Hundreds of American University students gathered on campus Monday to demand the suspension of two white students who were allegedly involved in throwing a banana at a black woman in a dorm earlier this month.
Outside the university’s student center on a gray afternoon, students voiced their outrage about the allegedly racial incident, one in what black student leaders said was a series of recent racially tinged problems on campus. The banana assault, which happened at about 1:30 a.m. Sept. 8, came the same night as another black student on the same floor of the dorm found a rotten banana outside her room and an obscene drawing on the whiteboard attached to her door.
The university’s Black Student Alliance said in a statement last week that there have been racial tensions on campus for some time, including hate messages aimed at black students. On Monday, students spoke to the crowd via megaphone, saying these are not isolated concerns on the Northwest Washington campus and asking administrators to do more to protect students of color at the private university. Several students held signs, including one that read: “Racism at AU is bananas.”
Sophomore Ma’at Sargeant, one of the protest’s organizers, said the banana incidents are part of a pattern. She and others asked that AU hire more faculty of color in the office of student life and alert the campus when racially motivated issues arise. “Nothing is ever done, no consequences, just town halls where we speak to deaf ears,” she said.
Racial issues on campuses nationwide have roiled students during the past year, setting off protests and in some cases forcing leadership and institutional changes as schools address their cultural climates. American University officials said they have been working to broaden the school’s diversity and understanding among the community.
American University President Cornelius M. “Neil” Kerwin released a statement ahead of Monday’s protest calling the banana incident and another unspecified “explicit racist incident” in a residence hall “unacceptable student behavior . . . that left our African-American students and others shaken, upset, and even feeling unsafe.” University officials declined to offer more details about the second incident, citing an ongoing investigation.
“Such acts are reprehensible and are the antithesis of the values and standards we embrace as a university,” Kerwin said. “I share with many of you deep disappointment and frustration that these events have disrupted our community and challenged our efforts to build an inclusive campus culture. They simply have no place here. We will confront racist expressions with forceful condemnation and respond to discrimination with every tool at our disposal.”
The incident involving the thrown banana was investigated and those involved “have been held accountable through the student conduct process,” Kerwin said in the statement.
“Do not be discouraged,” Kerwin said. “We will not be dissuaded from our goal to create a more inclusive climate.”