Amherst College officials blasted a “deeply insensitive” anti-war banner hung from a campus building, roiling the western Massachusetts campus as it remembered those killed — including three of its own — on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But college officials said they don’t intend to remove the homemade sign, saying it has an obligation to uphold the community’s right to free speech.
The banner, which first caught students’ and officials’ attention yesterday morning, was slung above a doorway on Valentine Dining Hall and read in large, capital letters: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people,” a quote that is largely attributed to American historian Howard Zinn.
Below that was the phrase: “In honor of those killed and displaced by America’s so-called ‘war on terror.’ ”
Its appearance came as the school honored some of its own killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, including on the home page of its website, which featured a tribute to Frederick C. Rimmele III, a Marblehead physician and 1990 graduate; Brock Safronoff, a 1997 graduate; and Maurita Tam, a 2001 graduate.
Caroline Hanna, a school spokeswoman, blasted the banner as “deeply insensitive, especially on this particular day.” But she said it won’t be taken down.
“Free speech enables all citizens of this country to express their opinions, even if their views are expressed in a manner that might offend,” she said. “Particularly as an institution that champions academic freedom and freedom of expression, the college has an obligation to uphold that right.”
The banner, which according to students was still hanging as of yesterday evening, quickly sowed a divide between student Republicans and Democrats on campus.
A GOP club member said they had erected a flag inside the dining hall’s lobby alongside a sign that read “Never Forget” the day before to mark the 16-year anniversary of the attack that killed more than 2,900 people.
“To me it was profoundly disrespectful,” Brantley Mayers, an Amherst College junior and secretary of the school’s College Republicans, said of the banner. “We can have a discussion about the war on terror, but to me today is about remembrance and respect of those who died and served after 9/11. … It’s an upsetting politicization of a day where it shouldn’t be that way.”
Alexander Deatrick, president of the Amherst College Democrats, said he can understand the criticism, but said the banner is “more a comprehensive understanding of the tragedy of that day.”
But he said his group did not hang the banner, nor did he know who did.
He added: “I don’t believe that it’s wrong to not only remember the thousands of people whose lives were lost in the World Trade Center, but remember those whose lives were lost in the war on terror.”
Chris Cassidy contributed to this report.
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