After election protest, college restores the American flag’s place

Hampshire College is putting the American flag back on the flag pole.

The school in western Massachusetts pulled it down three weeks ago after it was set on fire in the wake of the election of Donald Trump.

“I’ve received many e-mails, a lot of them extremely unpleasant,” Hampshire College president Jonathan Lash said.

You think?

“Our phone lines have been clogged with people calling to express their anger. People can disagree with us, but we’ve also received very explicit threats,” he tells the Boston Globe.

“For us, we raise the flag as a symbol of our hopes for justice, fairness and freedom,” he said. “I hope this is not the end of the dialogue about these issues. The underlying issues are very important for the country.”

Some students lowered the flag to half-staff after the election and was set on fire the night before Veteran’s Day.

The school’s president had originally said it wouldn’t be put back until spring, enabling the campus to engage in discussion about the underlying issues.

Apparently, he never saw the resulting firestorm coming, which someone should talk about, too. One would have to be pretty out of touch in 2016 not to have anticipated it.

“We hope this will enable us to instead focus our efforts on addressing racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and behaviors,” he said in announcing the flag’s removal last month.

When he met with protesting veterans on Sunday, Lash told them the flag was removed to “enable discussion,” but didn’t address the logic of thought that the flag prevented a discussion at all.

“This is what free speech looks like,” he said in his most recent statement yesterday. “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.”

This morning we raised the United States flag to full staff at Hampshire College after a two-week discussion period about what the flag means to members of the Hampshire community. College leadership, including the board of trustees, had decided on November 18 to lower the flag for a time to encourage uninhibited expression of deeply held viewpoints.

We are alarmed by the overt hate and threats, especially toward people in marginalized communities, which have escalated in recent weeks. We did not lower the flag to make a political statement. Nor did we intend to cause offense to veterans, military families, or others for whom the flag represents service and sacrifice. We acted solely to facilitate much-needed dialogue on our campus about how to dismantle the bigotry that is prevalent in our society. 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.

The dialogue we have experienced so far is the first step of a process. 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. 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. We raise the flag now as a symbol of that freedom, and in hopes for justice and fairness for all.

At Hampshire, we are committed to living up to these principles:

To insist on diversity, inclusion, and equity from our leaders and in our communities, and the right to think critically and to speak openly about the historical tensions that exist throughout the country
To constructively and peacefully resist those who are opposing these values
To actively and passionately work toward justice and positive change on our campus and in the world.
No less should be expected of any institution of higher learning.

Jonathan Lash
President
Hampshire College

  • BReynolds33

    My only comment would be that burning *someone else’s* flag is actually illegal, and not free speech. That would be theft and destruction of property.

  • Gary F

    “We hope this will enable us to instead focus our efforts on addressing racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and behaviors,”

    If the campus is really that bad, wait until those precious little snowflakes get into the real world.

    How about strengthening your argument so you can compete in the real world.

    • wjc

      The condescension of the “precious little snowflakes” line is really obnoxious. Kids today have to deal with a lot of uncertainties and difficulties that people in my generation never had to. You might want to give young people a measure of respect, though I know that is unlikely.

      Back in the day, a family could have a pretty nice life on a single income, health care costs were not as onerous as today, and companies didn’t make it a practice to stiff workers on hours to avoid paying benefits. Kids coming out of school today have more challenges entering the work force than I ever did, and they are handling them just fine.

      • All of that is true. But, just to be clear, it’s not for the kids at Hampshire College. Tuition is $50k a year. It’s an institution — like Amherst and Williams — of great privilege.

        • wjc

          I hear you, but that “precious little snowflakes” line REALLY grates.

          One other note. I attended a similarly priced (now) school in the Midwest. Nobody paid sticker price, and I doubt many do today. A lot of the students I went to school with were middle-class kids who (with their parents) paid their way with scholarships, grants, jobs, and loans. I got out of school with about $4k in loans. What is the average burden today?

          • jon

            I had ~$40-50k a year for tuition and came out with some 30-40K in loans after only 2.5 years… that was over a decade ago…

            Most of the students at my school were also middle class…

          • The thing is that phrase isn’t original. Like so much else on the Internet, it’s just repeated as the phrase of the day as people get their marching orders and talking points.

            We should at least strive for originality.

          • wjc

            Totally agree about the need for originality. We should also strive for a scant measure of empathy, I would say. We may get more from that than from condescension.

          • The inability to make a cogent argument without adding an insult is a significant problem. The age of debating IDEAS is over. At this point I think we just have to surrender to that reality in America. It’s over.

          • wjc

            I really hope that something will happen to change that, but I fear you are correct.

          • John Climber

            Here’s the idea. Students and administrators have helped invite this label upon themselves when rooms “equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies” need to be provided for students who are disturbed by the content of a campus speaker’s lecture. That is one example. Is that the type of expectation schools should be setting? Doesn’t this seem to encourage a mindset of fragility in students?

          • >>Students and administrators have helped invite this label upon themselves when rooms “equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies” need to be provided for students who are disturbed by the content of a campus speaker’s lecture.<<

            The "safe space" you take to task was for that of rape survivors…

          • John Climber

            The space was provided for students of Brown University who might find a debate about the term “rape culture” troubling. Yes, that could include survivors of sexual assault. I’ll repeat my question, is this the type of expectation that a school should be setting for future citizens?

          • Well, the “school” apparently provided the room and student volunteers were the ones who set up and worked in the room.

            Showing a bit of empathy for others who might have a tough time dealing with certain topics doesn’t seem like a horrible idea so yeah, empathy might be a worthwhile expectation.

          • John Climber

            And in your view empathy must involve activities one usually reserves for elementary school children? I’m just establishing the reason why people are led to the term “precious snowflakes”.

          • Can you describe what it was like when you went to school and saw all of this? Where was this?

          • John Climber

            The whole idea of safe spaces seems to be a recent development. When I graduated in 2001 I had never heard of such things.

          • You described a scene. It made it sound like you have personally seen this.

          • John Climber

            It’s from a NYT article from a few years ago, “In College and Hiding from Scary Ideas.”
            I use this article in some of my classes, which are at a much less privileged school than Brown. The response is different too, which perhaps speaks to your earlier point.

          • John Climber

            Your point?

          • That was meant to be a reply to Bob.

          • Rob

            Are you sure you didn’t see this verbiage in reference to a break room at Google HQ?

          • RBHolb

            It’s especially ironic that the sneering about “precious little snowflakes” is done by the people with some of the most delicate and easily offended sensibilities in the world. Listen to how indignant they get at the idea of hearing “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” They are offended by gay marriage, Muslim women allowed to wear a hijab by private businesses, or Target taking down the signs designating boys’ and girls’ toys.
            Everyone else, of course, can just suck it up and get over it.

          • The “precious little snowflakes” comment is really all about condescension, about being dismissive. Alas, while youth may indeed be inexperienced in the wisdom of the world, some elders have no real advantage themselves – they have spent their lives having one year’s experience 50+ years over and over, rather than building the true wisdom and empathy that comes along with being open-minded through a lifetime of learning.

          • DavidG

            http://ticas.org/posd/state-state-data-2015

            $29,000 in 2014. (It was 26,700 in 2013). 1 in 10 leave with > ~$40,000 in debt.

          • Veronica

            One of the biggest jokes in the world right now is the idea that public school is cheap and private college is expensive. After academic scholarships and other adjustments, it was far less money for me to go to my private college once room and board was factored in than it would have been to go to the U.

      • Gary F

        It’s not their fault, its never their fault.

        • jon

          Nor does it ever seem to be yours…

          So many people in this world who are blameless…

          • Veronica

            Gary didn’t start the fire….it was always burning since the world’s been turning. Duh.

          • John O.

            Bonus points for channeling your inner Billy Joel.

          • Rob

            Touring soon on a triple bill with Bon Jovi and Journey

        • wjc

          Squirrel!

    • Rob

      The world is a fairly craptastic place, but I agree with you (!?) that campuses shouldn’t coddle their students, as it makes the shock of entering the real world just that much more intense.

      • jon

        I’m always amazed at how many people complain about the school systems… And how often they get things wrong…

        My uncle is big on complaining about how kids aren’t allowed to pray in schools any more… of course that’s not true.

        I’ve seen many times how they don’t teach civics in schools any more right here in the newscut comments… of course that’s not true either.

        I’ve read endless rants about how common core is teaching kids the wrong things, but when I review those standards I see a system that is nearly identical to how I was taught in gifted and talented classes years ago, I’m grateful that ALL kids are getting the quality education I got as one of the “best and brightest” in my school…

        When I talk to my mom and sisters (all teachers over the years) about the education system I get completely different complaints and comments than what I hear online… and I wonder how many of the people who are complaining about schools be it prayer, common core, civics, or coddling (if there is a synonym for pray that start with a C we could call it the 5 C’s (two more till a pirate joke!)) have any experience in schools recently… and what their experience in school was when they were young… Because educational institutions seem to be a common whipping boy for all the ills in the world, and most of it is baseless.

        • I get the focus on fake news sites but they’re not the problem. The problem is people are willing to believe and retweet, respew whatever they’re told they should believe. The death of curiosity and critical thinking — the complete disinterest in verifying information is the problem.

          the problem spans all generations currently.

          • jon

            They tried to teach critical thinking in school when I was a child (part of what I reflected on that I got in gifted and talented classes that appear to be part of the common core standard)

            But when my father asked me why I always had to question and validate everything (particularly what ever he had just said that I fact checked and found to be wrong) I referred to a few memories I have from when I was a child…
            We watched a NOVA special and my parents discussing it afterwards questioned the conclusions they came to… (couldn’t even tell you which special it was now)
            We attended church and afterwards my parents talking to each other questioned the conclusion and message of the sermon.
            And when my parents fought with teachers during mine and my siblings school years (my dad going so far as to sit in classes with my sister to see what was going on in them.)

            Three instances where my parents taught me that teachers, preachers, and even NOVA aren’t beyond reproach.

        • Rob

          I wasn’t complaining about school systems per se, merely observing that the impulse of some schools to treat their campuses as safe zones in which students are walled off from the uglier aspects of free speech, is both denialism and poor civics.

    • RBHolb

      How about the precious big snowflakes whose feelings get hurt when a private institution doesn’t express itself the way they believe it should?

    • Veronica

      While I didn’t go to Hampshire College, I went to a very similar school in nearby NH. Using the term “snowflakes” is nothing more than a mindless ad hominen attack. I and my classmates are the changemakers, the up and coming leaders. Let’s face it– educated, intelligent, compassionate generation that hasn’t yet hit their 40s scares the heck out of some Boomers, so they cope the only way they know how: by calling names.

      • Hampshire is one of the “five colleges” in Amherst — including Amherst, Smith etc ….all of which, adding in Williams, have a certain … how shall we say… reputation for indulging their students that you don’t see at other institutions, or at least most other institutions.

        • Veronica

          Yes, I am well aware. I toured 3 of them.

  • guest

    The “message” is different for every person. Because we all ASSUME what the symbol was meant to mean.

    When did it become acceptable to label “messages” as unfair to a protected minority and THUS acceptable to actively suppress others from hearing it. Heckling, dis-inviting speakers, vandalism are now seen as moral responses to “hate” speech.
    I don’t agree so I am going to stop you is WAYdifferent than I don’t agree so I am going to promote my view.

  • Mike

    When the university president states that lowering the flag was not intended as a political statement, that’s just rank dishonesty. Obviously, that’s exactly what the action was intended to be. One can agree or disagree with that decision, but let’s not pretend it’s not a political statement.

    I’m guessing the college’s donors were some of those giving harsh criticism of the previous decision. Thus, all those aggrieved groups who were supposedly going to be served by the flag’s lowering will have to readjust.

    “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
    – Groucho Marx

  • Rob

    The flag was lowered “…solely to facilitate much-needed dialogue on our campus about how to dismantle the bigotry that is prevalent in our society.” That’s rich. I totally support the right of individuals to protest by burning the flag, as personally odious as it is to me, ‘cuz First Amendment. But there’s no excuse for Amherst’s decision to lower the flag in the first place and to keep it lowered for any length of tme.

    Then there’s the classic institutional non-apology apology: “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.” It’s not an apology for committing such a wrong-headed move
    in the first place, merely an expression of being bummed for people who were upset by the bone-headed decision. Ya gotta love it.

  • jon

    There is a quote floating around.
    “I’d rather see some one burn the flag and wrap themselves in the constitution than burn the constitution and wrap themselves in the flag.”

    I don’t know whom to attribute it to…

    • rallysocks

      The late great Molly Ivins, I do believe.