The flags in Hirst Lounge are down, and it looks like this time it’s for good.
In the winter of 2019, UR students received an email from Dean of Students Matthew Burns and Dean of the College Jeffrey Runner about the potential removal of the flags that served as the ceiling of Hirst Lounge. They went down in August, under the cover of night and an executive decision from President Mangelsdorf and then-provost Robert Clark. Now, nearly half of our student body has never even seen that vivid display of culture and community.
It’s understandable that the administration doesn’t want to deal with the conflict head-on — it’s a tenuous situation to navigate. But to do away with the flags and completely dismiss student efforts to find an alternative plainly appears as an effort to save face. The University is familiar with those.
It seems more and more like upper administration, the actual brain and decision-making power of the University, is incompetent at best, and cowardly at worst. It’s cowardly for an entire university to be so afraid of conflict between students that they just give up in fear of the discussions they pretend to value. It’s cowardly to hide your decision-making process behind bureaucracy, drawing out the process over two years. It’s cowardly to dismiss students’ identities because you value tranquility over individuality. And it’s especially cowardly to dress up your unwillingness with lofty out-of-touch descriptions of nationalism versus culture. It’s administrators’ job to listen to the student body; students across the board (and in the committee) strongly supported keeping the flags up.
What example does the University set when instead of trying to develop solutions for complex problems, they step away from the table completely? Pretending like there will ever be a comparable alternative to the flag lounge is laughable, and unlikely to ever even happen, given how long it took for the University to even decide the flags were staying down. What does this say about the qualities the University wants to impart on students who will graduate and become the next leaders in the world? How does this demonstrate a promise to be “ever better?”
The administration’s job is to foster deeper discussions about the community in which we live. But this school keeps on avoiding such discussions because they know they can get away with it — whether it’s interior decorating or something more serious, we’re all going to be gone in four years. And it’s frustrating to watch this happen again and again, and be reminded that nothing we as students care about is as important as saving administrators a headache or two.
We’re still waiting on our email from the President’s Office explaining why the flags were taken down in the first place — you know, the one we should have gotten in August, that we never did? Additionally, as much as the faculty and staff are part of this school, the flags were a representation of the identities of students, and the students’ opinions should be weighed more heavily in deciding their fate.
Wilson Commons is our space. The flags represented us. And the determination of the student body’s representation should be, as much as possible, made by the student body and its leadership.
Why can’t we display the flags in alphabetical order? If the University really believes a flag represents nationalism, then we propose the American flags on this campus be taken down immediately, and a committee be created to decide a better representation of the many cultures and identities that live in the United States.
But this administration would never do such a thing, as they enjoy their donations from patriotic alumni. Is there a cash cow quietly determining the death of the flag lounge?
We understand there are complicated personal and political issues at play here. We understand that there might not be any solution that makes everyone happy. At the same time, we condemn the timidity of the University in not engaging with these issues or keeping us in the loop.
This is about the flags. But it’s also about the flagrant disregard for student opinions that has happened throughout the entire process. Administration only told SA the night before the flags went down. The general student body never received a message about the status of their removal. 10 pages of student testimony were left out of the initial proposal on what to do about the flag lounge.
We support senior Lilly Hutton and the rest of SA, including junior and President Sabeet Kazmi and junior and VP Rusama Haque, in continuing to fight for students’ right to decide how we should be represented on campus.