“This is a lesson for everyone about sensitivity and respect for all people and how inclusive and understanding we need to be as a campus community,” Austin Peay President Alisa White said in a statement. “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. Therefore the artwork was inappropriate and had to be removed for the safety of our campus.
“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.”
Officials said campus police received several complaints at around 5 p.m. Monday about nooses near the Trahern fine arts building.
Officers took the nooses down “out of concern of hate symbolism and its potential impact to the campus,” according to the university.
White, the university president, had called the incident “deeply disturbing” and “hurtful,” arguing that regardless of how it was intended, it did not belong at Austin Peay.
“I am saddened,” she said in a statement Monday night, “and I am sorry for the hurt and offense this has caused and want our students, faculty, and staff to know that it will not be tolerated.”
Some on social media had claimed that the display was not meant to be malicious but instead was an art project intended to bring attention to the number of suicides within the LGBT community. A student who did not want to be named told the Leaf-Chronicle that the project was part of an introductory sculpture class and that the professor had approved it.
University officials said Tuesday that the student told them there was no plan to make a statement about social issues.
Furthermore, officials said, the “final display” had not been approved by the professor and the student had not included an artist’s explanation about the provocative piece.
“The student was sincerely concerned about the perception of and reaction to the display and was apologetic for the issues it caused,” according to the university statement.
Other universities have seen incidents involving nooses in recent years.
Two former students at the University of Mississippi pleaded guilty to a 2014 federal civil rights crime after they hung a noose around the neck of a statue of James Meredith, the first black student to attend the school.
Last year, a noose made from yellow rope was found suspended from a tree near the student union at Duke University.
Duke officials said the student who hung it there showed “ignorance and bad judgment” but was not expelled; he was “referred to the student conduct process.”
The incident incited anger from some African American students on campus who argued that the punishment was light.
Austin Peay’s NAACP chapter posted a photo of the nooses Monday on Instagram with the caption: “So this is at #APSU.”
The news sparked debate over whether it was activist art or a resurfacing of a symbol of racial hate in the South.
Nearly 4,000 people were victims of “racial terror lynchings” from 1877 to 1950 across a dozen states, including Tennessee, according to a 2015 report from the Equal Justice Initiative.
“Definitely racist and whoever thought that this is OK. It is not,” one Facebook user wrote. “As a black student attending APSU, I am deeply sadden (sic) by that. They know better then (sic) to leave ropes hanging from a tree.”
Another Facebook user, however, argued that “this is what art is about.”
“As an actual lesbian,” she wrote, “I’m going to say this: If the piece truly was about suicides in LGBT community, than (sic) it was a spectacular piece. It needs to have attention, not just small articles here and there. Suicides in the LGBT community is an epidemic.
“Whoever the student was, bravo, you have the attention of the people, that is what art is about. It’s not always going to be pretty, it’s going to be raw, and from the heart. Art tells a story.”
This post has been updated.