Confederate Flag Causes Free Speech Tension at Univ of Rochester

Controversy is looming large in Rochester, New York after a university ordered a student to take down a flag he put in his campus window as an expression, according to him, of pride in his culture and country.

Matthew Papay, a University of Rochester student, says college officials violated his right to free expression by forcing him to take down a Confederate flag he had put in the window of his room on campus. He also said that the email that two university deans, Richard Feldman and Matthew Burns, sent to students on Friday misinterpreted what really happened.

“The deans lied in the email about why I took it down, saying I did so by choice after discussion with fellow students, when in reality the school told me to take it down,” said a disgruntled Papay. “I am from North Carolina and the school is blatantly ignoring my rights to express the cultural identity I choose to identify with, even though the school prides itself on how ‘culturally diverse’ it is.”

However, Matthew Burns refuted the claims by saying he had incomplete information about the controversy when they sent out the email Friday. He also said that the graduate house adviser who told Papay to take down a paper replica of the Confederate flag had “misspoke,” and that the replica should have been allowed to stay. Despite the University of Rochester being a private college, Burns said there should be no intention to inhibit free expression.

“The whole purpose of higher education is to get ideas out there that sometimes are unpalatable,” he said.

According to James Goodman and Sean Dobbin of USA Today, the saga drove a heated discussion on social sites especially Facebook, on a page associated with the university’s class of 2017, which sparked racial abuse comments (later deleted, perhaps by students) which were condemned by Matthew Burns.

“They were racist and inappropriate,” said Matthew Burns about the deleted comments.

In a bid to salve a black eye for the university, the deans’ page released an email condemning the racist comments.

“While much of the ‘dialogue’ on the page is civil and respectful, several comments are clearly inappropriate and offensive. These comments are in no way a reflection of the college’s views,” wrote the deans.

The e-mail concludes by saying that in coming days and weeks “the college will engage students and other members of our community in dialogues and restorative circles to address these questions.”