Students and school leaders at a small Christian university expressed outrage Wednesday at the discovery of a life-size cardboard effigy of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama hanging from a tree on campus.
A custodian at George Fox University discovered the effigy early Tuesday and immediately removed it, President Robin Baker said. University spokesman Rob Felton said Wednesday that the commercially produced reproduction had been suspended from the branch of a tree near Minthorn Hall with fishing line around the neck.
The hanging of the effigy around the neck is seen as racist symbolism because it harkens back to lynchings of black men by white mobs, especially in the U.S. South, decades ago. Obama is aiming to become America's first black president.
"We will not tolerate such displays and condemn it in the strongest terms," Baker said. "George Fox University is committed to becoming a place that more broadly represents the Kingdom of God — a place where students from diverse backgrounds come together to live out the teachings of Jesus in our world."
Taped to the cardboard cutout of Obama was a sign that read "Act Six reject." Act Six is a scholarship program geared toward increasing the number of minority and low-income students at several Christian colleges, mostly in the Northwest.
The school has 17 students in the program, whose name derives from the New Testament book of Acts. All but one are members of minority groups, Felton said.
Students in the program receive full scholarships and are selected on the basis of leadership potential.
'Disheartened and outraged'
Baker met with the students in the Act Six program late Tuesday and addressed the student body Wednesday at the school's regular chapel service.
Baker told students he was "disheartened and outraged."
"It has been my dream to establish a university that more adequately represents the kingdom of God," he said. "This act causes some to question our commitment."
Newberg police Sgt. Tim Weaver said officials are working with the university to find out who was responsible. He also said the police department has notified the U.S. Secret Service, although it's not clear yet whether the act was a crime.
Brad Lau, a university vice president, said school officials have been questioning students for leads. He and other school officials wouldn't say what action it might take.
Several students in the Act Six program said they are angry but do not feel threatened.
"To me, I just felt like they weren't ready to have a black person be president," said Courtney Greenidge, a sophomore. "We're trying to bring change. Obama's trying to bring change." She described herself, like Obama, as biracial: half black, half white.
She also said that overall, the campus has a welcoming and positive environment, but that she has heard comments along the lines of, "Oh, I wish I was black. Then I could get a scholarship like that."
George Fox University's campus is in Newberg in the Willamette Valley south of Portland. About 1,800 students are enrolled. It also has centers in Portland; Salem; and Boise, Idaho.
Felton said that about 2 percent of the students are black and about a quarter of the freshman class belong to minority groups. That number includes international students, largely from Asia and Africa.