CROOKSTON, Minn. - Police and University of Minnesota-Crookston officials are investigating an incident Thursday in which someone hung a statue painted to depict a person of color from a campus building.
The carved wooden statue, about three feet tall, was hung by a rope from the roof of the UMC Student Center and was visible from the ground, Crookston Police Chief Tim Motherway said. A passing student or staff member apparently alerted campus officials early Thursday morning.
"UMC staff took it down right away and contacted us," Motherway said. "We've been working with them closely. We found where the individual got up on the roof, and our investigation is continuing."
Because of how the figure appeared, "you have to assume" that the action may have been racially motivated, he said. "We're gathering information to determine who was responsible for this and what their motivation was, but we're going to approach it as possibly a racial incident."
The FBI was contacted but "at this time" is not taking an active role in the investigation, Motherway said.
Andrew Svec, UMC director of communications, said that people on campus "don't really know what to think" about the incident.
He said the wooden figure was suspended "by its torso, not like a noose" around the neck.
"There was no sign with it, just this hanging object out of any context," he said.
"What does that mean? Was it somebody's idea of a joke that was a very poor choice? Was it an ill-conceived prank? Or was it truly meant to be offensive, somebody trying to make a statement about race? It's unclear."
UMC Chancellor Chuck Casey sent an e-mail concerning the incident to students and members of the faculty and staff Thursday:
"Some of you may already be aware of an incident this morning involving a mannequin hung outside the student center. It appears to have racial connotations. As soon as it was discovered staff worked to remove it. An investigation is underway.
"Let me be very clear that such incidents are reprehensible and go against our efforts to create a civil, diverse atmosphere where all people are respected. We do not condone this incident in any way and will proceed following our conduct code to take appropriate disciplinary action. This serves as a reminder to all of us that each day we need to work to promote a climate of civility, respect, and support to every other member of this campus. It is an expectation."
Police are taking the incident "very seriously," Motherway said.
"UMC is a very culturally diverse campus," he said. "We have students from all over the world, and we have never had an incident like this. There's never been any indication of racial tensions. So this incident is very unfortunate."