From 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 10, to 5:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 11, the Conservatives of Occidental hosted a 9/11 memorial, placing 2,997 American flags on the Academic Quad in remembrance of lives lost during the 2001 attacks. This year’s memorial was undisturbed, a contrast to last year’s memorial when protesters removed American flags from the Conservatives’ memorial and sparked international uproar.
This year, a group of students mobilized to construct an alternative 9/11 memorial. They inscribed three questions in chalk on the lower half of the Quad closest to the Mary Norton Clapp Academic Commons around 7:30 p.m. Sunday, before the Conservatives set up their memorial. The group’s questions asked passing students to reflect on the connections between 9/11 and nationalism, foreign military interventions and exclusion from American identity.
Samantha Royall (senior), president of Oxy-AWARE (Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere), put the name of her organization on the application to request Academic Quad chalking permission from the Office of Student Life (OSL). Royall said that the group of students that hosted the alternative memorial acted independently. According to her, Oxy-AWARE did not formally endorse the alternative memorial. Rather, she stepped in because the chalk application needs a student organization sponsorship.
“The alternative 9/11 memorial was planned in an effort to complicate Oxy Conservatives’ nationalist 9/11 narrative by acknowledging the many traumas associated with 9/11, nationally and transnationally,” Royall said via email. “The alternative memorial serves to recognize and honor these many traumas, and is therefore a memorial as opposed to a demonstration.”
On Sept. 5, Sumner Schwartz (senior), vice president of the Conservatives of Occidental, and Max Woods (junior), also a vice president, met with the Campus Events Advisory Committee (CEAC). CEAC is a group of representatives from various campus departments — from Campus Safety to facilities — that advises event planners on how best to run their programs. Tamara Himmelstein, assistant dean of students and director of the OSL, said CEAC members were concerned about room for alternative narratives in the Academic Quad and publicity to explain the 9/11 memorial’s purpose to the community. The Conservatives of Occidental reached an agreement with CEAC to restrict the memorial to a third of the Quad closest to Branca Patio, host it for only 24 hours and improve the memorial’s publicity by putting up signs to explain it.
Schwartz and Woods said some members of the CEAC committee asked the Conservatives of Occidental to erect different countries’ flags in their memorial to represent the varying citizenships of certain 9/11 victims. Rob Flot, dean of students, confirmed that this request was made, but was not present at the CEAC meeting to identify who proposed it. Schwartz and Carlos Flores (junior), president of the Conservatives of Occidental, said that they did not host a memorial with differing national flags for several reasons: extra funding would have been required, the American flags were already in the mail and it was too difficult to determine the exact number and nationalities of 9/11 victims.
Woods said he first heard of the proposal to recognize the varying nationalities of 9/11 victims at the CEAC meeting. He said he was supportive, and printed out posters with a list of countries and the numbers of 9/11 victims from them. These posters were taped around the 9/11 memorial to trees and benches in the Academic Quad. The Conservatives of Occidental also placed two large posters in the center of the memorial describing the memorial’s purpose. Schwartz said these posters were an acknowledgement of the CEAC members’ concerns.
Three U.S. veterans, including Juan Guillen, Jr., commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 8310 U.S.S. Gudgeon in Burbank and former sergeant in the Marines Corps, arrived on Sunday night to assist the Conservatives of Occidental.
Schwartz claimed that the Young America’s Foundation (YAF), a conservative youth nonprofit organization, donated the flags to the club in recognition of the club’s limited funding. He said YAF expected the flags to be returned after the memorial. Spencer Brown, a spokesman for YAF, instead said via email that YAF purchased the flags for the Conservatives of Occidental to replace the ones that were removed by protesters in 2016.
The Conservatives’ memorial and the alternative memorial stood undisturbed for the designated time. An unidentified student placed a rainbow flag near the Conservatives’ memorial.
Additionally, during a pre-planned campus-wide interfaith service at 5:00 p.m., Sept. 11, the Conservatives of Occidental asked attendees to take a pledge in the club’s “Honor a Hero by Taking the Pledge” campaign. The pledge was an oath to respect free speech on campus, listen to those with differing opinions and respect the sacrifice of the life represented by the American flags in the memorial.
Following the campus service at 5:00 p.m., Sept. 11, the Conservatives of Occidental removed their flags and signage.