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Campus Safety asks BSU to take down art installation flags

This weekend, members of the Black Student Union (BSU) hung three black-and-white American flags painted with quotes and statistics in prominent locations on campus.

The black-and-white American flag has represented economic recession and the struggles black Americans face since the 1920s, and has been intermittently used since then, reemerging in 2011. The black stripes represent segregation and a call for unity in the black community; the stars represent a more hopeful future, according to an open letter from the BSU sent via Student-Info email on Monday. On Wednesday night, BSU sent an All-Student email informing students that the flag in the atrium had disappeared.

Although the flags were supposed to remain hanging through the week, unspecified College officials notified the BSU that they had not followed the proper art installation procedure, according to Joy Head ’19, in a post on the BSU Facebook page on Tuesday.

The policy regulates public art exhibits on campus. BSU removed the flags from outside Rosse Hall and the lobby of Peirce Dining Hall, but did not take down the one hung outside the window of their lounge, on the west side of Peirce.

On Tuesday, Campus Safety came to the BSU lounge and asked the members to remove the flag, which displayed a Martin Luther King Jr. quote.  BSU members refused. The flags were put up in response to a reported increase in harassment of marginalized groups and the Kenyon community’s strong reaction to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

They read:

“‘The rulers of this country have always considered their property more important than our lives.’ – Assata Shakur.” Shakur is a member of the former Black Panther Party. “1 in 13 black citizens is disenfranchised due to the prison industrial complex.”

“‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ – Martin Luther King Jr.”

In  the Student-Info email, BSU said that the flags were hung to create a conversation about race and discrimination on campus. “These flags are not placed on campus in protest, but instead to encourage a shift from private dialogue to public conversation. It is not sufficient for conversations about black lives to only be held in ‘safe spaces.’ Kenyon College in its entirety should be an open space for all students,” the email said.

The email contained quotes from anonymous BSU members, who wrote about using the flags as a way to magnify the voices of people of color and acknowledged that the flags may make others uncomfortable, although they do not consider that an inherently bad thing. One anonymous individual says the discomfort “is not an attack. It is an assertion, however, and an invitation to vital conversation.”

“There are many groups on this campus and individuals who hang flags outside of their dorm rooms and organizational spaces. Some read ‘Trump’ and others read ‘International Students at Kenyon;’ our point is not that these flags should not fly; our question is why is our flag hanging from our space being challenged,” Head said on Facebook.

Director of Campus Safety Bob Hooper said his department had received concerns about the flags, and discussed this with Jené Shoenfeld, BSU advisor, and the Student Engagement Office, as well as other unspecified organizations. “Some found the messages upsetting as well as using an American flag for the background,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian.

The BSU leadership declined to comment, referring the Collegian to their open statements and future plans for the spring semester.