Masters Discuss Flags, Speech
Statement Expected By Next Week
Harvard house masters met last night with Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 for their first official discussion of the recent campus-wide controversy concerning the display of offending symbols.
Although no specific resolution was adopted at the meeting, the masters discussed at length the importance of persuading students to voluntarily take down offending flags, Jewett said. He said he expects to release an official statement of the masters' position by early next week.
"It was an issue I wanted to raise with the masters because I value their opinions, especially as they relate to undergraduate life," Jewett said.
The recent campus-wide controversy concerning the display of offending symbols was sparked two weeks ago, when Kirkland resident Bridget L. Kerrigan '92 hung a Confederate flag from her window. The next day, Timothy P. McCormack '91-'92 put on display a similar flag from a window in his Cabot House suite.
That same day, Jacinda T. Town-send '92 hung a swastika from her Cabot House suite, which is in view of McCormack's, in protest of his flag. On Monday, Townsend took that flag down.
Although several groups on campus have clamored for the students to remove these symbols, Jewett said that these displays are permitted under University policy. But several masters at yesterday's meeting expressed disapproval of such symbols and said they hope to be able to persuade students to refrain from hanging those objects, according to those who attended the meeting.
"We live in a community, and if one person displays something that offends everyone, it should be taken down," said Leverett Master John E. Dowling '57. "It's difficult from a legal standpoint, though. It's like flagburning."
Dowling said that a student who hung a Confederate flag from a window in his Leverett suite last year was persuaded to voluntarily remove it after hearing the community's disapproval of that symbol.
"We communicated to the student that it was inappropriate to display something which was offensive to so many people in the community," Dowling said.
Eva S. Jonas, acting master of Adams House, said she feels the entire incident is "unfortunate and unnecessary," calling it "some sort of immature behavior."
"She [Kerrigan] made a point, and now she should take it down," Jonas said. "[The offending symbols] cause so much frustration and take so much time from the administration and students. This is selfish."
Jonas said she thinks the students' actions are an abuse of free speech, citing their harmful effects on those offended by the flags. "I know how it feels to see the swastika," said Jonas, who grew up in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi occupation of that country. "I remember hearing the loudspeakers shout the hatred."
Although he said no particularly new ideas came out of the meeting, Jewett said he thinks it is important "for the masters to work a balance between free speech and the concerns of those being hurt. There is not always a crystal clear line between free speech and harassment."
"Free speech is not only University policy," Jewett said. "It's the law of the land. We don't have the power to turn it on and off. That doesn't mean that within that we can't try to convince people to limit their speech."
Jewett said that the College would only take disciplinary action against those hanging offending symbols if someone were to file a charge of harrassment. He added, however, that the flags' effects are so indirect that such a charge would be difficult to substantiate.