The Confederate flag creates conversation on campus

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The Confederate Flag: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives panel was held on Feb. 23, 2017 on the BYU campus.  This video covers the entire panel discussion, including the question and answer section held at the end. (College of Family, Home and Social Sciences)

BYU student and president of the Black Student Union Kiana Cena is greatly disappointed and saddened when she sees the Confederate flag displayed on campus.

Some, like Cena, feel threatened and fearful when they see the Confederate flag on campus. Others are filled with pride for the South when they see the flag. Some don’t understand why displaying the Confederate flag causes so many mixed emotions.

“While I believe that many, if not all, of these students display the flag out of geographic pride or even tradition, I believe that the flag has multiple symbolic meanings that can unintentionally send threatening messages to members of the BYU community,” Cena said.

This Confederate flag was hung from a student apartment window in Heritage Halls in 2015. (Eric Morgan)

Cena said the Confederate flag originated as a symbol for the desired liberty and separation of the Southern states, but it was quickly adopted to express hate and discrimination toward minority communities. This is why minority groups often feel threatened and oppressed by the flag, according to Cena.

The Confederate flag is displayed on college campuses all over the nation in states like Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Louisiana. Multiple flags have also appeared on BYU campus in the last few years.

BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead said the last time a student hung a flag in their window was in Fall 2016.

“In that instance, as in others, once they became aware, housing representatives worked with the student involved, and the flag was removed by the student,” Hollingshead said.

Freshman and pre-med student William Burnett currently lives in Merrill Hall, a freshman dorm on campus. He said a Confederate flag appeared in a second floor window of his dorm in September 2016.

Burnett said seeing the flag created a lot of conversation about free speech among all who saw it.

“The flag appeared right before the election,” Burnett said. “People were interested in it because it brought about conversations about free speech and what our rights are as college students.”

Burnett said some believed whoever put it up should be forced to take it down because it was offensive to many people on campus, while others believed it was their right to hang up whatever they want.

“My opinion is that if it’s your property, then you should be able to exercise your free speech,” Burnett said. “If they want to put it up, they can because it’s their right to do so.”

BYU College of Family, Home and Social Sciences professor Ryan Gabriel said the heart of the debate is what the Confederate flag symbolizes.

“For some, it represents Southern legacy, heritage and honor. Some from the South see it as a representation of being able to remember their family, of those that fought in the Civil War,” Gabriel said. “On the flip side, there are others who see it as a symbol of oppression.”

Gabriel said it is important for students and faculty to recognize there is a multiracial coalition of students who have been hurt by seeing the Confederate flag on campus.

Gabriel said his goal is for the administration, students and faculty to understand the impact the flag still has in this country.

Rebecca DeSchweinitz of the History Department speaks at the Confederate Flag panel on Feb. 23, 2017. (FHSS Photo)

History professor Rebecca DeSchweinitz said people who say the flag is a symbol of Southern pride don’t fully understand the meaning of the flag.

“If that’s a symbol of Southern pride, then what are you saying about the South? What is Southern identity?  What South are you representing?” DeSchweinitz said. “Why are you wanting to attach a Southern identity around an object that is so clearly connected to racial oppression?”

DeSchweinitz said she encourages all who feel like displaying the Confederate flag doesn’t matter to them to educate themselves and seek out information about what the flag really means and what it has meant in history. She said students need to be aware it creates a lot of pain and anxiety for people today.

DeSchweinitz said she hopes students won’t dismiss concerns they hear expressed or say the flag doesn’t mean anything to them.

“I hope that we care enough about each other that we’ll seek out information and act with compassion in everything that we do,” DeSchweinitz said.

From left: BYU student Melodie Jackson, professors Matthew Mason and Ryan Gabriel and student Natali Jensen participated in the Confederate flag panel in February 2017 (FHSS photo).