Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

SGA considers motions on diversity, equity and inclusion, more flags on campus and yearbooks

Senators debated a motion to install American flags in all academic buildings
Shilpa Sweth / Daily Collegian

The University of Massachusetts Student Government Association met to review motions on the American flag, the Secretary of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the Index yearbook.

Senator Nick Mihopoulos sponsored a motion to place an American flag in every academic building on campus. President of the Advocacy Council Eli Zeh co-sponsored the motion.

“I believe in the American flag and I believe that it represents the freedoms and privileges that anyone who goes to this university [is] able to utilize,” Zeh explained.

“The freedoms that we enjoy on campus and throughout this country are found in no other nation on Earth, like the freedom of speech, worship, and assembly,” Mihopoulos and Zeh wrote in their motion. “The US allows 1.07 million international students to study at American universities.”

“I personally do take offense on the implication that international students are allowed to come to the United States of America,” Student Trustee Barka Bhandari, who is an international student, responded. “The American economy is continuingly [benefitting] because of the labor and effort that international workers and students put into making this country what it is.”

“Regardless of that, it is of my own free will that I came here,” Bhandari continued, proceeding to note that many international students do not feel the American flag represents them.

“UMass is home to one of the largest bodies of international students at any state university in the country […] Also, there are students who are Americans who don’t feel like the American flag represents them for a variety of reasons,” Bhandari said.

“What do you have to say to students who don’t feel represented by this flag, whether international or not, and are going to have to walk into academic buildings and see it every day?”

“The American flag is not meant to offend others… you’re wearing it on your left sleeve,” Zeh responded, pointing out the emblem on Bhandari’s jacket. “[Students] walk by [flags] every day on a daily basis, there’s a flag out there on the mall. There are multiple flags around campus.”

“[1.3 million U.S. soldiers] died defending this country,” Mihopoulos added. “Because of their sacrifice we’re all able to be here. What do you say to them and their families?”

Other senators asked Mihopoulos and Zeh if they had discussed this motion with stakeholders such as UMass administrators, the SGA Academic Oversight Committee or veterans on campus.

“We consulted with one administrator, and his name was Tilman Wolf,” Mihopoulos said. Wolf is the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs.

“If this were to go any further, we will of course, talk to Academic Oversight,” Zeh said. “We will talk to more administrators.”

“Veterans face so many issues, it’s crazy,” Vice President Meher Gandhi added. “Would you be willing to make this motion, instead of about flags, [about] something that can be done to actually support the veteran community?”

“That’s definitely something that we can look into,” Zeh said. “We will get in touch with the VA on campus and we can see how their budgeting looks, where they would like to see improvements.”

The SGA then voted to open debate. Mihopoulos and Zeh spoke in support of the motion. Chair of the Undergraduate Services Committee Jessika Antinori and Chair of the Academic Oversight Committee Julia Carino spoke in opposition to the motion.

“I just want to give the legal perspective,” Antinori said, referencing a line in the motion stating that “Massachusetts General Law Title 7, Chapter 71, Section 69 states an American Flag must be stated in every assembly hall or other room in a school.”

“Actually, it’s Title 12 that refers to education, so that’s the first error we have here,” Antinori explained.

The Undergraduate Services Committee Chair then referred to Chapter 73 and Chapter 75 of the General Laws, which address state public colleges and UMass specifically.

“Neither of those chapters address the requirement that there needs to be flags in classrooms,” Antinori noted. “It’s clear the intent is that [the flag requirement] only applies to public primary, secondary and high schools.

“When you get to college, it’s a marketplace of ideas, and that’s why we need student feedback,” Antinori said. “Students have not been consulted or outreached about this, and there’s no recorded data, there’s no proof that it’s representative.”

“I’d be happy to do outreach and try and get other people’s perspectives on what they think about this idea,” Mihopoulos responded.

“A flag at the front of a building would pose an ideological statement, which the university is not allowed by contract to pose on faculty members,” Carino said. “This would open the university up to a potentially devastating lawsuit.”

“We have American flags on campus already, so I’m not sure what the difference between flying one in Haigis Mall would be compared to being in buildings,” Mihopoulos replied.

“From my understanding, what your comment is basically saying is that the American flag would be representative of a Republican ideology,” Zeh responded. “There are a plethora and multitude of Republican students on campus that are entirely underrepresented.”

“We would like to at least do something for conservative students here at UMass.”

The senate did not pass the motion, with only Mihopoulos voting in support.

Secretary of Diversity Jadya Coren sponsored a motion to change the bylaws for her secretarial position, proposing the SGA rename the title to Secretary of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Senator Zachary Bhattacharjee co-sponsored this motion.

Coren proposed the SGA assign the Secretary of DEI with new responsibilities, including to attend and sit on the DEI Student Advisory Board, the Status of Diversity Faculty Senate Council, and the Black Advisory Council. The secretary would also lead an annual training for SGA senators on anti-racism and DEI.

“I just hope the next Secretary of Diversity educates people, advocates and actually is passionate about what they do,” Coren said.

The senate voted to pass Coren’s proposed bylaws, which will go into effect in the next academic year.

Secretary of Technology Adam Lechowitz sponsored a motion to place a purchase order for the Index, the newly returning UMass yearbook. The SGA voted in October to use a dormant revenue account to collect students’ money for orders of the Index.

“There’s a lot of interest in the yearbook from people who want to buy yearbooks at the Commencement Fair,” Lechowitz noted. “We’re going to open up a second round of yearbook orders both during and after the Commencement Fair and those orders will be distributed in June.”

The senate sponsored Lechowitz’s motion, authorizing the Index Yearbook Task Force to place an order for yearbooks.

Sophie Hauck can be reached at [email protected].

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    Garrett JacobsmeierApr 12, 2022 at 9:26 am

    “The American flag is not meant to offend others… you’re wearing it on your left sleeve,” What a great quote. The quote was so good the discussion seemed to flip to deflection, moving to a “what aboutism” about veterans instead of continuing to play with the absurd premise that the flag is by nature too offensive to display to adults on a college campus. I am proud to be represented by Mihopoulos and Zeh and thank them for starting this discussion and allowing UMass students to understand the ideological motives behind their representatives. Support the needs of veterans while being thankful you have the privilege to fight ideological battles about feelings while soldiers fight and die overseas.