Ms. Geek Speaks: UCIrvine and flagging controversy

Tonight, I was astounded to find that my first college, the University of California, Irvine was trending on Twitter. The issue: The flying of the American flag in the Associate Student Lobby space. This is not a decision that covers all ten campuses in the University of California system. It also doesn’t cover the whole campus of the University of California.

The presentation on this matter was made on 3 March 2015. The vote was passed by the majority with a final point of 6 in favor, 4 against and 2 abstaining.

The pervasive sentiment on the piece of legislation is removing “barriers” to promote an inclusive space. The resolution takes out the American national flag and the flats of “any nation” from being hanged on the walls of the Associate Students main lobby space. Further if a  “decorative item” is in that space and issues arise, the “solution will be to remove the item if there is considerable request to do so.”

Instead of thinking of the negative problems, I’d prefer to think of the kind of issues that will be avoided. The demographics of the University of California, Irvine is 48.3 percent Asian. The second largest group is Hispanic/Latino (23.9 percent). Whites only make up 18.7 percent. Black and African American is 1.9 percent.

There are things that divide the Asian American community. There are three Chinese student organizations: Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), Chinese Union and Hong Kong Student Union. From my experiences on different UC campuses, the activities tend to divide Hong Kong Chinese students from Mainland Chinese and from Taiwanese Chinese students. This piece of legislation will prevent the hanging of flags from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Tibet and Mongolia.

There’s South Korea and North Korea as well as Vietnam. In 2003, Garden Grove was considering the issue of the Vietnamese flag. Another city in Orange County, Westminster–the home of Little Saigon,  had already considered this issue. Even 40 years after the fall of Saigon, the South Vietnam flag is treasured by some of the immigrants.

In 2009, USC was under fire for the display of the communist Vietnamese flag at the Von KleinSmid Center Library for International and Public Affairs on campus. According to the OC Register, even as late as 2013, USC resolved to keep the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s flat.

Other things that divide Americans and international students on campus: issues of Palestine and Israel.

Other unpopular flags in the news includes a swastika. A Sacramento home has an American flag with a swastika replacing the stars. Two Israeli flags had swastikas in place of the Star of David. The home has a Palestinian flag according to the KCRA report.

For some Latinos, their families go back further than the statehood of California. It could be they have Native American blood (Gabrieleño) or that their ancestors were the original European immigrants to the Southwest, before it became a U.S. territory.

People outside of California who write things like they should got back from where they came from night forget that there were people in California, in what is now the city of Irvine before California was a U.S. territory and before California was a state. The history of California is much older than 1776 or 1847 (when the U.S. gained control of the area) or 1850 when California became a state. The city of Irvine is even younger–only incorporated in 1971.

California has enacted a ban on the Confederate flag. According to the Mercury News, that bill was signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown and prevents “California state government agencies from selling or displaying items displaying the Confederate flag.” The bill was introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Isadore Hall of Compton who is black.

The bill supposedly doesn’t violate free speech rights “because it applies only to formal actions of government officials. It also allows for the flag to be displayed in books and museums for historical or educational purposes.”

The ASUCI ban also covers this possibility under the “decorative item” clause.

The absence of the American flag also avoids another flag controversy. The Vietnam War was another time when the American flag became an issue. The U.S.Supreme Court stated that the burning of an American flag is protected by the First Amendment. The desecration of the U.S. flag, even as an art happening or re-creation of an art piece is also covered by the UCIrvine Associated Student ban. Yet one can guess that the art students at UCIrvine might decide to do just that to be topical.

College is often a time when adults rebel against the system and this might be no more than that. However, condemning the students and even,  all of California, shows the prejudices of the commentators. Implying that the students should go back to where they came from shows intolerance for different ideas and implies that the students must not be Americans or, might not deserve to be Americans. What could be more intolerant than that? Asking to revoke citizenship because of what might be deemed as un-American activities?

UPDATE: The executive cabinet vetoed the ban Saturday, 7 March 2015, on a 4-1 vote according to a report by the OC Register.

Another important note is the official stance  of the ACLU:

Many universities, under pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

That’s the wrong response, well-meaning or not. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Speech codes adopted by government-financed state colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution. And the ACLU believes that all campuses should adhere to First Amendment principles because academic freedom is a bedrock of education in a free society.

UPDATE: 11 March 2015

After the veto by the UCI AS executive cabinet, the ban should have gone to the legislative council, however, according to KTLA, that meeting was canceled due to a “viable threat of violence.”

Racial violence was one of the considerations in at a recent Northern California high school case. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the administrators at Live Oak High School in San Jose were right “to place concern of racial violence over freedom of expression rights. The case also inspired a Fox News poll.



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