The First Amendment was not the issue with SDSU’s American flag controversy

by Tori Hahn, Staff Columnist

The headline “SDSU Students Facing Expulsion Over Flags” reached national news this week after two students protested the university’s reaction to flags hanging from their on-campus housing balcony.

The two San Diego State University students complained about a letter they received from the school instructing them to remove the flags, one of them a U.S. flag, from the balcony of their university-owned Piedra del Sol apartment.

According to Campus Reform, the formal warning to Connor Fenwick and Cameron Box stated if they failed to comply, the two might face penalties including probation, suspension or expulsion.

Offended by the letter, the two students who are also U.S. Military members defended the right to express their patriotism.

What they do not understand is the letter did not exclusively target these two students, nor did it specifically target the American flag. The university was right to enforce the rules for its on-campus housing even though the students, the media and the quick-to-judge American audience exaggerated the situation’s severity.

The Piedra del Sol living agreement states, “No items, except patio furniture designed for outdoor use, may be placed on balconies and patios. Hangings, partitions, or curtains of any type may not be used on balconies or patios.”

The rule couldn’t be more specific as to what the university doesn’t allow. Because the four flags draped over the side of the gated balcony, the university most likely qualified them as “hangings.”

The guidelines also don’t specify what type of hangings. They could be tapestries, blankets, a giant picture of the Aztec Warrior — anything — and the school would have responded the same way. In fact, one of the flags asked to be removed was a “We Are Aztecs” flag.

It’s a shame one of the items in question is an American flag, because it turns the matter into a First Amendment issue when it shouldn’t be.

SDSU Media Relations Manager Beth Chee weighed in on the situation on behalf of the university.

“Any item, regardless of content, hanging from a balcony is considered a safety and security issue because of its potential to block visibility,” Chee told Campus Reform. “Students are free to express themselves any way they like inside their apartments, but nothing can be hung up outside. The safety and security of our students is our number one concern.”

The problem isn’t that the school is against flying the American flag — you can see them all over campus. The problem is these students chose to victimize themselves. Rather than accepting the university’s rules and simply relocating the flags inside the apartment, the two students chose to fight back.

The SDSU regulation that requires all freshmen to live in on-campus housing does not apply to Fenwick, a sophomore, or Box, a junior.  Thus, the students willingly agreed to live in the on-campus accommodation and abide by SDSU rules upon signing their lease.

Rather than fighting the school about decorations, the two could have lived somewhere separate from the university to fly their flags freely. Houses considered on-campus sit just a few blocks over, where the students could have happily expressed their First Amendment rights.

Instead, Fenwick and Box chose to turn the situation into an unnecessary American rights issue and public relations disaster for SDSU.