Flag ban vote: UC Irvine faculty, students push back

Flag ban vote: UC Irvine faculty, students push back
Carol Schlaepfer, left, from Chino Valley argues with students at UC Irvine. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Students and faculty at UC Irvine are beginning to push back against the angry condemnation of six university students who created a national stir last week when they voted to remove the U.S. flag from a lounge.

A petition signed by professors and students alike said the aggressive and sometimes shrill response to the students embodies the exact aspects of nationalism the six had hoped to eliminate with the no-flag vote -- racism, xenophobia and intimidation.


"We admire the courage of the resolution's supporters amid this environment of political immaturity and threat, and support them unequivocally," the petition states.

The vote by a student government council last week to remove the U.S. and other flags from a lounge area was quickly vetoed days later by the student government's executive cabinet.

But by Monday, the voting was a trending topic and there was a national backlash.

"These are the UC Irvine students that voted to have the American flag removed from the school campus lobby," read an image posted on a American-Strong's Facebook page. "Make them famous!" Conservative radio and television commentator Todd Starnes called the students "un-American" and even the university's chancellor admonished the students' vote as being "outrageous and indefensible."

Increasingly, though, students and faculty at UCI says it's the criticism and threats that's become indefensible. Some have taken the school's administration to task for not taking a more reasoned stance.

For Nasrin Rahimieh, a comparative literature professor who signed the petition, the flag vote seemed not unpatriotic, but rather an embrace of ethnic diversity on campus.

She said it offered a valuable pedagogical exercise to think about what it means to belong to a nation that one loves but understand that others may feel excluded.

"We urge our students to be inquisitive, to be open to questioning ideas and to keep an open mind," she said. "I think that has to be respected."

Rahimieh said the threats are ugly and inappropriate.

"If to be an American, a true believer of this country, is to wish to kill someone because they took down this flag, that is horrifying to me."

Frank Wilderson III, a professor in several departments, said he believes students would have peacefully resolved the flag controversy but that the school's administration failed to uphold the "integrity of students self-governing."

He said administrators instead essentially threw the students under the bus.

A full student government meeting on Tuesday, when the flag issue was expected to be debated, was canceled after the school received threats that were deemed to be credible. A meeting scheduled for Thursday was also canceled.


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