United States

Congresswomen in Black Sorority Decry Racist Acts at American University

"This has shaken us to our core, but we're not going to be stopped"

Congresswomen who also are members of the historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) called for federal civil rights investigations Thursday after bananas were found in nooses Monday on American University's campus

Bananas with "AKA" written on them were found in multiple locations on campus the day student Taylor Dumpson started as the Washington, D.C. university's first black woman to be student government president. 

"This has shaken us to our core, but we're not going to be stopped," Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) said. 

The congresswoman called for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to testify before the House education committee on how the education department will address racist harassment and discrimination on college campuses.

"The first thing I would like to see is our secretary of education coming before our education committee to testify on what the Department of Education will do to address this problem that we see springing up all across this nation," Wilson said.

The congresswoman also called for university presidents to testify on Capitol Hill.

"We would like to have a hearing to hear from some of the university presidents as to what they're doing on their individual campuses to address this issue," she said.

If United Airlines can be called to testify before Congress about mistreatment of airline passengers, university presidents can be called to testify about mistreatment of students, Wilson suggested. 

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to inquiries. 

The Congresswomen and AKA members dressed in the sorority's famous salmon pink and apple green. Participants included Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). 

Dumpson attended and spoke about how she hopes the incident sparks action on fighting discrimination and harassment against multiple groups. 

In her first interview after the racist acts, Dumpson told News4 on Wednesday that she wants to foster improved communication among students.

"Cross-cultural communication is the key," she said. "Because we aren't in a post-racial society. But I think the way to move towards a better society, and a more inclusive society, is to really focus on and appreciate the differences among us. Because what makes us different is very, very important."

A report by the Department of Education's civil rights division found that complaints of racial harassment on college campuses had more than doubled between 2009 and 2016.

Some have led to federal prosecutions. One of two former University of Mississippi students was sentenced to probation last year for placing a noose on the statue of James Meredith, the school's first black student. The other was sentenced to six months in prison.

Stay with News4 for more details on this developing story.

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