It was the latest in a series of hateful incidents at colleges nationwide, where racial tensions have erupted into protests over the past couple of years. Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League said there has been “an unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses” by groups it calls white supremacist that are emboldened by the current political climate. Slurs have been spray-painted on walls of buildings, photos have been shared of white people who painted their faces black, and white-supremacist posters have been taped up on many campuses.
Earlier this week, bananas were found hanging from nooses at American University in what the university in Northwest D.C. called a racist incident. The bananas, found at three places on the campus Monday, were marked with the letters “AKA,” letters often used to represent the historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha.
At U-Md., the noose heightened the resentment some students feel toward fraternities. “I’m not surprised,” said Mayah Lovell, a 21-year-old student from Silver Spring who identifies as black and Latina. “It’s a continuous theme that goes on with fraternities and sororities on campus whether it’s a noose or American used bananas or that email that went around a couple years ago. … It’s the same old thing.”
Two years ago, an email sent by a former U-Md. Kappa Sigma fraternity member was leaked and spurred protests around Fraternity Row. It was full of slurs, and directed fraternity members not to invite black, Indian and Asian women to parties “unless they’re hot.”
The email also encouraged members to sexually assault women, writing in vulgar terms dismissive of the idea of consent.
Gabrielle Amegashie, an 18-year-old student from Towson, Md., also said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the noose because the university is a predominately white institution. Minorities made up about 43 percent of the undergraduate student body this fall. “This sounds like a horrible stereotype, but to me,” said Amegashie, who is black, “it goes with the climate of a PWI and fraternity culture.”
But fraternity leaders said they were horrified when they found the noose, and immediately reported it to a campus official.
“We are shocked and appalled,” said A.J. Coleman, the Beta Omicron chapter president. “The chapter’s reaction to this event has been confusion and outrage. For all of us, it is beyond the realm of belief that anyone could have perpetrated such a heinous act.” The group is working with police to help the investigation, according to a written statement from the fraternity.
The chief executive officer of the national chapter said in a written statement that “Phi Kappa Tau is committed to providing an environment free of discrimination for all our fraternity members, guests, employees and volunteers.” Tim Hudson also wrote, “These actions do not align with Phi Kappa Tau’s values and any association of intolerant behavior is not consistent with the operations of the Fraternity’s chapter at the University of Maryland.”
U-Md. President Wallace Loh spoke out against the noose. “I resolutely condemn the use of a symbol of violence and hatred for the purpose of intimidating members of our University of Maryland community,” Loh said in a written statement. “All of us — students, faculty, staff, alumni — stand united in our commitment to core values of human dignity, diversity, inclusiveness, and intellectual freedom. We stand against such craven expressions of bigotry.”
Matt Supple, the director of the university’s department of fraternity and sorority life, emailed the presidents of all chapters late Wednesday afternoon to notify them of the incident, and to remind them that Phi Kappa Tau is committed to creating “a safe space for the many men of color in their membership.”
U-Md. Interfraternity Council President Ross Brannigan and Panhellenic President Shelby Brown said in separate statements that this incident reflects a broader problem in Greek culture on campus, citing previous examples of racism in recent years.
In a reflection of the widening schism between races on campus, the university’s National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Council declined to participate in the annual Greek Week this year, blaming instances of cultural appropriation according to a November email.
“We need to take firm, intentional, and necessary steps to challenge the IFC community to deal with our obvious issues of racism,” Brannigan wrote in the statement responding to the noose incident. “We can say this does not reflect our values, yet this is an issue we consistently address.”
Ellie Silverman is a student at the University of Maryland. Susan Svrluga contributed to this report.