And Our Flag was Still There…

Over the past weekend, sensationalistic headlines have blared, “Southern California School BANS the American Flag!” — often followed by an outraged analysis about how those darn liberal, college kids are destroying traditional American values.

As is usually the case, the truth about the proposed ban has far more nuance than can fit into click-bait headlines. This short-lived piece of legislation actually prohibited all flags from any nation from being displayed in a small lobby area in the UC Irvine student government offices. Additionally, it was by no means endorsed by the majority of the 30,000 UC Irvine students, as it was passed by six students on the A.S. UC Irvine legislative committee and quickly overturned by the Executive Cabinet. Three of the committee members have since offered public apologies.

One of the most concerning developments to come out of this story is that the legislative council that passed this ban has received threats of violence so serious that its March 10 meeting was canceled. No matter where you stand on flag displays, all reasonable people should agree that threatening 12 college students with violence over a minor — albeit personal — legislative ruling that has had almost no real impact on anything for more than a day is alarmist, irresponsible and has no place in a healthy discussion about culture and patriotism.

With that being said, although we at the UCSD Guardian Editorial Board recognize that these six students voted to ban flags with positive intentions and for inclusive purposes, we find that it’s a situation where the hypercorrect approach actually did more harm than good.

First, it’s important to look at the reasoning behind the ban. These students believe that the American flag has historically been used in imperialist and colonial instances and isn’t conducive to a “culturally inclusive space [that] aims to remove barriers that create undue effort and separation by planning and designing spaces that enable everyone to participate equally and confidently.”

Banning the flags from such a small space is only a monumental gain perhaps for those who go straight from their dorms to the student government offices without looking around. The American flag is on display throughout the campus, in front of city offices, on car bumpers and in just about every neighborhood. To pretend that the ban is a significant gesture that is helping tons of students is insulting to those who do come from foreign countries, who probably have a much deeper understanding of cultural inclusivity through experience than to feel offended by a flag in a student government office. It’s over-correcting a problem in a manner typically done by well-meaning people who tragically misinterpret the real issues at stake.

It’s even arguable that banning all national flags, as the resolution did, is not only an overreaction to a limited problem but actually harmful in itself because it implies that cultural differences should be hidden away. Cultural studies across every UC campus advocate that the differences should be celebrated, explored, understood and, most importantly, taught. A truly inclusive space would foster these ideas through open conversation instead of trying to paper over cultural differences by pretending that they don’t exist — also known as the “ostrich method” of problem solving.

Furthermore, as the resolution itself admits, the U.S. flag is a symbol open to subjective interpretation, and, for many students, that interpretation is personally patriotic. Both born-and-bred American and immigrant students can boast a connection to the American flag, and, for the latter group, their native flag as well.

We would typically applaud any student trying to make the UC campuses a more inclusive place because, let’s face it, we certainly could use it. But for six students to try and make a decision like this for a whole campus while insisting it’s for the benefit of a large number of students is counterproductive to actual strides toward greater equity on our campuses. Before we overcorrect, we should ask students if they have a problem first and then see what they’d like to do about it, instead of imposing a decision that the majority clearly did not agree with in the first place.

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