Duke student who hung noose on campus writes open letter; ‘never had any racist intent’

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Photo from the Duke People of Color Caucus Tumblr

DURHAM, N.C. — The Duke University student who caused controversy after hanging a noose on campus has written an open letter, saying the incident was the result of ignorance and bad judgment.

Duke University published the letter to its website on Friday, after the investigation into the incident had been completed.

The student who hung the noose from a tree said he did not have any racial intent and did so as a joke.

The student said he was playing with the string while sitting with friends and left it hanging because he “truly did not appreciate the historical sensitivity of a noose hanging in a tree.”

The noose was found hanging on a tree at the Bryan Center plaza early last month. It was made with a thin yellow rope and has since been removed.

A photo of the noose was posted on social media. Several students said the incident was linked to racially charged motivations.

The student who hung the noose will not be charged. His full letter is as follows:

To Whom It May Concern,

Recently things have been going well for me at Duke: I was really happy with a series of fortunate events over the past few months culminating in getting a great team together to work on interesting projects, starting a relationship with a wonderful girl, and finding some great classes and professors. Duke was my home and I could not have been happier.

Unfortunately, through my lack of cultural awareness and joking personality, I ended up unintentionally creating a huge mess for myself, my friends, my family and many members of the Duke community that I severely regret. I am the student who created the noose and after playing around with it left it hanging on a low tree branch next to a table where I had been sitting with some of my friends. At the time, I truly did not appreciate the historical sensitivity of a noose hanging in a tree.

I have explained my story to Duke Administrators and law enforcement officials as well. I told them the sequence of events whereby something that I made out of a piece of yellow cord I found, for what I considered at the time to be innocent fun, was instead taken for something so terrible. My purpose in hanging the noose was merely to take some pictures with my friends together with the noose, and then texting it to some others inviting them to come and “hang out” with us — because it was such a nice day outside. If there was ever a pun with unintended consequences — this was certainly one. In addition, when I left I carelessly forgot the noose hanging on the tree for the rest of the afternoon and the evening rather than discarding it, as I should have. As a result, people saw it and because of the historical meaning of a noose in the South, a fact that because of my background and heritage I was completely unaware of, conclusions were made that whomever had made the noose did it for racist reasons. This led – completely justifiably — to the student demonstrations, and the school’s expression of disgust of my actions. The Duke Community should take pride in the spirit that unfolded and was demonstrated by the student body during those peaceful demonstrations.

Once I realized the historical connotations, I contacted the Administration, and explained that I never had any racist intent — which anyone who knows me could testify to. I apologized and co-operated in every which way I could.

While researching what the noose represents to the African-American community, I have found a book written by Sherrilyn Ifill, titled “On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century.” It is a book, which looks at the relationship between decades-old lynchings and today’s racial violence. I am reading this book so that I may better understand the negative power that the noose, a symbol of lynching, has come to represent in America. I have learned a hard and valuable lesson on many fronts, including that what can be funny for one group of people may bring back very negative, unacceptable symbols of hatred to others.

Except for my co-operation with the University and Law enforcement, I have been keeping quiet on the matter for now, which has been really hard to do, especially when I see good friends posting extremely hateful comments that they have no idea are about me. Yet I completely understand where they are coming from and fully support their sentiments, given what they think is the truth. Luckily, the very few people who know me and the truth have done so much to help me emotionally, even while I so regret having involved them in the first place. It may be hard for others to understand but my family and I have paid a real price in worry, embarrassment and concern. Not a day goes by that we don’t think about the incident.

Those who know me, know that there is nothing farther from me than racism. Once again I am very sorry that such an event took place and I hope the school I love and all the students that have been so kind to me will allow us all to move forward together. I will continue to undertake further learning on my side so such an event may never be repeated as a result of an action on my behalf.

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