Lessons learned from UCI student association’s banning of the American flag

Campus Flag Ban
Courtesy of AP

Student leaders at the Legislative Council of the Associated Students of the University of California, Irvine, passed a “flags and decoration adjustment for inclusivity” resolution by a 6-4 vote with 2 abstaining. In effect, the resolution banned flags of any nation, including the United States’, to promote a more inclusive environment.

A questionable move caused a ruckus and shined negative press upon the university. Few defended the association, but many mocked them.

Students Matthew Guevara and Khaalidah Sidney wrote the resolution with tips and tricks from their Intro to Upsetting America 101 courses.

They argued that the American flag held that “symbolism has negative and positive aspects that are interpreted differently by individuals” and “flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism.”

Maybe my knowledge of U.S. history is rusty, but I’m fairly certain the American flag was also flown as a symbol of freedom and hope. Flown in warring countries that needed the United State’s assistance. A beacon that lead American settlers coast to coast expanding the land of opportunity. A symbol of how far we’ve come as a nation, resilient through the bad times and resolute through the good.

Flags, they said, “construct paradigm of conformity,” and contend that their lounge serves as a cultural inclusive area. While they support freedom of speech, they wrote that displaying an American flag “in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible can be interpreted as hate speech.”

People define hate speech as one that offends, threatens, or insults groups based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits. Showing and saluting the American flag represents the nation’s pride and patriotism in our country. It does not discriminate other cultures, religions, or beliefs, but rather stands as a symbol that the United States is the land of opportunity for all.

Six students don’t speak for the entire student body. Other students declared their dissatisfaction with the ruling. An anonymous student commented on the proposal and told Breitbart News, “But me and my friends were like, ‘Dude, you’re in America. It’s the American flag.’” Eloquent, dude.

“It was outrageous and indefensible that they would question the appropriateness of displaying the American flag on this great campus,” UC Irvine chancellor Howard Gillman said. “We will see even more Stars and Stripes at UCI, as we add additional flagpoles near the campus entrance.”

But the damage has already been done; the nation will remember UCI as the university that banned the American flag. Adding more flags may mend the wounds a little, but long-term effects will remain.

It’s like someone taking your birthday cake preaching, “Whereas this delicious, chocolate cake can be interpreted as offensive to obese and diabetic individuals, I move to ban this symbol of delight.” After which, his mom steps in, makes him put it back, and insists on buying more cake. Too late, that child will always be known as the one who hates cake.

In response, State Senator Janet Nguyen announced that she would introduce a bill to outlaw flag banning at public universities and colleges. Born in Vietnam, she said, “I would not be here today if it were not for the American flag.” That’s mighty patriotic of her, but lets call it what it is: political brown-nosing for publicity’s sake.

Hundreds of universities statewide signed a petition that supports the association’s campaign that hoped to eliminate racism and xenophobia. The petition states, “”We admire the courage of the resolution’s supporters amid this environment of political immaturity and threat, and support them unequivocally.”

College is an environment in which we discover ourselves, things we believe in and things we don’t. I’m aware that what I’m about to say next won’t sit well with the majority of readers, but I support the association’s exercise of free speech. Their noble campaign for more inclusivity represents a campaign that all student led organizations should undertake.

Free speech forms a fundamental block of the nation and I support them the way I support the free speech of religious fanatics, bigots, and racists, rather begrudgingly. We all posses different moral and ethics that probably won’t sit well with the majority of others: abortion, capital punishment, U.S. intervention. But that’s the beauty of our nation, that we can voice our opinion, that even the minority can still be heard.

The executive cabinet vetoed the ban two days later, so now the flag hangs proudly at UCI. But this negative attention will stain the reputation of the university and students who voted for the ban.

And at the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong, only the consequences of one’s actions.

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