Flag raised at Hampshire College after weeks of protest
Hampshire College, which prompted a firestorm by removing the Stars and Stripes three weeks ago, restored the banner to the campus on Friday as its president and students expressed hope that the controversy would inspire a forthright dialogue.
“I think either way, the questions at heart are what’s really important, like what does freedom really mean,’’ said Astrid Tilton, an 18-year-old freshman from Martha’s Vineyard. “I hope that, no matter how people feel about the flag. . . the question of ‘What does freedom look like’ can be asked.’’
The flag’s return comes after a torrent of calls, e-mails, and protests from people angered by its removal after an unknown party set it on fire.
“I’ve received many e-mails, a lot of them extremely unpleasant,” said Jonathan Lash, Hampshire’s president, in a telephone interview. “Our phone lines have been clogged with people calling to express their anger. People can disagree with us, but we’ve also received very explicit threats.”
Lash said the flag was restored to its place around 7 a.m. Friday “as a symbol of our hopes for justice, fairness, and freedom.’’
“I hope this is not the end of the dialogue about these issues,’’ he said. “The underlying issues are very important for the country.”
The flag’s removal has been a flashpoint at Hampshire since Donald Trump’s election victory. Students lowered the flag to half-staff, the traditional symbol of national mourning, the day after the election.
An unknown party set the flag on fire on the night of Nov. 10. On Veterans Day, it was flown from the flagpole at the center of campus.
Soon after, the flag was again lowered to half-staff until Nov. 18, when Lash decided to remove it to “enable discussion” about the anger and fear many people felt following the election. Lash originally said the flag would not return until the spring semester at the earliest.
But Lash quickly realized the flag’s removal was “detracting from dialogue,” drawing sharp criticism.
On Sunday, hundreds of protesters, including some military veterans, called for the flag to be reinstated during a rally on campus.
Even Trump appeared to weigh in. He tweeted: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Although he did not refer to Hampshire, he posted his message just after Fox News aired a segment on the dispute. The Supreme Court has twice ruled that flag burning is protected under the First Amendment.
Lash said he views the dispute over the flag as a learning experience.
“This is what free speech looks like,” Lash said in a statement. “We believe in it, we will continue this work on campus, and we will look for ways to engage with our neighbors in the wider community.”
State Representative John Velis — a Democrat and an Afghanistan veteran from Westfield who had called the flag’s removal a “disgrace” — thanked Lash and Hampshire students Friday for “restoring our sacred symbol to its hallowed place.’’ He requested a chance to be part of Hampshire’s continuing dialogue on the meaning of the flag.
“The recent rise in hate crimes and bigotry is certainly distressing, and we must remain vigilant in ensuring that our American principles of equality and justice are upheld,’’ Velis said in a statement. “I encourage you to continue your discourse in a productive manner.”