On Tuesday, Sept. 29, a student from Durfee Hall flew the Confederate Flag on Hope’s campus. According to an email sent by President Knapp, “The flag was removed and the Student Development staff is now addressing this as a judicial matter with the students involved.” The controversial issue of flying the Confederate Flag has invaded social media and conversations not only now but also earlier this summer as a nationwide dispute; much like Donald Trump, everyone is talking about it, whether they care about its significance or not. On one side, defenders of the student argue that this is a freedom of speech issue and that anyone has the right to fly the flag because it symbolizes their Southern cultural heritage. In the middle are people who argue that it’s just a flag and the student who flew it probably did it for fun, not to harm or insult anyone.
And then there I was in my FYS class, three teachers with steely glints in their eyes reading off of President Knapp’s email to the class with gentle yet serious voices. A day after the flag blew up the campus, the Phelps Scholars advisors and teachers thought it was necessary to address the issue. Currently, Phelps Scholars students are reading “Acts of Faith,” a book written by Eboo Patel who had gone through several stages of ignorance, discovery, and finally understanding of the importance of dialogue between different cultures and religions.
As students took turns speaking, one of the teachers scratched simple yet impactful words onto the blackboard. Because of my goldfish memory, I can only remember two words she had written: FEAR and EDUCATION. The following is based on what the Phelps Scholars program has taught me through its discussions and its readings as well as prior knowledge.
FEAR: The Confederate flag, although simple with its red backdrop, blue ‘X,’ and white stars, is bogged down with a history of anger, hatred, ignorance, pride, and fear. Although slavery was not the only reason the South wanted to succeed from the Union and that perhaps the flag was flown for other reasons thereby representing other things to different people, one cannot argue that the flag was flown when people were lynched. It was flown years after the war to represent opposition against black people. Whenever this flag flew, people were scared. Even now it brings about false assumptions towards the flier and incredible fear and confusion for the onlooker who recognizes its history. Flying the flag at Hope College without a clear message unavoidably brought about the assumption that someone harbored hatred towards the black students of Hope. An anonymous source confirms that it was flown for fun, but for whatever the reason, the student needed to understand that a history that dark was not to be thrown around lightly.
EDUCATION: In order to combat future acts similar to this, we talked about how crucial it was to learn not only our history but other cultures’ as well. Ignorance breeds accidental and stupid actions. In turn, pride causes a purposeless need to defend oneself. To stop this toxicity from ever beginning, respect and communication are pivotal. What a crazy thing it was that here we were reading a book about understanding and love, there they were on the evening of GROW’s annual kick-off, and yet it was still happening: perhaps unintentional, but actions were created from misunderstanding and juvenility, birthing fear.
If you have a say in this issue, please don’t be afraid to speak up. Comment below with your thoughts. Communication and listening are the only ways to make clear of murky, controversial issues after all.