The Nov. 25 SA Senate meeting was spent discussing the recent paintings in the tunnels and the controversy over the location and labeling of the Hong Kong and Taiwan flags in the flag display in Hirst Lounge.
During an open forum, two and a half minutes were allotted for all present to read an email which had been sent out by Dean of Students Matthew Burns and Dean of the College Jeffrey Runner minutes earlier.
In the email, the deans addressed the conflict that emerged in the painted tunnel, saying that the University “will not stand in the way of our students’ right to freedom of expression.”
The email also addressed the controversy surrounding the categorizing of Hong Kong and Taiwan flags as those of “sub-national entities” in Hirst Lounge. (The wording one Wilson Commons Student Activities website has since changed to “other countries and regions.”) It suggested that Hirst Lounge should no longer display the flags of students’ home countries.
“Because of complex and often competing issues,” the email read, “flags can be sources for feelings of exclusion as well as inclusion.”
At the meeting, junior Warish Orko said there should at least be a condemnation of the painting of what he called a racist caricature in the tunnel. This was referring to a painting in the painted tunnel that some see as a racist depiction of a Uighur person.
Orko also said that there should be an acknowledgement from SA of “hate crimes” occurring on campus which he said have made students from Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan feel unsafe. Orko said students from Hong Kong and Taiwan only learned the flags had been moved on social media, and were not notified of this change by administration.
Sophomore Amber Hu said she took issue with the system of using a list of UN recognized nations to dictate which flags would be hung in Hirst Lounge. Taiwan and Hong Kong are not recognized as nations by the UN.
“There is a lot of Chinese pressure all around the world to say, ‘No, Taiwan is not a country,’” Hu said. Hu added that this pressure “undermines [her] identity and other Taiwanese students’ identities.”
Senator senior Aya Abdelrahman said that, based on the email, she assumed there would be future discussions on this topic. Senator junior Justyna Gorka said she was disappointed not to see the concerns of Taiwan and Hong Kong students represented, and added that there are possibilities for change in policy on the way flags are hung and labeled.
Senator senior Tayfun Sahin brought up the perspective of Chinese Students Association president and junior Sampson Hao, who said that some Chinese students might feel targeted by the original pro-Hong Kong protesters messages being written in Chinese instead of English. Orko said the idea was to express solidarity with students from Hong Kong whose families are affected by the protests, and that he believed the messages were in Cantonese, the dialect specific to Hong Kong.
Speaker of the Senate junior Micah Greenberg, a senior staff writer for the Campus Times, said that the policy on painting in the tunnels is “technically not a policy,” but a “pretty unenforceable” set of guidelines.
Gorka suggested putting stricter regulations on the painted tunnel in order to preserve the “freedom of speech” available to students through the tunnel. Senator first-year Devon Rogers agreed, saying that in order for the freedom offered by the tunnels to be protected, there must be restrictions in place to prevent others from painting over recently-added messages.
Senator sophomore Yaa Baker disagreed, saying that she didn’t want SA to regulating freedom of speech by “instating rules because we don’t want to deal with [campus conflicts].”
On Wednesday, SA leadership released a statement arguing for keeping the flags in Hirst Lounge and condemning any suppression of free speech on campus.
Correction (12/4/19): An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of the Dean of the College. His name is Jeffrey Runner, not Jeffery Runner.