The place where Barack Obama spent the first two years of his college career was the place where a 9/11 memorial was vandalized mid-September of last year. Occidental College is now responding by implementing programs and events intended to educate students on freedom of speech and the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
The school has released a list of several activities planned by the faculty and administration that will be accomplished during the upcoming spring semester. The events include:
-“A speech and roundtable discussion on the principles of free speech on college campuses, led by Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine Law School and noted constitutional scholar.”
-“A performance of ‘Defamation,’ a play that will challenge students’ preconceived notions about issues such as race, class and the law by turning the audience into the jury.”
-“A film series featuring a number of critically acclaimed documentary films that will expose students to a variety of perspectives on 9/11, the war in Iraq, the meaning and motivations behind modern memorials and other relevant issues.”
-“A screening and discussion of In Our Son’s Name, a moving documentary about the parents of a victim of the 9/11 attacks who chose to pursue a path of reconciliation rather than vengeance.”
“Occidental’s goal is to provide a model for spirited public debate informed by mutual respect and an open mind. It is our hope that these activities will spur a more thoughtful campus conversation that is needed to fully realize this result,” said acting dean Erica O’Neal Howard in a public statement on the school’s website.
The memorial was orchestrated and carried out by Conservatives of Occidental and was approved by the Office of Student Affairs. It included 2,997 flags displayed across the Occidental Quad, each one symbolizing a victim of the terrorist attacks done on September 11, 2001.
In the early morning of September 11, 2016, many of the flags were found thrown away in nearby trash cans, while some were crushed and snapped in front of Conservative club members, according to the club’s Facebook page.
Many students assisted the club in rebuilding the memorial.
However, an organization at Occidental College known as Coalition @ Oxy for Diversity and Equity (CODE) gave an “anonymous platform” on Facebook to the student assailants. They justified their actions stating, “the flags represented an exclusionary, nationalistic narrative.” They went on to attack conservatism and the outraged national response saying it is “parallel to the nationalistic narrative which helped fuel and justify violence, terrorism, and wars in the wake of 9/11.”
The school released a statement that the students in charge of the vandalism have been identified and reprimanded. However, the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents the school from releasing the students’ names and the actions taken against them to the public.
This reaction to the flag is commonplace among many universities that promote trigger warnings and safe spaces, such as Occidental, where flag burnings have occurred in the wake of national events like the 2016 election.
In a recent Gallup poll conducted in July, millennials were found to be the least patriotic group in America, with only 34 percent stating they were “extremely proud to be American,” down 26 percentage points from a 2003 poll asking the same question. Liberals were the next least patriotic group, at 36 percent.
Two days after the event, the president of the college, John Veitch, said this vandalism and desecration of the flag 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.”
He hopes programs like the ones instituted will help promote tolerance of differing opinions and more understanding of the flag’s “history as a powerful symbol of unity, inspiration, and reform.”