Accounts vary on flag confiscation

by Matthew Kelly | 11/19/03 6:00am

While accounts differ on why a Safety and Security officer confiscated a Confederate flag from a demonstrator at Howard Dean's speech last Thursday, some claim that the College violated its own free speech protections by confiscating the flag.

As Dean walked onto the Alumni Hall stage, approximately nine students in the audience unfurled Confederate flags to greet the candidate. At the conclusion of the speech, several demonstrators followed Dean as he walked to the Top of the Hop to greet those who could not be seated in crowded Alumni Hall. It was then that Safety and Security officer Mike Wilds confiscated a flag from Nathaniel Ward '05.

Although Safety and Security Proctor Harry Kinne explained that Wilds seized the flag because Ward was causing an unsafe disturbance by waving the flag in the face of bystanders, others at the event tell a different story.

According to Andrew Edwards '04, Wilds admitted to taking the flag because it was a banner. Edwards, who did not participate in the flag demonstration himself, saw Wilds with the flag and talked to him after the speech.

"I asked him on what grounds he took the flag, and he said, 'It was a banner and they are not allowed at the speech,'" Edwards said.

Edwards' account of the event is in accord with that of demonstrators Daniel Linsalata '07, who also brought a flag, and Kevin Hudak '07, who did not. Ward declined to comment.

"He wasn't in people's faces at all," Linsalata said. "What [Safety and Security] told him, I believe, is that he was not allowed to have a banner."

"From what I saw, Ward was not being obnoxious with the flag," Hudak told the Dartmouth. "It seemed like the Safety and Security officer was confiscating the flag because Nat had shown it earlier as Dr. Dean was leaving, not for any of his actions while Dr. Dean was in the Top of the Hop."

Those accounts conflict with Safety and Security Proctor Harry Kinne's version of the event. He explained that Wilds took the Confederate flag not because of its status as a banner, but because Ward was waving the flag in the face of others, causing a disturbance.

"It could have been an umbrella," Kinne said. "It wasn't the symbol of the flag. He was getting too close to the person's face. It's to reduce the unsafe condition. Unless it's something dangerous, we're not interested in the content."

According to Kinne, Wilds took Ward's information down and confiscated the flag. He added that Safety and Security returned the flag to Ward on Monday. Safety and Security is not conducting a follow-up on the incident, and the school is not disciplining Ward or others who participated.

Dean himself believes that demonstrators should have the right to protest at his campaign events.

"People on college campuses do these things, and they are entitled to under free speech," Dean said after Thursday's event. According to demonstrator Jonathan Beilin '07, however, several would-be protesters had their flags seized at the door to Alumni Hall by persons associated with Dean campaign.

This seizure would not in breach of the College's freedom of speech's protections, as Dean for America rented Alumni Hall, and thus could affix their banners to the walls of the room and could limit dissent.

As explained in the Student Handbook, the College follows a policy of protecting free speech and fostering dissent.

"Protest or demonstration shall not be discouraged so long as neither force nor the threat of force is used, and so long as the orderly processes of the College are not deliberately obstructed," the Student Handbook states on page 10.

Standard VIII of the Community Standards of Conduct explains specifically what constitutes disruption of the orderly processes of the College, although is not limited to the examples given.

According to Standard VIII, disorderly conduct can be defined as, "Conduct (including by way of example, obstruction, noise or the display of banners or objects) that prevents or disrupts the effective carrying out of the College function or approved activity, such as classes, lectures, meetings, interviews, ceremonies and public events."

In Kinne's account of the incident, the actions of the officer would be defended under Standard VIII. However, the Student Handbook, does not stipulate that banners themselves are prohibited.

According to Laurel Stavis, vice president for public affairs, the College would not act to stifle freedom of speech.

"We don't have speech codes at Dartmouth, and freedom of expression is one of our core values. If someone wants to exercise their freedom at a political event, that is their choice," Stavis said.

She explained that the College itself remains non-partisan. The Dean for America campaign rented Alumni Hall for the purposes of a political speech, thus allowing the campaign to affix banners to the College walls. According to the Student Handbook, the daily rate for renting Alumni Hall is $345.

According to demonstrators, the idea to bring Confederate flags to Thursday's Dean speech was organized independently, although many on campus have noted a connection between the demonstrators and the conservative campus publication The Dartmouth Review.

"Some of the kids were on The Dartmouth Review, but it wasn't condoned or authorized by the paper itself," said John Wilson '07, a flag-waver who has never written for the publication.

Harry Camp '04, president of the Review, concurred.

"As far as I know, several of the protestors are Dartmouth Review staffers," Camp told the Dartmouth. "Several are not. These students were not operating as members of the Review."

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