Why Hampshire College pulled down the American Flag

The controversy began after the flag at Hampshire College, a small liberal arts school in western Massachusetts, was burned.

Joseph Kaczmarek/AP/File
A man waves the American flag on Independence Mall in Philadelphia. Hundreds of protesters gathered at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., on Sunday after the school decided to temporarily remove flags from its campus.

Hundreds of veterans and protesters flocked to a Massachusetts college this weekend after the school decided to temporarily remove all flags – including the American flag – from its campus, a move many deemed unpatriotic and offensive.

Protests have broken out across the nation following President-elect Donald Trump’s unprecedented and unexpected victory. While many have taken to college campuses or city streets to decry the real estate mogul’s brazen rhetoric and what they see as threats to women, minorities, and immigrants, others have pushed back and criticized such acts. The result has been an increasingly divided nation.

The latest controversy began after students lowered the flag at Hampshire College, a small liberal arts school in western Massachusetts, to half-mast the day after Mr. Trump won the election. Students said the symbolic move was a protest against acts of hate and harassment, which have spiked in the wake of the unexpected victory. A day later, the flag was burnt by an unknown party, prompting the campus to launch an investigation into the incident.

While a new flag was unveiled for Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11), the college decided to temporarily remove it after students decried it as a symbol of inequality across the nation. Administrators hoped that the decision would facilitate a conversation about the many symbolic messages the flag represents, including that of "a powerful symbol of fear" to some.

But for others, the removal of the American flag represented an attitude of disrespect toward veterans and those who lost their lives fighting to protect the country. "Our flag is a symbol of our country," Gamalier Rosa, a veteran who served in Iraq and helped to organize the protest, told The Boston Globe. "Our clearest message is that we ask others to respect the flag as we do."

The school’s president, Jonathan Lash, met with members of the local VFW before the protest and he plans to do so again in the coming weeks. While both sides felt optimistic about the meeting, Mr. Lash hasn’t agreed to raise the flag again just yet, and remains dedicated to an open and inclusive dialogue on the campus.

"If we could remove the conflict over the symbol and get to the real issues underneath, there would be a chance for real learning," Lash told WCVB, the local Boston ABC TV affiliate station.

For many students, the shocking election results and Trump presidency have changed their views on what the flag means.  

"If our president is Donald Trump, I don't think any school, especially this school, should really support his ideas by raising the flag," an unnamed student told WCVB.

But many veterans disagree, seeing the US flag as a permanent symbol of the nation that shouldn’t be honored – or discarded – based on who is currently in power.

"It's not about who won the election," Leo Deschenes, who served in the Coast Guard for 16 years, told MassLive during the protest. "It's about being able to have free elections and voice opinions or opposition and not be hauled off to jail or imprisoned forever or executed in the streets."

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