Hampshire College has taken down the American flag after it was burned two days following the presidential election, with the leader of the Amherst campus calling it “a disruptive symbol.”
Jonathan Lash, president of the private liberal arts college, said administrators initially replaced the flag with the intention of recognizing “the strong feelings of those who see the flag as a statement of the best of the country.”
But on Friday, Lash sent a campuswide e-mail saying the flagpole would remain bare until next semester at the earliest.
By removing the flag, the college will seek to “focus our efforts on addressing racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and behaviors,” Lash wrote. Many alleged hate crimes have been reported in Massachusetts and elsewhere since Donald Trump’s election.
Lash denied that the removal of the flag was meant as a partisan statement.
“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,” he said.
Before the flag was burned, the college had flown it at half-staff in recognition of “the current environment of escalating hate-based violence.”
“We made the decision to fly Hampshire’s US flag at half-staff for a time while the community delved deeper into the meaning of the flag and its presence on our campus,” he wrote.
That decision drew quick opposition from those who saw the practice as “disrespectful of the traditional expression of national mourning.”
In an interview, Lash said the college had previously been lowering the flag to half-staff on occasion, a policy that stemmed from President Obama’s request after last year’s Paris terrorist attacks.
John Courtmanche, a spokesman for the college, said some people on campus view the flag as “a powerful symbol of fear they’ve felt all their lives because they grew up as people of color, never feeling safe.” For others, “it’s a symbol of their highest aspirations for the country.”
Staff and faculty have been facilitating discussions about the flag, which have been taking place for more than a year.
“Our goal is to give voice to the range of viewpoints on campus across cultures, and hopefully find common ground,” Courtmanche said.