Newly-released emails indicate that officials at Clemson University knew an alleged racist stunt at the school was likely a misunderstanding, but then concealed this information and in the process allowed a wave of racial protest actions to erupt on campus.
The mess at Clemson started April 11, when students discovered a bunch of bananas hanging from a banner commemorating black history at Fort Hill, a home once owned by Sen. John C. Calhoun. Within a few hours, before a perpetrator or motive had been found, Clemson president Jim Clements had denounced the bananas as “hurtful, disrespectful, [and] unacceptable.” The school held a forum on its racial climate the next day, and on April 13 student activists who said the school’s response had been unsatisfactory began a nine-day protest action in and around Sikes Hall that resulted in the arrest of five students. Those same activists have used the supposed hate crime to push a variety of demands, which include the establishment of mandatory racial diversity training for all students and staff.
But now, emails obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by skeptical Clemson students have revealed that the banana incident was almost certainly just a big misunderstanding, and that the school knew almost immediately but suppressed this fact, allowing it to balloon into a major campus crisis.
The smoking gun is an email sent by Almeda Jacks, Clemson’s vice president of student affairs, the same day as the banana incident. In the email, Jacks reveals that two students had confessed to placing the bananas, and that there appeared to be no reason to treat it as a racist stunt.
“Two students came forward and told [sic] they had done bananas,” Jacks said in an email to Clements. “Not a criminal charge or a student conduct violation BUT Dean of Students has authority to use as a teachable moment.”
“Their claim is they had no idea of pole or banner,” Jacks added. “They were intending to throw in Core Campus [an ongoing campus construction project] due to workers waking them up and decided not to and tried to put in trees and when that failed … Saw pole and tossed them (Nobody will believe that tho our folks think true).”
But despite Jacks’ email, Clemson officials took no action to rebut claims the banana stunt was racially motivated, instead simply announcing that two perpetrators had been identified and that it had been deemed to not be a criminal act. The forum went forward as planned, and student activists occupied Sikes Hall the following day.
The released emails do vindicate the university in one way, though: They are a blow against a theory pushed by some students, who proposed that Clemson’s bananas were a false-flag operation specifically carried out to create a racial crisis on campus. The school has consistently rejected such rumors as totally unfounded, and the new emails give no indication they were lying in that regard.
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