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Lowered, Burned, Removed, and Replaced: Hampshire College's Flag Debate

Nancy Eve Cohen
New England Public Radio
Protestors at Hampshire College calling for the replacement of the flag.

In the weeks after Election Day, in response to current events, the U.S. flag on the main flagpole at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts has alternately been flown at full-staff and half-staff, burned, removed, and now replaced.

The school has said the students were responding to news reports of violence and hate speech across the country.

On the day after the election, when the flag was lowered to half-staff, the school issued a statement. From the Hampshire College website:  

A group of Hampshire students lowered the campus flag in the evening, the day after the election, their reaction to the toxic tone of the months-long election and the escalating number of news reports from across the country over recent months and years of hate speech, harassment, and violence against people of color, immigrants, international citizens, and Muslims.

The next night, the flag was burned. School officials continue to investigate that incident.

And the next day, Veterans Day, the college replaced the flag and flew it at full-staff.

Then the Board of Trustees voted to return the flag to half-staff. A spokesperson for Hampshire College told The Republican in Springfield, Massachusetts that the decision was made "as a means of facilitating the 'community dialogue' about the flag."

Jonathan Lash, president of Hampshire College, emailed the campus community before the Thanksgiving break. About the decision to fly the flag at half-staff, he said it was "meant as an expression of grief":

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.

Lash admitted that the college's efforts backfired. In the meantime, he said no flags would be flown at Hampshire College. So the U.S. flag was removed from the main flagpole at the school.

But the debate has come full circle and on Friday morning, the Boston Globe reports the flag was raised again.

National symbols including the flag and the National Anthem have been debated throughout the year, especially in the wake of recent police violence.

The decision to remove the flag on campus led to protests -- not by students, but by veterans in the region. They rallied against the college and its students, calling for the flag to be put back up.

"This is what men and women have died for," Brian Martin told New England Public Radio. He's head of the Massachusetts Veterans of Foreign Wars. "They have fought for this symbol."

Even President-elect Donald Trump has tweeted about burning the American flag.

Trump's tweet was widely criticized. Even the Supreme Court has said that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment.

But conversations specifically about the flag have been going on at Hampshire College for more than a year.

After the flag was lowered following the November attacks in Paris, questions were raised about why the flag wasn't lowered when violence occurred in places like Beirut.

Another rally organized by local veterans had been planned at Hampshire College on December 4. In a press release, the organizers recognized the acts of lowering and burning the flag were done by a few "immature young adults."

The organizers also condemned the "unprofessional mollycoddling" by Lash, and they voiced support of freezing federal funds to the college.

On Thursday night, Lash told the Boston Globe he hoped his goal of having a dialogue about the issues surrounding the flag continue.

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