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Campus divided over ban on national flags

The fallout over a now-vetoed piece of legislation banning the American flag at UC Irvine is continuing to draw attention to a divided campus.
An American flag. (Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty)
An American flag.

The fallout over a now-vetoed piece of legislation banning the American flag at the University of California, Irvine is continuing to draw attention to a divided campus. 

The legislative branch of the Associated Students of UC Irvine, the campus' student government, passed a resolution on March 3 to ban national flags from ASUCI's main lobby space. The ban, which includes removing American flags, was written by undergraduate student Matthew Guevara in an effort to promote "an inclusive space" in the lobby. Flags, the legislation argued, "serve as symbols of patriotism or weapons for nationalism, but also construct cultural mythologies and narratives that in turn charge nationalistic sentiments."

The legislation was vetoed by ASUCI's executive cabinet on Saturday, but not before significant backlash across the nation, including threats and a petition to remove Guevara from ASUCI. 

On ASUCI's Facebook page, a statement from ASUCI's President Reza Zomorrodian has received more than 1,000 comments, and coverage from national news organizations from NBC to Fox News prompted the university to respond on social media:

Zomorrodian's statement was also emailed to UCI alumni Friday.

In a statement issued by UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman, campus officials "swiftly, strongly, and publicly denounced the action," emphasizing that "the views of these six [who voted in favor of the resolution] did not represent the students at UCI." Gillman's statement was followed by an official statement from the campus, calling the resolution "misguided."

"The American flag is still proudly flying throughout our campus and will continue to do so," the administration wrote.

According to the New University, UC Irvine's independent student newspaper, the American flag has been a source of controversy on campus since January, when a member of the Office of Student Services hung a flag on a wall in the ASUCI office. The flag was removed by students who disagreed with its placement, and put on Zomorrodian's desk with a note.

Zomorrodian said he didn't view the American flag as a non-inclusive symbol. “For me, the flag transcends policy and it comes down to a representation of ideals that collectively as a society we agree on,” he told the New University. “I just simply see the flag as a symbol of inclusion.”

In a statement posted to Facebook on Monday from three members of ASUCI's legislative council, the students apologized for supporting the resolution, and elaborated on the reasons for passing the legislation. "We voted with the intention of creating a safe, inclusive space for all individuals after being approached about conflicts between other members of ASUCI surrounding a U.S. flag," the statement read.

But the apology, the New University reports, was coerced: 

According to representative Rico, the apology statement released by her, as well as representatives Tsai and Fatahi, late Sunday night was pressed upon them by campus officials.Sidney said that in a meeting with Student Affairs, administrators told the representatives that they would only assist in the protection and well-being of the students if they released an apology.Because Rico, Tsai and Fatahi aren’t graduating like the other three representatives, they were put in a vulnerable position. Despite not being guaranteed specific protections, the three agreed to release the statement.“They never said what they would do,” she said. “At this point, we’re just tired of this whole thing and we’re scared so we released it hoping for the best.”

The university has responded to the students' accusations, calling the report "absolutely incorrect." 

"The student affairs office has continually reached out to the students to ensure their safety and offer campus resources. The campus Facebook and Twitter platforms have published numerous requests to keep the dialogue civil. And the UCI Police Department has offered services. No attempt was made to force an apology in return for protection," Cathy Lawhon, senior director of media relations for UC Irvine, said.

Despite public opposition by Zomorrodian and the university, support for the six students who voted in favor of the legislation has also grown. A letter of support started on Monday has received more than 600 signatures from UCI students, alumni, professors around the country. and more. "The university ought to respect their political position and meet its obligation to protect and promote their safety," the letter states. "The resolution recognized that nationalism, including U.S. nationalism, often contributes to racism and xenophobia, and that the paraphernalia of nationalism is in fact often used to intimidate."

The letter also requests the university's administration to speak out against the threats and harassment aimed at the six students.