Occidental College Tries To Heal Campus Wounds After Attack On 9/11 Flag Memorial (Forbes - Dec. 31, 2016): What does a college do when students trash a 9/11 memorial? That was the question facing Occidental College in Los Angeles after vandals destroyed a display of nearly 3,000 American flags placed by Conservative and Republican club members on the Quad.
Privacy regulations demand that the college can’t publicize any sanctions against the guilty parties. And campus-wide calls for unity and understanding smack of blaming the victims for not getting the message that the American flag can trigger feelings of hate and revulsion in some students.
This spring semester, the small liberal arts college will host speakers and a series of documentaries to try to bind up the wounds. Will it be enough for some and too much for others on campus? This is the place where President Barack Obama spent his first two years of college and NFL quarterback and Republican icon Jack Kemp, class of 1957, had a football stadium named in his honor in 2011.
The news of the destruction of the flag field made national headlines. (The flags had been approved by the administration and publicized ahead of time via campus email.) On September 10, students helped push 2,997 flags – representing those who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania 15 years earlier – into the ground around the Quad. In the overnight hours, someone pulled them all out and tossed them in the garbage. Then to prove it wasn’t a spontaneous move, the perpetrators put up their own signs and copies of “Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100,” a poem in honor of the cooks and dishwashers at Windows on the World restaurant who died in the World Trade Center attack.
Many students joined with the Conservatives and Republicans on campus to replace the flags. Some spent the night protecting the display but they said vandals came back and broke about 40 flags, snapping the sticks in two. Later in the day, hundreds of flags were once again stomped on and trashed, and once again they were replanted.
The “9/11: Never Forget Project” is organized nationally at hundreds of high schools and colleges by the Young Americans for Freedom. The protesters had a problem with American flags representing all of the victims. “Typically we memorialize people with flowers…with less politicized, less contentious symbols,” said one of the unidentified flag vandals to The Occidental Weekly student newspaper.
“This incident has been defended by some as an act of protected speech,” said Jonathan Veitch, president of Occidental, two days after the event. “It is not. It is an act of defilement that is deeply offensive to the memory of those who died on September 11th. And it violates the free speech of others, a principle we must hold dear as members of an educational community.”
No one came forward to claim credit for the outrage, but a group known as CODE: Coalition @ Oxy for Diversity and Equity offered an “anonymous platform” on Facebook to outline the perpetrators’ goals. They wanted to “demonstrate a more holistic approach,” according to CODE. “The critique voiced was that the flags represented an exclusionary, nationalistic narrative” that didn’t acknowledge the “the 1,455,590 innocent Iraqis who died as a result of the U.S’s subsequent invasion and War on Terror.” (That number is widely debated.)
The college said it would take action against those who destroyed the memorial. It reminded everyone, however, that student conduct matters are covered by the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and state laws so sanctions would not be made public.
“The primary objective of the College’s disciplinary process is to educate students about the effects and consequences of their actions so that they understand the rights and responsibilities of being a member of the Occidental College community,” said Erica O'Neal Howard, the acting dean of students, in a statement on the school's website.
She added that the administration believes they need to make the vandalism “an important teachable moment to address complex issues.”
Mod: You can read the rest of this article here. Peter Dreier, in a rather blustery (and unfortunately very long) letter about this incident to The Occidental Weekly (link), attempted to make some political hay out of this strange act. Stripped of its bulk-load of academic bromides, in a nutshell here is what he had to say.
"The vandalism of the flag on the Occidental campus last week may have been a sincere expression of outrage about injustice, but it did not satisfy the criteria for effective protest. The incident triggered lots of conversation about the tactic rather than galvanizing a campus-wide discussion about the people who lost their lives in the 9/11 tragedy, the misuse of that tragedy as an excuse for the U.S. to invade Iraq and the lives lost in that war, and the broader issues of America’s role in the world, U.S. militarism, fear-mongering by politicians about Muslims and one of the world’s great religions, and how to deal with the threat of terrorism."
Mod: I don't suppose Dreier would ever consider that this "act of defilement" (to use Jonathan Veitch's terminology) could actually be considered an infantile tantrum thrown in a protected setting by some extraordinarily privileged individuals? Persons who later had their utterly inexcusable act dignified by Professor Dreier as a "sincere expression of outrage about injustice?" Just in case you might have wondered how such a thing could have happened there.