Student's Confederate flag will stay, MU officals say

Monday, October 22, 2001

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A Confederate flag in the window of a dorm room at the University of Missouri has drawn complaints from students, but school officials say there's not much they can do about it.

"It's like somebody burning a cross in your yard. You don't take it too easily," said dorm resident Delea Durdin. "Nobody wants to come home and find something uncomfortable. I plan to live here all my years. ... I want to protect my home."

The flag faces a main campus thoroughfare. Although a tree partly obscures the flag, Matt Pitts, the freshman displaying the flag in his window, said students frequently yell "racist" from the sidewalk below.

Several students have complained to university officials and one has started a petition demanding the flag come down.

However, campus policy does not prohibit students from displaying Confederate flags, swastikas or other controversial symbols, even on windows.

Expression must be considered dangerous, "lewd, indecent or obscene" to be forbidden.

"While it is understandable that Confederate flags, swastikas, etc., may be deemed offensive by some individuals or groups, they likely do not fall under the category of 'lewd, indecent or obscene,"' Residential Life Director Frankie Minor said. "We try to respect students' expectation of privacy and ability to display their personal opinions in their rooms as best as we can. We also encourage dialogue between individuals with differing opinions to see if acceptable compromises or common ground can be identified."

Pitts, a Florida native, said he feels the flag symbolizes Southern pride and rebellion and he won't take it down.

"I don't see any reason why I should," Pitts said. "If people think I'm racist, then they can go look at who some of my friends are and the music I listen to."

Communications law professor Sandy Davidson said the university would face a tough legal battle if it tried to force Pitts to remove the flag.

And Minor said compromise appears unlikely.

"If we believed that was possible, we would be willing to facilitate that," he said. "However, I do not believe that repetitive involvement of staff would be productive and could be misrepresented as undue pressure to comply, which would be unacceptable."

The dorm's Residential Life Coordinator, Carole Douglas, said she has not decided whether to speak with Pitts.

"It would be different if it was his house, but other people have to see it," said Monique Johnston, who lives in the same dorm as Pitt.

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