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Hampshire College removes US flag following controversy



@cmlindahl
Monday, November 21, 2016

AMHERST — Since Election Day, Hampshire College’s U.S. flag has been discussed, set ablaze, replaced, and lowered to half-staff.

On Friday, Old Glory was removed indefinitely.

In an email sent to the campus community Friday, President Jonathan Lash announced that neither the national flag nor any other flag will be flown on the main flagpole in the center of campus. The decision comes after two weeks of discussion and controversy on campus about the meaning of the flag and the significance of flying it at half-staff.

“After some preliminary consultation with campus constituents (we understand much more is needed), we have decided that we will not fly the U.S. flag or any other flags at Hampshire for the time being,” Lash wrote.

Administrators on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, discovered the flag had been burned the night before. Some 150 students upset with Donald Trump’s election earlier that week gathered the night of Nov. 10 around the flagpole.

At that gathering, students called for the removal of the flag, which they said was a symbol of racism and oppression, according to a student interviewed by the Gazette.

“Think about the groups who use the flag, from police officers to the U.S. Army,” said Daniel Vogel, 19, who said he had nothing to do with the flag’s desecration. “These are the forces on the ground that make oppression happen.”

Before the flag was burned, students lowered it to half-staff. College administrators replaced the flag and kept it lowered until Veterans Day, according to Hampshire spokesman John Courtmanche.

In a Nov. 12 statement, college trustees wrote that they learned with “distress” of the flag burning. Some community members experienced the destruction as “an act of disrespect against people of color, who are disproportionately represented in the U.S. military,” the board wrote.

Given the historical moment and the divisions and conflicts that have consumed the nation during the campaign and following Trump’s election, the board decided to have the flag flown at half-staff indefinitely so it could be experienced “as inclusively as possible” by all in the community.

The college several months ago adopted a policy of periodically flying the flag at half-staff to mourn violent deaths in the U.S. and globally, beyond what is prescribed by the U.S. Flag Code, the trustees wrote.

“After discussion among the trustees in tandem with some community participation, the Board has come to consensus to fly the flag at half-staff, both to acknowledge the grief and pain experienced by so many and to enable the full complexity of voices and experiences to be heard,” they wrote. “This is an effort that will require time, trust, broad participation, and mutual respect; and while this is underway the flag will remain at half-staff.”

On Friday, Lash wrote about how some people had interpreted the move differently to how the trustees had intended.

“We have heard from many on our campus as well as from neighbors in the region that, by flying the flag at half-staff, we are actually causing hurt, distress, and insult,” he wrote. “Some have perceived the action of lowering the flag as a commentary on the results of the presidential election — this, unequivocally, was not our intent.”

Thus, Lash wrote, the conversation about the flag and how to best address “racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and behaviors” would be had while the flag is no longer flown on Hampshire’s main flagpole.

Courtmanche noted that this does not prohibit college community members from displaying flags on their own accord. The policy affects only the flagpole in the center of campus, the college’s only one.

Aaron Berman, professor of history at Hampshire, noted recently that the flag has had many different meanings to different groups of people at times throughout history. He said he feels comfortable with the administration’s decision.

With the flag nearby — the same flag the Ku Klux Klan marched with — black contralto Marion Anderson sang at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after being denied permission to perform at Constitution Hall because of her color, Berman said.

“There are a lot of different viewpoints at the college,” Berman said.

Berman said there’s a lot of worry following the election and many in the Hampshire community are actively involved in talking about those results and the meaning of flying the flag.

“I think the flag being lowered was giving time for those conversations to take place,” he said.

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.