A college student at the University of Rochester in New York claims the school violated his civil rights when administrators forced him to remove a Confederate flag from his dorm room window.
Matthew Papay, 19, says two University deans, Richard Feldman and Matthew Burns, lied when they sent out an email to students telling them Papay voluntarily removed the flag after a discussion with his peers.
"The deans lied in the email 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," the sophomore told the Democrat & Chronicle.
“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,” he added.
Three weeks ago, Papay hung a Confederate flag from his window, which faces the Fraternity Quad on campus. After a week, he says, graduate house adviser Catherin Christian emailed him to take the flag down.
"It is against fire code to hang flags in your room. I will be coming by after my classes today to make sure it is no longer up," Christian wrote on Oct. 11.
She said because the flag acted as a drape, it was not permitted. So Papay replaced it with a paper Confederate flag, which he confirmed with the fire marshal was acceptable.
That’s when the house advisor contact him again telling him to take it down. This time, she said, it was upsetting people.
"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," Christian said. "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."
A Facebook page was created by students of the class of 2017 to discuss the situation. It garnered 32 pages of comments.
Papay responded on Facebook saying he isn’t a racist and he doesn’t discriminate. He said while the flag is “used by a small percentage of people in certain hate groups,” he personally “never personally met a southerner who displayed it out of hate.”
Burns, the dean of students, said he didn’t lie in his email, he just didn’t have all the facts yet. He told the Democrat & Chronicle that the flag should be allowed and that the advisor “misspoke.”
He said the school does not believe in the prohibition of free speech.
“The whole purpose of higher education is to get ideas out there that sometimes are unpalatable," said Burns.