Administrators at an Oregon college are trying to get to the bottom of who hung a cardboard effigy of Barack Obama from a campus tree Tuesday. The incident at George Fox University appeared to be in protest of a scholarship program geared toward minorities.
A George Fox University employee discovered the life-size cutout of the Democratic presidential candidate hanging from a campus tree with a fishing line around its neck. Posted on the cardboard effigy was a sign that read "Act Six Reject." Act Six is a program that promotes campus diversity and urban leadership. It annually awards full scholarships to up to 10 students most of whom -- but not all -- are minorities.
Robin Baker, the school's president, said he was "shocked, dismayed and disturbed" by the incident.
"I'm upset because it's an assault to kids I love, and I'm upset because it's an attack on the very commitment I have, to try to build a place that will truly educate students in a way that will help them see the world differently," he said.
Baker strongly condemned the act during an emotional school assembly Wednesday that drew 1,200 people. Baker also addressed the 17 Act Six students that attend George Fox Tuesday night after the incident. Many were unaware of what had happened before the meeting, because the cutout was promptly removed; only a few students saw it, according to the college.
Baker said the Act Six students urged him and the school to be open about the incident and tackle it head on.
University officials do not know who hung the cutout but have urged the community to come forward with any information. Officials turned the incident over to Newberg, Ore., police, but police did not find the act to be criminal.
"We are not able to establish this as a crime. It is an expression of free speech," said Sgt. Tim Weaver of the Newberg police. Weaver said police notified the Secret Service and the FBI, but the department cannot do much more. A Portland FBI official said the bureau was looking into the matter but would not say whether it would launch a formal investigation.
Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the Illinois senator, told ABC News, "This was an unfortunate incident, but over the course of the last 19 months, we have had a very positive response from Oregonians across the state."
In a letter drafted to Obama, Baker apologized for the incident and made clear that it did not reflect the college's views on his candidacy.
"Our campus community was outraged and disheartened by this unfortunate incident and would like to extend our deepest apologies to you and your family for any harm this may have caused," Baker said in the letter. "Please know that this incident does not represent how our community feels about issues of race or your candidacy."
George Fox is a predominantly white Christian college with 1,800 students. The incoming freshman class is the school's most diverse, with minorities making up 25 percent of the class. George Fox was founded in 1891 by Quakers, a group known for its tolerance, making the incident all the more hard to swallow for students and administrators.
"I joined this community as an undergrad in 1988, and I have never seen an act of overt racism,' said school spokesman Rob Felton. "Universally, every single person who hears about this finds it offensive and believes it is diametrically opposed to the values that we as a Christian college espouse."
Sophomore Ryan Moats, who is Hispanic and one of the school's Act Six students, was surprised by the incident because he personally hasn't faced racism on campus.
"The initial reaction was just shock because there's never been anything like this on campus," he said. "I would say there is a little bit of outrage not just from minorities but from people in general."
But Moats said the incident had sparked dialogue on the issue of racism.
"It's hard to comprehend that it takes something this horrible and this ugly to make us talk," Moats said. "But it opened our eyes and our hearts to more discussion about diversity and politics, and things we might not have ordinarily wanted to talk about."
Tim Herron, Act Six's national director, says there is a lot to learn from the incident.
"The ignorance and racism behind this incident was exactly what lead to the founding of [this organization,]" Herron said. "Part of what we have tried to do in Act Six is prepare young people to be able to confront and challenge those prejudices in a constructive way."
This is exactly what Felton hopes will emerge from this racially charged incident. He said that the effigy's hanging brings to light important issues that need to be discussed not only on his campus but around the country.
"It sparks an important conversation that we need to have about race in our culture. It's not something we can brush under the rug," he said.
ABC News' Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.