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Veterans Praise Return Of American Flag To Hampshire College Campus

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The American flag was raised at Hampshire College this morning, two weeks after the removal of the Stars and Stripes drew national attention, sharp criticism and protests outside the campus of the small liberal arts school in Amherst.

   Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash said the flag was raised at the center of campus Friday morning as a “symbol of our hopes for justice, fairness, and freedom.” He acknowledged he was caught off guard by the level of criticism and off-campus protest that was sparked by the flag’s removal.

  "We felt we were exercising First Amendment rights and going through a learning process, but for many people outside the campus that was very hurtful and they did not understand what we were trying to do, and we have changed course," Lash said in an interview Friday morning.

  The flag flap at Hampshire began after the Nov. 8th election of Donald Trump when students lowered the flag to half-staff. Two days later somebody burned the flag.  The flag was flown again on Veterans Day, then lowered to half-staff, and eventually removed on Nov. 18th

       Lash called the flag a “disruptive symbol” on the campus and said his decision to remove it was intended to enable discussion about anti-immigrant and racist issues that had emerged from the national election campaign.

  " What happened was that the reaction outside the college was so loud and so vehement that it degraded the possibility of having that discussion," Lash said.

 Lash said the college’s phone lines had been jammed with angry callers and he’d received many threatening emails.

"The threats we've been getting have made it difficult for the school to go about its business and it seemed to me it was time to move on," said Lash.  " We won't end the discussions but we will have them going forward with the flag up."

Democratic State Rep. John Velis of Westfield, a Captain in the U.S. Army Reserve who saw combat in Afghanistan, had called the removal of the flag “a disgrace.”   He praised Friday’s about-face at the college.

" Absolutely ecstatic that Old Glory is flying again at Hampshire College," Velis said.

Velis offered to join in the Hampshire College discussions on what the flag symbolizes to different people.

" You can have all those important discussions, just have them with the flag up," he said. " I commend the college for putting it back up. Better late than never."

Hundreds of flag-waving protestors rallied outside the campus Sunday.  Eric Segundo, Vice Commander of the Massachusetts Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he and many others plan to return to Amherst this Sunday and declare mission accomplished.

" It was a great show of patriotism and I think Sunday will be that example again," said Segundo.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who joined in criticizing the removal of the flag, calling it an insult to veterans, said Friday he was pleased the college had made “the correct and respectful decision” to again fly the flag.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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