Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee has launched an investigation after six nooses were discovered hung on a campus tree as part of an art project.
On Monday, several people filed complaints with campus security after seeing the nooses near the Trahern Fine Arts Building. Reportedly, each noose was a different color, appearing to be arranged in the pattern of a rainbow. Campus police removed the nooses "out of concern of hate symbolism and its potential impact on campus."
The school determined that the nooses were a display by an artist as part of an introductory course focusing on yarn as an art medium. Lori Mitchell of ABC News reports that the project's display had not been reviewed or approved by the instructor.
"The incident is deeply disturbing and is hurtful to our university community," said Alisa White, the university's president. "Regardless of the intent, the display has no place on our campus. I am saddened, and I am sorry for the hurt and offense this has caused and wants our students, faculty, and staff to know that it will not be tolerated."
The artist claims that no message of hate toward LGBQT or African American students was intended. The student claims the display was meant to represent the cycle of death and rebirth at the arrival of spring. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has looked into the incident and spoken with the student and instructor. They have found no evidence of a hate crime.
The student has since expressed regret over staging the display, saying, "I did not take into consideration that nooses are racially charged symbol. For that I am sorry. I cannot apologize enough for the pain that my artwork has created."
According to Max Kutner of Newsweek, the incident gained national attention after the Instagram account for the university's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) posted a photograph of the display. Students are planning a meeting with school officials over the matter.
Travis Loller of The Washington Times writes that some students remain skeptical about the claims that anyone would not know nooses would invoke slavery, segregation, and lynching to many people. According to an Austin Peay report, 37% of its student body identifies as students of color, 19% of whom are African-American. These students in particular have been jarred by the episode on the Clarksville campus.
Displays of nooses with racially charged intentions have appeared on campuses before. Officials at Duke University and the University of Mississippi have responded to reports of nooses dangling from trees on campus. These episodes have rankled students and captured national attention.
"While we support the freedom of expression on our campus, we also have to keep in mind that there are symbols that have very specific and negative meanings to everyone, especially if context is not provided," President White added in her statement. "I am deeply sorry for the impact this has had on our campus community, and we will learn from this and ensure something like this does not happen again."