A University of Rochester student is accusing the college of violating his First Amendment rights after a residence hall adviser reportedly forced him to remove a Confederate flag from his dorm room window over the “discomfort" it was causing.
Matthew Papay, a 19-year-old sophomore from Weaverville, N.C., says the flag was hanging in the window of his residence hall on campus in early October when graduate house adviser Catherine Christian told him to remove it, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reports.
In an Oct. 11 email to Papay, Christian told him that the flag violated the fire code, claiming it was acting as a drape, which is against housing policy.
Papay then removed the flag and replaced it with a paper version after confirming with fire marshals that the new one would comply with regulations.
But Christian responded again, saying that her supervisor told her that people were complaining about the Confederate flag.
"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 wrote, according to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. "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."
Papay’s roommate removed the flag and it has not been hung since.
"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.
The flag removal sparked a heated debate on a Rochester University class of 2017 Facebook page, which included one comment asking what the Confederate flag means to black people, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reports.
Papay said he would not put up the flag knowing it offended some people, but added that he should have the right to put it up.
An email from two deans sent out to students on Friday, Oct. 18, said Papay removed the flag after speaking to fellow students, which Papay called a lie.
Dean of Students Matthew Burns responded by saying that he sent out the message with incomplete information about the flag debate and that the residence hall adviser “misspoke” when she told Papay to remove the flag. He said it should have been allowed to stay.