Confederate flag controversy at local high school prompts questions of free speech at UAA

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There’s been much debate about whether or not the Confederate flag should be banned within the public setting. The argument stands that though it is perceived as an offensive symbol, Americans are granted the First Amendment rights and should be able to express their opinions however they want.

Earlier this semester, a picture was posted of several high school students from Chugiak High School holding a Confederate flag in the hallway of the school. This event has escalated a controversy about whether or not students have the right to express debatable beliefs and display controversial opinions in public — specifically in a school.

“It’s not a mystery what the Confederacy was about, or what it stood for,” Ian Hartman, a UAA history professor, said. “The Confederacy committed treason against the United States, fought a war against the United States government.”

The Confederate flag represents a strong symbol, it should be noted that students have the right to believe whatever they want to believe. The problem only occurs when other students are affected or intimidated by it.

Michael Votava, director of Student Conduct and Ethical Development, explains what would happen should a similar situation happen at UAA. The University’s mission statement and core values would be assessed.

“One core value is academic freedom and diversity. When you think of academic freedom, you think of the ability to present different ideas, and when you think of diversity you think of creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome and included in the conversation,” Votava said.

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Though students are encouraged to create their own opinions and stand up for their own beliefs, a safe learning environment is the University’s priority.

“If there were an incident on campus involving some symbol, was it done in a way that was disruptive?” Votava said. “We would have to really weigh the freedom of the individual to express themselves to how it would impact the members of our community.”

Overall, UAA’s stance on the matter is firm. Personal declarations of any symbol are okay so long as it poses no threat to fellow students. As soon as others feel threatened or unsafe in the environment, appropriate actions would have to be taken.

Fortunately, UAA doesn’t seem to have this problem.

“We don’t seem to have many incidents occur on campus that involve symbols that could be perceived by others as offensive. That doesn’t occur often on this campus,” Votava said. “It has always been one of my theories that UAA is one of the most diverse communities that I’ve ever lived in.”

Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. Everyone deserves to make up their own mind, but it should be noted that everyone deserves respect as well. Controversial symbols are controversial. Beliefs will differ about them and bias will certainly be apparent.

The bottom line is that UAA is a community that realizes their students are different and unique. It’s up to the students to build that bridge of respect between each other and, despite differing opinions, keep that bridge strong.