When Hampshire College announced it would stop flying the American flag on campus last week, it was seeking to avoid controversy on campus. But that decision immediately prompted even more backlash nationwide, leaving administrators scrambling to respond.
The most recent scuffle over the flag began the day after Election Day, when students lowered the flag to half-mast. “We saw this as an act of civil disobedience that expressed the views of some while allowing for continued and respectful dialogue,” Hampshire College President Jonathan Last wrote in an email.
The university left the flag at half-mast, though it later claimed the decision was “unequivocally” not a commentary on the results of the Election but “an expression of grief over the violent deaths being suffered in this country and globally, including many U.S. service members who have lost their lives.”
But by the end of Election Week—on Veteran’s Day– administrators learned the American flag had been burnt, prompting outrage from students, staffers and the general public.
“Several experienced it as an act of disrespect against people of color, who are disproportionately represented in the U.S. military,” Last wrote.
So on Nov. 18, the university announced it would remove the American flag from campus flagpoles altogether, “[in] 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.”
That decision prompted widespread criticism. Both Drudge and Fox News picked up the story, and Laura Ingraham, a conservative pundit with more than a million Twitter followers, tweeted about Hampshire College, saying “perhaps they should move campus to Saudi Arabia.”
Perhaps they should move campus to Saudi Arabia —> Hampshire College Stops Flying All Flags https://t.co/Cbf2uMKpa0
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) November 23, 2016
On Tuesday afternoon, Hampshire College posted on its Facebook page that it would be disabling comments over Thanksgiving break. But before that, more than a thousand people commented, with the majority posting American flag imagery on Hampshire College’s Facebook page.
This isn’t the first time the American flag has caused controversy on Hampshire College’s campus.
After the Paris terror attacks on Nov. 13, 2015, the college lowered the American flag to half-mast—but it had failed to do so a day earlier, when bombs in Beirut on Nov. 12 killed more than 40 people.
An open letter by Hampshire College’s faculty of color criticized that decision, and the president apologized “for our insensitivity and thoughtlessness.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.