Old Glory returns to Hampshire College after 2-week controversy
Hampshire College raised its American flag early Friday morning, finally capitulating to community outrage two weeks after its controversial decision to remove the banner from campus.
On the eve of Veterans Day, students removed and burned the school’s flag in protest of the election results, and college president Jonathan Lash informed the community that the flag would temporarily not be flown “while the community delved deeper into the meaning of the flag and its presence on our campus.”
Hundreds of veterans and other interested citizens from the local community held a demonstration outside Hampshire College on November 27 with hundreds American flags, generating considerable media attention.
In response the unwelcome attention, Lash issued a statement two days later announcing that “no protesters will be allowed to come on campus,” and that students are not allowed to speak to the media about the controversy, due to the threat of harassment on social media.
In a campus-wide email Friday morning, however, Lash informed students that “we raised the United States flag to full staff on the campus flagpole,” providing two reasons for the flag’s restoration.
“First, and most important, I've been increasingly concerned about the hateful and toxic rhetoric that has been leveled at Hampshire as a result of our exercising our free-speech rights,” Lash remarks. “I won't compromise our safety, and we'll continue to deal with reprehensible and illegal behavior, which has included explicit threats against some of our community members, through appropriate authorities as we reinforce precautions around campus.
“Second, I'm encouraged by the depth and breadth of dialogue we've engaged in as a community over the last few weeks. We've begun to tackle complicated issues—the politics of free speech, what it means to dissent, the dismantling of bigotry—and I've been deeply moved by the honesty and strength of feeling I've heard expressed,” he continues, saying, “This is a good start to essential and ongoing work for us all. If we continue to model this going forward, we'll be a more understanding and resilient community.”
In a followup press release, a copy of which was obtained by Inside Higher Ed, Lash went on to insist that lowering the flag was not a political statement, and that he did not intend to offend veterans or military families.
“We acted solely to facilitate much-needed dialogue on campus about how to dismantle the bigotry that is so prevalent in our society,” he explained. “We understand that many who hold the flag as a powerful symbol of national ideals and their highest aspirations for the country—including members of our own community—felt hurt by our decisions, and that we deeply regret.
“Hampshire staff and faculty have led facilitated discussions, I have held multiple focus group sessions, and all of our students, faculty, and staff have been invited to contribute their opinions, questions, and perspectives about the U.S. flag,” Lash added.
“This is what free speech looks like. We believe in it, we will continue this work on campus, and we will look for ways to engage with our neighbors in the wider community,” he concluded, declaring, “We raise the flag now as a symbol of that freedom, and in hopes for justice and fairness for all.”
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