt by an incident that happened in a residence hall and separate allegations of racially biased behavior,” the statement said. A university spokeswoman also emphasized that the school has a “firm commitment to broadening diversity and understanding,” pointing to a newly created President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion that plans to meet for the first time soon.
Such incidents on the nation’s college campuses in the past year have led to widespread outrage, protest and, in some cases, removal of campus leaders. Some schools have pledged to examine how to improve the college experience for minority students, while others have removed statues, murals and facility names that honor slaveholders and segregationists.
Some students at AU, a private university of more than 13,000 students in Northwest Washington, say there have been racial tensions on campus for some time, including similar hate messages aimed at minorities.
“In the real world, this would be a hate crime and an assault,” Ma’at Sargeant, an AU sophomore and the president of the Black Student Alliance, said of the banana incident. “This kind of thing has been happening at AU for years. Last year, people wrote the n-word on black students’ doors and put up Trump stickers on the doors of Hispanic students. This is not just a one-time thing.”
Devontae Torriente, the AU student body president, said that students of color sometimes feel unwelcome and that the dorm incidents reinforce that discomfort.
“It’s completely unacceptable that this happened,” said Torriente, a junior who is black. “I think it does fit into a larger pattern of students of color, specifically black students, feeling unsafe and excluded from the campus community.”
Torriente said that he believes the administration has been trying to take steps to address prejudice and racial harassment but that the problem needs to be understood in a larger context.
“It’s hard to tackle solving a problem on our campus when it’s such a pervasive national issue, as well,” he said. “We can’t solve the nation’s problem here at AU. But I think the school is headed in the right direction in figuring out what those next steps need to be.”
Sargeant wants the administration to be more responsive and aggressive in dealing with racism. This latest incident, she says, has wounded students of color.
“You come into this institution that promotes diversity, and then this happens to you,” she said. “The individuals are hurt, and the community as a whole is hurt. And we’re sick of it.”