Today, thousands of students nationwide plan to wear black and more than 10,000 have pledged to rally in Jena, La., to support the Jena Six, six young black men involved in a racially spurred incident in the town.
One year ago, nooses were hung from a traditionally whites-only tree at Jena High School after a black student asked the school's vice principal if he and some friends could sit under it, The Associated Press reported.
Following the incident, numerous racially motivated crimes broke out in Jena, one of which led to the arrest of the six black students after police said they beat a white student.
The Jena Six -- Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey, Theodore Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Jesse Beard -- were charged with attempted murder stemming from the beating of white classmate Justin Barker. Parents of the Jena Six said Barker was using racial epithets, the AP reported.
Bell, the first of the six to be tried in court, had his charges overturned last week, although Jena District Attorney Reed Walters may try Bell in juvenile court if his appeal fails, the AP reported.
CNN.com reported that Walters was under investigation by the FBI because of possible bias after reportedly warning black students at Jena that he could "take away their lives with the stroke of a pen."
Although Donald Washington, a U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, said yesterday that he has found no connection between the beating and the nooses, he did say they were likely symptoms of racial tension, CNN reported.
The three white students responsible for hanging the nooses at Jena High School were given in-school suspensions by the school administration despite the principal's recommendation of expulsion, the AP reported.
The court proceedings have spurred rallies and activism nationwide, recently reaching Penn State.
Morgan Means (junior-telecommunications) joined one of more than 300 Facebook groups associated with the Jena Six, encouraging students to wear black in support of today's rally.
"It's upsetting that something like this can happen, and people don't know about it," she said. "It's disgusting that lawmakers will bend the rules because of race. We should be able to have more faith in our justice system."
Penn State's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the College Democrats started raising awareness about the Jena Six yesterday by providing information about the issue in the HUB-Robeson Center. They will be there again today with a petition if students would like to support the Jena Six.
"It's not just a black and white issue, but to see what really happened," Penn State NAACP president Lloyd Colona said. "We want to have a unified front against injustice at a larger level."
Means said she hoped that if a similar situation occurred at Penn State, the responsible students would be expelled.
"People have a tendency to push what happened aside and say that it's a prank, and it gets overlooked," Means said.
On Sept. 7, a noose was found hanging from a tree outside the Nyumburu Cultural Center at the University of Maryland, in College Park, Md.
"It's a real big deal on campus," said University of Maryland student Akshay Gupta. "People think it may be related to the Jena Six because there was nothing that happened recently on campus that would have caused someone to do something like that. Most people agree on campus that it is a hate crime."
Two days earlier and only miles away, about 2,500 students from Howard University in Washington, D.C., packed a campus building to rally in support of the Jena Six, said William Roberts, Howard University Student Association vice president and one of the rally's organizers.
"We felt it necessary to do because ... it was important to educate students," Roberts said. "We wanted to voice our protest about the case."
On Tuesday, an estimated 200 students marched from Atlanta University Center campus to a downtown park in support of the Jena Six, the AP reported. A bus caravan will also make the 550-mile trip to Jena today for the rally.
The issue is bigger than just a trial in Louisiana, Roberts said.
"It's not just a Jena issue, it's a racial issue. Nooses are not a joke," he said. "Jena is a microcosm of what is going on in society."