American University (AU) in Washington, D.C., has agreed to give black students an extension on their final exams and turn a campus cafe into a “sanctuary for people of color” after an alleged racially-charged incident sparked a student protest.
Last week, officials reported that someone on campus had discovered bananas hung in nooses with the letters “AKA”—an acronym for the black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha—and the word “Harambe” written on them.
Harambe is the giant gorilla who was tragically shot at the Cincinnati Zoo in May last year, only to become “meme of the year” after the internet took it upon itself to immortalize the beloved primate with such classy tributes as “dicks out for Harambe” and “Harambe did 9/11.” Petitions also mushroomed during the summer to erect a White House statue of Harambe, turn him into a Pokémon and make him the new face of the $50 bill.
But as with many internet memes , Harambe tributes quickly acquired racist undertones, resulting in various media outlets and university staffers (at Clemson university for example) condemning references to the gorilla as “racist” and “sexist.”
AU officials have not identified any suspects and it is still unclear whether the stunt was a racially-motivated hate crime or a hoax. Nevertheless, on May 8 a meeting was scheduled between black student leaders and school administrators to discuss the incident.
After the meeting had to be rescheduled, a group of at least 50 students organized a protest and blocked traffic in a parking garage on Friday to protest the administration’s apparent disregard for their grievances. Some of them wore tape over their mouths with the hashtag #ItsInTheAir, a reference to the racist atmosphere they feel prevails on campus.
Protesters were adamant they would “occupy all space” and not leave until their demands were met: “Occupying space will help our cause because time and time again we protest and leave, then administration blows us off,” the President of the Black Student Alliance said.
According to flyers obtained by Campus Reform, these demands included the following:
“For the remaining [sic] of the semester, the Bridge will become a sanctuary for people of color,” the ultimatum begins, referring to a student café and lounge on campus.
Students also demanded that “all POC [persons of color] students get extensions, and should not be penalized for already scheduled finals after the incident,” arguing that the racist incident on campus has distressed many students to the point that they are unable to focus on exams.
The final demand calls for a “separate investigation team based out of the university (composed of a group of non-biased expert contractors) that can investigate cases of racism and discrimination brought against the institution of American University.”
The Black Print reports that representatives from the D.C. chapter of Black Lives Matter came in solidarity with the protest, noting that this type of student-led action was” just a small reflection on what we do every single day” to draw attention to the “inconvenience and the uncomfortable things we feel on an everyday basis being black people in America.”
When AU Provost Scott Bass arrived at the scene of the protest, over 90 minutes after it had started, he reassured the crowd that there was nothing more important to his administration than being “a multicultural campus” before announcing that AU had just signed a contract with Ibram X. Kendi, an historian and author of the best-selling book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” to establish an anti-racism center on campus, according to student website The Eagle.
All of the student demands (space for POC, outside investigation + finals extensions) have been met, per protesters and Provost Scott Bass pic.twitter.com/AeXtqAW531
— The Eagle (@TheEagleOnline) May 5, 2017
After reviewing protesters’ demands for a few minutes, Bass then verbally conceded to all them.
“We are interested in getting to the bottom of the issue, and the sooner we can do that, the better,” he said “But I will also say that that doesn’t stop our commitment to do more. This is just a minimum. … This is not just one incident. It’s a deeper issue in our community.”
That was enough to satisfy the crowd, which began to disperse and move away from the garage, whilst victoriously chanting ““We are AU! We are AU!”.