The University of Mississippi cut short a fraternity retreat this weekend when a participant threw a banana peel into a tree, which was perceived by some students as a racist act, the Daily Mississippian reported.
"To be clear, many members of our community were hurt, frightened, and upset by what occurred at [the retreat]… 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," Alexa Lee Arndt, interim director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, wrote in a letter Monday to the campus's Greek life community.
Student Ryan Swanson, said that he put the peel in a tree near one of the cabins when he could not find a trash can.
Black students said they came upon the peel after leaving a Saturday morning session on race relations at the university.
Arndt, who was on the trip, convened an open forum that afternoon to discuss the incident, and Swanson took responsibility after a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha demanded someone fess up.
The meeting then began to unravel—some participants left the room crying—and students departed from the campsite as they no longer felt "welcome" or "safe."
The remainder of the retreat was officially cancelled that night.
Swanson apologized in a statement to the Daily Mississippian. "Although unintentional, there is no excuse for the pain that was caused to members of our community," he said. "I want to thank my friends in the [National Pan-Hellenic Council] for their candid and constructive conversations that we have continued to have. I have much to learn and look forward to doing such and encourage all members of our university community to do the same. We must all keep in mind how our actions affect those around us differently."
He did not respond to the Washington Free Beacon‘s request for comment.
Makala McNeil, president of Alpha Kappa Alpha and one of the students who happened upon the peel, told the student paper, "You see how much fear and how much anger you incite in black people just from an unintentional image."
In May, bananas were found hanging from noose-like ropes in three areas around the American University campus, some marked with AKA—for Alpha Kappa Alpha—and with the word "Harambe," the name of the gorilla who was shot in an Ohio zoo last year. In September 2016, a black student at American reported that white students put boxes of rotten bananas outside her dorm room.
Katrina Caldwell, the university's vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement, has reportedly been working on a university response by "talking to people on campus who have some experience working across diversity to help the students process what happened."
The Free Beacon has contacted Arndt and Caldwell for comment. Members of their respective offices said they could not speak about the incident.