Students hope to establish conservative club after college tears down flags supporting first responders

Roommates Turco and McCole explained to Campus Reform that on Oct. 27 they noticed two women had suddenly appeared outside their dorm with a ladder and started to tear down their flags.

McCole explained that both Turco and himself had gone straight to the dean immediately following the incident and noted they had received no explanation as to why only their flags had been torn down.

Trinity College (TC) students Lucas Turco and Finn McCole are looking to establish a conservative voice on campus after they were reportedly targeted by the college for hanging a "Don't Tread On Me" flag and an American flag with green, blue, and red stripes for supporting first responders. 

Roommates Turco and McCole explained to Campus Reform that on Oct. 27 they noticed two women had suddenly appeared outside their dorm with a ladder and started tearing down their “Don’t Tread on Me” and American flag-supporting first responders that were hung outside their windows. 

The video posted on Twitter by Libs of Tik Tok shows a female staff member, identified as Veronica Hills, climbing a ladder and ripping the flags off the outside of Turco and McCole’s dorm at the Hartford, Connecticut, college.

When Turco and McCole asked why she was taking the flags down, Hill replied, “You are directed to take it down,” alleging the dean’s office requested their removal. 

McCole told Campus Reform, “The two women basically showed up at our door and said, ‘we have official orders by the dean to remove [the flags].’ So we asked for clarification. We said, what's the rule? … there’s flags all over campus.”

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Hill appeared to be agitated that the students recorded the interaction stating, “Put your phone away.”

“Absolutely not,” Turco said. “I have every right to record. This is America we have the First Amendment right of freedom of speech, freedom of expression.”

Turco explained that Hills told another woman, who has been identified as Susan Salisbury, to call campus safety. Salisbury is seen near the end of the video also recording the incident. 

Turco also asked if other students had to take their flags down. Hill replied, “they are being asked.”

“They are being asked, but our flags are being ripped off,” Turco stated. “Do you think that’s right?”

Once the flags had been taken down, Hill attempted to leave with the flags despite both Turco and McCole asking for them back.

At first, Hills refused to give the flags back, saying “They’re going to go to the dean’s office.” She is seen, however, giving them back after Turco stated that she was stealing his property.  

Additional photos show the university sent out an email four days later to students requesting all flags to be taken down.

Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) sent a demand letter to the college on Nov. 1 immediately following the email. While FIRE acknowledged that TC is a private college and “not bound by the First Amendment” the fact that only certain viewpoints, or in this case certain flags, “is a clear violation of students’ expressive rights.”

“The removal of some flags but not other similarly sized and positioned flags is viewpoint-based,” FIRE stated. “When authorities target’“not subject matter but particular views taken by speakers on a subject, the violation [of expressive rights] is all the more blatant.’”

The letter concluded with a demand for TC to “clarify” to its students that the university will not create policies that discriminate based on viewpoint and not “resort to institutional censorship.”

FIRE told Campus Reform, “By choosing to only remove conservative flags from dorm room windows while other flags remained up, Trinity appears to be selectively enforcing its policies to censor certain views. This is not acceptable at a college that promises students broad expressive rights, as Trinity does.”

McCole explained that both Turco and himself had gone straight to the dean immediately following the incident where they were shown the rule barring flags on campus but noted they had received no explanation as to why only their flags had been torn down. 

“So that's when we went talk to the dean in the Dean's office…and they were actually quite nice to us,” McCole said, “They shared with us the rule but it still didn't really address why exactly ours were forcibly removed. Whereas like everybody else was given the opportunity to take them down on their own accord.” 

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Turco and McCole said they were aware of FIRE’s demand letter but had no idea whether or not the school planned to do anything in response. 

Both also mentioned that conservative voices on campus were not encouraged to speak up due to the college’s political climate.

“[A] lot of the teachers [are] very politically charged and mostly tuned towards the left. So I found myself in essays, or even in class answering questions, I just want to make sure I'm not…expressing myself in a way that they may disagree with,” McCole stated. “You know, so not that I'm entirely saying things that I'm totally against, but  I'm just definitely more careful about speaking totally [free].”

Despite this, Turco and McCole are looking to change that.

“Me and Lucas want to reestablish the Republicans Club on campus, that’s what we’re working to do," McCole stated. 

Turco mentioned one female student had come up to him to express her thanks that they had stood up for what they believed in.

“One girl came up to me and just said that she was so happy that someone was finally able to be brave enough to stand up to the authorit[ies] and stand up for what they believe in,” he said. 

Late Wednesday evening, TC President Berger-Sweeney released a statement regarding the incident stating that the flags’ removal was not intended “to be seen as a political statement.”

The president acknowledged that the policy had been enforced “inconsistently” and said an apology had been made.

“As I understand the matter, an apology was issued on the same day of the removal to the students who own the flags for the manner in which the policy was enforced,” the statement read. “Trinity College encourages civil discourse as a tenet of democracy and welcomes viewpoints across the ideological spectrum in our community.”

Campus Reform contacted  Salisbury and the best effort was made to contact Hills. This article will be updated accordingly.

Follow @kliseanderson on Twitter.