FBI Helping American University Investigate Racist Crime - NBC 7 San Diego
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FBI Helping American University Investigate Racist Crime

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    American University students are frustrated and concerned for their own safety after bananas were found hung in nooses on campus. News4's Kristin Wright spoke with students about their fears and requests of the school. (Published Wednesday, May 3, 2017)

    The FBI's Civil Rights division is helping American University investigate who hung bananas in nooses in multiple locations on campus, a spokeswoman for the agency said Wednesday.

    Students are organizing for a second day to urge the administration to find who committed the hate crimes and address repeated acts of racism.

    Bananas marked with the letters "AKA," the abbreviation for the historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, were found in at least three locations of the university's campus starting Monday morning, as finals week began. 

    The racist displays were found on the same day student government president Taylor Dumpson, an AKA member, started the new position. She is the first black woman in the role.

    In her first interview after the racist acts, she told News4 she wants to foster improved communication among students. 

    Campus police distributed two videos Tuesday evening of a suspect. The blurry video clips show someone walking on the empty campus. Campus police believe at least three bananas hung in nooses were placed on campus Monday between 3:45 a.m. and 4:10 a.m.

    Student Phil Capers said he was frustrated to face in 2017 the same kind of on-campus racism his father faced at the University of South Carolina decades earlier. 

    "They used to hang, like, literally nooses from the trees, and the fact that this is happening now -- and he went to college in the '80s -- it's just crazy. It's just disheartening," he said. 

    A workshop on anti-racism led by administrators and faculty members started on the Washington, D.C. school's campus at 10 a.m.

    The university will seek ideas from faculty members, students and campus groups on how anti-racism discussions can be incorporated into orientation week activities, orientation director Jennifer Johnson said in the session. 


    In a list of demands, black student groups demanded that the perpetrator is expelled if he or she is a student and that students be notified when that occurs. They also asked for the school to hire more staff members of color and provide more resources for students of color.

    On Tuesday, hundreds of students marched, asked the registrar's office for withdrawal forms and waved them in the air in protest.

    "If our existence isn't valued on this campus, then we don't need to be here," student Ma'at Sargeant said Tuesday. 

    Student leaders were scheduled to meet with administrators Wednesday morning, but administrators canceled the meeting, Sargeant said.

    Campus police declined an interview, and university President Dr. Neil Kerwin did not respond to an interview request. 

    In an email to students sent Tuesday morning, Kerwin called the creation of the displays a hate crime. 

    "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," the email said. 

    The bananas were found at a shuttle bus stop at Letts-Anderson Halls, in front of Mary Graydon Center and near the East Quad Building, school spokeswoman Camille Lepre said in an email to News4.

    The suspect was wearing dark clothes and may have worn a mask or a hat, campus police said. The suspect walked from the quad to the Southside shuttle stop. They may have entered a light-colored sedan near Rockwood Parkway.


    Anyone who recognizes the person is asked to call campus police at 202-885-2527 or submit an anonymous tip online. A reward of as much as $1,000 is offered for tips. 

    Pressure is increasing on school administrators to respond to repeated racist acts.

    This is at least the third time in the past eight months that bananas have been used to harass African-American women on campus.

    In September 2016, an African-American woman said a banana was thrown at her. Another African-American woman found a rotten banana and obscene drawings on her dorm room door that same month.

    School administrators told students that anyone who feels unsafe walking on campus should contact campus police. 

    Dumpson, the new student government president, said she was disappointed to face a challenge like those "that were once our parents' and grandparents' to bear." She urged students and supporters to create "A [Different] U." 

    "Now, is the time that we set a positive example for students, parents, alumni, and the nation -- and declare, unequivocally, that racism, bigotry, and hate will not be tolerated or accepted on the campus of American University," she said in a statement issued Wednesday. 

    AKA's international president, Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, said sorority sisters are dismayed by the racist acts.

    "We are stunned. In 2017, to put a noose on a banana and the letters AKA -- we're clear about what that is," she said by phone.

    In a letter to sorority sisters, Wilson urged school officials to investigate, discipline perpetrators and protect African Americans on campus. 

    "Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority will not tolerate unwarranted attacks on our members or any member of our community -- physical, verbal or otherwise -- which interfere with their pursuit of higher education or their basic human rights," the letter said. 

    The historically black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha issued a statement in support of AKA.

    "We stand in full support, with our brothers of the Nu Beta Chapter at American University, in declaring that this type of violence has no place in our country," president Everett B. Ward said in a statement.

    The university president condemned the messages of hate, saying in a message to students that the displays were a "crude and racially insensitive act of bigotry."

    But many students said they want school officials to do more. 

    "I think we need more solidarity from the administration," sophomore Sammie Paul said Tuesday. 

    This story has been updated from a previous version.