Students at the University of Mississippi — better known as "Ole Miss" — were forced to cancel a "Greek Life" retreat last weekend after a discarded banana peel was found hanging in a tree on campus.
A student, Ryan Swanson, told the student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, that he discarded the banana peel by throwing it into the tree when he couldn't find a garbage can.
Makala McNeil, the campus President of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically black sorority that was part of the Greek Life retreat, later spotted the discarded banana and, instead of writing it off as mere garbage, assumed the peel was a racially tinged threat.
“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 recalled about the incident. According to Campus Reform, she later admitted that she and a friend became "just sort of paranoid for a second" after seeing the banana.
Word spread about the banana once McNeil returned to the retreat, and students quickly became agitated — some even left the retreat in tears, believing they were in the midst of a racial incident on campus. Students told the organizers that they "didn't feel safe" any longer at the retreat, and "didn't feel welcome."
Organizers, sensing the students' discomfort, cancelled all remaining Greek Life activities for the weekend.
Swanson, the dastardly banana discarder, has since apologized to the entire Greek community for his misstep. "Although unintentional, there is no excuse for the pain that was caused to members of our community," he said in a statement. "I have much to learn and look forward to doing such and encourage all members of our community to do the same."
Although it is now clear that it was all a misunderstanding and that the primary problem Ole Miss probably faces is a lack of acceptable refuse management facilities, Ole Miss says they are committed to a long-term investigation and campus-wide discussion of 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," Ole Miss Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement Katrina Caldwell told Campus Reform.