UMass denies student request to feature Tibetan flag at graduation procession

UMass will not recognize any nation not listed by the U.S. Department of State

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – UMass Amherst will not allow a student to carry the Tibetan flag during the official procession of Flag Bearers at UMass Commencement.

Tibetan-American student, Kalsang Nangpa, applied to be a part of the parade of the flags, but her request was denied. Nangpa will graduate from UMass Amherst on Friday, May 12th with a degree in public health from the honors college. In late March, Nangpa contacted the University Events office to sign up to carry the Tibetan flag in the Parade of Nations Procession at Commencement.

It took four weeks to hear back, and when she did, Nangpa told 22News, “I would not be allowed to carry my flag during the ceremony because Tibet is not recognized as a county according to the U.S. Department of State.”

It’s the same answer her brother got two years ago when he graduated from UMass. The university sent her an email saying:

Being a state institution and understanding various political sensitivities, we invite students from countries that appear on the U.S. Department of State list to carry their country’s flag.

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said the student, her family and anyone who wants to bring a flag to graduation is more than welcome. However, the flag just can’t be part of the specific procession.

The Tibetan flag was banned from Tibet in 1959 when the Chinese communists invaded. Ever since, it has still been banned. Tibetan people are even restricted from having pictures of His Holiness the Dali Lama inside their homes.

Nangpa has started a Facebook page about this issue. She’s inviting students, the community, and even Senator Elizabeth Warren, the UMass Amherst Commencement speaker this year, to ask Chancellor Subbaswamy to reverse this decision before graduation.

For every time she has heard “no”, Nangpa is motivated to work for the “yes” she, her brother, and her fellow students have wanted for years. “I see myself carrying the Tibetan flag,” said Nangpa. “I see my family being very proud and happy. I don’t knows what the outcome is going to be. I just know I want to make sure I’m doing my part in making this happen.”

Click here for the students for a Free Tibet Facebook page.

Below is a statement from UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski regarding the this incident:

At UMass Amherst, we respect and celebrate the identities and cultures of people throughout the world. Our international students, faculty and staff for decades have played an invaluable role in contributing to our vibrant campus community. In determining which countries are represented in the annual “Parade of Nations” procession of student flag-bearers at Commencement, we rely on a list of nations recognized by the U.S. State Department. These are the countries from which official student immigration documents are issued. While we understand and appreciate the disappointment of students who wish to carry flags representing their ethnic, cultural and national identities that are not on this list, we feel that the standard we apply to determine inclusion in our procession of flags is reasonable and equitable.

From a First Amendment perspective, the reason for the policy is to make inclusion in the procession objective – not subjective – and prevent the proliferation of flags that could include everything from a Palestinian flag to a Confederate to a Basque. By applying this standard, we, as a government entity, can maintain what the Supreme Court calls “viewpoint neutrality” –in this case, the matter of defining nationhood.