AMHERST (CBS) — It’s been a week of flag-related controversy for Hampshire College, after the school’s Board of Trustees made the decision to lower the U.S. flag on campus to half-staff in the wake of the presidential election–and then decided to remove the flag entirely after a wave of backlash.
Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Ben Parker he knows it’s a controversial decision to remove the flag, but he wanted to create a dialogue among those with differing opinions about the symbol.
“There were a range of views on campus, including people whose experience growing up have made the flag a symbol of fear, which was strengthened by the toxic language during the campaign, and people for whom the flag is the symbol of all that’s best throughout the country,” said Lash.
He said the trouble started with a gesture meant to help provoke “meaningful and respectful dialogue” on campus–a stance he outlined in a post on the college’s Facebook page. In that post, he said the Board of Trustees decided to fly the flag at half-staff due to the “environment of escalating hate-based violence” in the wake of the election.
Lash said the gesture was also meant to be an “expression of grief” over deaths around the world, including those of U.S. service members.
But, the move didn’t work as planned and many–especially veterans and families of veterans in the Hampshire College family–saw it as being disrespectful of the tradition of expressing mourning on a national level.
“Frankly, doing that, it didn’t help,” he said. “Flying the flag at half-mast just created more controversy.”
On Veterans Day, someone removed the flag and burned it.
“In the middle of the night, we have no idea who did it or even why,” said Lash.
So that’s why they decided to take down the U.S. flag on campus.
“The flag had become a heated symbol that was making that more difficult,” Lash said. “We really feel our community needs a conversation in which both sides listen to each other, and we wish the nation would have that kind of dialogue. We felt that if we could stop arguing about the symbol, we could get to the underlying issues.”
Of course, that decision has created even more backlash, and Lash said there “certainly is” a lot of anger about the decision.
Tuesday afternoon, the school posted on its Facebook page to say they were temporarily suspending comments because their staff was about to go on holiday, and could not keep up with the huge volume.
The plan now that the flag is down is for group discussions with faculty, staff, and students about the issues, but there is no timeline for when the flag might fly again.
“We intend to go forward with that, and then reconsider how we fly the flag going forward,” Lash said.
Lash outlined the school’s previous policy for lowering the flag, and why the decision to lower it is sometimes difficult.
“When President Obama ordered national flags at half-staff to recognize the victims in Paris, something we completely agreed with, there were a number of people on campus that said ‘Yes, but, what about the hundreds of people being killed by terror in Syria and Lebanon and Pakistan?’ and asked that the school find some way to recognize victims globally,” said Lash. “So we periodically lowered the flag to recognize victims of violence.”
He said the school will focus on completing those group conversations before putting the flag back up.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Ben Parker reports