A Greek Life retreat at the University of Mississippi was scrapped last weekend after African-American students discovered a banana peel in a tree, raising racial concerns.
Members of fraternities and sororities at the University of Mississippi, better known as Ole Miss, had traveled to Camp Hopewell in Lafayette County to attend what was billed as a three-day leadership-building event.
But the off-campus retreat ended abruptly on Saturday evening, hours after three members of a historically black sorority found the peel hanging from a tree at the camp.
A Greek Life retreat at the University of Mississippi, better known as Ole Miss was scrapped last weekend after African-American students discovered a banana peel in a tree
Makala McNeil, communication chair at Alpha Kappa Alpha and one of the women who made the discovery, alerted Greek Life leaders, sparking hours of heated discussions about possible racial undertones, reported The Daily Mississippian, Ole Miss’ student newspaper.
Ole Miss accounting major Ryan Swanson, who is white, quickly came forward, admitting that he was the one who tossed the banana skin into the tree, but he insisted that he did so because he could not find a garbage can and meant no offense to anyone.
DailyMail.com reached out to Mr Swanson, vice president of recruitment with the Interfraternity Council at Ole Miss, seeking comment Thursday.
Alexa Lee Arndt, interim director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Ole Miss, said in an internal email that many members of the Ole Miss community were ‘hurt, frightened, and upset’ in the wake of the peel incident.
Makala McNeil, communication chair at Alpha Kappa Alpha, was one of the students who made the discovery and alerted organizers. She says finding the peel felt like ‘a slap in the face’
‘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 stated.
McNeil, the Alpha Kappa Alpha leader who is also a prominent member of the NAACP at Ole Miss, said she and two of her sisters spotted the peel after taking part in a group discussion about race relations, followed by a communal breakfast where bananas were being served.
Speaking to the school paper, McNeil, who is a senior double-majoring in marketing communications and sociology, said the tone of that morning’s conversation about race in Mississippi was ‘heavy.’
McNeil went on to say that it felt ‘surreal’ to later find the peel suspended 6 feet up a tree trunk.
‘That, to me, was a slap in the face to see that banana hanging in a tree after talking about the personal truths of our campus,’ McNeil said.
The incident came just three months after bananas were found strung up from nooses at the American University on the morning that the school’s first-ever female black student was set to take over as student government president.
‘Culprit’: Ole Miss accounting major Ryan Swanson admitted that it was he who tossed the banana skin into the tree. He insisted that he did so because he could not find a garbage can
As news of the banana incident spread through the camp, students gathered to voice their thoughts and concerns, but according to McNeil, the conversation soon stopped being ‘constructive,’ and a growing number of people began leaving – some in tears, other in anger.
‘At that point, we didn’t feel welcome; we didn’t feel safe,’ McNeil said.
Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement Katrina Caldwell said she will be putting a plan together to deal with the fallout from the incident.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday evening, Ryan Swanson sent a statement to the school paper apologizing for his role in the scandal.
‘Although unintentional, there is no excuse for the pain that was caused to members of our community,’ he reportedly said.