NEW YORK (CBS/AP) -- Investigators on Wednesday were looking into whether a noose hanging from the door of a black professor at Columbia University was the work of disgruntled students or even a fellow professor.
A police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because details of the investigation have not been made public, stressed that investigators were looking into a variety of possibilities. One is that the noose was placed on Madonna Constantine's door by another professor with whom she was having a dispute at the university's Teachers College, the police official said.
The incident at Columbia is just one of a dozen similar cases across the country in recent months, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller. At the University of Maryland, a noose was found outside the campus's African American cultural center. And at the Coast Guard Academy, a noose was found in the office of a staffer doing racial sensitivity training.
Tuesday's discovery of the noose at Columbia has roiled the Ivy League campus, prompting a protest rally and a meeting for upset students and faculty.
"Hanging the noose on my door reeks of cowardice and fear on many, many levels," Constantine told cheering students at the rally. "I would like the perpetrator to know I will not be silenced."
"This is an assault on African Americans and therefore it is an assault on every one of us," university President Lee C. Bollinger said in a statement. "I know I speak on behalf of every member of our communities in condemning this horrible action."
Derald Wing Sue, an adjunct professor at the Teachers College who does research with Constantine, said he was at work Tuesday morning when another colleague spotted the noose hanging on Constantine's door. She wasn't in her office at the time.
"I was surprised at how brazen this act of what I consider racial hatred and cowardice is," Sue told Miller.
Constantine has written about race, including a book entitled "Addressing Racism: Facilitating Cultural Competence in Mental Health and Educational Settings." Students said Constantine teaches a class on racial justice.
"Clearly, it was a symbolic act of racial hatred that was intended to intimidate," Sue said. "I felt outraged and angry that this was directed at such a close colleague and friend of mine."
Sue said he informed Constantine about the noose and she was devastated.
"She's doing fine," he said "She's OK. I've talked to her. She's getting a lot of support."
An e-mail to Constantine was not immediately returned Wednesday, nor were calls to the publicist for Teachers College and Constantine's office.
As word of the incident spread, students and faculty reacted with sadness and anger.
"Race it matters, and racism exists. And we want it to stop," Teachers College student Ricco Wright told CBS News after the rally.
"We're willing to strike if we must. That's why the sign is there," one student said. "We're saying that we're willing to strike if we must -- willing to walk out if we must. We really want the university to respond to the recent hate crimes on the campus."
"It's hard hearing about it," Danielle Green, a black student, said Wednesday. "I'm not uncomfortable here but I'm not surprised. I mean, look at the world we live in. There is a lot of racism going on."
In the message to the college's 5,000 students and 150 faculty members explaining why police were on campus Tuesday, college president Susan H. Fuhrman said: "The Teachers College community and I deplore this hateful act, which violates every Teachers College and societal norm."
"You would think, Columbia being such a diverse campus and New York being such a diverse city, it shouldn't happen here," said student Mikayla Graham.
Teachers College, founded in 1887, describes itself as the nation's oldest and largest graduate school of education.
According to its Web page, the college brought black teachers from the South to New York for training in the early part of the 20th century, when schools in the South were segregated.
The college has a diverse student body, including students from nearly 80 countries. The racial breakdown is 12 percent black, 11 percent Asian American and 7 percent Hispanic.
The discovery of the hangman's noose echoes other recent incidents involving the symbol reviled by many for its association with lynchings in the Old South.
Last year in Jena, La., three white students hung nooses from a big oak tree outside Jena High School. They were suspended but not prosecuted.
Racial tensions rose and a white student was beaten unconscious three months later. Recently, thousands of people protested the arrests of six black students in the incident.
Columbia has been the site of other campus turmoil, most recently last month when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to speak, prompting protests by groups angry over his statements questioning the existence of the Holocaust.
Last fall, Columbia was in the spotlight when a group of students stormed a stage to silence a speech by Jim Gilchrist, the founder of a group opposed to illegal immigration.
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