Confederate Battle Flag causes controversy during UH football game
Amid the tailgating festivities prior to UH’s Sept. 20 game against the University of Nevada Las Vegas, some individuals were surprised when a Confederate battle flag appeared among the proud sea of Cougar red. Briefly located at the fraternity tailgating tent of the Gamma Mu chapter of Kappa Alpha, this flag served as a rude awakening.
On a campus that constantly advocates diversity and inclusion of all religions, cultures and races, this flag — often associated with racism — understandably caused contention.
The Confederate Battle Flag was created during the birth of the Confederate States of America in 1861. This secession movement was developed by seven slave states in the South who supported slavery because it benefited white plantation owners economically. Though some argue the flag is now a symbol of Southern heritage and pride, there’s no mistaking the painful symbol as a reminder of the South’s racist past.
KA President Connor Benson said he associates the Confederate battle flag with racism, believes it to be a very insensitive symbol and did not want it at a University event.
“I do not condone that symbol, and we do not allow that in our house or at any events. We’ve never had that at any of our events,” Benson said. “So when I saw (the flag), I immediately took action and told (the person who brought the flag that) he needed to get rid of that and leave right away, which he did. And when he came back without it, he was allowed in.”
The bearer of this symbol, who remains unnamed and who Benson confirmed was a KA member who once attended Houston Baptist University but now resides in Alabama, was immediately instructed by UH Kappa Alpha’s to take the offensive flag elsewhere.
“I just know that he’s a friend of one of the older brothers, who’s no longer even a member, he’s a graduated brother,” said UH KA Parliamentarian Aaron Alvarado. “He happened to be in town, wanted to go to our tailgate and he showed up with a Confederate flag. And, obviously, we turned him away as soon as possible.”
While I do find it unlikely that a KA member from a different chapter waltzed into a UH KA tent and did not introduce himself to one member, especially at a fraternity that prides itself on “gentlemanly conduct,” KA did handle this situation quickly and effectively, as witnesses confirm the flag was only present at the tent for a few minutes.
Despite its fleeting presence at UH’s tailgate, the Confederate battle flag still managed to make its bitter mark. Some students who spotted this flag were enraged that such a symbol of an oppressive time in the U.S. managed to wave at a UH event.
Both The Cougar and Student Government Association President Charles Haston were contacted following the tailgate controversy.
“I thought this was an isolated issue, but obviously it got out further than I thought it would … then (Haston) informed me that people had seen it on the guy’s truck,” Benson said. “I didn’t see it, I didn’t know what the guy drives. I don’t know where he was coming from.”
After speaking with Benson, Haston said that he believes Benson and other KA members handled this event accordingly, and that it is important that the leader of the fraternity stepped up and managed the situation — a situation that could easily have turned into a racial disagreement. Some students on Facebook threatened to burn the flag if they saw it again.
Racial insensitivity is not a new issue for Greek organizations as a whole.
In 2002, the University of Virginia reprimanded the KA and Zeta Psi fraternities for three of their members dressing in “blackface” for a Halloween party; the fraternities were acquitted a month later.
The lens swiveled to the University of Alabama in 2009 when the Alpha Kappa Alpha order members wore Confederate uniforms and paraded around carrying battle flags during their “Old South” festivities, according to nbcnews.com. Reportedly, UA KA fraternity paused their parade in front of the house of a historically black sorority.
In 2010, a year following the parade at UA, KA bylaws were adapted to say that the Old South Ball must be conducted with “restraint and dignity and without displays of trappings and symbols which might be misinterpreted and objectionable to the general public,” including, but not limited to, Confederate uniforms. Prior to these incidents, the KA laws proclaimed in 2001 that the Confederate Battle Flag be “prohibited from any chapter house, lodge or meeting place.”
Greek organizations, regardless of order, have a tumultuous history of making headlines surrounding insensitivity, racism and the Confederate Battle Flag.
In April, Fox News reported on the closure of University of Mississippi’s chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon following an accusation that three fraternity brothers tied a noose around the neck of the university’s statue of James Meredith, the first black student to enroll in Ole Miss in 1962.
The University of Alabama faced controversy again when The Crimson White, UA’s student newspaper, ran an article about the segregation of Greek organizations in 2013. It was appalling to many to find out that there was still a separation of races in the 21st century at an institution of higher education.
“I would rather us not comment on what the Confederate States of America stood for, because the Confederate States of America, whether we like it or not, existed 150 years ago and should not be reflected on what we experience now in the South,” Alvarado said. “Obviously, there are people who don’t let it go. But here, at KA at UH, we do not represent the Confederate States of America.”
Regardless of how we wish to be seen now, the reality is racism in America still exists. If we keep attempting to hide these acts of racial stimuli, we are just shying away from ways to change it.
As a whole, Americans generally like to say that race is no longer an issue and we have become colorblind. While we may naively say that the South has been eradicated of racism, the residue of this unfortunate time still exists, part of which is in the form of the Confederate Battle Flag.
Greek organizations often focus on maintaining their traditions and legacy, but in order to progress into a more racially accepting time, these disrespectful acts must continue to be acknowledged and dealt with.
Opinion editor Kelly Schafler is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected].