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What Constitutes a Tragedy at a PWI?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Davidson chapter.

Who decides when the flag outside of Chambers gets flown half-staff?

When a black man is killed by the police, but not in Charlotte, not in our backyard, do we fly the flag half-staff?

When a 9-year-old child commits suicide after he is bullied for coming out as gay, do we fly it half-staff?

When a family of 14 was killed in an American airstrike in northern Afghanistan this July, did we fly the flag half-staff?

When a 13-year-old boy and other Yemeni civilians were killed in an American drone strike in March, did we fly the flag half-staff?

When a woman is murdered through domestic violence, do we fly the flag half-staff?

When the CIA sponsored coups to place puppet leaders in charge of different Latin American countries with the hopes that they would advance the United States’ capitalist interests, and hundreds of thousands were killed in the process and in the aftermath, did we fly the flag half-staff?

When there is a school shooting, but only five young lives full of promise and possibility are extinguished, do we fly it half-staff?

The flag outside of the Chambers building at half-staff on September 11th, 2018, 16 years after 2,996 people were killed in coordinated terrorist attacks in the United States.

What I really want to know is, what constitutes a tragedy? And what constitutes a tragedy that is “worthy” of lowering the flag in front of Chambers on Davidson College’s campus to half-staff? What are your criteria, oh Grand Decider of the Flag Height?

I’m not protesting the times that the flag is lowered; I’m not saying that those tragedies should not be recognized or commemorated. I’m asking why we lower the flag to recognize some tragedies but ignore others. The flag is a symbol that represents the vision of United States as a place “with liberty and justice for all.” So, should we not lower the flag any time a person’s or a group of people’s liberty is infringed upon? Any time there is injustice?

No, because then the flag would be at half-staff every day, and then we would have to admit the extent of our country’s brokenness and inequity, the failings of our democracy, and the fact that American Dream is a myth. How would we be able to continue expressing our national pride and flaunting our American exceptionalism with the stars and stripes perpetually waving at half-staff? How could we launch fireworks on the fourth of July if we acknowledged that justice has not been established for the immigrant children we have separated from their parents, that police violence against people of color destroys any glossy notions of “domestic tranquility,” that some in our incarcerated population will never again enjoy the “blessings of liberty?” How could we sing the national anthem at football games if we admitted that we don’t care about “the general welfare” of our poorest residents, that we stigmatize those who receive financial support from the government, that people die in our country because they didn’t have access to affordable healthcare, that we expect people who have struggled with drug addiction to stay “clean” while they don’t have a roof over their heads or friends to encourage them? How could we ask children in our schools to pledge allegiance to a republic that drops bombs in the Middle East that kill innocent people, to a nation-state that has planted brutal dictators in multiple Latin American countries, to a government that has sanctioned acts of state violence around the globe throughout its history?

Tell me, who’s in charge of deciding when the flag outside of the main academic building at our predominately white institution is flown at half-staff? If you find out, let me know, because I’ve got questions.


If you are interested in writing an article for Her Campus Davidson, contact us at davidson@hercampus.com or come to our bimonthly meetings on the first and third Wednesday of the month at 8 p.m. in the Morcott Room.

Carlina is a junior Latin American Studies Major and History Minor at Davidson College and the founder of Davidson's Intercultural Dinner Dialogue program. She is Senior Editor and Co-Vice President of Her Campus Davidson. She is passionate about immigrant rights and is working on becoming a better ally to people of color.