Banning Confederate flag on campus accomplishes nothing positive

By Tomas Engle

Published: Monday, October 18, 2010

The Confederacy may no longer be with us, but its controversy lives on in its symbols.

In the opinion section of this newspaper Thursday, Josh Peters wrote on the topic of the Confederate flag and why it should be banned from being displayed by employees of the University.

As a fellow resident assistant, I know quite well Peters’ motivations in wanting to create a "stable and tolerant learning environment" for students living in the dorms.

It is, after all, our main goal, and a noble one at that.

I fail to see how the banning of a symbol will accomplish any good toward achieving this goal.

In a previous piece of mine, I stated, "If I threw a rock at someone, would the rock or myself be to blame?"

Symbols can only ever be representations of actions and beliefs and never the actions and beliefs themselves. Yes, the Confederate flag is a loaded symbol; even its "heritage not hate" supporters should realize that.

Despite being a member of a Southern fraternity and descendant of a Confederate veteran myself, my first thoughts on seeing the battle flag on someone’s property are not exactly positive.

They’re usually along the lines of "Oh, brother," and "Please don’t be bigots."

The Confederate flag can also serve as an important teaching tool in tolerance and learning about those different from you.

One of the comments on Peters’ original piece was "I walk in the opposite direction whenever I see that flag." It is sad to think while our goal is to have a more tolerant campus and a positive living environment in the dorms, students can inadvertently be encouraged to avoid others based on appearances and stereotypes.

Anyone could easily reuse the above narrow-minded quote for any flag that has the Muslim crescent and star on it, a gay pride flag or, yes, even the American flag.

College is the first experience many students have living on their own and around others that are different from them. How are we helping them by creating an unrealistic environment where no one has opinions, sexualities, beliefs or backgrounds different from their own? Living in the dorms should be about stepping outside of your comfort zone and getting to know others different from you. How can we encourage that by censorship?

I have several items in my room that could be easily construed as controversial – fraternity memorabilia, a tobacco sign, a crucifix.

Any of my residents could have a negative association with any of these items and may not feel comfortable talking with me.

But why aren’t they? Because they know me, and at our very first floor meeting we went over the concept of mutual respect.

You are not going to agree with every facet of someone else’s life, but what you can do is give them the same amount of respect as you would wish to receive from them.

Using symbols like the Confederate flag to represent yourself can be dangerous, but with an open dialogue and the use of supplementary symbols such as the "Coexist" bumper sticker or the "Safe Zone" sticker, you can show others you are serious about respecting others.

Instead of sweeping things we don’t want to acknowledge under the rug, let’s talk about it. The next time you see a Confederate flag or any other symbol that makes you feel uncomfortable, ask the person displaying the symbol about it.

What does it mean to them? Why do they use it?

Then, in a respectful way, let them know how you feel about it, what you associate with it when you see the symbol, and so on.

You may or may not have made a new friend, but you will have had a genuine human interaction that helped to break down the wall between "us" and "them".

Let 100 symbols and hand-made mutual respect signs bloom. Let 100 dialogues contend.

On The Web:   http://www.thedaonline.com/opinion/banning-confederate-flag-on-campus-accomplishes-nothing-positive-1.1714070