Hundreds of protesters gathered on the Amherst campus of Hampshire College, waving American flags as they demanded that the school bring back the flag that had flown over the campus until this month.
The removal of the flag was an act of disrespect for the sacrifices of veterans and their families, said Gamalier Rosa, an Army veteran who served one tour in Iraq in 2010 and helped organize the protest.
“Our flag is a symbol of our country. Our clearest message is that we ask others to respect the flag as we do,” said Rosa, who helped organize the protest.
College officials and organizers estimated about 300 to 400 protesters participated in Sunday’s demonstration near the entrance to the college. Both sides described the protest as peaceful, and the college allowed protesters to gather on its property.
Jonathan Lash, president of Hampshire College, said the college had taken the flag down because students felt it was a symbol of the mistreatment of marginalized groups in the United States, including people of color. He said he expected to eventually put the flag back.
A group of students lowered the flag to half-staff on Nov. 9, the day after the election of Donald Trump. According to a college representative, students said at the time that the move was a protest against media reports of harassment and hate speech. Such reports have been on the rise since the election.
Somebody set the flag on fire the night of Nov. 10. The college said the incident remains under investigation by campus police.
The flag was flown again for Veterans Day, but was otherwise flown at half-staff until it was taken down entirely on Nov. 18.
The flag came down to help promote dialogue on the campus, said Lash, and not as a political act.
“I’m very regretful that a group of people with deep and sincere beliefs were hurt,” Lash said of local veterans.
Lash met with some local veterans officials, including Rosa. Both sides said they were encouraged by the meeting. Lash said he’d meet with veterans again in the coming weeks.
He said students and staff are free to display the flag on their own.
Rosa, who did not go to Hampshire, said the college needs to promote more education about veterans issues and the importance of the flag as a national symbol.
Rosa said local veterans will continue to press the college to bring back the flag.
“We are not giving up,” said Rosa.