The Bay Area has always been a bastion of progressive values. But since the election of President Trump, the dominant ideological orientation in a region that’s notoriously prone to groupthink has shifted from questioning conservative values to deliberate anti-Americanism.
Examples of this trend abound: From the assault of a man carrying an American flag (in an ironic twist, the victim of the vicious beating happened to be a Bernie Sanders supporter) to the internal backlash at Google over the company’s work with the federal government, including the Department of Defense.
One bizarre incident reported Tuesday by the Stamford Review stands out not just because it happened at Stanford, an elite American University, but also because it was seemingly unprovoked. The paper published a column retelling how a campus administrator had recommended that a fraternity called Sigma Chi (a fraternity that was disbanded following a probationary period last year) remove an American flag flying outside the house. The administrator – identified only as “Mr. Z” – suggested that flying the star-spangled banner could be interpreted as aggressive or jingoistic by some members of the community, and that, if Sigma Chi wanted to ingratiate itself with its neighbors (and presumably the administration) it should consider un-hoisting the flag to help “improve its image” in the community.
This context of a friendly relationship with Mr. Z made the following incident all the more surprising. One night during Autumn 2017, Lozano recounted, Mr. Z was invited to eat dinner at Sigma Chi. While discussing improving the fraternity’s image with the university, Mr. Z offhandedly suggested that Sigma Chi remove the potentially discomforting symbol outside: the American flag flown in front of the house. Mr. Z urged Sigma Chi to consider the image being presented to the rest of campus by flying the flag out front. He furthered that if Sigma Chi wished to break away from stereotypes that plagued the house and to change its perception on campus, its members should contemplate un-hoisting the American flag.
While this remark was just one in a larger discussion on rebranding the house, it stands out. Mr. Z’s recommendation insinuated not only that the flag made others uncomfortable but that its being flown tainted Sigma Chi’s reputation and, presumably, worsened its chance of survival. Lozano understood Mr. Z to imply that the American flag, as a symbol, could be intimidating, aggressive or alienating. Mr. Z’s tone further signaled to Lozano that he found the mere sight of the American flag to be offensive.
The students who spoke with the Review recalled that they were initially confused by Mr. Z’s remark, because they didn’t understand how anybody could interpret hanging an American flag on American soil as an offensive act. The members of the fraternity surveyed the surrounding area and found several buildings – including several owned by the university – where American flags had been hanging. Still reeling from the suggestion, the fraternity decided to double down: Instead of removing the flag, they bought an even larger flag.
The remark was, according to Lozano, out of the blue and incongruent with the candid rapport they had shared with Mr. Z up and until then. Furthermore, they wondered, since when is an American flag flown at an institution in the United States offensive? Lozano later observed that right down the road from Sigma Chi, an American flag is flown outside Stanford’s Post Office. Similarly, he noted, an American flag is flown outside Green Library’s Bing Wing and was once flown outside Memorial Auditorium, which commemorates fallen Stanford soldiers from WWI onward. According to Lozano’s knowledge, Mr. Z raised no objections to the Dominican flag flown by a student from his bedroom window in Sigma Chi or to the Palestinian flag which was hung across the street at Columbae.
In protest of Mr. Z’s suggestion, the house declined to remove the flag, instead choosing to replace it with an even bigger one. Some members, of course, abstained from the discussion about and decision to purchase a bigger flag. The following day, by Lozano’s doing, Sigma Chi upgraded from a three-by-five-foot flag to a four-by-six-foot flag. The former flag was then framed and placed on display inside the house. This decision was, in Lozano’s words, a “silent but visible protest” against the classification of the American flag as a potentially stigmatizing symbol by a member of the Stanford administration.
Though the reasons for its dispersal are unclear, Sigma Chi was banned from the university shortly after the incident.
While it’s unclear whether the flag gestured had anything to do with the ban, at least the students were able to move on with their dignity intact.