Updated Nov. 14 at 6 p.m.
American flags placed on the Main Green Thursday were torn, pulled out of the ground and thrown away. The flags were set up to line walking pathways in preparation for the annual Veterans Day ceremony sponsored by the Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs.
When Nicholas Strada ’18 came out of class Thursday, he said he was confronted with a flag dangling on a snapped stick. “It would’ve really bothered me to see that done to the flag any day, but just because it was Veterans Day and there was a ceremony, it was a little extra disturbing,” he said. To Strada, the flags represented veterans and “the freedoms that everyone enjoys.”
Students have shown a divided response to what happened to the flags. Leah Zavalick ’17 organized a sit-in on the Main Green to repair and protect the flags while veterans were in class. But others felt that the actions were justified, and much of the division and debate took place on social media over the weekend.
On the Brown Bears Admirers Facebook page, a platform that allows students to express anonymous admiration, one student wrote, “I’d like to appreciate everyone who has been removing the flags from the Main Green.” The post continued, “As much as I know that these flags are there to represent Veterans Day, when I look at them, all I feel is overwhelming nausea, and all I see is a symbol of the oppressing white nationalism that has jeopardized myself and so many others at Brown and abroad.”
To student veteran Jonathan Hagedorn ’19, the flag is a symbol of why those in the military fought. “It’s just a difference of how you see the flag because for some people, it’s this sign of oppression and racial dominance and bigotry and imperialism. And it’s pretty much a flag of evil. And if I thought that way about the flag, I’d be stomping on it too,” he said, “At the same time, it’s painful for us.”
Strada’s trouble with the defaced American flags led him to upload a video on Facebook accompanied by a paragraph denouncing the vandalization. The video has since garnered upwards of 17,000 views. “There’s been a tremendous outpouring of support and positivity,” he said.
To gather participants for her demonstration, Zavalick posted in her class group on Facebook. The post drew “hateful comments and disrespect,” including things such as “How can you support something as stupid as the American flag?” she said.
One comment that resonated with Katie Hammaker ’19 read: “If only these people put this much energy into protecting marginalized people as they (did) into protecting these flags.”
“I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that veterans are marginalized people,” Hammaker said. “When they come back from deployments, they have trouble finding work, finding schooling opportunities and being mainstreamed back into civilian life,” she added. “Those American flags … were to support and show gratitude and solidarity for the marginalized group of veterans.”
“The reactions are polarizing. … It’s really hard to bridge that gap,” Hagedorn said. “For us who see it as a good thing, we also need to remember that some people do terrible things while holding the flag,” he added.