The bicycle and a noose (Contributed by USA Student) (
Two days after nooses were found hanging in a tree outside the University of South Alabama’s dining hall in Mobile, students of all races have raised concerns about how the incident was portrayed and handled.
The incident resulted in the suspension of the student responsible and the firing of a member of the contracted dining hall staff who sent an offensive tweet about the situation. However, some students question how university officials responded.
"It felt like the university was trying to cover up for what was really going on," said student Dasia Hedrick. "Campus police and the president both said that the rope was used to hang banner sheets, but who uses a thick rope with a loop to hang those? We use string."
"It’s disrespectful, and maybe it wasn’t a noose, but the intentions were clear."
The day after the rope was inspected by USA campus police, President Tony Waldrop said in a press release that the "there was no noose at the time officers responded to the scene. According to USAPD, it appeared to officers the rope had held up a banner that was no longer there," the school’s original statement read.
It was later learned that students from a sorority had removed one noose and loosened one other, according to Dean of Students/Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Michael Mitchell.
USA spokesperson Bob Lowry also told AL.com the nooses had previously held up a sheet sign, a common sight on the campus as it’s how students campaign to become homecoming queen, for example. Campus police also said the rope had been used to hold a sheet sign the day before.
Despite staff at first insisting the noose held a sheet sign, officials on Wednesday said a student admitted to placing what turned out to be two nooses and a bicycle in the tree. He was suspended and banned from campus, according to the school. He has since been escorted off campus and is awaiting a family member to collect him. The student has not been publicly identified by the university.
"If it wasn’t nooses and just the remnants of a sign why did the school suspend the student?" said Brianna Pickering, a student who was walking near to where the nooses were found. "It doesn’t make sense."
"I think campus police maybe said that it was not a noose to make sure people feel safe here and don’t want it to feel racist, because this is a very inclusive and safe school."
An inspection of 10 other sheet banners in the central area of the campus showed that none had the thick rope seen in images taken on Tuesday evening, the night the nooses were discovered.
Will Moxim, 18, said that the nooses were aggressive. "I wouldn’t call them racist because we don’t know who did it or what their motivation was. It was aggressive though."
Several students told AL.com that they believed the incident stemmed from a frat prank or pledge as it was apparently initiation week on campus.
"I heard that it was a frat thing, but we are also in Alabama where this kind of thing is in its history," said Amere Robinson who was walking near student accommodation Thursday afternoon.
Stefan Morris, another student at the school, said "Stuff like this is always gonna be around, racist stuff. It doesn’t matter if you accept it or not it will always be around."
A USA statement sent to the student body said that the school was still investigating and that "we apologize to the entire University community and everyone who has seen or heard about the insensitive and offensive comment."
"We have zero tolerance for any form of racism or discrimination and the employee was fired immediately."
During a Q&A session on campus on Thursday, aired by NBC 15, USA Campus Police Chief Zeke Aull said the school would not comment on the ongoing investigation and student suspension as it was not a police matter. He added that the hanging of the nooses did not violate Alabama’s hate crime laws and would be dealt with internally.
Asked what the student’s motivations were, Aull said that student believed he was putting them up for Halloween. "We had a discussion about what that might mean to our African-American community and at that time he teared up and said ‘I didn’t know what I was doing. I do now."
Dr. Mitchell followed up by saying that he had spoken with a group of students and confirmed that they felt safe and secure on campus. He also added that the idea the ropes belonged to banners was accurate at the time of the initial investigation but as different information came to light it was clear that they had been nooses.