Clemson used banana incident to advance liberal agenda, emails show

An email exchange between top Clemson officials suggests that the administration welcomed the opportunity to use the now infamous “banana banner” incident to push a progressive agenda.

On Monday, April 11, a bunch of bananas was found hanging from a banner mounted on campus honoring the history of African Americans at Clemson, resulting in on-campus protests and a sit-in that lead to the arrest of five students.

[RELATED: Clemson students worry ‘banana banner’ will lead to free speech setbacks]

According to emails released by Clemson under the Freedom of Information Act that were obtained by Campus Reform, key players involved in the incident seemingly regarded its racial undertones as an occasion to suffocate conservative sentiments out of the administration.

Last week, in response to a separate FOIA request, Clemson released emails sent by top administrators in the immediate aftermath of the incident, one of which seemed to suggest that school officials believed that the students who hung the bananas were not racially motivated.

“Two students came forward and told they had done bananas,” Vice President for Student Affairs Almeda Jacks wrote in an email to other administrators on the evening of April 11. “Their claim is [that] they had no idea of pole or banner,” she explained, adding, “nobody will believe that tho [sic] our folks think true.”

[RELATED: Clemson believed ‘banana banner’ incident wasn’t racial]

In a more recent correspondence between Altheia Richardson, executive director of Clemson’s Harvey and Lucinda Gantt Multicultural Center, and Professor Todd May, who apparently has been trying with little success to move conservative administrators away from their “party line,” the two seem to hint at the potential leverage the incident could afford in future conversations with school leaders.

[RELATED: Clemson students challenge out ‘Black Out’ protesters]

Richardson begins the exchange by forwarding to May an email that was sent to Clemson students by Chris Miller, the school’s interim associate vice president, who strongly condemned the incident as a “misuse [of] one’s right to free speech” and “irresponsible.”

In a supplementary note accompanying the forward, Richardson notes the stark contrast between the tone of Miller’s response and that of Clemson president James Clements.

“In case you haven’t seen the email below, it came out from the interim dean of students to all students this evening at a little after 7 pm. A marked difference from the email from President Clements,” she writes before encouraging May to reach out to Miller to arrange a private meeting.

May, however, responds less optimistically, saying his “sense is that many students have lost all trust in the administration and view this as a way to co-opt dissent.”

Yet Richardson persists, advising May to meet with Miller, who she describes as an administrator not “stuck to any allegiances.”

“In my private conversation with him, he doesn’t seem to be stuck to any allegiances, if you know what I mean,” she remarks. “In my conversations with students as of late, I’ve shared that there are several new players in the game right now, and more joining in the near future. They’re very different (in a good way) from their predecessors.

“And although the president certainly sets a tone for the university, they should avoid making assumptions about everyone based upon the actions of / their feelings towards a couple (namely PC [President Clements] and Almeda),” she adds, seeming to suggest that some of the school’s new administrators would be more inclined to advocate for progressive causes.

May, though, remains skeptical, saying that from his 25 years at Clemson he has come to the realization “that people’s own sentiments rarely drive their behavior when it comes to the party line.”

Richardson then takes the liberty of forwarding the exchange to Miller, who recommends that May take advantage of his tenure to more aggressively advocate for his positions.

“What he fails to recognize is that he has the benefit of tenure and we do not lol,” Miller responds. “We go about doing our business with a deliberate process holding true to our convictions in quiet and sometimes not so quiet way.”

Campus Reform reached out to Richardson and May to ask precisely what was being suggested in the exchange but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Some Clemson students, who were verbally intimidated at a protest after the incident, commented on the exchange and offered their own theories on its significance.

[RELATED: Students: Clemson seems reluctant to acknowledge our FOIA request]

“From what I read, it seems like Altheia was warning those two professors [another professor was copied to the exchange but did not participate] not to assume that Clements and Almeda were unprogressive,” student Miller Hall, member of a free speech activist group known as “We Roar,” told Campus Reform, saying it is likely that Richardson was “convincing them that they could get them to cooperate with the progressive agenda.”

[RELATED: Students petition Clemson to eliminate speech restrictions]

Zach Talley, another WeRoar member who also serves as editor-in-chief of The Tiger Town Observer, explained that May has in fact been trying for years to infiltrate the administration with his liberal ideologies, but has been repeatedly stonewalled by a reluctant president.

“He has been for years and years and years pushing a liberal agenda,” Talley remarked. “May is the brain behind the operation, and he tries to accomplish his liberal agenda through minorities on campus because he is a straight white male.”

Notably, one of the student protesters involved in April’s sit-in is the son a top administrator at Clemson, Alesia Smith, who later recused herself from leading the investigation into the banana banner incident due to a conflict of interest. The date of her recusal is noted as April 14, which is in the middle of the date range for records released in the latest Freedom of Information Act response, yet while the dump does include emails from other administrators concerning the university’s conflict of interest policy, no mention of her recusal is included in the release.

[RELATED: Clemson admin offers recusal after students question relation to protest leader]

Campus Reform reached out to Smith to request an explanation for why there are no emails mentioning her recusal, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski