Hampshire College Is Done with the American Flag

They are, inadvisably, done with Old Glory.

Person holding american flag.

photo via iStock.com

Oh, no.

According to multiple reports and angry patriots on the Internet everywhere, students at Hampshire College, the aggressively free-thinking liberal arts school, have taken issue with the American flag, and now that flag has been removed from its pole.

The decision bringing scorn to the Western Mass. institution was one made by its president, Jonathan Lash, who said after the election that the flag had become “a disruptive symbol” on campus.

In a statement to his community and to a nation that is frothing with rage on all sides, he told students that having a flag-free campus would, he hoped, “enable us to instead focus our efforts on addressing racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and behaviors.”

The flag had earlier been lowered to half-staff following the election, in response to violence that followed the election, and had been a topic of debate on the symbol’s role in the lives of people who have a complicated relationship with the American identity. Others set it on fire.

The move follows a wave of protests that have manifested in lashing out at the flag, including at Brown and American universities.

Here’s the full statement from Lash, as shared by Inside Higher Ed:

Some months ago, the Hampshire College Board of Trustees adopted a policy of periodically flying the flag at half-staff to mourn deaths from violence around the world.

Earlier this week, in the current environment of escalating hate-based violence, we made the decision to fly Hampshire’s U.S. flag at half-staff for a time while the community delved deeper into the meaning of the flag and its presence on our campus. This was meant as an expression of grief over the violent deaths being suffered in this country and globally, including the many U.S. service members who have lost their lives. Our intention was to create the space for meaningful and respectful dialogue across the multiplicity of perspectives represented in our community.

Unfortunately, our efforts to inclusively convey respect and sorrow have had the opposite effect. We have heard from many on our campus as well as from neighbors in the region that, by flying the flag at half-staff, we are actually causing hurt, distress and insult. Our decision has been seen as disrespectful of the traditional expression of national mourning and has been especially painful to our Hampshire colleagues who are veterans or families of veterans. Some have perceived the action of lowering the flag as a commentary on the results of the presidential election — this, unequivocally, was not our intent. After some preliminary consultation with campus constituents (we understand much more is needed), we have decided that we will not fly the U.S. flag or any other flags at Hampshire for the time being. 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.

This was never going to play well, but then again Hampshire does what it does on its own terms (you already know this, but Hampshire famously doesn’t have majors, in the traditional sense, and doesn’t give its students letter grades). The whole thing is going as well as you’d expect, and the backlash is not unlike the outrage at the Colin Kaepernick, whose knee-taking during the national anthem was a pre-election lightning rod. Except, imagine if Colin Kaepernick had also been a student at a private school in New England where tuition is north of $48,000 a year. In other words, it’s pure, unadulterated red meat.

But Hampshire is sticking to its decision at least for now. A school spokesman tells the Globe the removal of flags followed discussions about how it for many is “a powerful symbol of fear they’ve felt all their lives because they grew up as people of color, never feeling safe” while at the same time being “a symbol of their highest aspirations for the country.” And the Globe reports the school doesn’t plan to fly flags on campus until next semester at the earliest.

For now, the vitriol is such that Hampshire has shut down comments on its Facebook page for the rest of the holiday.