Old Glory returns to Hampshire College
By Evan Lips | December 2, 2016, 9:41 EST
AMHERST — The American flag once again flew over the Hampshire College campus on Friday morning, as school administrators led by President Jonathan Lash walked back a decision to have it removed in the wake of Republican Donald Trump’s win in the presidential election.
“This morning we raised the United States flag to full staff at Hampshire College after a two-week discussion period about what the flag means to members of the Hampshire community,” Lash said in a prepared statement. “We did not lower the flag to make a political statement, nor did we intend to cause offense to veterans, military families or others for whom the flag represents service and sacrifice.
“We acted solely to facilitate much-needed dialogue on our campus about how to dismantle the bigotry that is prevalent in our society.”
Lash in his statement neglected to note that the flag was not simply lowered, but rather removed, on Nov. 18, sparking veterans and others to hold demonstrations last Sunday. The protests were led in part by state Rep. John Velis (R-Westfield), a veteran who served in Afghanistan.
— Michele McPhee (@MicheleMcPhee) November 28, 2016
Days later, Lash was prompted to call the Amherst Police Department after Jesse Watters of Fox News attempted to ask him questions during an impromptu visit to Lash’s home, one in which video footage appears to show Watters holding his foot against Lash’s front door, preventing the college president from closing it.
The college released a statement following the brouhaha, claiming that Watters “tried to prevent the president of the college from entering his private home.”
Lash later banned outside protesters from entering the privately-run campus and directed students not to speak to members of the media.
In his statement Friday, Lash described the dialogue held on campus thus far as “the first step of the process” and added that faculty and staff and facilitated “multiple discussions” and “focus group sessions.”
“This is what free speech looks like,” Lash noted. “We believe in it, we will continue this work on campus, and we will continue to looks for ways to engage with our neighbors in the wider community.”
A timeline of flag-related events posted on Hampshire College’s website explains that the initial Nov. 9 flag-lowering was performed by students as a “reaction to the toxic tone of the months-long election and the escalating number of news reports from across the country over recent months and years of hate speech, harassment, and violence against people of color, immigrants, international citizens, and Muslims.”
According to the official timeline, college administrators allowed the flag to fly at half-staff on Nov. 10 “to honor the students’ expression and to facilitate a campus dialogue.” That night, however, unknown individuals lowered and burned the flag. Hampshire College officials said an investigation is ongoing and could not confirm whether the burning was carried out by students.
The flag returned the following day to honor Veterans Day and later continued to fly at half-staff. On Nov. 18 Lash sent out a campus-wide email “communicating the college’s regret at having flown the flag at half-staff and causing unintentional distress, especially to veterans.”
Yet instead of returning it to fly at full staff, administrators led by Lash elected to remove the flag altogether “for a period of time to facilitate a campus dialogue.”
Lash at the time denied that the decision to lower the flag was not intended to serve as a commentary on the results of the presidential election.