Published April 17, 2008
A Maine college student has caused a firestorm after plastering the floor of a campus building with American flags to see if anyone would trample Old Glory.
Susan Crane, a student at the University of Maine, Farmington, placed hundreds of flags on the floor of the school's student center Tuesday for an art class assignment. She set down the flags in a maze-like pattern to document whether students and staff would step on them.
But instead of fostering dialogue, the experiment drew demonstrators, among them Vietnam War veteran Charles Bennett.
"As far as I was concerned, that was desecration of the American flag," Bennett told FOXNews.com. He went down to the student center to protest the display after a friend told him what was going on, he said.
Bennett was among a vocal group that protested the treatment of the Stars and Stripes.
Crane did not return a request for an interview, but she told the Franklin County Daily Bulldog that she chose to use the flag so passers-by could reflect on their patriotism.
"It sparked conversation and thought about how we feel about our flag, which I think is very important," Crane told the paper. "It was a very hard thing for me to do, to put the flag on the floor."
She said she filmed students from the knees down to see if they would walk on the flags. More than 95 percent did not.
"The strong emotions caught me by surprise. The veterans said, 'A lot of people died for that flag,'" Crane told the paper. "I had a hard time with it. Most others asked, 'What's this about?'"
The university gave Crane permission to arrange the project, which she designed to fulfill a requirement for her class, the Cultural Relationship of Art and the Personal Politic.
Bennett said he was irritated that the school permitted the project at all. He planned a protest for Thursday afternoon.
"It's a patriotic feeling that I have," he said. "That's what I fought for — for our freedoms — so they could do things, but don't do it with the American flag."
The school expected the project would cause a stir.
"Certainly passions are always swirling around the flag," said Celeste Branham, vice president of student and community services at the university. "Particularly in a time when there's a lot of controversy about our involvement in Iraq, we expected that the passions would be heightened, and we were not at all surprised by the reaction."
Branham said it's the role of a university to spark debate as part of the learning process.
The project was supposed to stay up for 24 hours, but the flags were removed 10 hours into the experiment after a fire marshal asked Crane to move them to the side of the hallway, the Daily Bulldog said.
Branham said the school wouldn't hesitate to allow the project to go on again.
"We were supporting and would continue to support any student's First Amendment right to free expression under the law," she said.