Last Thursday, school officials from the University of Vermont and representatives from the school’s student government agreed that it would be appropriate to hoist a Black Lives Matter flag alongside the American and state flags on campus in a show of solidarity with the people who are “struggling with the violence and search for justice in this country.”
“The Student Government Association is sponsoring the flag at this time to show symbolic support for our community,” said Student Government president Jason Maulucci.”It is fitting that the flag flies adjacent to the recently engraved benches that pronounce the values of Our Common Ground – Respect, Integrity, Innovation, Openness, Justice, and Responsibility.”
The flag caused controversy almost immediately. Some, like sophomore Akilah Ho-Young, were elated.
“Can I tell you I wanted to cry when I saw this,” Ho-Young wrote in a now viral Facebook post. “My body filled with lots of joy to know that my predominantly white University is paying tribute to the deaths in the black community. Its the littlest thing that just means so much to me.”
Others, though, took issue with the flag and asserted that “all lives matter” would have been a more appropriate, inclusive message for the university to have endorsed.
“[Black Lives Matter] has proved time and time again they are a racist hate group,” UVM alumnus Chris Dietze wrote on Facebook. “If they really cared about police brutality they’d be mad when someone of any color gets shot and killed by police who were unarmed.”
While this particular debate is nothing new when it comes to Black Lives Matter, the controversy over the university’s flag took a turn over the weekend when someone physically took it down without the administration’s knowing.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Maulucci described how the initially positive reaction to the flag quickly turned negative and he began to receiving complaints and threatening e-mails from people angry at the display. As disappointing was that the flag was removed, Maulucci said, it wasn’t surprising.
“It was upsetting that someone stole it, but I think it underscored the necessity for raising in the first place,” Maulucci said. “We’re proud of the fact that we’re contributing to that conversation. You can’t make progress unless you acknowledge that there’s a problem.”
Even through the first Black Lives Matter flag was pulled down, it didn’t take long for a replacement to be hoisted into the air courtesy of Pat Brown, the school’s director of student life, who bought another flag and painted it along with his wife.