Letters to the Editor

Protesters burn flag in ignorance

Against the backdrop of a town often criticized for being unpatriotic, we formed the Amherst Assembly for Patriotism. On Thursday, we brought together a group of students, staff, faculty and administrators from completely different political stances. Our 10 speakers took the stage and expressed views ranging from conservative to liberal, from Republican to Democratic. One student spoke about her opposition to the war in Afghanistan; another expressed his adamant support. One student shared the memory of her sister, who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, and a professor argued that burning the flag itself can be a patriotic gesture. Yet despite differences-despite politics on extreme ends of the spectrum-these 10 speakers came together to share what they have in common: love for our great country.

We believe that patriotism transcends politics. While we may disagree on issues from gun control to single-payer health care, we believe in the Constitution; we believe in the Declaration of Independence; we believe in the Bill of Rights. These are the principles upon which our country has been built. The United States may not always live up to those principles, but we are given the opportunity to strive constantly for them. Affirming these principles was the purpose of our assembly.

What were these outsiders protesting? The flag-burners who came to the College did not bother to hear the speakers at the assembly. Had they come just a half-hour earlier, they would have found an assembly that engaged their minds, as well as challenged their ideas of patriotism. But they were not interested in learning. They were not interested in view points different from their own. They refused to challenge ideas that had been planted in their heads.

To us, burning the flag is the ultimate form of protest. It signifies the utter condemnation of the actions of our government when it has violated the country’s founding principles. Times were different in the ’60s, when flags were burned across this country as an exercise of democratic expression and liberty. What happened Thursday was flag-burning in the name of ignorance. Are these students who protested our assembly against political debate? Are they against the expression of diverse viewpoints? Are they against us finding common ground in being American?

To them, burning the flag is a knee-jerk, protest-at-every-chance reaction that demeans our democracy. It demeans those who have fought-both on battlefields and on the National Mall-for the fulfillment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They do not realize how good they have it. They forget that people have died for the rights they abuse. Their right to protest is unquestioned in our minds. But they protest not for greater freedom, rather, for greater attention.

By inappropriately burning the flag for show instead of meaning, political protesters delegitimize their own causes. Flagrantly performing such actions serves to anger and close off the very people they purportedly hope to reach-they divide rather than unify, hurt more than heal. Members of the Amherst community at the Assembly for Patriotism were the true defenders of freedom on Oct. 18. With courage and honesty they engaged in public dialogue defined by open minds and respect. They should be role models to America.

Amherst students reacted nobly to the protesters. We attempted to engage them in debate, we questioned their motives and their approach. Yet these individuals were unreceptive to the challenge of democracy: open ears, active minds and reasoned voices.

Benjamin S. Baum ’03Michael G. Flood ’03Amherst Assembly for Patriotism

UMass column unfoundedI recently had the opportunity to read a column by Massachusetts Daily Collegian Editor-in-chief Sam Wilkinson titled “That Spoiled Stereotype Still Fits.” Wilkinson’s blasting of Amherst students as “rich, white kids who never had to work a day in their life” has provoked the ire of many students, myself included.

UMass column unfounded

Wilkinson’s article is not only rife with baseless stereotypes; it is proud of its flagrant display of prejudice. As he says, “I don’t feel bad. I don’t regret making stereotyped comments like that because, frankly, they aren’t that harmful.”

As an Asian, I resent Wilkinson’s claim that all Amherst students are white kids and that “they sit at the country club, living a high life and getting an education that is automatically better … because they pay nearly four times more per year for I do.” Let’s do a little fact checking on Wilkinson. The Princeton Review lists that only 53 percent of the undergraduate students in the U.S. identify themselves as Caucasian, and that roughly 50 percent of all students receive financial aid. In contrast, UMass, which Wilkinson refers to several times in his article as being just as “advanced” in its education, lists that about 69 percent of the undergraduate students identify themselves as Caucasian and still roughly 50 percent of them are receiving financial aid. I think it’s important to note that Amherst’s student body is equally, if not more, diverse than other colleges, and the proportion of those receiving financial aid is similar.

Wilkinson’s assertion that stereotypes aren’t harmful is also flawed. He wrote, “… stereotypes that gays are wanton sex sluts? That hurts gays. It harms their ability to find social acceptance, to get jobs and to have the same opportunities that others have come to expect” whereas “stereotypes about getting advantages because you are unbelievably wealthy? That doesn’t hurt Amherst College students; it hurts because it is true.” There are many students here with unbelievably wealthy families. However, there are many other that epitomize underprivileged homes and students who have had to fight for all the opportunities that they have received-I know, my family is one of them. Wilkinson’s brash characterization of all Amherst families fitting a mold hurts those who don’t. There are those of us who can’t “wipe away tears on one hundred dollar bills,” as he callously puts it, and to place us in the same category belittles the sacrifices and accomplishments that we have made.

Wilkinson might be great at what he does-though his one-dimensional arguments lead me to believe otherwise-but his logic skills need some fine tuning. I find it bitterly ironic that his absurd reasoning attempts to advocate the equality of a UMass education and an Amherst education, when his column clearly just showcases the differences.

Dave Chen ’05