Hampshire College president meeting with Mayor Sarno, others opposed to flag removal



Published: 11-30-2016 11:48 PM

AMHERST — In an ongoing effort to persuade Hampshire College leadership to once again fly the American flag, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is scheduled to meet with the college president on Thursday.

Sarno pushed for the meeting with President Jonathan Lash in an email exchange Tuesday.

“I’d love to speak with you in a respectful and constructive way to re-think your college’s stance on not flying our United States of America Flag,” Sarno wrote. “Even with our flag up, it would not prohibit your institution from having a peaceful protest and constructive dialogue and debate.”

Pete Wilson, spokesman for Sen. Stan Rosenberg, said Wednesday the Senate president also seeks the flag’s return and is working to set up a meeting with college leadership.

The day following the Nov. 8 election, students held a demonstration on campus, urging the college leadership to remove the flag. On Veterans Day morning, the flag was discovered burned and was replaced for the holiday. The college’s subsequent decision to remove the flag from campus has incited widespread outrage.

In a letter to Hampshire alumni late Tuesday afternoon, Lash wrote that the decision to remove the flag at the center of campus was based on Hampshire’s guiding principles.

“As a learning organization, we are committed to living up to the ideals of our mission: to insist on diversity, inclusion, and equity from our leaders and in our communities; to constructively resist those who are opposing these values; and to actively and passionately work toward justice and positive change at Hampshire and in the world,” he wrote.

Lash continued that the institution’s goal is to make the discussion around the flag a learning opportunity by giving voice to a range of viewpoints across cultures and seek common ground.

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“As part of this effort, last Sunday I met with leaders of the VFW in Amherst, who later that day were holding a demonstration by veterans and other local citizens outside our campus,” he wrote. “We had a productive and respectful conversation, and I hope to continue this conversation as we move forward.”

Another demonstration is planned for noon on Sunday at Hampshire College. Victor Nuñez Ortiz, vice president of Veterans Advocacy Services in Groton and VFW Post 754 commander, said he has organized both protests. 

Ortiz said he will continue the peaceful protests until the flag is raised. He said the flag has many meanings, such as unity, freedom and humanity.

“We need to respect the flag,” Ortiz said. “We are so fortunate to be in this country.”

Micah Welintukonis, a wounded combat veteran of Coventry, Connecticut, spoke at the Nov. 27 demonstration. He is now organizing the next demonstration with Veterans Advocacy Services.

Welintukonis said the flag is one of the most widely recognized symbols across the world. He said it represents “all our trials, errors, hopes, everything.”

On Tuesday morning, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his intentions for flag burners.

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag,” he wrote. “If they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Many area residents criticized Trump’s statements in interviews on Tuesday, calling the issue of flag burning “settled law” considering the Supreme Court has twice ruled the act is protected under the First Amendment.

“Though it’s protected under the Constitution, I tend to agree with President-elect Trump,” Sarno said Tuesday in a statement. “When I think of our veterans and their families with the continued sacrifices they make, many coming home injured and/or maimed and others never coming home in making the ultimate sacrifice — you have to wonder why anyone in the United States of America would burn our flag.”

The continuing controversy over the flag prompted an Amherst Police response to the college president’s home Tuesday evening.

According to dispatch logs provided by the Police Department, Lash called for assistance at 5:10 p.m. when a reporter from the Fox News Channel program “The O’Reilly Factor” followed him to his 15 Middle St. residence from the 893 West St. campus.

The dispatch logs state: “Reporter entered his garage and asked him questions about the American flag incident. (Reporting party) stated that the reporter also placed his foot in the doorway to stop (reporting party) from closing the door.”

Detective Michael Forcum said no entry was made to the residence and that the reporter was gone when police got to the South Amherst location.

Lash told police he will contact the cable news network about the incident, Forcum said, adding that the police investigation is closed.

Reporter Scott Merzbach contributed to this report.