- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Six nooses arranged in the colors of the rainbow were part of an art display for a sculpture class at a Tennessee university and were not intended to be a political statement or hate symbol, officials said Tuesday.

Austin Peay State University President Alisa White told students at a forum that the FBI had interviewed the unnamed student and her art teacher and found no malicious intent with the project.

The nooses were hung from a tree near the art building at the Clarksville campus Monday afternoon. Campus police removed them after a complaint.

The art student issued a statement Tuesday saying the display was meant to invoke the cycle of death and rebirth represented by springtime. Before the statement, speculation about the meaning of the nooses had been rampant, with some students saying they were a statement about the high suicide rate among lesbian and gay youth and others assuming they were meant as a threat against African-Americans.

Even after the statement, some students at the community forum were skeptical that anyone would not know nooses would invoke slavery, segregation and lynching - rather than springtime - for many people.

“We all have taken history in high school,” student Tony Morris said at the forum. “How could anyone be unaware that would be offensive to people?”

At the University of Mississippi recently, one student was sentenced to six months in prison and another has yet to be sentenced after they placed a noose on a statue of the school’s first black student. They both pleaded guilty to intimidating black students and university employees.

A student who left a noose hanging from a tree at Duke University last year was disciplined but allowed to return to campus and not charged criminally. Duke said that noose was left as a result of ignorance and bad judgment.

At the Austin Peay forum, several students asked why the art student wasn’t punished.

White said she hopes the issue helps foster a discussion that will ultimately make the university better, with the art student and others “thinking more deeply about what we say before we say it.”

Student Shawn’na Darden said she was disappointed in the forum. She wished the art student had been present “to see how we were affected.”

The statement from the student reads: “I did not take into consideration that nooses are a racially charged symbol, for that I am sorry. I cannot apologize enough for the pain that my art work has caused, it was certainly not my intention.”

Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the Tennessee Conference of the NAACP, said in a phone interview that black Clarksville police officers sued the city a few years ago over acts of discrimination that included a noose hung in a workstation at police headquarters.

“I’m deeply disturbed that you would even think of doing this in a racially charged U.S., with the climate that we’ve got, that you would even use that as an art project,” she said.

Austin Peay’s president told students she was stunned when she was shown a photo of the nooses.

“I was just not prepared for it,” White said. “I didn’t think it would happen.”

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