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Student Removes Rebel Flag

Leverett House Free Speech Controversy Comes to a Close

By Peter R. Silver

A controversy over the limits of free speech at Harvard ended Tuesday, when a Leverett House sophomore took down a Confederate flag that had been hanging in his towerroom window.

The student, Jon P. Jiles, said that continuing to display a flag some Leverett House residents have described as "racist" would be "an act of rebellion and controversy."

"That's not what it's supposed to stand for," he said.

Jiles said that the flag--which reminded him of his Oklahoma roots and the Southern culture in which he was raised--had been misinterpreted.

Removing the flag "seemed like a better way" of displaying the values of Southern friendliness and hospitality he was trying to express, he said.

Leverett House resident Lawrence Duncan III '90, who had asked Jiles to remove the flag, praised him for taking it down. He added that he still found the flag offensive.

"I do not back away from my original contention that [the Confederate flag] connotes racism and slavery," said Duncan.

Duncan called the display "divisive and unnecessary at a time when students should be coming together in an arena of racial tolerance and understanding." He also said that the public display of what he felt was an offensive symbol was indicative of poor race relations at Harvard.

Leverett House Master John E. Dowling '57 said he was "delighted" to hear of the outcome. "My view is that when something is in public view and it offends, it should be removed."

"I don't view that as censorship--it gets to be tricky, though. That's why I was in no position to ask Jon to take it down....It's something that he had to do for himself," he said.

The incident "certainly raised a lot of issues about free speech," he added.

One student who hung a Confederate flag in her window last fall said she was disappointed by Jiles's decision. Bridget L. Kerrigan '91 said Jiles should have left the flag up even though "it may not be a popular symbol up here because a lot of people misunderstand it." Kerrigan, who is from Virginia, called the flag's removal "a victory for small-minded liberalism and...a defeat for free speech."

"I don't think the people of Leverett House have a right to make his life miserable for being from a different area and having different political views," Kerrigan said.

Out of Public View

Jiles rehung the flag inside his room, out of public view. He said he was "kind of disgusted" that house residents had continued to find the flag offensive. "I think there's room for a lot more tolerance instead of just talk about tolerance at Harvard," he said.

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