Four college students have confessed to hanging a cardboard effigy of Barack Obama from a tree on their Oregon campus last week, school officials said today.
The George Fox University students were immediately issued long-term suspensions and mandatory community service, according to a statement released by the school.
School officials at the Christian university declined to identify the four students or provide further details about their punishment. Local police are not pursuing the incident because they didn't find the act to be criminal, but the FBI has opened a preliminary investigation into whether or not any civil rights laws were violated, according to FBI spokeswoman Beth Ann Steele.
A George Fox University employee discovered the life-size cutout of the Democratic presidential candidate hanging from a campus tree last week 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 awards full scholarships to up to 10 students annually; most of them -- but not all -- are minorities.
The school's president, Robin Baker, issued a public statement condemning the act and emphasizing the school's commitment to fostering racial diversity.
"We want the world to know that we take diversity and racial reconciliation very seriously and that this abhorrent act that was senselessly carried out by a few students does not in any way reflect the commitments and beliefs of this institution. There is no excuse for this behavior," Baker said in the statement
Dean of transitions and inclusions Joel Perez, who oversees diversity initiatives at George Fox, said there was relief that the students who were apparently involved had been identified.
"It helps bring some closure," Perez said. "But this particular incident highlighted that we have a lot of work to do in our diversity training."
The school has initiated several new programs to respond to the incident including forming an advisory council on diversity with community members outside the school, developing a new school curriculum to educate students about racial issues, and initiating peer-to-peer dialogue about racism led by student groups.
Perez said that while he was not sure of the perpetrators' motive, he hoped that the entire student body understood the gravity of the incident.
"Hanging a black man from a tree is an image that obviously displays something that we as a country are not very proud of in our history," Perez said. "It's still something that needs to be taken seriously, even if they didn't realize the importance of the image. It has a lot of emotional history and demonstrates racism."
According to Perez, reaction to the students' punishment was mixed, but everyone was still talking about the racially charged incident that rocked the campus last week.
Robin Baker told ABCNews.com that 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.