A flag is much more than a rectangle piece of fabric — it’s a symbol of a belief. So much is said just by flying a flag, especially one that students disagree on.
House Bill 901 hit the Florida Senate in December and may ban all governmental agencies from flying any flags that represent political, sexual orientation or racial ideology viewpoints. If passed, USF may be banned from flying flags such as LGBTQ+, pro-Trump and Black Lives Matter.
And thank goodness.
USF is a place where multiple ideas flourish, not where one sided beliefs are endorsed. To encourage new ideas and critical thinking among higher education, H.B. 901 should be passed and welcomed with open arms among students.
The bill states that the “governmental entity must remain neutral when representing political viewpoints in displaying or erecting flags.”
USF, regulated by the government, must also remain objective.
This bill forces the government to make itself neutral, allowing citizens to freely engage in political discourse without feeling threatened – good news for universities that are full of varying opinions.
“I think we should encourage the exchange of free and open ideas,” political science professor Robbin Mellen said in a Jan. 29 interview with The Oracle.
“We should learn to have civil conversation again, something we used to be pretty good at,” Mellen said.
Society has gone anywhere but uphill when it comes to civil conversations and the American Psychology Association agrees.
In a country where political division is ever growing, why not help the polarizing divide by keeping universities neutral?
College is a place where students come from different backgrounds to learn from professors and other students.
If a university takes a political stance, it no longer becomes a place where ideas are freely exchanged, but a place for division to stand.
And Professor Mellen isn’t the only one in the USF community who supports the bill.
“Whether it’s a right-leaning group or left-leaning group, the institution should not display political flags,” USF Republican club member Juan Echeverry said in a Jan. 19 interview.
Not everyone agrees with liberal or conservative opinions, and that’s okay.
A university’s job isn’t to force an opinion subconsciously by flying a political flag. Its job is to encourage critical thinking.
“I often tell my students I don’t care what position you hold, as long as you can defend it,” Mellen said.
“I don’t expect everybody to agree with me,” he continued. “If they did, it’d be a very boring society.”
Yet, some think that politicians are sticking their heads where it doesn’t belong.
“It’s an inappropriate intrusion to me,” USF College Democrats President Tyler Tone said in a Jan. 18 interview.
“I might be able to agree about some things in a university being a problem, but they’re not problems that need state intervention, they’re a social problem,” he continued.
Fixing social problems starts at universities. Making a university neutral encourages different opinions, helping students not become closed off from people they disagree with.
“We should challenge each other on things where we disagree,” Mellen said.
And this bill helps do just that, especially since it does not infringe on a student’s first amendment right to display a political flag in dorms or clubs.
“They have to allow most groups within reason to speak their mind and encourage free speech,” Mellen said.
H.B. 901 should be passed and students should stand in support of it.
“We don’t just silence those we disagree with,” Mellen said.
Students shouldn’t feel threatened by the bill, but encouraged that the government is making themselves neutral so citizens have the freedom to speak their minds.
If students really want to be a part of a group of beliefs that USF will not be endorsing, then join one of the 700 clubs USF has to offer.
Higher education will not bow down to one side of the political spectrum and exclude other opposing beliefs.
This is America, not a communist regime.