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
Hampshire College