Not long after the votes were counted in the 2016 presidential election, officials at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, decided to lower the American flag that waved above their campus to half-mast. The gesture came in response, they later explained, to the wave of hate crimes and violence that followed the election.
On the eve of Veterans Day, that same flag was found burned.
It was replaced with another flag. But shortly thereafter, college president Jonathan Lash ordered the removal of all flags from the campus flagpole.
“In the current environment of escalating hate-based violence, we made the decision to fly Hampshire's U.S. 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 explained in a statement. “After some preliminary consultation with campus constituents,” he added, “… we decided on [Nov. 18] that we will not fly the U.S. flag or any other flags on our college flagpole for the time being.”
By Nov. 22, the school had received so much backlash that it issued a statement and suspended its messaging services on Facebook:
Whatever the school’s students, faculty and alumni might have thought about the decision, hundreds of protesters — including many veterans and their families — were outraged. They flocked to Hampshire College on Nov. 26 to voice their disapproval.
The enormous crowd gathered on the West Street campus, proudly displaying all manner of flags, carrying picket signs, and singing “God Bless America.” Prominent area veterans who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan, including Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Springfield City Councilor Kateri Walsh, and Westfield state Rep. John Velis, turned up to urge Hampshire College to fly the flag again.
Micah Welintukonis, a veteran protester from Coventry, Connecticut, considered the school's decision disgraceful. “Coddling young men and women old enough to serve our country has zero educational value,” he told MassLive. “I am frustrated by the things going on in this country. Let us pray for our nation to move forward together.”
Lash, who consulted with the service organization Veterans of Foreign Wars prior to the protest, provided space on campus for the demonstration. But while he acknowledged the concerns of the veterans community in his initial statement — noting that the decision to fly the flag at half-mast was “seen as disrespectful of the traditional expression of national mourning and has been especially painful to our Hampshire campus colleagues who are veterans or families of veterans” — he has so far declined to reverse the decision to remove the flag from campus.
The decision, however, does not prohibit students and faculty from flying flags elsewhere on campus.
Task & Purpose reached out to Hampshire College for a statement, and we will update the post when and if we receive a response.