On Monday, people walking near the fine arts building on Austin Peay State University's campus in Clarksville, Tennessee, were greeted with a disturbing sight: Six nooses, in the six colors of the rainbow, hanging from a tree:
Nooses call to mind Jim Crow-era lynchings of African Americans. The rainbow colors have some fearing that the display might be a threat on LGBTQ students, as well.
Police removed the nooses after receiving a number of complaints, and university president Alisa White has issued a statement on the issue, saying "This incident is deeply disturbing and is hurtful to our university community." She added, "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 want our students, faculty, and staff to know that it will not be tolerated.” The university is investigating the incident.
Last month, the Tennessee chapter of the NAACP listed a number of concerns over the tenor of recent conversations about restructuring higher education in Tennessee universities. In a statement, the organization said that "as the state’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, the Tennessee State Conference NAACP is deeply concerned about the recent legislative actions of the Tennessee General Assembly and the racially-toxic dialogue at University of Tennessee (UT) and Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) institutions." The NAACP did not mention APSU.
One student in an introductory sculpture class told the Leaf Chronicle that the noose display was part of an art project for that class, and had been approved in advance by the instructor.
On Facebook, one student wrote that the had witnessed the nooses being hung, and invited classmates to join him in turning the information over to the school's administration.
"I would love to have everyone with me because strength is in numbers," he wrote.
A number of people commented on the university's post about the incident as well, with some wondering if the nooses were an installation and to what extent intent matters. One person wrote that the "ropes might not have a malicious meaning but it still sent the wrong message," adding, "We all know what ropes hanging from a tree mean."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.