An off-campus Greek Life event held by leaders of Ole Miss last weekend was cancelled after many students became troubled by a banana peel, which was hanging from a campus tree.
According to The Daily Mississippian, many members of the community were “hurt, frightened, and upset by what occurred.”
So what happened?
Ole Miss Greek Life leaders cut their three-day leadership retreat to nearby Camp Hopewell short after black students discovered a banana peel dangling in a tree outside of one of the camp’s cabins.
The banana peel was later spotted by Alpha Kappa Alpha President, Makala McNeil, a leader from one of the campus’s historically black sororities.
The Daily Mississippian reported that McNeil had just left a group discussion about race relations when she spotted the banana peel in the tree.
“The overall tone [of the meeting] was heavy,” McNeil told the newspaper. “I mean, we were talking about race in Mississippi and in the Greek community so there’s a lot involved.”
She added that she and her friends were “all just sort of paranoid for a second” after noticing the banana peel, calling its appearance “so strange and surreal.”
Alexa Lee Arndt, Interim Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Ole Miss, noted that an open forum was held after news of the banana peel had spread throughout the camp.
“As the staff member responsible for the wellbeing of our community, I felt it was imperative to provide space immediately to students affected by this incident to allow them an opportunity to voice their pain and concern,” Arndt told the newspaper.
After the open forum, Greek Life leaders decided to cancel the remainder of the weekend.
In a letter obtained by The Daily Mississippian, Arndt was quoted as saying that “members of our community were hurt, frightened, and upset by what occurred.”
“Because of the underlying reality many students of color endure on a daily basis, the conversation manifested into a larger conversation about race relations today at the University of Mississippi,” Arndt reportedly added.
Another sorority president reportedly told the newspaper that the incident was especially painful, because “bananas have historically been used to demean black people.”
The newspaper reported that many of the students left the retreat “in tears” because they didn’t feel “welcome” or “safe.”
The explanation behind the banana peel
Ole Miss senior Ryan Swanson, who was also in attendance at the retreat, said he discarded the banana peel in the tree because he could not find a trash receptacle.
Swanson told the newspaper that he “sincerely” apologizes “for the events that took place this past weekend.”
“Although unintentional, there is no excuse for the pain that was caused to members of our community,” Swanson said.
“I have much to learn and look forward to doing such and encourage all members of our community to do the same,” he added.
Why the controversy?
McNeil told the newspaper that the image affected her in such a negative way because of an incident that occurred on Washington, D.C.’s American University’s campus in May.
The FBI helped the university investigate an incident in which bananas — etched with what were said to be racial references — were hung from trees the very day that the school’s first female black student government president, Taylor Dumpson, was to take office.
The bananas on the American University campus featured messages like “AKA FREE” — what was perceived to be a reference to Dumpson’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Kappa — and “HARAMBE BAIT,” a reference to the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo who was killed after a child fell into its cage.
Several bananas were said to have been discovered scattered around the campus, and were strung hanging from trees.