Society

University of Rochester Student Matthew Papay Claims University Violated First Amendment By Forcing Him To Remove Confederate Flag From Campus Room

| by Will Hagle

A 19-year-old student attending college in the North has caused issues with his public display of appreciation for the Old South. The student, Matthew Papay, attends the University of Rochester in upstate New York, where he had proudly displayed a confederate flag in his campus room window. Papay now claims that that college authorities violated his first amendment rights by forcing him to take down the flag. 

The incident began a few weeks ago, when graduate house adviser Catherine Christian told Papay to remove the flag because it was a fire hazard. When he replaced it with a paper flag, she criticized him again due to complaints from the other students. 

“I understand that your flag is up out of pride and you can feel free to leave it up but on a wall of your room. It should not be in the window because of the discomfort it is causing people and because it does not necessarily represent the heritage of the whole house,” read an email sent from Christian to Papay. 

According to Papay, two deans from the university, Richard Feldman and Matthew Burns, sent a mass email to students incorrectly explaining the situation that arose from Papay’s confederate flag. 

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“The deans lied in the e-mail about why I took it down — saying I did so by choice after discussion with fellow students — when in reality the school told me to take it down,” Papay told USA Today. 

Papay claimed that the confederate flag is linked to pride in his home state of North Carolina, and that he should be allowed to express his state’s culture just as others express their own cultures on campus.  

“I am from North Carolina and the school is blatantly ignoring my rights to express the cultural identity I choose to identify with, even though the school prides itself on how ‘culturally diverse’ it is,” Papay said. 

One of the deans in question actually supported Papay’s decision to display his confederate flag. “The whole purpose of higher education is to get ideas out there that sometimes are unpalatable,” Burns said. 

The flag and its removal have become hot-button issues at the university, which is debating symbols of racism and our nation’s troubled past, as well as those issues' relationship to first amendment free speech issues.