Students and officials at American University continued to respond this week to a racially charged incident on the college’s campus in which bananas were found hanging from strings “in the shape of nooses,” according to the school.
“I regret this happened, apologize to everyone offended, and state emphatically that this incident does not reflect what American University truly is,” AU President Neil Kerwin said in a memo sent Monday evening.
Kerwin called the incident a “cowardly, despicable act.”
“Know that American University remains committed to principles of diversity, inclusion, common courtesy, and human dignity, and acts of bigotry only strengthen our resolve,” the memo stated. “Anyone who does not feel similarly does not belong here.”
Kerwin’s memo was issued in the aftermath of a discovery on the campus that occurred this week. On Monday, the private university in Washington said bananas were founding hanging at three spots on campus.
American called the matter a “racist incident” that was under investigation. A statement from Fanta Aw, AU’s interim vice president of campus life, said the bananas were “marked with the letters AKA.” Those are the letters for Alpha Kappa Alpha, a sorority with a membership that is predominantly African American.
Alpha Kappa Alpha said in a statement that it was “outraged by a demonstration of racism” at American, a school with about 13,000 students.
“Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority calls on the university and law enforcement officials to conduct a thorough investigation that leads to disciplining the perpetrators of this appalling crime,” the statement said. “We also urge American University to strengthen the security measures on campus to keep its SGA President, who also is an Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority member, other Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority members and African Americans on campus safe.”
Camille Lepre, assistant vice president of communications for American, said in an email to The Post that American has classified the incident as a hate crime.
“AU has the authority and jurisdiction to investigate,” she wrote. “MPD and the FBI special liaison agreed this meets the legal standard of a hate crime.”
The university held a community meeting about the incident Tuesday, according to media accounts. Photos and videos posted online by the Eagle, American’s student newspaper, and others showed a number of students demonstrating as well.
During the town hall, more than a hundred students exited the chapel and marched to the Office of Financial Aid in the Asbury building to request withdrawal forms as an act of protest. The students then marched back to the chapel and created their own impromptu town hall outside of the Kogod School of Business.
In a phone interview with The Post on Tuesday afternoon, Ma’at Sargeant, president of the Black Student Alliance at American, was critical of how the university had handled the matter, and said the “collective community” at American does not feel supported there.
“We do pay money to go to this institution,” said Sargeant, 19. “And we shouldn’t have to be begging for our existence to be validated on the campus that we pay to be on.”