Symbol of hate leaves many feeling dismayed, fearful
by Sanaé Wolfe, contributing writer, SF Foghorn
A report of a noose hanging on a balcony in the Loyola Village residence hall was received by USF’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) at around 3 p.m. on March 30.
The student who reported the noose’s presence, who lives in Loyola Village and requested to remain anonymous, said they first discovered it when they decided to spend some time outside on their apartment balcony. Hanging directly across from the student, who is Black, was a noose: a widely recognized symbol of anti-Black racism and terror in the United States.
Candice Harrison, the director of African American studies at USF, explained why the noose has the power to strike such fear. “The noose is a particularly triggering symbol of not just extralegal violence, but white supremacy and racism in the United States,” she said. “It’s a physical threat, and it’s a political threat and, obviously, it’s an emotional threat.”
The student next took a picture of the noose and shared it with their roommate, who is also Black, asking them to confirm whether the rope they were seeing was indeed a noose. Their roommate then came out to join the student on the balcony to further inspect the situation. The student said they contemplated contacting the San Francisco Police Department before eventually deciding to contact DPS instead.
The student said DPS was initially skeptical of their report and proceeded to ask whether they were sure that what they were seeing was actually a noose, stating that they have responded to reports like this before where it was simply a rope not tied into a noose. The student assured DPS staff that it was a noose, and DPS replied by sending officers to their apartment to speak with them about the incident.
The DPS officers didn’t know what to do.
According to the student, officers arrived to assess the situation about five minutes later. Upon their arrival at Loyola Village, the DPS officers entered the student’s apartment to get a look at the rope from the same vantage point the student had originally discovered it at.
The student said that the DPS officers “were kind of shocked as well” and that it “seemed like they didn’t know how to go about the situation. They were kind of frantic.” The student said an officer then called Student Housing and Residential Education (SHaRE) staff into their apartment. “We were just all talking, and they didn’t know what to do,” the student said. “I was telling them, ‘I think you should go over and go talk to the people [in the other apartment].’”
According to the reporting student, DPS officers and SHaRE staff then began to question them and their roommate about the nature of their relationship to their neighbors across from them, to which they responded: “There have never been any instances where we have communicated with one another,” adding that they may have exchanged a simple “Hi,” or possibly locked eyes with their neighbors in the past, but, “That’s really it, never really any true interactions.”
DPS officers and SHaRE staff then went over to the apartment in question to ask that the noose be taken down. DPS Senior Director Dan Lawson said, once inside the residence, the officers on duty questioned the roommate of the student who hung the noose – as the roommate was the only person present in the apartment at the time – about how and why the noose came to be displayed on their balcony.
According to the student who first reported the incident, when the roommate started to unwind and remove the rope, they could hear them say, “‘We never go out on the balcony, I don’t know why this is here.’” The student who first discovered the noose also claims that when DPS officers began to ask the roommate questions, they laughed.
“I’m sitting there right on the balcony – he could see me standing out on the balcony – and he’s just laughing,” the reporting student said, adding that they were in disbelief and that they recorded the incident as a result.
Officers then called the other student who lived in the apartment where the noose was hung. On the phone, this student also denied knowing the noose was there at first, but ultimately admitted to hanging it; first claiming they used it for gardening, then recanting that statement, saying it was for fishing.
At that time, DPS and SHaRE staff determined that the incident posed no immediate risk to the wider university community, who were not alerted about the incident until a day later, on March 31, when a university-wide email was sent out acknowledging the incident and its implications. DPS then clarified to the reporting student that the noose had been removed and that an official investigation had been launched.
The student who admitted to placing the noose was immediately removed from university housing, according to the university-wide email. It is unknown at this time if the removal is permanent or temporary pending university judicial proceedings.
According to Lawson, the existing protocol for an event of this nature, which he considered to be “horrific” because of the symbolism of the noose, is to investigate any such issue promptly in order to determine its cause and whether it poses an immediate threat to the campus community, in collaboration with SHaRE staff. If the DPS concludes that there is no imminent threat, it is then up to the university’s Office of Student Conduct, Rights and Responsibilities and the Office of the Dean of Students to conduct further investigation and issue any further disciplinary action to students involved.
“From this incident, we not only have Black students on campus who are fearful – who may not want to return to campus because of it; who may want to find alternative housing – but we also have prospective students who are literally saying, ‘I am in a position of rethinking my acceptance to USF.’”
After the email was sent out, many students expressed disappointment that the university did not inform its community of this event in an immediate manner, especially those who are currently living on campus and could have been directly impacted by the noose’s presence.
The Black Student Union (BSU) issued a statement on Instagram regarding the noose incident on April 1, writing: “Again, Black students must come face to face in confronting their traumas at the University of San Francisco,” referencing that this is not the first time the BSU has had to make demands of the University administration in order to combat racial injustice.
The statement continued, “To say that action may be determined does not guarantee that action will be taken, this incident is on course to become another instance of negligence on behalf of the university.”
The BSU’s response demanded that the university release the name of the student who hung the noose, in addition to removing said student from university housing permanently, expelling the student, and for the University to consider all hate crimes as an immediate threat to student safety in the future.
USF administration responded to the BSU’s demands on April 2 in another university-wide email, in which they wrote, “We understand that there is a sense of anxiety and fear in our community. But ultimately students have certain rights, which include a hearing and an appeal process,” addressing the BSU’s demand surrounding the identity of the student who hung the noose.
According to the Fogcutter student handbook, the official conduct guide for USF students, the accused student, under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), has a right to privacy, due process, and a fair and impartial judicial hearing. The email went on to state that once this process has been completed, further communication will be sent to the USF community in accordance with existing university policies.
The BSU has since shared that they are not satisfied with the administration’s response to their demands. “Unfortunately, this response is something that, in some ways, is very expected,” said BSU President Brianna Johnson, who added that their demands have not yet been met and that they will continue advocating on behalf of the student body until they are.
I want to be optimistic, but I feel like they’re not going to do anything.
Candice Harrison, who is also the faculty director of the Black Achievement Success and Engagement (BASE) program at USF, said, “It’s really important that folks understand that, yes, in this particular case, the students who saw the noose first had the most severe impact. But once the photograph is taken, once other students on campus begin to see the noose, they all begin to carry this emotional weight; then everyone feels in danger.”
BSU Vice President Houston Tucker said that as a result of the noose event, “a lot of the freshmen and sophomores, some of which who’ve never been on campus, are fearful and have lost their excitement [to come to campus for the first time].”
Johnson echoed this sentiment: “From this incident, we not only have Black students on campus who are fearful – who may not want to return to campus because of it; who may want to find alternative housing – but we also have prospective students who are literally saying, ‘I am in a position of rethinking my acceptance to USF.’”
As the university’s investigation progresses, members of the USF community are continuing to express frustration with the way USF responds to incidents like these, with many emphasizing a desire for more transparency from university administration and a need for new protocols surrounding perceived hate crimes.
Specifically on the topic of expelling a student, Ellen Ryder, vice president of the Office of Marketing Communications, said, “USF’s nonacademic code of conduct sets forth what is involved in determining if a student’s behavior and actions merit expulsion” and that is what the investigation will explore. “It will examine the student’s motivation and – regardless of the student’s intent – what impact the act of placing the noose on the balcony had on the community,” she said
When asked what it would take for them to feel comfortable in Loyola Village and on campus again, the student who found the noose said while they understand the administration must do their due diligence and conduct an investigation, they feel that “ethically and morally there are certain things that still need to be done.”
Specifically, the student said that they feel both students who live in the apartment where the noose was hung should be expelled, adding, “I want to believe [university administrators] are going to do the right thing and make some change to protect their Black students … I want to be optimistic, but I feel like they’re not going to do anything.”
Sanaé Wolfe is a freshman English major and a contributing writer at the Foghorn, the University of San Francisco’s student-run newspaper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The story is republished with permission.