What we see when we look at harmless, neutral objects can say a lot about us. Sometimes, we see what we want to see. Other times, we see what we're scared of.
We can only speculate about what may have caused a Michigan State University student to see a leather shoelace hanging on her door last week and report that someone had left a noose, but maybe it's better to simply laugh and be relieved that we don't have yet another racial controversy to deal with.
How it happened
A student opens the door and finds a shoelace on her door, and thinks it's been intentionally fashioned into a noose. So she reports it, because in her mind, it could be a racist threat. The police come, and after a few minutes of investigation, the officers find ... the other shoelace.
Some very serious and important detective work determined that another student living on the same floor lost a pack of shoelaces, and one of them got separated from the other. A third, unidentified student most likely walked by and picked up the loose lace off the ground and hung it on the doorknob.
The university's response
When the incident was first reported, the president of the school issued a statement saying the student was "distressed" by the situation, and that the Office of Institutional Equity was looking into it.
“I want to be clear: This type of behavior is not tolerated on our campus,” President Lou Anna K. Simmons said in the original statement. “No Spartan should ever feel targeted based on their race, or other ways in which they identify. A noose is a symbol of intimidation and threat that has a horrendous history in America.”
Later in the day, the school issued an updated statement explaining what really happened.
Humor aside, it's good to see that the university takes student reports seriously, and even better to see they were able to figure this one out without wasting too much of anyone's time.
"As we did in this case, the university takes any reported racial incident very seriously," said Jason Cody, a university spokesman. "MSU continues to provide support to the students involved."
This writer's perspective
With all the tension on college campuses and in our nation today, racial and otherwise, people are on edge. Hopefully, this incident can remind everyone to take a breath, relax, and not always assume the worst.