Administrators and student body president Omar Khan met with student groups Thursday after police revealed to them that a noose had been found hanging in a tree at Magnolia Apartments.According to a police report, the rope was found at about 4 p.m. Jan. 30.
This incident comes about a year after the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. was removed from his memorial plaza outside the Marshall Center and restructured to make it more resistant to vandalism.
Thursday, Vice President of Student Affairs Harold Nixon, Associate Vice President of Student Life and Wellness Wilma Henry and UP Chief of Police Pat Johnson, met with students in USF’s Gospel Choir and Black Student Union.
President Esque Dollar, who lives in Magnolia, said the symbolic, violent nature of the noose and the timing — February is Black Emphasis Month — make him feel unsafe.
“I don’t want to jump the gun and say that it’s something it’s not, but the insinuation that it gives off — hanging a noose on a tree — is scary within itself. That’s not even an image I want in my head,” Dollar said.
Freshman Theresa Layton, who also lives in the complex, said she thinks the problem is isolated; it’s the first she’s seen of it so she has no cause for alarm yet.
“I’m not really scared,” she said. “It’s just somebody being stupid and playing some dumb prank.”
Nixon said in an interview Thursday that the situation is difficult because of its sensitivity and that he and other administrators are working to help find the person or persons responsible.
Khan accompanied Nixon, Henry and several other administrators at the meetings Thursday. It’s important to him that something positive comes out of the situation, because, he said, “You can’t fight hate with hate.”
“To say there’s no problem, that’s obviously not the case,” Khan said. “They hung this during the day, what happens at night? What if students walk by?”
understands that the noose might just be an attempt at a joke and may not have been hung to incite fear among the black population at USF. But either way, he says, it’s imperative that the administration sends a message if the person responsible is found.
“Until President Genshaft makes an example out of somebody, until Dr. Nixon or (interim provost Renu) Khator make an example out of somebody, it’s not going to be solved,” he said. “They did a good job keeping quiet the MLK bust, but that wont happen this time.”
But making an example of someone might not be that easy, even if police can prove who strung up the rope.
Spokesman for UP Mike Klingebiel said what took place last Friday, even if police were present while the rope was being hung, might not constitute a crime. There’s a fine line between free speech and a hate crime. It all depends upon context, he said.
“The circumstances would dictate the response,” he said. “Right now, with the facts that we have that I’m privy to, it’s a rope in a tree.”
In the past, Klingebiel said UP has responded to racially defamatory graffiti. In most cases, those responsible are charged with vandalism, and if the vandalism is identified as a hate crime, a judge will normally take that into consideration when issuing a sentence.
vandalism against the MLK bust, for instance, was not considered a hate crime since it was directed at an object, not a person.
But Dollar says both the noose and the MLK bust incidents indicate to him a much larger problem at USF. He says USF is branded as a diverse university, and it is, but most of the minority groups don’t interact with each other. This, he says, promotes ignorance and leads to racially charged incidents.
And, he says, as it now appears to be becoming a trend, students must have high expectations of the administration that something will be done to facilitate a safer environment for campus minorities.
“Your students feeling comfortable here and feeling safe here should be a top priority, especially if you want to raise my tuition and my housing rates and give President Genshaft raises,” he said. “You still have people walking around here not feeling safe, and they’re transferring.”
Dollar said BSU is requesting that Genshaft and other administrators meet again with his group next week to update them on any developments or courses of action the university plans to take.
Adam Becker contributed to this report