- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Greek life camping retreat sponsored by the University of Mississippi over the weekend was canceled after a group of black students discovered a discarded banana peel in a tree.

Organized by Fraternity and Sorority Life and the national group IMPACT, students had settled in at Camp Hopewell in Lafayette County for a three-day retreat, which was cut short Saturday after three black students discovered the banana peel in front of one of the camp’s cabins, The Daily Mississippian student newspaper reported Wednesday. (Photo can be viewed at The Daily Mississippian)

“It was so strange and surreal to see it there,” Makala McNeil, president of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, told the paper. “We were all just sort of paranoid for a second.”

The incident sparked “a day’s worth of camp-wide conversation surrounding symbolism, intended or not,” the paper reported.

Senior accounting major Ryan Swanson admitted during the group sessions that he discarded the banana peel in the tree after he couldn’t find a trash can nearby.

“I want to sincerely apologize for the events that took place this past weekend,” Mr. Swanson told The Daily Mississippian in a statement. “Although unintentional, there is no excuse for the pain that was caused to members of our community.

“I want to thank my friends in the [National Pan-Hellenic Council] for their candid and constructive conversations that we have continued to have,” he said. “I have much to learn and look forward to doing such and encourage all members of our university community to do the same. We must all keep in mind how our actions affect those around us differently.”

The discussions Saturday ended with some students leaving in tears, The Daily Mississippian reported. The retreat was eventually canceled later that evening.

“At that point, we didn’t feel welcome; we didn’t feel safe,” Ms. McNeil said. “If we didn’t feel wanted or safe at the camp, our best option was to leave.”

Alexa Lee Arndt, the interim director of Fraternity and Sorority Life who was acting in an administrative capacity at the retreat, said “many members of our community were hurt, frightened and upset by what occurred at IMPACT.”

“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,” she told The Daily Mississippian.

Katrina Caldwell, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement, said her office was asked to put a plan together to address the incident.

“Right now, we’re just talking to people on campus who have some experience working across diversity to help the students process what happened,” Ms. Caldwell said.

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