With little else to worry about, University of Mississippi students attending a Greek Life retreat this past weekend were traumatized by the sight of a banana peel on a tree.
The Daily Mississippian reported on Wednesday that after students went bananas after word of the peel spread around campus, prompting the event to be promptly canceled before they suffered any further.
“To be clear, many members of our community were hurt, frightened, and upset by what occurred at IMPACT,” wrote Ole Miss’ Interim Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Alex Lee Arndt to Greek leaders. “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.”
The entire fiasco wasn’t intentional, either. A student named Ryan Swanson came forward to confess his crime of littering. He said that he threw the banana peel onto the tree when he was unable to find a garbage can.
The banana peel was later spotted by Alpha Kappa Alpha president Makala McNeil, who leads one of the campus’ historically black sorority groups.
“The overall tone was heavy. I mean, we were talking about race in Mississippi and in the Greek community so there’s a lot involved,” McNeil said.
As such, Greek leaders decided to end the event. In her email, Arndt said that the decision was “imperative to provide space immediately to students affected by this incident.”
The otherwise safe space had become a battlefield of emotions. The Daily Mississippian reports that some students broke out in tears over the banana peel, telling organizers that they felt unsafe.
The student who discarded the banana peel wrote an open letter apologizing for causing them distress.
“I want to sincerely apologize for the events that took place this past weekend,” wrote Swanson. “Although unintentional, there is no excuse for the pain that was caused to members of our community. I have much to learn and look forward to doing such and encourage all members of our community to do the same.”
McNeil says she isn’t happy with how the event organizers handled the situation and said that for her and many other non-white students, she felt that her only option was to leave the unsafe space.
Ole Miss’ vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement, Katrina Caldwell, says that her office is now looking into creating a plan to formally handle the incident. They are staging follow-up conversations about the banana peel.