University closes doors to Confederate remembrance

By Peter Sicher

Every January for 20 years, Hopkins has rented a room in Shriver Hall to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for a reception after their celebration of Southern Civil War rebel leaders Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jackson in Wyman Park. This January, however, Hopkins is ending this practice.

Because Hopkins is a private institution, explained Dennis O’Shea, executive director of Communication and Public Affairs, "We are not obliged by law to allow any group on campus," and the University has ultimately decided that it does not want the confederate flag to be taken across its grounds.

The Colonel Harry W. Gilmor Camp precinct of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is outraged at Hopkins’s decision, according to several members.

In an e-mail, Michael Williams, Commander of the group, said he believes that "the practices of Hopkins [against] the First Amendment Rights promised by the Constitution, including the rights of our group … are near Stalinist."

O’Shea responded that the University is not violating any civil rights.

"This is not a free speech issue. The University has chosen not to rent a room, nothing more," he wrote in a follow-up e-mail.

Regardless, several members of the SCV said they feel the University is rejecting their right to peacefully assemble.

"The sole purpose of this event is to remember and honor the lives of two great Americans who served their country (Virginia), risking all to perform what they saw as their duty," Donald Steven Smith, first lieutenant commander of the Gilmor Camp, wrote in an e-mail.

According to SCV Adjutant Elliot Cummings, the longstanding tradition of the reception in Shriver Hall did not seem to offend students or faculty members.

"The only part of the event that actually took place [on campus] was the reception … this included coffee, hot chocolate and pastries for all participants and spectators, [whether they were] federal, confederate or civilian, who often had stood in severe cold for up to two hours to take part in or view the ceremony," Cumming said.

When asked why the University had changed its mind after 20 years of allowing them on campus, O’Shea said that a few complaints from Hopkins affiliates had been made last year.

"I think it would also be fair to say that, as far as I know, the issue had not previously been brought to the attention of anyone in a policy making position," he said.

So far, no students or faculty members have come forward to support the SCV in their efforts. Hopkins does not have its own student chapter of the SCV

Despite Hopkins’s decision not to allow the SCV to host its reception on campus, the event will continue.

"The ceremony will take place on Jan. 17, 2009 at 11 a.m. at the Lee and Jackson Monument. We will not be deterred from holding this important annual ceremony due to the unjust actions of Hopkins," Cummings said in an e-mail.

Members of the SCV wouldn’t comment on any potential legal action they might take. "The University is confident that it is well within its legal rights," O’Shea said.

Students’ reactions to the University’s decision have been mixed. Some feel that the Confederate flag should not be allowed on campus because of what it represents.

"I respect [the flag] as a historical artifact but it represents prejudice and disunity," senior Shiraz Rahim said. He agreed with the University’s decision because "Hopkins is private property and [the SCV’s] actions promote disunity."

Another student was surprised that Hopkins has allowed this group on campus for the past 20 years.

"What took so long and what made them suddenly decide to [ban them] now?" senior Maneesha Jamnedas said.

© 2008 News-Letter

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