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Union Senate defeats flag display resolution

By liorac

Section: Front Page, News

January 25, 2008

A resolution put forth by Ziv quad Senator Justin Sulsky ’09 supporting the public display of American flags as long as Rights and Responsibilities is not violated was defeated at Sunday’s Union meeting by a vote of 13 to two, according to Union minutes.

The resolution garnered only the support of Sulsky and Senator-at-Large Andrew Brooks ’09. Mods Senator Tania Kupferman ’08 and Class of 2008 Senator Asher Tanenbaum chose to abstain from the vote.

The proposed resolution is a response to the removal of an American flag displayed outside of Ziv 130 due to safety violations last semester. Sulsky explained in last week’s issue of The Hoot that his resolution was intended to express support for students’ right to publicly display flags in accordance with all pertinent safety regulations, not to mandate flag display.

As such, Sulsky expressed surprise at the outcome of the vote. The objections to the resolution, he said, fell into one of two camps.

Some senators, Sulsky commented, felt the resolution was outside the purview of the Union Senate, and others had objections to the American flag itself.

Senator for the Class of 2009, Yuki Hasegawa commented according to the meeting minutes, “I don’t feel proud [of] the American flag, I am here to get an education, but there are plenty of other countries I would love more.” Hasegawa did not respond to requests for clarification.

“[We] don’t want to get into business of legislating feelings…it is not good to push people to put up a flag,” said East Quad Senator Tamar Ariel ’10 according to the minutes.

“I really didn’t see the importance passing the resolution had,” said Gabe Gaskin ’08, Senator for Racial Minority Students. “It didn’t hold up after discussion.”

Charles River Apartments Senator Rachel Graham Kagan ’09 explained via e-mail, “I voted against the resolution because I thought that it was not the place of the Student Union to be commenting on this issue.”

Furthermore, Kagan commented, “there was no act by Res Life or any other part of the administration asking students to remove flags not in violation of Rights and Responsibilities that would precipitate the Union passing such a resolution.”

“Personally, I fully support people being proud of their nationality. I would encourage anyone to hang an American flag, or the flag of any nation, if they wish to express their pride and patriotism,” Senator for the Class of 2009 Julia Sferlazzo wrote in an e-mail.

“However,” she added, “I don’t think we need a resolution telling us to do so.”

In response to claims that his resolution was not “pertinent to the mission of the Union,” Sulsky said, “this is exactly the type of resolution the Union should be voting on.”

“In the past,” he said, “senators have sponsored resolutions on non-Union matters including alleged offensive speech in Gravity.”

He added, “this was the perfect opportunity to show that you stand for an important campus issue…[the resolution] should’ve been considered to send a strong message to Res Life.”

Tanenbaum, who abstained from the vote, wrote in an e-mail, “I completely agree that there needs to be more display of American flags on this campus. There is a conspicuous absence of American flags displayed here in public locations, which should be rectified by the administration.”

However, he chose to abstain because, “I felt [the] language [of the resolution] did not provide justification for voting for [it].”

Even so, Tanenbaum explained, “I whole-heartedly and without pause support a much broader public display of American flags throughout campus by the administration.”

Brooks, the only senator aside from Sulsky to vote in favor of the resolution, commented, “I understand that some people felt it wasn’t our place to make that call. That’s fine.”

However, in response to opposition to public displays of American flags in general, Brooks said, “I’m very saddened and disturbed by that sentiment.”

Sulsky agreed. “There were arguments that caused my jaw to drop,” he said. Sulsky and Brooks also wished senators had expressed concern with the resolution over the Senate listserv prior to the meeting.

“I was upset that senators didn’t tell me in advance…I would’ve edited the resolution to make the most people happy,” said Sulsky. He added, “I was kind of stunned by the quickness in which senators rushed to hush debate.”

Abe Male ’08, one of the two students who hung the original flag, said he was “flabbergasted that the resolution was defeated.”

He continued, “the really disturbing thing is not that we’re not getting a flag pole, it’s that 14 out of 18 senators voted against the public display of American flags.”

Male’s suitemate, Raffi Marcus ’08, expressed concern over some of the arguments against the resolution. “There’s a serious problem with a student senator saying how our flag offends them.”

“When someone says the American flag is offensive, how do you even respond?” Male posited.

Male also commented that senators who felt the resolution was outside the purview of the Senate’s responsibilities ought to have abstained from the vote.

Both Brooks and Male felt the vote did not reflect student opinion.

“If they want us to take them seriously, they better take us seriously,” said Male. “When they vote…like this, they better be prepared to defend it.”

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