Hampshire College – November 2016

American flag sparks campus controversy

Amherst, MA

Protesters criticized Hampshire College administrators’ decision, made in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president, to remove the American flag from the campus’ main flagpole. The flag was initially lowered to half-staff anonymously by students, but college administrators had decided to keep the flag in that position for a period of weeks. At intermittent times, however, the flag was removed entirely from the flagpole and replaced at half-staff or burned. On November 27, 2016, a group of 400 protesters, many of whom were veterans, criticized the handling of the flag, arguing that it was an important symbol and should not have been removed for political reasons.

Key Players

Jonathan Lash, president of Hampshire College, allowed the American flag on the college’s main flagpole to remain at half-staff after it had been partially lowered by students. He later had the flag removed entirely from the flagpole, but eventually put it back again..

Further Details

Shortly after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, some Hampshire students anonymously lowered the American flag on the college’s main flagpole to half-staff. Rather than raise the flag to its full height again, college administrators opted to keep the flag in a position that usually represents mourning. In a statement quoted in The New York Times, President Lash explained that, in the minds of some students, the flag was “a powerful symbol of fear they’ve felt all their lives because they grew up in marginalized communities, never feeling safe.” In addition, the college said on November 9, the maintenance of the flag at half-staff was a “reaction to the toxic tone of the months-long election.”

At some point during the night of November 10, 2016, an unknown person burned the flag. “If it was a political act,” Lash told The New York Times, “it was pretty craven and ineffective since people did it in secret and no one knows what it was meant to state.” The flag was replaced the following day, and this time the college’s board of trustees voted to keep it at half-staff. In an e-mail, the board stated that the flag would remain there, “to mourn deaths from violence in the U.S. and around the world.”

Less than a week later, however, the administration removed the flag from the flagpole entirely. In an e-mail to the college community, Lash said, “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.” Some outlets also reported that the American flag had been banned from the Hampshire College campus in any form, which Lash denied.

A group of approximately 400 people protested the removal of the flag during the weekend of November 26, 2016. The protesters, many of them veterans or relatives of veterans, insisted that the flag was an important American symbol and should not have been removed from the campus. The protesters gathered on the campus green, waving American flags and chanting “raise our flag.” Derek Cloutier, a Marine veteran, told The New York Times, “It’s disrespectful for the college to blatantly do that without even considering the effect on veterans and people who have respect for the flag.”

On December 1, 2016, the flag was again raised on the main flagpole. In a statement, Lash, whose father was an Army officer in the Pacific theater during World War II, said he regretted the college’s earlier decision to remove the flag, explaining “many hold the flag as a powerful symbol of national ideals and their highest aspirations for the country — including members of our own community.”

Outcome

Flag restored to main flagpole

Jonathan Lash, the president of Hampshire College, had the American flag returned to the main flagpole on the college green. He also called for a continuing dialogue about the role of the flag on campus.

External References:

Jonah Engel Bromwich, The New York Times

Joe Heim, The Washington Post

Prepared by Jack Lynch ‘18

August 22, 2017