Flag Faceoff

Depending on who you ask, it’s a symbol of the horrific oppression of African-American slaves or a symbol of Southern pride. Almost 150 years later, the Confederate Flag is still causing tension between those who fly it as a banner of freedom, and those who think its flying represents a time when not everyone had the right to be free.

And now the battle has come to Gannon University. Adam Greenman, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, had hung the rebel symbol in the window of his second floor, North Hall apartment. The flag could be clearly seen by anyone who passed by the hall from the outside. Greenman said he was asked by Adrian Beggs, the resident director of Lubiak Hall to take it down before the start of the Alumni Homecoming Reunion & Family Weekend.

Beggs had been called by the Campus Police and Safety office about the flag. Beggs could not be reached for comment.

Police and Safety had in turn been informed about it by Sue Grande, the assistant to the Rev. George Strohmeyer.

Strohmeyer, the vice president of the university Mission and Ministry, called Police and Safety to let them know about the flag’s presence, after several people let him know it was hanging.

Strohmeyer said he didn’t ask that the flag be taken down, and neither did Grande. He just wanted to make Police and Safety aware of it. He said he thought it might be an issue during the weekend, especially during the blessing of the dorm.

Greenman said Beggs didn’t force him to take it down; she simply asked that he do so before the blessing. He said he had no problem removing it, and he has no plans to put it back up.

However Greenman said he stands by his right to wave his flag.

“If the school doesn’t like it, I’ll respect that,” he said. “But I’m allowed to express myself in whatever way I believe.”

Greenman said no one ever complained about the flag to him before he was asked to take it down.

Strohmeyer said he was happy with the way Greenman was approached.

He said when he called Police and Safety, he was just hoping to relay the message that it was a concern, and he didn’t want anyone to “strong arm” Greenman.

“I’m glad he was asked to take it down and not forced,” he said.

Will Giles, an African-American junior sports and exercise major, who lives next door to Greenman, said his first reaction to the flag was simply surprise. He said he doesn’t see them very often where he comes from, half an hour away from New York City.

John Hohl, a junior mechanical engineering major, who works at the front desk of North Hall, had a similar shocked reaction.

“It’s a Confederate flag,” he said. “I thought it was unusual.”

But neither Giles nor Hohl seemed too bothered by its presence.

“It’s kind of disrespectful,” Giles said. “But I’m not judging anybody. You put your own stuff up. That’s his business.”

Hohl said he sees the flag as more of a design now than a symbol.

But Strohmeyer said the flag is more than a design. He said it still means something, and its meaning is much bigger than an expression of freedom.

He said it still represents a time when the country was bitterly divided and much blood was shed.

“It’s a sad story in our history,” he said.

Strohmeyer said he didn’t know if it would have caused issues during the weekend, but he didn’t think it was worth taking the chance. He said it could potentially hurt some people.

“Even if we hurt the most sensitive person in the community, do we need to do that?” he asked.

Chelsea Kline, a junior physician assistant major, called Greenman “kind of a redneck” and said he probably didn’t mean to offend anyone.

“I think if anything he was just trying to make his roommates laugh,” she said.

Kline said she thought it was his right to hang the flag, as long as it didn’t offend anyone.

Hohl said he didn’t think Greenman should have to take down the flag.

He said that would mean students would have to take down anything that was hanging in their room that could be considered offensive and inappropriate.

“You have to take down all the pot posters in every single person’s room,” he said. “A ‘Scarface’ poster would have to be taken down because that promotes drug trafficking.”

She-ron Jones, the assistant director of first year experience in the Student Living Office, said there are policies concerning what items students can hang. For example, she said posters of alcohol can’t be displayed. However, she declined to comment on the flag, and said she had nothing to do with its removal.

According to the room decoration guidelines in the Gannon University Student Handbook, the following things are prohibited for use as decoration in on-campus housing: beer cans, alcohol bottles of any type, traffic signs, public signs, traffic horses, realty signs, political signs, beer container packages and the use of beer containers to decorate walls of apartments.

Douglas Zimmerman, the director of the student living office, could not be reached for comment as to whether the flag might fit under the umbrella of prohibited items.

In this case, Greenman wasn’t requested by Student Living to remove the flag because it breached the rules, but by people concerned about the message it might have sent.

And he removed the flag without being forced and without putting up a fight. But even though the issue with the flag was resolved peacefully, the debate that led to its removal rages on.

While many students seemed to think the flag was old news, both Strohmeyer and Greenman – though on opposite sides of the discussion – could agree that it did in fact mean something.

“It shows my freedom to defend myself, to live free,” Greenman said.

“The Confederate flag will always have meaning,” Strohmeyer said.

“Flags are really symbolic – they have a deeper meaning, value and purpose.”

TESSY PAWLOWSKI

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