On the same day that Taylor Dumpson began her tenure as the first black woman president of the American University Student Government, the university was the scene of racist messages and signs, including bananas in nooses. Days later, police rushed to protect Dumpson after officials saw an online post written by a “white supremacist.”
The racist messages and the bananas appeared to be directed towards Alpha Kappa Alpha, the predominantly black sorority Dumpson is a member of. NBC News reports that one message written on a banana read “Harambe bait,” a reference to the gorilla killed at Cincinnati zoo in 2016. Another message read “AKA Free.”
After images of the bananas circulated on social media, American University President Dr. Neil Kerwin called them a “crude and racially insensitive act of bigotry.”
Here’s what you need to know about Dumpson.
1. The Bananas Were Marked With Racial Messages, Including ‘Harambe Bait’
The bananas were found on campus with racist messages written on them. One had the words “Harambe bait” written on it. This is a reference to Harambe the Gorilla, who was killed in a Cincinnati zoo after a young boy fell into its enclosure. The gorilla’s death became a popular online meme, but as Fusion noted in September, the meme has taken on racist connotations.
Another banana had “AKA Free” written on it. This is a reference to Alpha Kappa Alpha, a predominantly black sorority. Dumpson is also a member of the sorority.
“Racially charged acts of bigotry are done to instill fear and inflict pain in our community—especially at stressful times, such as at the end of the term,” President Dr. Neil Kerwin said in a statement. He continued:
“I regret this happened, apologize to everyone offended, and state emphatically that this incident does not reflect what American University truly is. While this incident targeted AU’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, and occurred after the first black woman and AKA member was sworn in as the Student Government president—our entire university community has been adversely affected by this cowardly, despicable act.”
On May 4, NBC Washington reported that police rushed to protect Thompson after they saw an online post “authored by a white supremacist.”
On May 3, The New York Times reported that the FBI is helping out with the investigation.
2. Dumpson Asked the Student Body to ‘Unite in Solidarity’ With Those Impacted by the Incident
Dumpson didn’t expect her tenure as AUSG president to begin this way. The racist incident was the main topic of her first statement to the student body. She wrote:
It is disheartening and immensely frustrating that we are still dealing with this issue after recent conversations, dialogues, and town halls surrounding race relations on campus. But this is exactly why we need to do more than just have conversations but move in a direction towards more tangible solutions to prevent incidents like these from occurring in the future.
Later, Dumpson quoted Frederick Douglass and asked that the student body “unite in solidarity with those impacted.”
As the first black woman AUSG president, I implore all of us to unite in solidarity with those impacted by this situation and we must remember that “if there is no struggle, there is no progress” – Frederick Douglass. We must use this time to reflect on what we value as a community and we must show those in the community that bigotry, hate, and racism cannot and will not be tolerated.
The Eagle, AU’s student newspaper, reports that school Public Safety is investigating the incident. The paper notes that it was Quinn Dunlea, a senior, who discovered the bananas at a shuttle bus stop with her friend. They reported it to Public Safety.
“I was horrified. It’s such ugliness and hatred on our campus.” Dunlea’s friend, Dan Perry, told The Eagle. “A part of me hoped it would not be what we thought it was… I was blown away by the fact that these people actually go to our school.”
3. Dumpson Grew Up in Maryland & Is the Daughter of a Movie Producer
Her father is Jeffrey Dumpson, an executive movie producer. He’s worked on four films so far – The Man in 3B, The Preacher’s Son and the upcoming The Choir Director and No More Mr. Nice Guy.
Dumpson describes Salisbury as having “a very small town feel. Everyone knew everyone. I’ve had family members in that town for seven generations.” She said AU’s “big city vibe, small town feel” attracted her to the university. She also played on the lacrosse team during her freshman year.
4. Dumpson Considered Transferring After the 2015 AU Yik Yak Incident
This isn’t the first time Dumpson, who graduates in 2018, has seen a racist incident take place on AU’s campus. Back in March 2015, racist comments online were traced to AU students on a social media app called Yik Yak. At the time, Dumpson even considered transferring.
“But my parents were saying, ‘We’re going to let you grow where you’re planted. We’re going to see where it takes you,’” Dumpson told AU. From that moment on, she decided that improving race relations would be her goal.
“Everything I’ve done since my freshman year has really been to make sure that we’re opening and pushing the boundaries for students of color, specifically those who are going to come after me,” Dumpson told AU.
In September 2016, The Washington Post reported that a black student named Neah Gray complained about a banana being thrown at her dorm room. The university said in a statement that it investigated the incident.
After that incident, Dumpson wrote an oped in The Eagle, calling for “#SolidarityWithOurSisters.”
5. AU President Kerwin Called Dumpson an ‘Advocate for Change who Practices What She Preaches’
When Campus Compact recently recognized Dumpson for her work, AU President Neil Kerwin also praised Dumpson for being an “advocate for change who practices what she preaches.”
“Her strength is the uncanny ability to build dialogue and coalitions across different sectors and organizations,” Kerwin wrote. “Through fresh ideas and strong facilitation and leadership skills, she generates tangible change.”
“Over my college career, I have advocated for the rights and inclusion of students from marginalized communities on a peer-to-peer level, as well as a student to administrator level,” Dumpson wrote in a statement for Campus Compact. “On campus I have had the opportunity to work with administration to create a welcome week program that focuses on social justice and connects student with community organizations and advocacy groups in the DC community dedicated to fighting for marginalized communities.”
Dumpson is majoring in law and society, with a minor in sociology. She’s a graduate of Wicomo High School in Salisbury, Maryland.