Racist incidents at colleges spark backlash

46% of hate crimes committed on college campuses according to an 2009-2012 study done by the National Center for Education Statistics. Graphic: Eli Shimanski

46% of hate crimes committed on college campuses according to an 2009-2012 study done by the National Center for Education Statistics. Graphic: Eli Shimanski

In the United States, we often hear about awful racist hate crimes happening around the country. Many of these crimes or threats happen in an environment that all of us are very used to, a school. The ones that often have high publicity and media coverage are in colleges.   

Betty Mfalingundi is a freshman at American University (AU) in Washington D.C. and a South alum. Recently there were several incidents at AU known as the “Banana Incidents”. In the first incident rotten bananas were thrown at windows of dorm rooms. Many students argued that black women’s dorm rooms were specifically targeted.

In the second more publicized, incident bananas were found around AU hanging by nooses with phrases such as “Harambe Bait” and “AKA” carved into them. AKA stands for Alpha Kappa Alpha which is American University’s only all black sorority and the sorority of the new student government president, Taylor Dumpson. The bananas were put around campus on the day Dumpson was sworn into office.

“Andrew Anglin… runs a magazine or some sort of news outlet for white supremacists. He directed his followers to attack Taylor Dumpson on social media,” explained Mfalingundi. “Which prompted the University to send security detail to her home, to protect her and her family. So you had this on campus hate crime and you also had her being attacked off campus.”

There student retaliation and backlash after these incidents, including protests and marches. One march walked to one of the student services buildings, where people filled out withdrawal forms. The catch was that they didn’t actually sign the forms. The forms still have to be processed and the students who filled it out don’t actually withdraw.

These aren’t the first racial threats to happen at AU. “Last school year, [in 2015] there was an incident that became known as #therealAU,” explained Mafalingundi.

The #therealAU incident happened earlier when Black Lives Matter protests were becoming more common. Several posts were put on the social media app Yik Yak which allows users to make anonymous posts that people within a 5-mile radius can see. One user asked “Anybody up for a counter protest?” and another user responded “If you’ve got the rope we have the crosses ready to burn”.  These posts along with others sparked outrage for obvious reasons. Some students decided to print out screenshots of these posts and others and put them all around the school so to bring awareness. Screenshots of the posts were also shared on Twitter with the hashtag #therealAU. “That group of students eventually became “The Darkening”,” said Mfalingundi. “They formed in response to this and ever since then they’ve had a presence on campus as a radical anti-racist group.”

American University isn’t the only college that has encountered racially spurred hateful incidents. They happen everywhere and Minnesota is no exception.  Sera Mugeta and Fanta Diallo are South alumni and current freshman at the University of Minnesota. There have also been incidents at the U of M.

“In the first few months [of school]…a conservative based [school] group painted a mural that said ‘build a wall’, ” explained Mugeta. “A lot of people on campus got offended.There was a huge conversation with President Taylor, who’s the president of the school. So it was taken down but there are still a lot of Trump signs around campus and people are still offended by it,” said Diallo. Some of the pushback to this mural came in the form of students spray painting over the mural with the words “Fuck Trump”. A Latino based fraternity made their own mural with the words “build bridges not walls”. “That was a perfect response to that whole incident,” Mugeta said.

Mfalingundi was deeply troubled by the incidents at her school but that wouldn’t stop her from going to AU. “I don’t want anyone to be afraid to go to college. I do love my school! While I’m really, deeply saddened that I’ll have to remember these incidents when I think about my freshman year, I’m still grateful to be going here,” she explained. “There are going to be crappy people at any school. I’m not willing to accept them and I am going to keep fighting for racial justice on my campus, but that’s so I can leave it better than I found it. I’m an optimist – I want to do my part to help move AU past these events and to learn from them.”